We at YourStory.in recently caught up with Arun Verma, founder, Arun Verma Design Studio. In this exclusive with YourStory.in, Arun talks about the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur in design space.Arun was also a finalist at the British Council’s Young Design Entrepreneur Awards, 2007. To know more about the Young Design Entrepreneur Awards, click here. To follow the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards on Facebook, click here. Below are the edited excerpts of the conversation;
What is Arun Verma Design Studio all about?
We are a one-stop-creativity-hotshop that provides clients in India, US and Europe a host of creative solutions across varied creative domains. We are small enough to give every client the undivided attention that he/she deserves and big enough to know what it takes to ignite great ideas. We operate from a cosy basement office on the outskirts of Delhi, and provide a host of creative services ranging from communication design, advertising, branding and graphic design. While doing this, we also design sets, exhibition stalls, shoes, furniture, bags, jewelry, curate art shows and make films.
How did your journey as an entrepreneur begin?
The studio was a natural progression after having spent enough time in mainstream advertising and having seen the dot com boom and bust, up close and personal. I’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur and in hindsight, 2003 was the best time and place to turn into one. It started with some friends and I founding Uncube - an advertising and communications consultancy in Silicon Valley. Arguably, we were the pioneers in creative outsourcing in India. And while the idea for Uncube was to have a pure-play creative hotshop in India, we started picking up a lot of clients in India as well and that’s when Arun Verma Design Studio was born as a standalone entity for India-based clients.
So, two successful startups so far. What is your work experience prior to starting out on your own?
They say, one should reinvent oneself every five years. I have taken this adage a tad too seriously. I am an engineer by qualification, as I wanted to pursue my interest in writing as a career, I moved to advertising. I worked with McCann Erikson, Maa Bozell, FCB Ulka and some of the best people around in advertising space. I spent six odd years in advertising and then starting sculpting professionally and later jumped into the online domain. I was part of a venture capital and two e-learning startups before turning full time design entrepreneur in 2003. Today, I create, consult, sculpt and throw my weight around quite effectively! (smiles). Today at Arun Verma Design Studio, we’re an 18 people team.
What are your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur in design space? The biggest challenge was really to forge partnerships with clients. We have been very clear since the beginning that we would never be a vendor, but a partner in progress to our clients. The tough part was to make clients believe that we were here to help them in an honest and transparent way, and not take them for another royal ride which they had been pretty used to with many other freelancers, moonlighters and pigeon-hole design studios. Attracting the right talent was (and still is) a big challenge. More so because, small studios like us will always be stepping stones to big agencies. However, we have worked hard and have been fortunate to attract and retain some fabulous talent.
Who are your clients? Share with us a couple of success stories.
We have been very lucky to work with some amazing clients and their teams. As of today, we have a huge and diverse portfolio of clients such as Cleartrip, Monster, LG India, BOP, Jaypee Group, EXL Service, Henkel, Stellar Search, Hewitt, IPAN and many more.
Our biggest success story has been that most of our clients have been with us since the very beginning. And the people who we’ve worked with have been our most prized business development resources – recommending us to new clients and taking us along when they have moved from one organization to another. So much so that today, almost 90% of our new business comes through references. This is a result of the partnerships we have forged and the bridges we have built over the years.
What is your revenue model?
Design and consultancy is where we get the bread on the table from. We do not buy any media for clients.
What is the size of the market you are trying to capture?
Being a small design studio, that’s a tough one to answer. Honestly, as a creative person who hates excel sheets and numbers, I would not even know how to answer that. But, all I would say is that we hope to have atleast 100 more happy clients by 2015. Also, we’d like to have an office in multiple cities soon and be a 25 people team by the end of this financial year. The biggest challenge and endeavourer at this stage is to make Arun Verma Design Studio bigger than Arun Verma itself. This has been changing recently and we would like to see more and more clients coming to us because they want to work with us, not just my name.
Are you looking at hiring? When are the challenges you faced while trying to retain talent as an independent design studio?
Wekeephiring regularly and have always believed that you don’t have to hire when there’s an opening. You have to make an opening when you find a good person. So yes! Anybody who is reading this, is great, passionate and is looking at working with us, please get in touch with us.
Being a small studio we’ve made our set of mistakes in the past while hiring people because many times we’ve hired out of desperation. We’ve learnt the hard way, and today we have become choosy about whom to take on board. Because when you don’t hire a person well, you not only pay him a salary but end up doing his job as well. Our employee turnover is not huge and we do retain good talent. But people do move on. While it used to hurt earlier, today we accept that people need a big canvas as they grow.
How does design aid the success of business?
Good design is not just aesthetics. It doesn't sell just products and services for companies, but talks about the company. Design communicates strategy, it sets expectations, it fosters collaboration and intelligent decision making and above all, it inspires and motivates like nothing else does.
What qualities according to you make a designer click?
I can think of 5 qualities:
Let go of the fear of failure.
Be curious. Seek problems.
Be optimistic. Enjoy challenges.
And above all, be passionate.
Any advise that you want to share with budding design entrepreneurs following YourStory.in?
Take on all possible work that you can. Even if you can’t handle it, get it done by your network. But don’t say no. Be honest to yourself and to everyone who brings value to your business. Get the basics right. You will be judged by what you bring to the table, not by what you propose to bring to the table. Give the clients the confidence that you are the solution to all their woes in life. And deliver on it. Network with people. Exercise your brain everyday. And, file your returns.
Finally, how was your experience at YCE?
YCE has brought in a lot of positives to our business over the years. It has put the spotlight on us many times and has helped us in being noticed nationally and internationally. What we value most is the high quality of conversations, ideas and collaboration at YCE.