How two non-architect besties built a successful décor brand

11th Jan 2017
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A casual shopping trip with a friend who was setting up her new house led childhood buddies Radeesh Shetty, 35, and Gaurav Rai, 36, to discover the dearth of modern lamps and fixtures to suit varied tastes in the market. Instead of reducing the discovery to just a lament, the duo, who had been wanting to take the entrepreneurial plunge for quite some time, decided to take the leap this time around. Together, they founded The Purple Turtles, an interior design firm that primarily serves as a platform for Indian lighting designers to showcase their artistry. Today, The Purple Turtles range has extended beyond lighting to unique and interesting furniture and home accents but the commitment to design and quality craftsmanship remains.

Gaurav (L) and Radheesh
Gaurav (L) and Radheesh

First-time entrepreneurs

Although Radheesh and Gaurav were equally excited about becoming first-time entrepreneurs neither had a degree in architecture or design. The duo graduated from St Joseph’s Arts and Science College in Bengaluru. While Radeesh went on to complete his Masters in Advertising and Media Communication and start his career at Mudra Communications, Gaurav started his career with Star TV in sales, before moving to Accenture and then heading sales for Disney South.

Radheesh grew up with a keen interest in art and architecture, instilled largely by his mother, who is an artist.

We started The Purple Turtles about 6-7 years ago when online shopping was still in its very nascent stages. Gaurav and I spoke and since I had already quit my job I decided to take the plunge and try and rope in Indian designers and talent to showcase their work with us. That was the beginning of our entrepreneurial journey.

he says

Radheesh and Gaurav began by talking to friends and family who were architects, interior designers and product designers and they seemed to agree about the poor state of lighting options available in the market. Meanwhile, the duo happened to meet an architect through a common friend who loved their work.

“He commissioned a couple of custom lights for his client in Goa and it was a very sizeable order for us to start with. The project went well and the architects were very happy with the final outcome and they continue to be our patrons since,” they fondly recall, speaking of their first client.

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A Purple Turtles Project

Establishing a brand

Over the years, The Purple Turtles has lent its services to big corporates like TCS, Wipro, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Informatics. But how did a fairly new brand manage to secure illustrious brands in their clientele right at the start? TCS, for example, was excited to work with local Indian businesses that The Purple Turtles was promoting, instead of the China-made lighting flooding the market. The draw for the company's clientele primarily lay in it being an Indian brand.

Although the project business continued to flourish, Radheesh and Gaurav felt the need for a retail space where architects could see physical samples. It took the founders many months and a ‘lot of bootstrapping’ to be able to set up their first lighting studio. The Purple Turtles started off as being only a display of lights where architects and designers could come in, check materials, get a feel of the materials before placing orders in the upmarket neighbourhood of Indiranagar. But before they knew it, it had already become what the founders were vaguely thinking of making it in the future.

Since we were situated on the main road, we started getting a lot of walk-ins and they all wanted to buy it off the shelf, hence we quickly moved to a retail format and the numbers steadily picked up,

they say.

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A Purple Turtles Project

The store

The Purple Turtles store formally opened in 2009 when the need for an out-of-the-ordinary decorative lighting destination in the city was recognised. Bridging that gap with good design that fitted well in the contemporary Indian home became the reason for the store’s being. From pretty door handles starting as low as Rs 325 to exquisite lights and vintage furniture amounting to lakhs, the brand has something for everyone.

One of the pretty corners at the store
One of the pretty corners at the store

The highs and lows

Most recently, the team beat international competition to work on a lighting installation for the new T2 terminal at the Mumbai international airport. The company has more such interesting projects in the pipeline but the journey to be where it is today has not been easy. The founders recall knocking on several closed doors and consistently living frugally. 

Initial hires were tough for the founders.

They also realised that most people in the lighting business are very tightfisted about contacts and references. This meant that they had to build their own network. But goodwill came to their rescue.

“Thankfully we got help from friends, family and even complete strangers who offered us references of architect friends, fabricators and lighting designers. We also made a lot of cold calls and randomly walked into any site or architect’s office who we thought had potential. Slowly it all started to pay off. “

And paid off it has, as the company, which started with an initial investment of Rs 20 lakh, clocked in a revenue of Rs 45 lakh in sales during the first year of operations. Thereon, it has been growing at an average rate of 40 percent per year with the current retail revenue being Rs 10 crore. The bootstrapped venture is now looking for strategic partners to expand to newer cities mostly in the south of India and selling online.

The friendship factor

We spend a lot of time, effort and money to curate and develop new product lines that differentiate us from a regular lighting store. Other than the product itself we truly believe in ensuring the client feels secure with us while placing the order in terms of quality products, timely delivery and post-sales service,

say the founders, speaking about the secret behind their constant and steady growth.

While quality products and great service may be largely contributing to The Purple Turtles’ success story, there is also a great chemistry between the founders that cannot be ignored. It doesn’t get any better than having your best friend as your co-founder, does it?

There is a lot of comfort in working with a friend who you have known for years. We have our clear responsibilities to handle and are accountable to that. We are very transparent with each other and that is very important in whatever you do,

quip Gaurav and Radheesh.

We cannot agree more!

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