Why this ex-OnePlus and MakeMyTrip employee decided to start a design studio for startups
If there is one thing apart from funding that startup founders need help with, it is design. Few startups can afford to hire a great UX/UI designer or an agency to help with their design requirements. It was something Arunabh Das kept hearing all the time.
As an expert in the subject, Arunabh would often be approached by startups and enterprise founders to help either with their MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or be a part of their design team.
The alumnus of Srishti School of Art, Bengaluru, where he pursued a master's in human-computer interaction design, Arunabh had worked with companies like MakeMyTrip, OnePlus, and others, and knew that design played an integral part of a product development process and cycle. He felt most enterprises and startups needed help in this direction.
It led him to start Watr, a startup that provides digital product design support to startup and enterprise teams.
"Our goal is to flip online freelance marketplaces, digital agencies, and in-house product design teams on their head, by offering an agility-driven and pricing-transparent remote design team to Fortune 2000 companies and startups, empowering them to become notable design-led organisations on the world map,” Arunabh says.
How Watr works
Watr started operations in Gurugram in 2019. It collaborates with startups and enterprises that do not have an in-house design team. It functions as an augmented design unit and an extension of their product teams, supporting them with branding and visual identity, digital product design (user experience/user interface/design systems/usability), service design strategy for organising, scaling, and smooth functioning of service/s, assistance with design hiring, and assistance with design training and knowledge transfer.
“We engage with clients on a subscription model, presenting them flexibility and transparency to choose between monthly, quarterly, and annual options based on their design requirements. We currently operate on a build, operate, and transfer model where we support product teams to build and scale through design, and if they require to move towards hiring an in-house team, we assist them with design hiring and knowledge transfer with design resources,” Arunabh says.
Challenges in the space
While engaging with different startups and enterprises, the team realised that while the tech community looks to achieve agility and launch the product at the earliest, it is challenging to find skilled and cost-conscious design talent to do the work under strict deadlines.
In most cases, an early stage startup or enterprise usually takes the help of a digital agency or a freelancer before hiring an in-house design team. “We also understood that hiring freelancers, a digital agency, or an in-house team is time-consuming, and an expensive process,” Arunabh says.
The team realised that while freelancers may be a cost-conscious choice, they lack the multidisciplinary skills to lead and design a product, and are also prone to bias in the absence of any other design resources. On the other hand, digital agencies may be well coordinated but are notably expensive.
Hiring an in-house team may be the ultimate goal for many startups or enterprises, but building a team is a slow yet gradual process, and needs an immense amount of infrastructure and resources.
“We, as designers, wanted to contribute to new projects and ideas and make a mark through our work. The current gap and remote resources made us recognise and unlock the opportunity space, and thus, Watr was born,” Arunabh says.
Moving away from the traditional agency model
The team signed its first client within 15 days of its launch. The initial challenge entailed moving away from the traditional agency model for offering design support, and convincing founders of the new value addition to their product ecosystem, while testing and constantly iterating a solution towards the problem.
To address this, the initial website has been positioned as a digital product design studio to attract a few primary clients and build a portfolio of work, before reaching out on a broader scale
“We reached out to startups working out of coworking spaces and those around Delhi-NCR looking to hire an in-house product design team or digital products, and pitched Watr as a remote team offering to build their product,” Arunabh says.
The team of 20 comprises Arunabh’s former colleagues from the design industry with an experience of four-seven years in the field.
Designs on the future
The growing demand for design in the competitive business world has given a fillip to the market landscape of UX/UI designs. Hyderabad-based prototyping and testing platform CanvasFlip allows product managers, UX teams, and entrepreneurs to validate their ideas and check user experience without having to write any code manually.
Another entrant in the field, Bengaluru-based startup GoodWorkLabs designs and builds mobile apps, software products, and games. YUJ Designs Consulting provides user experience design solutions for software products.
Watr’s subscription prices range from $2,500 - $10,000 a month depending on the number of hours of team support the company chooses to opt and engage with.. Watr started its operations in late May 2019, and has clocked revenue of $28,000 in the first four months. Arunabh adds that it has observed healthy traction and is targeting 100 percent growth by the end of this fiscal.
Currently bootstrapped, the startup is looking to raise funds in the near future. “We look forward to scaling and expand the capabilities of our team. We want to partner with key companies taking up diverse product design challenges, helping them distinguish as recognised design-led organisations in the world. Our long-term goal is to find recognition as a niche and premier design incubation space for organisations in the subcontinent and the world.”
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)