This woman entrepreneur’s VR product is revolutionising the building construction industry
Tithi Tewari had an illustrious 15-year stint as an architect before she decided to launch a startup with her husband Gautam Tewari. She was the Senior Director and India Business Head at one of Asia’s largest design and building firms, and has designed corporate offices for Fortune 500, Indian blue-chip companies, MNCs like GE in Pune, GSK in Gurgaon, Indigo iFly Training Centre in Gurgaon, Quikr campus in Bengaluru along with schools like The Shri Ram School in Aravali, Gurgaon which was her first project as an architect.
During her career, she combined management acumen and design and project delivery, and after reaching the top levels in her field, Tithi decided to switch gears to entrepreneurship which she thought would be a natural progression for her career.
From her experience in working with various stakeholders in the design industry, Tithi realised that the unwillingness to explore new technologies was a cause of the majority of challenges faced by architects and designers in communicating their design to the clients. To address this gap, she and her husband started, a startup dedicated to providing professional services and point solutions within the realm of design communication to architects, suppliers, and real estate developers by harnessing the power of virtual reality (VR) tech.
Solving problems through VR
Tithi and Gautam - who holds a degree in Construction Management from University of New South Wales, Australia and has over 20 years of global experience in the architecture and design industry - established the startup in 2015.
Working in the industry for close to two decades, Tithi had witnessed several problems and situations while communicating design intent to clients through traditional tools and mediums which did little to aid their overall understanding. Despite the extensive use of 3D renders and walkthroughs, she realised that clients had trouble visualising the end-product. This led to differences in expectations and the final outcome, miscommunication, and time and cost overruns. As the size of projects expanded, the logistical challenges, the stakeholders, and the number of teams working from various locations also increased.
These challengers pushed Tithi and Gautam to come up with a solution to facilitate seamless design collaboration, virtual co-location of teams, and remote working without a hitch. This led them to launch the startup with the idea of virtual reality at its core.
To help enable communication and collaboration with teams, clients, and consultants, SmartVizX launched Trezi, a fully-immersive VR product for the building construction industry in 2018. The startup claims that it is India’s first such product for this industry.
“Trezi is a breakthrough SaaS product transforming design communication in the building construction industry. It allows users to step into the virtual world with co-designers and clients to interact with their design, and each other, in real-time, within immersive environments and over desktop systems alike,” explains Tithi.
The VR product enables architects, designers, consultants, and building product manufacturers to collaborate seamlessly and is time and cost-efficient when compared to conventional methods. It allows users to explore, review, and modify their designs at full scale and colour.
Trezi is being used by India’s topmost architects, infrastructure developers, co-working companies, large enterprises, developers, and manufacturing firms. Tithi says the product is used by over 50 percent of India’s top 50 architecture firms.
Speaking about the startup, Tithi feels that the experience of working for many years helped the couple.
“We are not the typical fresh college grad kind of a startup. We have been in the industry for long, and have extensive hands-on experience. Early traction came from my professional network who eventually became our customers as well. These networks definitely helped us kickstart the sales, followed by word-of-mouth publicity. Also, because of our experience and the understanding of the field we could talk incisively about the pain points during our outreach,” she says.
In just five years of operation, the startup has an overall revenue of approximately $4.5 million. In 2016, it raised angel round funding of $500,000 from IAN and Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs. Followed by a Pre-Series A round of $1.5 million in July 2018 from YourNest VC and IAN Fund. It recently raised approximately $1 million from existing investors and Rockstud Capital Investment Fund.
Impact of coronavirus and opportunities
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, the building construction industry has been hit hard. Migrant labourers are losing jobs and finding it difficult to stay afloat and corporations are continuing to work remotely during these times.
With stay at home orders and work-from-home becoming a norm, Trezi is helping the industry continue with their work.
The startup is working to enable a smooth transition from traditional office environments to agile virtual workplaces for all their customers. While Trezi is a VR-first product, it has enabled the use of the software over standard desktop systems without a hitch – which means that the unavailability of a VR headset or a powerful PC need not hold people back from using Trezi.
It has also worked to remove the cap on the number of attendees in a Trezi Virtual Collaboration meeting, so even non-Trezi users can be part of the immersive environment with or without head-mounted devices. The startup is offering the product at discounted prices during this period while ensuring unlimited access to collaborative features to enable virtual coworking of teams.
“As an industry, we have been extremely averse to new tech. This pandemic may just wake us all up to that reality. A new way of working, collaborating, and information sharing is bound to emerge,” says Tithi.
Women in the industry
Tithi says that in the nascent stage of the startup, the lack of women in the industry was glaring. However, the times have changed and they are witnessing a considerable increase in women joining the industry at all levels.
An advocate for gender equality, Tithi believes that having women in the boardroom can help create more inclusive and engaging work environments. “There is still a long way to go before we achieve gender parity, but it is certain that change will only come when there is a concerted effort to provide opportunities, flexibility, and mentorship for a variety of roles and responsibilities - for women, and by women,” she says.
To nurture diversity in the workplace, there is a need for more women-led startups and corporations, to effect top-down changes in tandem with ground-level shifts in attitudes towards women pursuing STEM careers, she adds.
SmartVizX is helping building product manufacturers in establishing virtual storefronts for products and prototypes. It is also working to make its offering more diverse to enable third-party app developers to come in and create content on top of their SDKs, integrate listing platforms and websites to help provide useful data and analytics to their customers and charge for transactions once they start taking shape.
With all these to come in the future, Tithi hopes to expand to other geographies like MENA, US and South East Asia.
Edited by Javed Gaihlot