This entrepreneur couple shows how to build a company that clocks Rs 120 Cr turnover
Entrepreneurs, Shezaan Bhojani and Gita Ramanan, founders of Bengaluru-based home interior solution company Design Cafe, share the secrets of building a successful business and marriage.
They started out as work partners but ended up becoming life partners. Shezaan Bhojani and Gita Ramanan, founders of Design Cafe, have known each other for almost 20 years, worked together for almost 15, and have been married for more than seven.
On Valentine’s Day, the entrepreneur couple speaks to SMBStory on how teaming up together helped them build a successful home interior brand.
Shezaan and Gita, both 36, met in 2001 while they were studying BMS College of Architecture.
Barely six months out of college, they won a design competition for an 800-apartment complex project. Even though they had no plans of entrepreneurship, this major milestone changed their plans.
“We realised entrepreneurship is something we definitely wanted to explore,” says Gita. Subsequently, they went on to design over 500 projects across the country in sectors across residential, hospitality, retail, commercial, and institutional design. This continued for the next 10 years, which helped them develop a comprehensive understanding of the market.
As a result, they closed their existing profitable business, DesignInc., a business model similar to that of Pepperfry, to start Design Cafe in 2015 with their savings. They also raised half a million dollars from angel investor and Founder of Fireside Ventures Kanwaljit Singh.
The purpose of opening up and running such a business is simple yet profound. Shezaan says, “When you design something like a home, you are part of something special.” He says these are exciting times, serving millennials today who want personalisation and customisation in everything, including their homes.
These brothers started their design studio in Auroville to work with local artisans, clocked Rs 60 lakh turnover in a year
Decoding the brand
Design Cafe is an online home interior solutions provider and “not a traditional architecture and interior designing firm”. It provides end-to-end solutions for designing homes starting from designing, manufacturing some of the products, to the installation process.
“Every day after starting Design Cafe was a struggle but Shezaan was very clear that he wants to build a billion-dollar business,” says Gita. Many projects they were working on closed before they could even see the light of the day. But they persevered until things started moving.
Today, Design Cafe clocks a turnover of approximately Rs 120 crore every year. It has four stores spread across Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Hyderabad, has more than 800 people in the workforce. The company has a 35,000 sq ft manufacturing unit in Bengaluru, which manufactures home interior products with materials sourced from top brands of the world including Hettich, Merino, Kessebohmer, Saint Gobain, Fevicol, etc.
The brand claims to be competitively priced, at “12 percent more than your neighbourhood contractor carpenter who gives no design intervention.”
Technology has helped them provide a wholesome experience to their customers. It allows customers more options in a timely manner within their budgets. Virtual reality (VR) specifically, helps customers visualise the designs in their private spaces.
Decoding the success of the business and the marriage
The couple admits that 10 years ago, they wouldn’t have thought they would reach where they are today. Despite existing in a crowded market, Design Cafe has managed to carve a niche.
Reason behind their success? “We found this market opportunity within the space of what we were qualified for,” says Gita, adding, “We are also the only company that has been started by designers and that helps in making more informed decisions.”
Gita and Shezaan believe they have taken great risks and gone after every opportunity that came their way. As far as balancing marriage and work for the busy couple goes, Gita says that is something that they work on constantly. “There are times when one of them gets lopsided though but every couple has their own unique way to work on them,” she adds.
Business is an exhausting and consuming endeavour, and having your partner in the same space helps, believes Gita. She adds that they have always complemented each other as business partners as well as life partners. “Shezaan has become more proactive over the years in making quality time by taking us to spaces where we go off the grid sometimes. This has created a balance since I am a constantly-at-work kind of a person.”
This Noida-based interior design company landed real-estate giant Mahagun as its first client, eyes Rs 300 Cr revenue mark by 2021
She adds that having her husband in the same field helps the most in understanding commitments. “When you are running a high-growth startup like ours all you want is somebody who gets it, to whom you don’t have to explain yourself so much,” she quips.
The couple is laser-focused on becoming “the most trusted brand in India with regard to home interiors.”