How two IIT-Bombay students started The Minimalist while still in college to give design a new spin
The Minimalist was started as a Facebook page for thought-provoking witty content when founders Chirag Gander and Sahil Vaidya were yet to graduate as engineers. It soon evolved into a design and digital consultancy, as they spotted an opportunity. It currently works with brands like Berkshire Hathaway, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, Abbott, among others.
At a Glance
Startup: The Minimalist
Founder: Chirag Gander and Sahil Vaidya
Year it was founded: 2015
Where it is based: Mumbai
Sector: Design and digital consultancy
The problem it solves: It helps brands in their strategy, design and communication with their offerings.
Funding raised: Bootstrapped
As twenty-something-year-olds starting their entrepreneurial journey, both Chirag Gander and Sahil Vaidya, batchmates at IIT Bombay, had one big worry. They did not quite possess the experience in the creative field of digital design and communication, a field they were passionate about. Will the market take us seriously? That was the question that haunted them. What were two engineers - one qualified in chemical and the other in energy, doing in the field of digital design?
The market wasn't quite ready to accept the inexperienced duo, dabbling in a well established sector like design consultancy.
But it is not for nothing that Chirag and Sahil wanted to bootstrap and start a firm. At IIT, Chirag was well known for his designs and sketches that he would rustle up at leisure and Sahil had shown a penchant for the written word.
The duo, now in their mid-twenties, first met during a trip for an internship in the third year of college.
Sahil says, “I had heard a lot about the enthusiasm and buzz Chirag was creating through his designs and on meeting him I understood that he wanted to create an impact through designs. I, on the other hand, was interested in music and used to play the drums. At the same time, I would also write humorous content.”
A chemical engineer and an energy engineer, who chose to call themselves ‘Clueless Engineers’, had noticed that social media platforms were becoming increasingly cluttered with people engaging with each other and speaking on various topics with diverse opinions.
The duo decided to work together and tackle the overrun and saturated social media by synergising their strengths to start The Minimalist, a Facebook page to cut through the clutter and noise online with short, witty, crisp and provocative content.
“The content we began producing was attention-grabbing, often went viral and soon started having a following of its own. We hence began focusing on design thinking as it set us apart from the rest,” says Chirag.
They founded The Minimalist in 2015 as a design and digital consultancy firm based out of Mumbai, providing services under three business units - Branding and Communication, Interaction Design and Digital Marketing. The branding and communication division works with clients to devise their brand identity, strategy, and marketing communication. The interaction design unit is responsible for developing apps and products, websites and other web products with a user-centric approach. The digital marketing division helps brands with their digital presence and social media marketing. In addition to this, it also works with brands for packaging, end-to-end creative mandates, and also space design.
Sahil says, “Our massive presence on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn keeps our followers enthralled and engaged regarding various social issues that we address through our designs. Our digital presence acts as our face in public and drives a significant number of inbound leads for the business, largely helping us gain recognition and acclaim.”
What led them?
While there was and is great and interesting work being done in the creative space, Chirag and Sahil believed that by combining their creative skills, they could introduce a unique format of storytelling through minimalistic visual content, that said a lot without trying too hard.
“Although we both were still studying, we knew that the idea and concept had great potential. With zero investment, we started off with a Facebook page and gradually built The Minimalist into a sustainable and profitable business,” Chirag says.
But it is no easy task to start a business from scratch, especially when the founders had little experience to fall back on. Sahil says, “Considering both of us came from an engineering background, we had very little knowledge about how the industry functioned, what clients were scouting for, what agencies were offering etc. Moreover, the concept of starting and running a company was fresh to us. We were however driven and persistent to make this work and there has been no looking back.”
But getting a business off the ground whilst the founders are still in college is not without challenges. “It was extremely difficult and demanding as we already had around 20 full-time employees, multiple projects as well as academic assignments and research work to manage in our last year at IIT. Our grades began to drop and both Chirag and I were often faced with the question of dropping out. This was one of the most challenging times for both of us. However, the vision we had for the company kept us going. Today, we are considered to be one of India’s fastest growing agencies and have been competing with the most renowned agencies in India as well as abroad,” says Sahil.
At present, The Minimalist has a team of 70 people and is working with a diverse set of clients from India and abroad including Fortune 500 companies.
Chirag is a national award-winning designer and became an adjunct professor at Miami Ad School at the age of 22. At The Minimalist, Chirag is responsible for operations and is largely involved on the creative side. While Sahil is an avid writer and has an active following on Quora and LinkedIn.
The Minimalist claims to have been experiencing 100 percent growth year-on-year and over 300 percent growth from inception till date.
Sahil says, “While we started off purely as a design consultancy, all three business units have grown to contribute equally in terms of revenue. We foresee major growth from the Interaction Design vertical in the next few years. We have also been growing our team strength by almost 100 percent YoY. With zero investment, we have been completely bootstrapped, have been reinvesting profits and have been profitable since Day One. Reinvestment of profits has been key to the success and growth of The Minimalist.”
The firm has worked with over 200 clients till date including the likes of Coca-Cola, Airtel, Practo, Minute Maid, IDFC, MobiKwik among others in India. On the global front, it has worked with companies like News Corporation, Berkshire Hathaway, Abbott, Dow, Cetelon, Cashmere Polo, Hypertrack.io, Techforce.ai, Builder’s Patch, etc. Its key international markets include the US, Singapore, New Zealand and Mauritius.
The Indian advertising industry has evolved from being a small-scaled business to a full-fledged industry. The advertising industry is projected to be the second fastest growing advertising market in Asia after China. It is estimated that by 2018, the share of ad spend in India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be around 0.45 percent.
Over the last decade, lots of branding and digital marketing companies have mushroomed in the sector. The Minimalist is in the race with not just Indian digital marketing startups such as Webchutney, Blue Vector, Geekschip, and The Brand Saloon, but also sector leaders Ogilvy and Pinstorm.
Talking about what sets them apart from other agencies, Sahil says, “Although a B2B services company, The Minimalist has a strong B2C connect. We engage with our social media followers actively by sharing our perspective through our content and design on various social issues and topics of interest.”
For the future the duo aim to further the growth of The Minimalist in the global market. “Although, we have been working with international brands, we are focussed on increasing our global footprint. We aim to work and come up with solutions for the challenges that brands are faced with globally as opposed to the challenges that are faced in a single market,” says Chirag.
So do the young founders have any advice for students wishing to start up? Sahil says, “Entrepreneurship depends not just on your ability but also on your appetite to take the plunge and live on the edge indefinitely. One must evaluate whether he/she can actually enjoy the process and then take an informed call. One doesn't have to do it just because it is the flavour du jour.Even an iota of success will take months and months of blood, sweat and tears- one must be prepared for this reality.”
“A young entrepreneur's journey will be full of deleterious blunders. Rather than brooding over something that can't be changed, one must carefully make note of those fatal errors so that they are never repeated again. This has been a big learning for us- because instances from the past always act as great data points and aid future decisions. Another big learning for us has been to focus on the bigger picture and craft a vision for the organisation. The best way to maintain focus & intensity is to devise short term and long term goals for the business and regularly take stock of progress," he added.