How Design Cafe is looking to disrupt the $20 billion home solutions space with design and technology

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By 2015, designers and architects Gita Ramanan and Shezan Bojani realized one thing – they wanted to go beyond just design to build an entire ecosystem of home solutions, and this gave birth to the design cafeAnd D2C home solutions brand in the same year.

The startup has raised so far 57 million dollars In total financing, it counts the likes of Fireside Ventures, Westbridge Capital and Sixth Sense Ventures as its investors.

Design Cafe has more than 900 employees, turnover is Rs 180 crore and has a target run rate of Rs 600 crore in booking value in the next two years. She has helped design and deliver around 150 homes per month in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Thane, Hyderabad and Chennai.

The startup has more than eight centers of expertise, and a 35,000-square-foot factory in Anekal, an industrial district on the outskirts of Bengaluru. By this quarter, the team is expanding to include Pune and Mysore as well. They are also looking for new centers in existing cities, as well as expanding to Delhi NCR and some second tier cities (10 cities in total).

Geeta and Shezan, founders of Design Cafe

The pandemic and its impact

Pandemic-led work has democratized and opened up markets for the housing and home solutions sector, thanks to a work-from-home culture that is catching up.

“With people now spending a significant portion of their time at home, they are looking to renovate their home spaces. This is very true even for tier 2 and tier cities. We have been looking closely at those markets since we started receiving a critical mass of inquiries,” Shezan said. In a conversation with YourStory.

The startup follows a multi-channel model that helps consumers build the homes they want, in the style and specifications they feel most comfortable with.

Design Cafe does this by offering comprehensive solutions from product design and manufacturing to installation.

The technology has helped the startup provide a beneficial experience for its customers, by providing more options at the right time within their budgets. Virtual Reality (VR) specifically helps clients visualize designs in their own spaces.

first design approach

While Design Cafe isn’t the first mover into the space, and has competition from players like Livspace and Homelane, what sets them apart is the designer’s point of view.

“We always wanted to do what we did at scale, and we realized that the best way to do that was to combine our experience and skills alongside technology,” Chaizan says.

He adds that they were aware that the skills of interior designers and architects simply weren’t available to everyone. “We knew that if we wanted to build a house ourselves, we wouldn’t be able to afford our own services,” Shezan explains, adding that hiring a good designer is not only difficult, but expensive.

Also, while designers struggle to carry out clients’ needs and requirements, it is also frustrating for clients to get exactly what they want.

“This meant that there was a huge problem that needed to be solved and that it fit right in with our ambition,” Chaezan says.

Working five years in advance

Later, the idea of ​​Design Cafe was fully created by Gita in 2010 during her scholarship period at the Indian School of Business (ISB). “I laughed out of the room because many thought this was an unworkable idea and said it was not scalable,” Geeta says. However, this did not stop the duo from starting their own architectural firm.

“We realized that entrepreneurship is something we definitely wanted to explore,” Gita recalls. Thereafter, they went on to design more than 500 projects across the country in sectors including residential, hospitality, retail, commercial and institutional design. This continued over the next ten years, which helped them develop a comprehensive understanding of the market.

The turning point came at the end of 2014, when a client came to the couple and asked to build a house for Rs 15 lakh. “We also started to realize that the people we worked with in the beginning were no longer coming to us because by that time our work had been published in architecture magazines and magazines. We started making houses worth Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore, and they were providing references,” says Geeta. .

design cafe space

Expand the consumer base

By the time the duo realized they had skill sets that could create incredible value for people with smaller homes, that customer segment was suddenly out of reach.

The couple also realized that the industry was standardizing. The builders themselves were looking for ways and means to create real estate that catered to the emerging and emerging middle class. They also saw that there is rapid digitization and that the number of people in the middle income group is rising significantly.

“We decided to create a modular unit on the backend and bring our design sensibilities to the fore. With this idea, we brought in a few technologists to build the unit and prototype,” says Jetta.

The first product the team built was a technology solution, where consumers could design their rooms, kitchens, etc. They can choose units, finishes, etc. They can choose the design of the room they were designing in a minute.

Information as shared by the Design Cafe team

Build a scalable platform

It was this prototype that took the team to Kanwaljit Singh, managing partner and co-founder of Fireside Ventures, in 2015. Talking about his investment in Design café, Kanwaljit says,

To be successful in this field, there are many factors that come into play. The founders needed to have a strong sense of design, the ability to be involved and understand what the client wanted as well as an understanding of the home building lifecycle.”

The main factors that played a role here were the ability to implement and build large scalable platforms. “And we’ve seen all of this in the founders of Design Cafe.” Canalgate also explains that the pandemic has democratized the market and industry, making it easier for people to look at brands and options online.

“The consumer wants newer options and better options that fit their needs in every way possible,” Canalgate adds.

As the team raised its first round of funding based on this prototype, they knew they had to change the product. After nearly 300 customer meetings, they realized that while consumers wanted such a solution, they also wanted final approval from a designer or expert.

Animate the form

“We changed our model so that the designer would meet with the client to understand what they wanted, and then bring that into the system later,” explains Gita.

By 2017, the team realized they needed their own setup. “We knew that in order to expand and grow, we needed comprehensive management,” adds Shezan.

However, the market faces its challenges and there are many variables and moving parts. Shezan explains that then they realized that to deliver a complete experience and solutions, they need to manage the various elements such as designers, craftsmen, workers, plumbers, electricians, etc.

This means uniting and training them, making them realize and understand what the customer wants and needs. This means building modular units and ensuring that people are well trained. “It’s about providing all types of work with appropriate job security and decision-making skills,” explains Chaizan.

The market and the future

The 2020 RedSeer Report states that the Indian online furniture sector is pegged at $25 billion, and is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15-17 percent on the back of increased digitalisation, newer business models and rapid urbanization. In fact, the online furniture industry in India makes up only 15 per cent of the organized market, and is growing exponentially at 80-85 per cent.

This shift is also due to the fact that online-first (D2C) brands have acquired more than 30 percent of e-commerce, which will grow to 45 percent by 2025. Shezan says,

“The pandemic has shown us that we can manage operations, teams and work in a mixed online environment. Design Café was one of the first to create homes designed with a touch of exclusivity and luxury. The home is now the center of work and family life, and this is where every consumer looks for The best choices when it comes to building their dream homes, and this is the feature the founders focused on.We are confident that the need for good homes is here to stay forever, and the fact that Design Café blends all aspects of home design with technology, is why it has grown and built its client base. large across India.

The team is now working to expand its base and presence in different parts of the country.

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