Tomador de Riesgos – ‘Sarojini Dantapalli’

In the last post on this series we had a lovely young textile designer write about the thought process behind choosing between gathering knowledge of the work under an established designer and starting her own venture. In this new post we see that there’s more to a ‘title’ than just the literal definition. There is a primary skill associated with every job, but then there’s that one thing beyond it that makes you great. Think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson.

The perspective shown in this post by a young design practitioner Sarojini Dantapalli is a brilliant one. Having co-founded a firm called Design Experiment with designer Abhitej Velore, she shares with us what she believes is the most important lesson the last two years of her journey taught her. We hope that it helps you find the spark that brings you greatness.

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The designer and the story teller

“For a young design practice the only thing more dangerous than lying about what they do, is to not talk about what they do.”

One of the most important aspects of being a designer is to observe people – what they like, what they don’t, how they move, how they use what we give them, and how their surroundings can be improved. As engrossed as I was in studying interactions of human beings with the world around them, it’s the subtleties of human interactions that evaded me – the interactions between people.

As a child I remember being very bogged down by the constant nag of “what will people think?” (Watch how you behave, watch what you say, be careful how you speak, so on and so forth.) Not knowing how to deal with this array of uncertainties, I decided to lock those voices out. I told myself they didn’t matter and shunned them all out.

It wasn’t until I ventured out on my own, trying to sell what I believed was the “genius of great design”, that I began to take interest in people again. I learnt with time that the important question is not “what will people think?” but “what do we want, people to think?”

Let me confess that when I first started out I was just a silent observer of the world spending most of my days solving design problems or making products come into existence. I very naively presumed that when I do good work, the world will be my stage and I’ll have a very enthusiastic audience craving to know what I have for them. Hell! Of course that was far from reality. Well it is true that the world is your stage, however, the audience in question are the ones we need to earn.

This is how I understand the world- we are all creators, with different perspectives and perceptions; we all have our notions of right and wrongs, what should be and shouldn’t. We all have our stories to tell. We all play the audience and the performers at some level or the other.

The few people that stick out in our heads however, are the few performers that excelled at what they did. Not always because of the inventive products they made or the creative work they put out, but many times because of the brilliant stories they said.

I started to notice that most of the popular architects/designers/inventors were more often than not known for something beyond their products. People loved their work but more importantly, people loved them. I loved them. They inspire me because they show me not only their work, but they share with me their stories, their struggles, their beliefs, their aspirations and of course their successes.

I realized it’s important to take out time to speak your mind. People like to know about other PEOPLE. They like knowing about great work, but they LOVE knowing about great people.

This has till now been easier said than done.

Realizing my shortcomings, I started to observe all the designers/inventors who were great presenters and what they did right. Gradually it started to make more sense. The key, I noticed, was that every step of the way they not only thought about how people would use what they make, or the difference their work would make, but also what is the impact they want to make on the world. How do they want people to perceive them and their work?

Observing some of my favourite presenters from different fields, from how they drove their point in, to how they unveiled their ideas. How they explain and imprint the greatest strengths of their theories and stories in our minds, It slowly became apparent to me, that presentation was much like design. It relied heavily on understanding people. While designing they’re your users; while presenting, your audience. You need to understand what they are looking for, what their tastes are, what they would find enticing, and what they would overlook.

Presentation is basically like storytelling or movie making or choreography. You think about how you start, how you build and how you end. You need to know what points would excite the viewer and what would put them at ease. You need to make sure these absolute high energy points are separated by a sense of calm otherwise their impact would not be felt. You need to make sure that you build an expectation, let the audience know something is coming, and then give them the satisfaction of being right. You need to make sure you maintain the emotion you want throughout the presentation. You need to make sure you end with a lasting impact. At every point in choreography, you need to put yourself in the audiences’ shoes and think about how they would feel – just like how you would in design. Good presentation can only come out of a good understanding of people. The only way you can understand people better is to put yourself amongst them and embrace their presence.

I’m not saying presentation is everything. Design, in the end, is ultimately what satisfies or dissatisfies a user. However it is presentation which converts a viewer into a user in the first place. Presentation is what gives you a chance. For emerging designers, chances are vital.

Here is where my struggle from being a passionate designer to an aspiring story teller begins.

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In case you’re new to this blog and are wondering what this series is about, make sure you read the introductory post.
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Tomador de Riesgos – ‘Mrinmayee Dhobale’

TUNI- Textiles, yoU aNd I, is an enterprise aiming to focus on bridging the gap between textile and interior design. Mrinmayee Dhobale, an alumnus of NIFT and London College of Fashion, began the conceptualization and planning of TUNI in early September of 2013. Finally, TUNI Interiors Pvt. Ltd. was born on 29th January 2014 and had its successful debut exhibit in March 2014. Nine months into business, here’s a peek into the journal of Mrinmayee….

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I started out with what seems like a basic debate between campus placements and self-employment. Most young entrepreneurs (I would assume) have been through that dilemma. There was some scepticism, some support, lot of perspectives on the business model, advice from the well-wishers and the not so well-wishers. The most common advice I received was “work for 2 years and then start your business”.  At first, I had no idea how that was relevant. My response to that was “Will 2 years of work experience guarantee success at my business?” Being stubborn as I am, I was looking for a yes or no kind of answer to that. In my opinion, today or 2 years from now, the risk was going to be the same. Learning on a jobwould definitely have its own advantages, but it just wasn’t me. I didn’t see myself investing 2 years in a job while I could invest it in TUNI. For me, it all came down to that and the debate finally ended. Half the battle was won when the result was in favour of “start your own venture”. So, a lot of scribbling pads, unsent emails, business proposal drafts and broken pen nibs later, TUNI was born. And here I am today writing for a blog titled ‘From the desk of a Businesswoman’!

It took only a few days to realise that it was just half the battle. There I was, rather proud of myself for taking the leap, when feasibility and logistics entered the scenario.  I had things all planned out from the design to execution to when the first event would be; a rather elaborate party in my head. But then again, the plan in my head was far from reality. As my friend called it, “my bubble had burst”! I started planning this venture in September 2013 in Kolkata. Yes, ‘in Kolkata’ is an important part. Everyone who has been to the city at that time of the year knows the festivities that take on the city. It was not the best time to get work done or even started. And having just moved to the city didn’t help much either. The city looks beautiful that time of the year, and there’s most certainly an awesome vibe through the pujas. But the unstated fact is that work pretty much comes to a stand still. It’s like trying to find a cab in London on Christmas day (no exaggeration)! Except imagine a month long Christmas. There wasn’t much I could do than wait for people to resume work post pujas.

 When people were finally back to work there it was, the switch from “good luck, beta” to “’I don’t know’ is not an answer”. This hit me when, while planning TUNI’s first exhibit cum sale, I told one of the organisers I didn’t know the answer to what he was asking (it was a basic VAT query). That was rather politely tailed by “Then whom can I ask ma’am?” followed by complete silence from my end of the phone call. That’s when I realised I had to learn and I had to learn fast. These many months into TUNI, the primary thing I’ve learnt is that from the tailor to the teller, no one will take ‘I don’t know’ as an answer! Having said that, as much as I have grown in these months, when it’s not the best day at work, crocodile tears are in order and I have no qualms in admitting it! Everyone on the receiving end of this is probably nodding right now.

 It would be naïve to believe that the learning curve isn’t steep in a business. I could ramble on for pages about things I’ve learnt at TUNI, but the most important of all has been accepting accountability. I remember when the very first event went well; I was ecstatic! But when another didn’t, I realised I was quickly looking for things to blame (yes, not very professional, I know). I blamed the marketing strategy, the choice of venue, the day of the event, the collection, the choice of city and a lot of other such things, only to realise all those decisions had been mine. That’s when I realised I couldn’t just be popping champagne after successful events; I am equally responsible for the failures. There definitely is a huge difference between knowing it and realising it. Everything said and done, at the end of the day the pride in calling this venture MINE is what drives me. I wish I could share more, but there really is nothing more to why I wake up and look forward to work every single day!

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Types of customers & my reaction to them…Part 1

“Customer is King” 

Throughout my college days I have read this statement over and over again. I have read about how earlier it was “Business is king” and how it became “Customer is King”. Those days I used think that this new evolution was absolutely correct. Businesses should not be given any power and all the power should reside with the customer. Today I find myself contradicting this. We have given way too much power to the wrong customers.

Being in the front line of the company- Sales -I have seen different people with different kinds of behaviours. And of course, with different people, you have to behave differently. One day I lost my cool because of a certain customer and as a stress buster, classified these customers I’ve come across into 10 buckets. Let’s start with the most annoying buckets:

 1). I-have-a-disease-of-asking-for-discounts-even-if-it-costs-only-a-few-pennies

Profile: This person will typically be well-dressed, runs in the upper-middle class social circles, has polished communication skills, is a major extrovert, and most importantly, is financially well-to-do.

Behaviour: An item may cost a measly Rs.10 but they will still negotiate for a discount. I believe that the underlying thought here is that at some level this is related to their false sense of excellent negotiation skills. If they are able to get an unbelievable bargain, they feel proud of their ability to ‘negotiate’. 

My feelings towards them: Sweetheart, that’s nothing to be proud of. You have basically stripped the seller off his honest earnings and led him into a loss. Sure, not all businesses are honest but more businesses are genuine. As it is, due to the competition in the market businesses operate on narrow profit margins. These people view negotiation as a Game of Thrones battle between seller & buyer. These are the people who I absolutely detest and never want to associate with as a businesswoman.They are narcissists and think only about themselves. They don’t even consider what the market conditions are. I mean come on! Everybody deserves to make an honest living!

2). I-want-everything-but-don’t-want-to-pay-for-it

Profile: These people can be your everyday Joe. They are mostly your not-so-humble people. You can find them across middle-middle class to lower-high class. These people are extroverts and have a decent sized social circle with one or two ‘VIPs’. Oh and they also have this false sense of societal position. And these people are the ones who constantly cry about how ineffective the government is. And don’t pay taxes.

Behaviour: These folks do most things to show off to their social counterparts. They want the sun and moon but don’t want to get burnt in the process. They want to look rich but want their bill to look like a small roadside purchase. 

My feelings towards them: The first thought that pops up in my mind is to make them run my business for one week. They don’t realize what the business has to endure to give them all this. Just last week a customer told me he wouldn’t pay for the additional valet service he insisted on. Like WTF?! Because valet drivers don’t need to earn a meal?! Why don’t these people understand that the economy flourishes only when you pump in money? 

 3). Even-if-I-can-afford-this-I-will-use-my-connections-to-get-a-discount

Profile: These are generally your upper-middle to higher class folks who have made widespread connections over the years. They have a more than healthy bank account, eat in gourmet restaurants, go on international vacations, etc. 

Behaviour: BUT when it comes to paying for something, if they know someone who knows someone else who owns/runs the business they are paying for, they WILL use it. They will casually throw in the statement to the salesperson, “Is Mr.Owner-whose-first-name-I-happen-to-know in office today?”. They will first negotiate with the salesperson and when the salesperson reduces his quote and gives the final number, this person will say, “Okay, I’ll talk to Mr.Owner-who-I-don’t-know-personally-but-will-somehow-get-it-reduced.” Eventually even if the owner-given discount is a measly 2-3% they’re content.

My feelings towards them: Do you have any idea how small a person you look in front of the salespeople and the business owner when you do this? Anybody who pulls this nonsense in front of me gains my disrespect. You’re negatively proportional to your bank balance dude. 

To be continued……

Sunayana Sen

Tardiness at work

I remember the very first meeting I had with a marketing agency. I got a call from a girl one day representing a digital marketing company who asked for an appointment with me. I was quite excited; well it was my first external meeting! So I said “Sure. Come to my office at 11 am tomorrow. Is that a good time for you?”. She responded in the affirmative and said she’d be there at 11 am.

Cut to the day of the appointment, 11 am and she’s not there yet. She and her partner showed up at 12:30 pm. By that time I had already made up my opinion about them and the service they were going to pitch and believe me, the outcome wasn’t going to go in their favour. I plan my whole day according to meetings and when people don’t maintain time it majorly upsets the rest of my day.

Now, I’ve got to be honest, I’m not the most punctual person myself. In fact, until recently I was always late wherever I went- Movies, concerts, dinners, submissions, etc. But I always ensured that I was on time when it came to work and business. Like in my previous job I was one of the few people who would do everything within deadline and attend meetings on time.     

So now in the position of marketing manager I get tons of requests for appointments from various vendors and I expect them to show some basic etiquette such as being on time. The other day I had given a 12 noon appointment to one company for them to pitch their offer. They, of course, didn’t turn up on time; showed up half an hour late in fact. The very first thing I said to these people was “You were supposed to come at 12 noon” and they conveniently ignored it. As you can imagine, I had already judged them negatively. To add to that, during their pitch they got some pretty obvious detail wrong about my company, twice. My response? “You should have done your homework.” I mean duh! You were the one who approached me, I am your potential customer and you couldn’t take me seriously enough to show up on time and do your homework about my company? That itself says so much about your work style and the relationship I would have with your company if I decided to take you up on your offer. Jeez. 

You know what they say about first impression being the last impression? Yeah, it applies to your punctuality too, not just your looks. And please, do your homework.

Sunayana Sen

Oh, the struggle!

I’ve heard so many people say that working for your parents would be a holiday. I can guarantee you that unless you’re a spoilt child, it’s harder than being a regular employee. I’m expected to work twice as hard, be there for longer, be yelled at for everything that went wrong and most importantly, I take work back home. So the next time someone tells you that working for your parents is not really work, slap that person across his face and tell him to be courageous enough to start his own business.

Now, I walk a fine line between being just an employee and the boss’s daughter. My biggest struggle is with that conflict of identity. I want the others to feel free around me and not fear me. When they see me I don’t want their first thought to be “Boss’s daughter”. I certainly want to be respected- not for my family alliances but for what I bring to the table. Then there’s also the implicit pressure of being as good as my parents. I’ve heard at least ten times today that I’m a mini version of my father and now if I don’t live up to it, I will permanently be branded as a failure.

Last week I had a situation with a colleague who was slightly rude to me. At that point I felt quite conflicted and I needed to talk to someone and get it off my chest. Unfortunately, I don’t have anybody of my age so naturally I thought of talking to my parents. But the problem is that if I spoke to my dad, he wouldn’t even bother investigating; he would simply start yelling at the said colleague and then everybody would fear me. I can’t afford that. I didn’t even want to tell my mother and put her in a position of conflict. So I brooded over that issue quietly in my mind for a couple of days until I got it out. In my previous company, in such situations, the two parties would sit together, talk it out respectfully and move on. But those folks were highly intelligent and polished people which isn’t really the case in my current industry. Not even close!

This struggle continues and I’m sure it will for a while longer. The journey has just begun after all.

Sunayana Sen