Starting a Design Consultancy?

© Geoanne Millares

Starting a Design Consultancy?

Ripul Kumar

FollowRipul Kumar

Director, UX Research @ [24]7 || Ex Founder Kern UX

Like every dreamy eyed designer, it was no secret that I had been hatching starting a design consultancy since I understood the meaning of word ‘design.’ It meant that I could positively change lives of millions of people who use products I designed, be my own boss, travel around the world, and meet amazing people. Thanks to all my earlier employers, I was too busy solving problems of large enterprises to act upon my dream.

It happened one day over breakfast in a lonely cafeteria in the midwest — I was asked to significantly compromise the output of a project to bag a much larger project. Acting as a trigger I packed my bags and was back home in India. It was the birth of a niche design consultancy called Kern.

Against all odds, Kern thrived as a boutique UX research and design consultancy. A dozen years went by with large ups and deeper downs until the day we decided to close the profitably running experiment (but that’s another bedtime tale!).

While, there is enough advice floating about how to consult, there isn’t much about the pitfalls and warnings. For me, each consulting day was several lessons — lessons learnt in running a small company an non-trust country called India. And, if you are dreaming of starting a design consultancy in India (or elsewhere!), this series of articles will keep you grounded.

Bottom-lines first

  • Running a business in India was for people who did not do well in school. Telling that to close confidants is an emotional roller coaster for many. But, you must take a deep breath and take along parents, siblings, spouse & close friends in confidence — tell them earlier than later. You might be surprised with people ready to help. On the other hand, if wounded, a soldier needs a lot of care and good nursing every day!
  • While you are starting up, your household expenses are not running away. You need to have about 6–12 months of running expenses in your bank account. If not, you will make tactical decisions for your business that may regret later.
  • Starting up also means you reduce your bottomline aka your household running expenses drastically. Cut down your house rent, eating out expenses, clothes, and gifts.
  • Owning a house and that expensive car is the Indian dream for the highly educated. Owning an ‘asset’ portrays security, wellness, and abundance. But for a budding entrepreneur, it is a ‘liability’ if you have continuing loans. With unreliable income, continuing EMIs are guaranteed to kill your startup, soon. A home loan is #2 reason for startup failures.
  • Find a free office space to start with — be prudent. If you have a bedroom free or a willing family member with a spare room (we don’t have garages in India) used as a dump, help to clean up and agree to pay for their electricity, and lap that up. You will save month on month rentals — rentals are the #1 death reason for small businesses!
  • Ask friends for furniture (tables, chairs, and racks) and electronics (a microwave oven, a small fridge, a tea kettle, still working wi-fi routers, working but not used laptops, fans, or a window aircon that’s gathering dust) that they are willing to give away. This will reduce your initial capital expenses (CapEx). Renting some of them is also advisable, buying is not. Be shameless in asking!

Next up: Managing Clients!

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