Chapter 01

Starting LOCAL : the good, the bad and the truth

I am Roshnee Desai. A graphic designer and writer from India who decided to start her own design studio (LOCAL) after 11 years of being in the industry. I’ve worked at MTV, Saffron Brand Consultants, Landor, Culture Machine among many other stints.

It’s been over eight months that LOCAL has taken off, and it has already been a crazy rollercoaster ride. In these months I have hired 2 lovely young girls to help me on this journey, I’ve managed to plan, obssess and finally get married, go on a honeymoon with half my heart in my startup, try to set up my new home and of course work on 6 restaurants, 2 packaging projects, 2 corporate branding projects and manage to win a campaign pitch with a top international cosmetic company. While we do this we also try to focus on a lot of side projects, walks around Mumbai, studies of indigenous birds for one project or tribal tattoos for another. In addition to this, constant networking, attending events and workshops, dealing with finances, creating systems and oh yes I used to also teach at a design school in Mumbai (who’s academic year has now ended).

Yep, that’s a lot to pack into eight months.

It’s like there is a crowded, speeding local train and I am hanging from its doors. Just trying to stay aboard.

I guess that’s what entrepreneurship is. You control the pace and speed of things in the beginning but as soon as things 'take off’ (now I understand the choice of words) they really do take off – on their own, and all you can do is hang on for the ride.

It’s a crazy confusing ride where everyday brings its own challenges. Sometimes the good gets mixed up with the bad and you don’t realise what hit you. Was it the burst of happiness of a new successful pitch or the shot of worry for your team.

Here is my attempt to dissect experiences so I can celebrate the good, address the bad and acknowledge the truth.

The Good

The reasons why I started LOCAL are things we are actually doing. While this article is not about LOCAL’s ideology and values, here are some high points of me starting my own studio which would be true for most design businesses.

An ideology-based firm

The reason I started LOCAL was because I felt that India needed a design firm with a strong standpoint. A point of view on indian design. So far, we have managed to use India as an inspiration for most of our projects. Even those that are not Indian-themed. The hypothesis that we can be inspired by what we see around us rather than Pinterest boards has been proven true. And that to me has been a huge win for LOCAL.

You get to design your own briefs

Yes! Finally you can figure out what the client really wants and create a brief that truly solves the problem rather than just doing what the client servicing guy asked you to do.

You get to choose and direct projects and clients

At LOCAL we are a little picky about who we work with and what we work on. Like any relationship, it has to be a good match with energies vibing.

Every project is a chance to create a small part of an ideal world with values and principles that you hold dear.

Lets face it, the world is fucked and every day that we go to work, if there is a small way we can fix it, we try to.
Egz. “Do we really need 3 layers of packaging? Can we design this with waste? Can we use local artisans to do this? Can we create awareness about this cause through this brand?.. you get the drift. We want to be super heroines.

You decide what kind of organisation and community you would like to build, it’s like building a family

Culture culture culture. If you create muck you have to live in muck. Being designers we can design our own lives and so the culture in which LOCAL lives, the values and people we want to be connected with is very important. And deliberately created

You can design and research whatever you want!

Studio projects! Collaborations! Stickers! Masti! Random research explorations. Lets go walk around Shivaji park photographing aunties today. These are the things that drive us every day.

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The Bad

But like all things, this comes at a (unforeseen) price:

No sleep and constant anxiety

I wake up at 5:30. Everyday. Not coz I want to. But because my mind won’t let me sleep any longer.

Waking up with a to-do list on your mind everyday

What wakes me up? A floating soup of tasks which nag me until I wake up and do something about them.

No switch off time and no mindspace

I’m going to admit it. I am constantly thinking about LOCAL. Even when I deliberately decide not to, my brain gravitates to thoughts of it. I have started to workout and read books, but then I end up reading books on design or entrepreneurship. FML.

Difficulty experiencing the moment fully

I was thinking about work at my honeymoon in the Maldives. Yes. Those photos on Instagram are rare moments of focusing on honeymooning but overall I was a tiny stressball. (Side note though: I wasn’t thinking about work during my wedding. Thank God)

Doing more of the boring stuff and less of the fun

Taxation, pitch decks, keeping the team motivated and happy and making sure they meet deadlines, grooaaaannn. Can we design stickers now?

Everything seems to connect to work

Every single thing in my life is an idea for LOCAL. Like literally.

Finding the right team

LOCAL is very young and we are still forming its culture and at this point it’s very important that the current team gives it the correct energy and love. I am also careful to pick people we collaborate with or hire because LOCAL is like a child, you want it to be influenced by the right people and energies.

Team management and wellbeing

For me, I realised I’m more of a mother than I thought. I worry for my team, constantly. I want them to enjoy coming to work and use it as a platform to do whatever their dream projects may be. But often, with client work looming, there is little time for the fun and learning part. It’s a delicate balance and I’m constantly trying to manage it. Sometimes it takes a toll on me when I overdo it. Having said that, often amazing work comes from them when I’m not around. There is a thin line between Micromanaging and Guiding

Juggling roles of director, designer, manager, cleaner and team motivator

Yes you have to do everything. And while doing so, certain roles that seemed trivial when you worked in a big organisation, now make sense.

Social life suffering

You will hear your family and friends complain that you never have time for them. Often resorting to terms like ‘badey log' and 'kya? gaayab? forgotten kya?’ and the very worst 'appointment lena padega'

Fashion and self-care

You were queen fashion bee one moment, you start a company and suddenly you have been wearing only 4 things from your wardrobe. And rather than looking like the Founder you look like someone found you on the streets.

The Truth: the greatest challenge

I am being brutally honest. Because I do think it’s important for aspiring entrepreneurs to know what you are in for. If your 9–7 seems stressful and demanding, try running one.

And if any founder told you that they didn’t feel the same stresses, they must be trying to play it cool or lie or are Rajnikanth. Or mayyybe, they meditate, eat well, have a life, exercise and have their shit sorted. But then again, they probably aren’t a first-time startup.

I will say the greatest challenge of starting your own company is separating yourself from your work. We all know we have to. But to actually do it is quite difficult.

That’s my personal goal. To have a bigger life beyond LOCAL. To enjoy my new marriage, to travel, to meet my friends more often, to practice my singing. To be truly present in a moment and not have that nagging To-do list wake me up in the morning.

I’ll keep you guys posted on how it goes.

Here’s me signing off on my first post on Medium.

Roshnee