It all started at an international coconut conference called Cocotech in Kochi in 2012. Two architects were battling the relentless humidity that monsoon brings to Kerala. A conference participant happened to seek their advice on designing his home. Soon, a small crowd had gathered around them. That’s how Manu Rajendra and Niyati Jagirdar got the idea of starting My Home Design. It would, however, take three more years to launch the startup, which connects home owners with the design fraternity, including architects, designers, contractors and brands. It offers home owners an opportunity to explore various design concepts and gives brands a platform to interact with potential customers.
Manu Rajendra, 37, is a serial entrepreneur. He has launched four startups and successfully sold off stake in an event management venture. He is the link between the three other founders of My Home Design. Jagirdar was a colleague while Rachna Jindal and Vikas Sharma were friends. “Rachna was my classmate in DPS Noida,” says Rajendra. “She always beat me to the first place in class. It took me 100 days to steal her from her previous job.” The soft-spoken Jindal sits beside Rajendra at Ankur Lighting, a lighting showroom in Delhi’s East of Kailash, and nods in agreement. She is the tech brain behind My Home Design.
“After the conference in Kochi, we noticed that when we designed corporate offices people would often ask us to take a look at their residences,” says Rajendra. “So we decided to provide a platform that would offer a holistic design experience to customers.” My Home Design went live in January this year and in just a month, the website crashed under heavy traffic. “We celebrated the website crash with a pizza party that evening,” says Jindal. “Then we upgraded the website.”
The biggest challenge they faced was convincing professionals and manufacturers about joining in. “One of the manufacturers asked why he should register with such a new player in the market,” says Rajendra. “We had to convince him that we are like Airbnb, Pinterest and TripAdvisor. We provide a platform that empowers small manufacturers and professionals.” The startup asked manufacturers how many people their marketing team could meet in a day. How would they spread the news every time they launched a new product? So why not use a platform utilised by thousands of homeowners? The startup makes a comprehensive appraisal of the manufacturers before allowing them to showcase their wares on its website.
Jindal realised how important it was to have a scalable system. “These were uncharted waters and it was important to capture the right audience and give them the right set of tools,” she says. The portal offers every professional a mini-site within the mother website to showcase their products and work. “It is a mini-portfolio for professionals who consider visibility imperative to growth,” says Jindal. “They have a unique ID which serves as their own website.”
More than 8,000 professionals and brands are listed on the website, and the registered user base is more than 9,000. Brands like Rust-Oleum, Videocon Appliances, Kajaria, Sherwin-Williams, Artemide and Ankur Lighting have signed up with the startup. The founders have invested approximately Rs1.5 crore in My Home Design and are currently in talks with venture capitalists for an investment of Rs60 crore by the next quarter.
Contrary to the popular trend, the founders, however, have decided not to play market aggregator. “We will be the library of the largest home design images in the country and it will all be user-generated,” says Rajendra. For now, they will continue playing the role of facilitator by letting consumers browse products, services and designs. Rajendra says that people in India do not hire designers easily. There is also a lacuna in the design space. My Home Design is promoting the tag design concept where consumers can view the complete information about products and brands by clicking on the pin next to the section they want to explore.
And that is exactly what attracted 38-year-old sales professional Vinod Kalita to the website when he bought his first house in Gurgaon. “I logged onto the website and took pointers from there,” he says. “I used some of those designs and tiles in the kitchen and drawing room. It was a convenient way of designing my home rather than by rifling through magazines. I was so impressed with the portal that I have recommended it to my colleagues and relatives.”
My Home Design is targeting brands and professionals who cannot advertise in print or television channels. Architects, for instance, are forbidden by the Council of Architecture from advertising their services. “We have been listed on the website since its soft launch,” says Kapil Handa, architect and managing director of Studio DRA Architects. “We wanted to extend our reach, as architects are bound by a code of conduct. In future, we expect more people will get hooked on to this service and that will increase our market as well.”
My Home Design’s current model is free of charge but plans for monetisation start in July. The 15-member team is looking to add more home décor news such as information on trends, materials and products, and create better awareness. They already send out weekly newsletters with company profiles, trends and products. Manufacturers listed on the website do not mind paying a listing fee. For Ankur Shah, owner of the 35-year-old Ankur Lighting, My Home Design offered a convenient way of informing customers about new products. “We have over 5,000 products, and customers get notifications on new and existing products from My Home Design,” says Shah. “We have received queries through the website, which have been converted into sales. We have learned a lot from the queries.”
A goof-up: We changed our mind on the design of the website too many times based on people’s feedback. Eventually, we went back to the original idea.
Childhood dream: I always wanted to do something on my own.
On speed dial: My co-founders’ telephone numbers.
First office: I rented space in East of Kailash 13 years ago and started four ventures from there.
on to-do list: Start another venture in the field of education.