Interview: 'Software, services startups are well placed to compete on global stage'

Redd Experience Design, a specialised user experience (UX) design startup, was established in April 2015 and is based in Indiranagar, Bengaluru. The startup’s CEO and Founder  Sharan Grandigae in an email interview with Zee Business Online, talks about various matters related to problems faced by the startups.

What is the potential for startups in India?
India is famed for its very large consumer base, but I think it has other factors going for it as well. The legal system functions fairly well, star-up investors have a lot more experience in the field, with better expectations from their investments and are guiding founders in finer ways. The supporting fields of marketing, sales, design and software development are burgeoning and becoming world-class as well.

The software/services startup world is well set to compete on a global stage, but we have a lot of work to do in terms of setting up the infrastructure required to produce hardware products. The city of Shenzhen in China is equipped to allow a start-up to go from idea to production in 6 months’ time! For something like that to happen in India, we need some fundamental changes in our society. We need support from the government and other bodies involved in order to achieve this.

What do you think about the current start-up policies? Do you think they are conducive for start-ups to flourish? What are the regulatory hurdles faced by start-ups in India?
While a lot of things have become better, I think a lot more work remains to be done. If India wants to compete with Silicon Valley or with Israel, we need to understand one truth about start-ups — that they don’t have a lot of time or resources at hand to do everything. If a start-up founder cannot simply go to a website and get their company registered and started and instead has to hire someone to help them navigate the various processes and steps involved in order to get started, we’ve already lost the initiative.

And, if one is successful in registering their company, there are additional compliance hurdles that need to be met and managed. Most start-ups end up hiring someone just to do this, using the money they have little to begin with. In addition, a start-up frequently begins working in one arena and pivots until they find traction and this may actually put them in a whole different industry vertical. According to our current procedures, the company has to declare the field they are working in, which isn’t good in itself, but it also has to seek the governing bodies’ approval in order to do so!

In the US, 90 percent of the companies fail in the first year and of the remaining, about 80 percent fail in the second year. I’m sure the numbers are similar in India. So, if a founder needs to close their company after an unsuccessful attempt, it takes two years to do so! Why would such a system encourage one to try at all in the first place?

It seems like our systems still have remnants of colonial rule where a citizen of this land had to seek permission to do anything instead of simply being mindful of the laws. When we have legal systems that work, what is the need for one to seek permission to do anything?

What is the future of UX Design in India?
In India and across the world, the field is getting to be better understood. UX isn’t thought of as only the aesthetic layer anymore and people understand that design can have an impact on not just the bottom line, but also the top line. Even investors are making investments more confidently in companies that have a designer as one of the founders.

With this kind of attention being given to the field, we UX designers are investing heavily in doing the research required to make our work more effective and efficient. One way is through the use of EEG headsets that help measure brain waves in order to evaluate the effectiveness of our design work with users. We are also contributing to the community in big ways, helping raise the standards
across the board.

At Redd, we are investing heavily in voice-based interfaces with our partners as well and developing standards so it becomes easier for clients to adopt voice interfaces in their applications. Tell us about your growth plans We intend to remain a dedicated user experience design company, but there are many specialised areas within the field where we could develop further skills. For example, there’s the potential to improve customer experience across more touchpoints other than just the digital ones we’re addressing today. There are improvements we can do in user research and validation of designs prior to getting into development. We also can design for new mediums that are becoming available.

By adding on more capabilities, we intend to expand the portfolio of services we offer our clients in India and in other countries.

Are you planning to raise funds?
We’ve been bootstrapped right from the beginning and have grown based on profits the business has generated. However, we’re at a point where we will need to raise funds in order to grow and expand the business. So yes, we intend to raise funds from the market soon.

Tell us about your journey
I studied business at Drexel University in Philadelphia and started my first company in the year 2000 when taking part in a business plan competition organised by an incubator in the university. As a self-trained software developer, I ran the company with partners, building custom software for small and medium-sized businesses in Philadelphia and the Tri-state region. While developing software, my focus remained on developing beautiful and usable software.

I joined Adobe Systems in India as a user experience designer and I really liked what I was doing there. After three and a half years, I quit in 2013 to work as a freelancer. With some luck, I started working with some really well-known start-ups like Urban Ladder and very quickly, had to start my own company dedicated to user experience design two years later when the workload started to increase. The company was called Redd Experience Design.

Today, Redd has worked with some very well-known companies from successful start-ups such as Urban Ladder, Lenskart, BlueStone, HostMaker and Healthy Buddha to established enterprises like Discovery Channel, Asian Paints, Cloudnine Hospitals, Infosys and Syska.

In numbers, the company is 4 years old and is 15 people strong, has worked on more than 70 projects, in more than 32 industries, with clients across 4 countries and with 0 external investment. In an effort to understand our clients better, Redd has also developed four products of our own,
some of which are free to use. Redd has also invested heavily to advance the field of user experience. We have written extensively about the intricacies of the field, worked on making user research more accurate and are also working on developing standards for voice-based user interfaces alongside partners like Entropik and Slang Labs.