The digital decorators in India

A slew of startups offering digitised interior design options has hit the market in the past few years, hoping to bring order, efficiency and predictability to the legacy industry.

Name me one furniture brand in India,” challenges Pankaj Poddar. Arms folded across his chest, he waits for a response. When an answer is hard to come by—excluding furniture marketplaces like Pepperfry and Urban Ladder—the 40-year-old founder and CEO of Hipcouch, an end-to-end interior decorating services company, smiles knowingly. “That’s because there’s aren’t any [branded players of significance],” he says, “The market is completely fragmented and unorganised.” 

The market he refers to is the $20-25 billion—by industry estimates —home improvement market, which includes furniture, décor and renovation services. Some wager that it’s a $30 billion industry. As huge as it is, more than 95 percent of the market is unorganised, serviced by several thousand freelance designers, contractors and labourers. 

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(Left to right) Co-founders of Hipcouch Pankaj Poddar and Parikshat Hemrajani spotted the interior design services opportunity in 2013
Image: Mexy Xavier

But therein lies the opportunity. Poddar claims he was the first to spot it back in 2012, along with his co-founder Parikshat Hemrajani. Both engineers by training, they followed conventional career paths in finance and consulting respectively in the US, before returning to India to do “something entrepreneurial”. While hatching plans for a travel startup, it so happened that Hemrajani was doing up his living room. From scouting out a good interior designer to coordinating with the contractors, dealing with opaque prices and erratic timelines, Hemrajani says the experience was a “nightmare”. “We saw the pain points first-hand.”

Promptly, the duo dropped their travel startup plans and started building out a marketplace to connect interior designers with customers. Their venture, Dwll.in, made a match and took a commission without getting involved in execution services. Within three years, Livspace—another end-to-end design solutions company that recently raised $70 million in Series C funding from TPG Growth, Goldman Sachs and existing investors Jungle Ventures, Bessemer and Helion—acquired it. Poddar and Hemrajani briefly worked at Livspace before founding Hipcouch in 2016. 

Srikanth Iyer

“The industry is rife with unpredictability. We’re solving for this.” Srikanth Iyer, CEO, Homelane
Image: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes India

Today, in an industry starved of modernisation, Livspace, Hipcouch and a handful of others like HomeLane and MyGubbi are leveraging technology, marketing smarts and efficient execution to make the customer experience hassle-free. As Srikanth Iyer of HomeLane puts it: “The industry is rife with unpredictability, in terms of pricing, timelines and quality of work. We’re solving for this.”