“Interior designing in India has been a fragmented domain”

The interior design segment for commercial spaces in India has witnessed a transformative evolution, marked by innovation and adaptability. The growth is attributed to factors such as robust hiring, expansion of startups, and an evolving entrepreneurial landscape.

Kunal Sharma, Founder and CEO, Flipspaces, spoke with India Business and Trade on the state of the interior design segment for commercial spaces in India. In an elaborate conversation, he highlights the resilience of the commercial real estate industry amid the pandemic, as India has shown remarkable growth in this sector, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 11-12%, surpassing the global average. Sharma also emphasized on the significance of physical workspaces for building culture and collaboration, driving the demand for commercial real estate. 

Photo Source: Pexels

IBT: How would you describe interior design segment for the commercial space in India?

Kunal Sharma: The commercial real estate industry, has kind of braved the two waves of pandemic, and I think 2021-22 were those years when we were still recovering and were speculative about what the outlook is going to be. So, nobody was very sure about how things are going to pan out or to what extent will work from home stay, when are people finally going to come back to work.

India has become the go to destination for commercial real estate, has showed one of the most resilient, one of the strongest growths in the entire global market. I think the CAGR of commercial real estate growth in India is between 11-12%. When you compare it to the real estate CAGR of US as a market, it would be broadly in the 3 to 4% range. So we’re talking about a growth rate which is broadly three times the growth rate of one of the global destinations like the US. Of course, fact is that the US is a much larger and a more evolved market. US commercial real estate would broadly be about 1.3 trillion. India would be broadly about one fifth, one sixth of its size. But that being said, the growth in India has been more resilient than most, or I would say, almost all global markets.

There are a few reasons behind it. One is a very strong push on hiring and people expansion across the sector, and especially powered by the SME segment, like early stage, mid stage startups in India, normal manufacturing setups, a lot of data centers being set up, a lot of dark kitchens being set up to kind of serve the F&B as a segment. I think post the pandemic, all of these SMEs have realized that building culture and building collaboration is not possible through WFH. And thereby there has been a push on people expansion and there has also been a push on people coming back to office.

Another reason is the evolving entrepreneurial landscape of India. So, I think the startups alone in general with the kind of course there was a funding drought in between, but startups continue to expand, startups continue to look at their workforce being expanded to kind of service, the kind of demand that they’re seeing.

IBT: How did Flipspace come into existence and where does it stand as of now?

Kunal Sharma: I come from a background of having been an entrepreneur almost all of my life. I realize that architectural design and technology combined could actually create a world changing business. And I figured that interior design, conventionally, has been a fragmented domain. While designing office space, we had to deal with multiple different kinds of stakeholders, go out to physical outlets, go out to online platforms, deal with architects, interior designers, product suppliers, contracting based, execution based guys, and project managers and so on and so forth. And I figured for this category isn’t served by a brand which forms one point platform for the customer to come and do their entire design and build. For me was the eureka moment.

There has been nobody in the market, not just in India, but globally, to address the market of becoming a one point platform for interior design and build for commercial spaces. And that’s how the story kind of started building, which is when we started building Flipspaces. And I believe that technology is vision critical to run this particular vision at a level of scale or for this vision to be realized at a level of scale.

You could do 2, 5, 10, 20 projects as an individual architect or as a group of people. But to be able to handle scale, tech becomes mission critical in order to create seamlessness efficiency and thereby drive client delight. So, to cut a long story short, at this point in time, the vision of Flipspaces is to become the one stop global brand which caters to the commercial design and build needs of any business that wants to look at any kind of commercial space. T

IBT: How do you bring forth different innovative ideas when you’re designing different commercial spaces? 

Kunal Sharma: Residential interior design is a whole different ballgame. There is a lot of customer aspiration that is associated with making their homes. There are a multitude of product choices that are available in the market offline and online.

At the same point of time, let us understand why commercial real estate might be more templatized in terms of its interior design but is a more complex problem statement to crack. Unlike in residential, in commercial interior design, when we enter as interior designers or architects, the floor plate is barren. We have to figure out how the plumbing lines and the bathroom, where it will be created, all of which in the case of residential interior design is already done. So the problem statement itself in commercial real estate is more complex. Commercial interior design, the problem statement itself is far more complex, but the product universe that goes into it would be more templatized. Which also goes on to kind of bring in the point that the kind of supply chain ecosystem and the kind of expertise that is needed between building residential spaces and commercial spaces is extremely different.

IBT: How do you bring about that sustainability aspects when you’re designing a space for SMEs?

Kunal Sharma: It’s actually an insightful question. When we work with a company which is large size, when we work for a News Corp or maybe a Bennett Coleman, they would be aware about something which is called ESG, which is environmental, social and governance compliances. So ESG is the industry parlance for sustainable interior design.

In the case of, let’s say, mid sized companies, startups, etc. I think as conscious interior designers, it becomes our job to, in certain cases, educate them and to tell them that, look, over the longer run, doing these or a certain set of things will be important for you to build a more sustainable office which might be in terms of the well being of people from a health point of view and even from a spiritual point of view, these things will become more important. So ESG compliances is something that we follow. Smaller initiatives like to use smart devices, to use more energy efficient devices, to use sustainable organic material as far as possible, are some of the steps that we have made a part of our SOP. And in the case of small and medium sized enterprises. Our team kind of makes this as one part of the presentation to them. We believe that any interior designer for the commercial or in fact, in certain cases the residential interior design space also needs to now start thinking of sustainable design because it’s extremely important.

Kunal Sharma is a serial entrepreneur and an angel investor who has founded and invested in various startups. With more than two decades of experience in the industry, he has a passion for building innovative, scalable and sustainable products and businesses. Additionally, he has deep a domain expertise in business strategy, sales design operations and product management that has helped many companies move forward in the market. 

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