Vipanchi Handa, Oneistox

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About Oneistox

Oneistox offers online cohort based courses for designers, architects to advance their professional growth. Join the tribe of 2000+ learners from 27 countries.

The Beginning

Q1: We thought we'd start off with the origins of ‘one is to x’ - what did you experience as a student which led to the origins of one is to x, why you thought this was the right time, why the name,  and why a platform like oneistox is needed within not only the edtech space, but within the design space?

So I'm from a very different background right, I’m not from finance or from the tech background, having jumped into this field and we starting off oneistox, right out of college. I trained to be an architect for five years and while I was in school, I had no idea of something like being an entrepreneur or having your own company. I had no idea about that entire universe out there. My dad was a graphic designer, my mom was a teacher, and that's sort of the world I grew up in and as a person I was always very logical even with design I approached it more from a problem solving point of view, unlike how design is usually viewed in a more of a graphical and visual sense. So that was something that was always part of how I view design and what I also wanted to do through architecture and design.

During one of my summer breaks, I decided to intern with one of my mentors who had started up and they shared a book with me called Outliers which was my first introduction to the world of starting up, creating companies that solve problems. So that was my personal thing that was happening in the background. And then during my college days, I used to run this online store, for which I had to learn to create a website even though it was not related to what I was learning to be and I used to go for these shows, in different places putting up the stalls, and I think that is what excited me. And even though after college, I did join a proper architecture practice and design firm, I think that is what I wanted to experience again, that you know, thrill of creating something and then having a customer come and purchase something, I think that was a very invaluable feeling. You know, it was pretty priceless when you think about when you are creating something from scratch, and people want to purchase that and it makes a difference in their life. So that is something that motivates me personally, and what motivated me to take that plunge and leave architecture as a field and think about starting up in the first place.

Oneistox actually happened pretty organically. Right out of college, Harku, my co-founder, thought we'll take up some projects with friends and families and although we both trained for 5 years to be architects, we failed miserably at it. We thought we were those toppers in school who had a hold on everything but we there were simple things we failed at like certain construction, how to present a of BOQ, what is the pricing that you put

forward to a client - we totally lacked the project management knowledge. And once we sort of decided to pitch for these projects was when we realized that there is this big gap that exists in our education. And when we sort of did fail at a lot of things, we started digging into what's happening, we went back to college, we came across facts like the syllabus hadn't been changed for 30 years. We realized that out of the five years of education that did happen, 80% of it was being taught by faculty who themselves hadn't built a building ever in their lives -- so all these things we didn't realize as students, we started uncovering after we failed.

So Harku and I decided to do a summer workshop on fabrication techniques which are used for model making. We launched a very bad website that we made and put it up on Instagram and then suddenly with hardly any marketing within one month, or like a few weeks, we had 120 registrations at a price of INR 10,000 by students in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai all from architecture space. Still at this moment, we did not have a very strong idea of what we're doing, we had named it because the first workshop that we conducted was on model making. And so in design everything is that at a scale, because you can't make it at one to one scale. So everything is designed and visualized that one is to 10, one is to 20. Hence a very complicated name now in hindsight, but that's how it came to be one is to x - we realized obviously writing it together. And the reason why we decided to write it together was because the website could not have any dashes or colons with the website name. So I think you know, as a people who are just starting off, we didn't really think of it through to an extent that it might have some pronunciation complications. But I mean, we were sort of very focused on that it should mean a lot to architecture and design students.

We ended up having different workshops happening in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore so we

pretty much did like a band tour - every workshop takes about seven days so we used to spend a week in that city. With this, we spoke to 130 to 140 architecture students that summer, in a matter of two months. And this was not just you know, sort of on call interviews, it was really like it was building a good relationship and understanding how they felt their college was. So I think, from the fact of, you know, customer interviews and all, we did it in a very different way where we just went out there and just spoke to people all summer. And it was out of that, that we finally realized that there was a huge need of students wanting to upskill themselves more, especially fourth year students who started realizing that there's something missing, and they weren't really satisfied with a college education. And these are people not just from India, but from Nepal, and Bangladesh and a few students from the UK who had come for this course. So that's how it happened.

So the in-person tour was a milestone part of our journey. Through this we were able to determine that a problem does exist, that was pretty clear to us but now we had to ask ourselves is it something that people would pay money for? I think that was the next obvious question.

So one good thing in this field was that we had a lot of connections already within the architecture space. So we decide to build out the architecture vertical because we understood that well and use it to create a playbook and then eventually sort of look at other fields because I think there was a lot of common problems that were happening within other fields within design, like product design, industrial design, UI, UX, etc. So that's how we started - we conducted a few workshops over four to five months in different cities with different mentors - we built out a marketplace of sorts. However, everything was an offline space.

We conducted 20 to 30 workshops during those next four months, we grew to a team of 20 and we were scaling up really fast and all of it was an offline space in March. Then Covid hit and when COVID hit, our entire company came to a standstill. So during that time is when we again had to reimagine what we're doing as a company.

So the problem statement for us has remained the same. However, when we did enter and re-launch a product in January 2021, we were entirely focused on the aspect of early career starters and career development. We were looking at sort of a direct outcome of our courses, and not just something that is nice to have or nice to do but something where people can transition into better careers or change careers as architects and designers.

Just to add in terms of the problem, currently design is something that is not a much talked about space, like if you see in edtech, etc, you know, there's a lot of tech, coding upscaling, marketing to that extent as well, however, this is a field which is not talked about in the startup world. And apart from that design is something that we realized is a field that is growing very rapidly and people are becoming more aware of designers in general. So just to give an idea, like earlier in companies the ratio of designers to engineers was one is 200.Currently, it has come down to you know, one is to 21 to 30, which is a huge change in how the industry is perceiving design and the importance of it. So that's where we felt that there was this gap within the supply side. And the problems of designers needing that career development and sort of more help in building the careers was obviously missing. So we decided we'll fill in that gap and with our content, with our courses, and bringing the connections that we had.

Thoughts on Design Professions in India

Q: Thoughts on design professions, design thinking? Will it ever be an encouraged field within the Indian idea of admired/encouraged professions?

I would say even like designers themselves, because design has not been considered a serious profession, if I were to put it in a very transparent way, there is not much content or not much education around building a career or building a sort of a future within it.

If you go online and search for design professions, versus let's say you would search for something like engineering professions, the only content that you do get online would be around maybe a few blogs  talking about some beautiful pictures. And then everyone just sort of talking about, ‘Oh, this looks really nice’ and just talking about the visual aspect of it. But there is very little content, even available for designers because of how things have been around what they can do, let's say two years from now, five years from now to reach a certain standard of living or, you know, achieve certain milestones in their lives. So it's not just the general public viewing designers, something that's not that serious, but even designers do not have those resources to put themselves forward as a proper profession. So even talking about how, as designers, we should talk to our clients, how we should charge for what we're making, etc. So all these things  are also something that is missing in the overall sort of industry.

Secondly, is that design within itself has a lot of different fields. So it's not just about, you know, architecture, UI UX, there's even fashion design, which is a huge industry, it's probably even bigger than UI UX currently, and it has been there for a long time. Similarly, architecture is very different from UI work. So within design itself, there are a lot of categories with subcategories within it, which require a very different set of skills. The only thing that is common that remains is the process of design, or what we refer to now as design thinking, and that is something from   a designer perspective, it is an essential part of how you sort of approach a problem, break it down, and come up with a solution at the end of the day.

So what we are looking at doing now is building verticals within the design space. So for example if you're looking at detailing out architecture, there are a lot of things that are happening within the architecture space. Data science is something that we overall talk about, but data science within architecture is also an upcoming field where an entire cities are being planned out with the help of data science, and architects are currently upscaling themselves into these sorts of niches wherein you are looking at building information technology or how data science can help plan out cities, urban design, etc. And these are not available in colleges right now so these are the things we are developing at oneistox. So we are looking at each field one by one. Currently, we are looking at architecture, in the coming few months, we are planning to move into UI UX. So those courses are already being developed at the company right now. And within UI UX, there's a lot to detail out. And we feel there is a lot of scope of branching out into different fields, and coming up with programs that can eventually replace the design education being offered by colleges, because we are looking at longer formats, more outcome based courses and job opportunities. And yeah, apart from that, you know, definitely once we do cover all of that, we'll look at how we ourselves can spread more design education amongst people who just generally want to upskill or are curious about how it can help them in their own careers.

Making design more accessible

Q: Design, right now, it's still a very formalized process. And yes, and you've you've just talked us through how even that has a lot of gaps that you're trying to bridge. And the last bit that you mentioned right now, which is normal people just trying to understand design, how do you think about design trying to become more accessible in that sense. So when I think about YouTube for example, video creation started out as something that a very small fraction of people could actually do and the barrier was high but right now you have all kinds of people creating any content that we should listen to. So yeah, how /what do you think about that?

And at any point are you hoping to see non design students coming onto the platform as well? Because obviously, you've targeted your main TG, right. So you're, you've kind of tapped that go to market part of it, and then post that is there also interest from non design to come in and understand the benefits of design/design thinking?

Interestingly, with our new courses, which are more career transition courses, we actually got people from computer science to be part of the course and transition into architecture or the building construction field through our courses. And currently the course that we are running we have 30% of the background being engineers --- architecture has a bit of an overlap with the construction and the engineering industry. So, we are seeing a lot of interest from civil engineers who want to upskill a bit in architecture, so that they can get an edge in the engineering space. So, that is something that we are seeing and people do want to transition into fields using our platform. Apart from that, you know, we have seen some interesting profiles of people even working in robotics, and you know, 3D printing coming in and learning the different sort of softwares we are teaching. So, currently, I would say 30% are people from different backgrounds, be it engineering, even interior, fashion while coming and upskilling with us.

Regarding making design education accessible, currently, rather than a paid model, what we are looking at is sort of achieving that through simply content marketing in terms of building out a YouTube channel or Instagram channel that we are sort of focusing on just to bring more awareness about the field. And apart from that, we do keep our courses open to people who, like I said, like people who do want to transition from other fields being very focused on career development right now. We are not really getting into the basics of design but the accessibility part is largely the free content or the content marketing side of our company as of now.

The Founder Journey

Q: I thought we could pivot a little bit and talk more about the founder journey itself, right, and your job. Can tell us a little bit about your initial days, like for six months, what were some of the biggest challenges at that time, what were the one or two things that really kind of kept you up at night -- whether it had to do with fundraising, whether it was product related or hiring?

So while we were very sort of empathetic towards the problem we were solving which pretty much helped us wake up every morning and you know, go to the office and do something and figure things out, we were still very new to things like marketing, pricing strategy, how do you build a product in terms of the tech part of it -- so all these things, in terms of starting off were very new. Infact fundraising itself wasn't something that was on our mind initially, because we were first trying to just figure out if we had the problem statement, right.

And I think that, again, comes back to how we as designers are always continuously made to think. Our main focus area was that we were trying to figure out the problem and we were trying to validate how big of an issue it was because there isn't much data again. Our hypothesis was based on primary research that we put together.

So in the beginning, the learning curve was very high for us when it came to understanding concepts related to marketing. I pretty much up-skilled myself in how to run an Instagram channel. We were very unaware of things like bulk email campaigns. So I used to sit every day, and personally sort of edit the name and send emails from Zoho to each person who was coming to the website and showing interest. So literally every day, I used to target around 100 emails and I did that continuously for the first two months. In hindsight, yes, we could have accomplished that by using software but I think it was part of the learning curve. We weren't from a tech background so a lot of things that we did were manual. I think the only thing for us was that we were trying to make a lot of mistakes fast, so that we could learn improvise, get back and keep delivering a better sort of experience to people. And we had a lot of figuring out not just from the marketing or the tech perspective, but also from how to just organize going from one city to another. So six months were mostly about just figuring out the product, figuring out the experience that we were giving, and also learning a lot.

Right now I tell this to everyone, I am less of an architect than I am a product designer or someone who has an idea of content marketing. The first six months were just about learning upscaling for us ourselves.

Apart from that, in the past one year the biggest learning has been because of COVID. So initially, we had been bootstrapped, till now, till YC. So it was bootstrap, we had 15 people working with us. However, in COVID, when things stopped, it was a very tough time because being first time founders, suddenly having the team go remote, not having any sort of income for   quite some time, it was a crash course on how to build team motivation, how to manage team in a remote time, how to get back from a feeling where you literally have no business left. So all these things were a very big learning experience, a tremendous emotional perspective on how to handle people and how to come out of situations together as a team because  it wasn't just three of us coming out of it, it was a team of 15 coming out of it.

The fact that we had people working with us, is what motivated us that it's not just that we are responsible for us, we are responsible for an entire team. And I mean, the problem still remains. So I think that is what kept us anchored to it. And I think that was a time where we again went back to the drawing board, went back to our thing of talking to people - I think that is again, something that I've learned through this journey is talk to people don't assume things and you know, that usually helps to guide the product faster than anything else. Blume was the first fund we actually pitched to ever and there was a lot that we learned just through that one meeting. For the next five months, we decided to go back and actually incorporate a lot of things that you guys had mentioned. So I think fundraising for us wasn't just about raising for the company. It was also a lot about learning and just getting a worldview of what are those things.

The Biggest Mistake, The Best Decision, & Self Discovery

Q: So it's three questions rolled into one - what is according to you the biggest mistake you've made in building oneistox, or something that you in retrospect was like, why did I do this? Second, the best decision you or the founding team made when you were building oneistox, and third, what is the one thing you've discovered about yourself as a leader in the process?

Honestly, we made a lot of mistakes through these two years. Thankfully, none of them have been that serious. But few things that we did do was when we started off, we were very under confident as founders. So for the past two years that we have been building oneistox, we've pretty much hidden our identities through that process and I think that is something that maybe is not the biggest mistake, but that is something that I would like to change, and be more open about. We wondered what if the students who are coming to our platform know that we are just 25 year olds -- so we wanted to appear as if we are some 40 year olds who know everything about what we are doing. So that is something that I would like to change, I would be more open about who we are and what we are building, and just generally be more confident about it.

Another mistake we made that I think is important to share is that when something worked, we tried to perfect it and were very eager to scale so we could get to more people. We realized then that is not about scaling at this point as much as it was about achieving a great output first. A small group of people loving your product is better than a larger group of people not having a not so great experience. However, we corrected it really fast and now we are in a better space in terms of the focus we have.

I think the best decision or thing about this journey has been my co-founders and the fact that this particular team came together. We have Harku looking into team building and finance, Chaitanya looking at the marketing side of things, Mehul looking at the tech side of things, and I look into product. We complement each other very nicely. I’m very proud of our team.

Lastly, something that I've learned about myself is that I can handle a lot of pressure. I actually surprised myself in a lot of situations where there was a lot of work and things weren't working out. One thing I’ve learned is that people are always expecting an answer from you and there are moments where you actually don't know, to be honest, where things are headed or what the next steps are. So surviving those situations and maintaining the same level of motivation and excitement - that is something I discovered about myself. Apart from that, I think the dealing with people aspect is something that was new to how I had been working. I had not really worked with a team, let alone sort of one.