Startup Profile: Studio Graphene, a digital studio with a difference

Scott Law

Every major corporation and almost every high growth start-up requires a digital strategy. From digital design and app development, to challenging IoT projects. It’s a big market, with lots of players, but one company feels they have the edge. Studio Graphene are a digital studio that delivers real creativity and invention, on a sensible budget. We spoke to their founder, Ritam Gandhi, to understand what makes them unique.

Let’s start by describing in your words what your company is and what it does?

We’re Studio Graphene – ‘The Studio of Better Things’. We specialise in delivering your innovation by designing and building ground up digital products. We work with a range of companies from start-ups to corporates such as Diageo and Coca-Cola

What do you think makes it distinct to any other companies – what’s its USP?

We’ve built award winning IoT products (Hawk) and sector shaping digital businesses (Vita Mojo), under more challenging circumstances than our competitors could. Studio Graphene was formed to work with ambitious organisations that are doing something different and new. Every project we work on makes us a better team and choosing to only work on innovative projects enables us to constantly get better at delivering them.

We’re also creating our own intellectual property, like administration modules that we’re then able to share with the start-ups we work with. Every pound we make is reinvested into our own intellectual property to build better products, which we then give away to our start-up clients. No one else is doing that.

What’s your personal background?

I’ve been lucky enough to have worked at some amazing places, Accenture, Capco and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, delivering technology transformation projects, all the time witnessing the big impact technology can have. I’m a tech delivery guy, but I’ve got real world major corporate experience, which has been really valuable for me to understand the challenges corporates face when trying to innovate.

What inspired you to start the company?

More than half of Fortune 500 companies that existed in the year 2000, no longer exist. I was witnessing digital disruption have an extraordinary impact globally, but everyone I met in London wanting to innovate by building a digital product found it scary, expensive and slow – I realised, there is simply a lack of digital delivery capability with the right mindset. I saw a massive opportunity to solve everyday challenges, turning great ideas into reality by leveraging technology that exists today. I was never held back by the people I worked with or the companies I worked at, I was lucky in that they inspired me to get out there and pursue my entrepreneurial dream.

I always saw things happen in large corporates that didn’t make a lot of sense, and sometimes I felt that my hands were tied in terms of leveraging tech to make those situations better. It sounds a bit clichéd, but I’d think of ways to make the world a better place using technology and couldn’t do anything about it. Being entrepreneurial frees you to create impact on a large scale and working with start-ups to deliver innovative projects has helped make that impact even more explosive.

What is the story of the company from launch until now? How big is the company now?

I founded Studio Graphene three years ago, and at first it was a little scary, but we’re now 18 strong, working on more than 10 innovative projects as we speak. When we started, the market loved our ideas, approach and creativity, but it was really hard to find clients prepared to take a risk on a company that hadn’t actually built anything. But if you stay resilient good things happen, and a few brave start-ups did take that chance. And we delivered. One of the first projects we worked on was Agio, which went on to be featured by Apple as best new App, it proved our relentless focus on delivery was worthwhile.

Today we can be picky about the projects we choose to work on. Sometimes demand outstrips supply. We’re lucky enough to be able to choose to work on projects that we actually believe in, and this really helps motivate us as a team.

Of course there have been failures, you expect that working with start-ups, but these have taught us a lot. We’re no longer just great designers and engineers, we’re now able to help start-ups avoid the mistakes we’ve seen others make.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your company?

Building the right team is definitely the biggest challenge I’ve had to focus on, but also by far the most rewarding. In a start-up the highs are higher and the lows are lower, you really do oscillate a lot more than being in a larger company. The lows can also make you think that your business won’t survive, and that’s always a challenge as a founder. But at Studio Graphene I’ve also made sure we have a super transparent culture within the team. I now don’t have to articulate any problems because my team will already be there with the right support. There is no need for me to constantly be looking upwards for support, now I look sideways to my team.

What’s your biggest milestone/ which are you most proud of?

There’ve been a few great moments. Winning the Smart Kitchen category at FoodTalk Awards for our work on Hawk was cool (although arriving late and missing the award presentation due to prep work for a tech conference the next day was less cool but strangely appropriate). Building our first native app that was featured by Apple, Agio was a big deal in the early days. And then I guess winning work from the big boys has been a massive validation like, Alchemy Wings by Diageo.

What is your business model? How have you monetised your product?

We provide services for anyone wanting to build an innovative digital product from the ground up. We’re not building a lifestyle business, every pound we make is reinvested into our own intellectual property to build our own products. We want to continue to build our own IP in the IoT space (as an example) whilst helping build inventive products for our clients.

What’s the next step for growth – is the intention to grow the business independently, or look for an exit via acquisition or similar?

Continue to build our suite of IP to help facilitate building products that solve the problems we face every day.

Will you be looking for more funding?

Never say never, but we’re a service business so it’s not a thing like it is for other start-ups.

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