It is with great pleasure that I share this behind-the-scenes look at Elegance Décor and the founders, who are 3 the most creative minds in the wedding and event décor business. Both my wife and I went to the University of Illinois in Champaign with them and since then we have shared many great times together with this family. We were also fortunate enough to have them help us with the décor for our wedding events (even though they attended), which made everything look beautiful! But of course that’s not the point of this post. In this interview Swetal, Bhavik and Ronak Patel reveal the not-so-glamorous side of working on a start-up and share the fears that they had when they started. They have great insights for new entrepreneurs, and after reading this you will be reassured that you’re not alone if your struggle – and that it’s totally worth it!
Q: What motivated you to start this business?
A: We all had our own reasons to start this company but all 3 of us had always talked about wanting to work for ourselves and build something that was our own and we could mold to our own vision.
Swetal: I have always involved myself in any creative projects that were going on around me. From school shows to family parties to interior décor projects, I was always working on something creative. Working on these projects with friends was a lot of hard work but time passed very quickly – and I was having a blast. On top of that, there was a finished product that people appreciated and it gave me great internal satisfaction. I loved that feeling even though it meant hours of hard work that led to only a few seconds of “high”. I was working hard and was having fun and was told I was really good at it. Boom! When I realized this, I knew this was my passion. On the other hand, I was always attracted to entrepreneurship. The success is based on your efforts and there are no limits. I am a person that doesn’t like boundaries, so this was a perfect fit for me. Creativity & Entrepreneurship are boundless.
Bhavik: From a very young age, my favorite classes involved doing something creative. I loved art class and was always working on random projects around the house. I would be the kid that came with the best diorama to class (without my parents doing it for me!) What moved me from this to event design was my admiration for what it took to please a client on the most important day of their life. That to me was the epitome of what my creative skills could be used for. Creative work is something very personal that you give your heart and soul to, and getting appreciation for it is just icing on the cake!
Ronak: I always liked to design and build things. From my involvement in technical theater at school, I found an appreciation for lighting and set design. Once I started working as an aerospace engineer, I wanted a creative outlet along with my day job. Also, I think that when Bhavik, Swetal, and I were working on some interior décor projects for both of our parents’ newly built homes, it led me to realize that we worked great as a team. I think that the creative energy among the three of us led us to initiate projects and complete them successfully. We each have personality and skill sets that compliment each other. Regardless of our diverse backgrounds & interests, this was one thing that all three of us were passionate about.
Q: What sacrifices did you have to make to start Elegance Decor?
A: There are many sacrifices that we made along the way. When you start a business it is something you believe in, but that doesn’t mean that is how your family and friends will perceive it. We didn’t get instant respect from people around us because it is not typical status bringing work. All three of us excelled academically, so it was hard for our families to understand why we just wouldn’t be “doctors”.
There is a lot of physical labor involved. We meet many of our friends and acquaintances as we set up for events, and visually it didn’t look like “honorable” work. Our peers & family were not encouraging seeing, for example, Ronak who was a valedictorian in high school doing physically intense labor such as carrying heavy boxes, driving trucks, and not sleeping throughout the weekend. It just isn’t a glamorous lifestyle in the beginning when you start your own business. You always have to let go of your ego, roll up your sleeves, and do the dirty work your self. You are not a big company with an unlimited budget for menial tasks. Every penny you spend is yours & every penny you make is yours. There were also lifestyle sacrifices we had to make. We were working on our business along with our full time jobs. That meant we really needed to manage our time. We were not able to keep up with sports and the latest news. We couldn’t just take weekends to relax/revive/party. The weekends were the only two full days we have to complete business tasks/meetings. After our 9 to 5 jobs, we come home and work on our business in the evening.
Our particular business is seasonal, with our highest activity in summer months. We have missed on summer weekends and nights of social gatherings. These are definitely not easy, but you are able to do this when you are really passionate about your business. You also learn to become really good at time management. We always take out time for our family and friends. It isn’t usually spontaneous but more planned. We have realized that this has actually helped us in valuing our time with our loved ones.
Q: Did you have any fears when you started?
A: We decided to start our business – Now what? There is really no structure or a carved out path to success. There are no promotions to work towards like a traditional job. There are no feedback mechanisms. No one is out there grading us on our day-to-day activities. There are no reference books telling us exactly what protocols to follow for success. Being great students, we were used to that! We were putting in time, money, and hard work, but we were always wondering if all that was being done correctly.
The biggest fear being your own boss is there is no one to criticize your efforts. We were also in our early 20’s, which is prime time for you to put in hard work to secure a better future. You are usually equipped with the best opportunities with the least amount of restrictions at that age. Our biggest fear was “are we putting in all our energy in the right place?” Should I be going to medical school? Should I be getting a PHD? Should I just continue putting in more efforts at my 9 to 5 corporate job and live a life with more time for enjoyment now. There is a lot of unknown & mental fog when starting a business, but you just have to turn the fear of the unknown into faith in yourself for you to move forward.
Q: Do you have still have any fears and how are you managing them?
A: As we are now a mainstream company in our industry, we have overcome some of our initial fears. However, some are still the same. We still are always wondering if we are making the right choices and putting in effort where we should be to reach our strategic goals. Are we giving in too much time to the business & should we be spending more time with friends/family?
However, as our company grows and we continue to grow our team, we have acquired new fears that involve the future of not only us but also our whole team. Are we doing all that we can to grow our company and doing justice to the opportunities we get. Are we providing a world-class experience for our customers? Could we be doing it better? One thing that we have learned is FEAR IS NOT A BAD THING, it is a motivator and it really keeps us on our toes to continue to put in hard work and grow.
Q: What are 3 pieces of advice that you would give to students?
1. In school, you are in an environment where everyone is on a similar path, don’t let that box you in if you have thoughts or passion to do something BEYOND that.
2. As corny as it sounds, try to replace the high you get from partying to something you are truly passionate about. The high that you feel when you make an accomplishment in your own company is unbelievable. I think everyone should experience it!
3. Dig the well when you are not thirsty, so when you are, there is water waiting for you.
Q: What’s your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
A: There is a different type of pride you get when you hit accomplishments in your business. Our company is our baby, and we are emotionally attached to it. We love that the possibilities of expansion are endless. We are our own bosses. We love the flexibility. We love traveling, and we have been able to do so more than we ever could have. We also are looking forward to spending time with our future children and being there when needed with the flexibility of owning our own business. With our own company we have the opportunity to leave behind an organization that can live beyond our life. We have the opportunity to create a legacy.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: We want to become one of the top 3 event décor companies in the Midwest. We see our company expanding into other complementing industries where Elegance Décor becomes a brand known for its innovative designs. We want to attract the best talent and have a team of people that are highly passionate about the work we do. We also want to be a company that significantly contributes to the community.
Q: Can you tell us about your marketing approach? How do you get the word out there?
A: We use many marketing channels to reach our prospect customers. In our industry, our product becomes a marketer of itself. Our designs lead to word of mouth marketing. We find it to be the best form as it is communicated to the prospects through a trustable source leading to it being the most effective form of marketing. The next most effective marketing medium has been social media, which includes Facebook and Instagram. The best part about both of these channels is that there is very little marketing investment that goes into it. Some of the other forms of marketing we are doing and currently testing are tradeshows, Pinterest, Twitter, Google ad words, PPC, and web ads. The best advice we can give to another entrepreneur is – always test with a small group first, make sure every marketing ROI is measurable for all of your marketing efforts. Segmentation and targeting are key for efficient marketing.
Q: How would you describe the ideal experience of an Elegance Décor client?
A: There are 2 key aspects to every business that defines customer experience – product & customer service.
The experience of an Elegance client is one that starts with curiosity, moves into collaboration, which then leads into the final product. Together, we create a design that defines our client’s vision. We strive to present innovative ideas that get our clients excited to see the final product.
Our goal is to provide excellent customer service through clear & prompt communication while also creating long term relationships. We want our clients to think of us as a friendly place they can come to with any issues and leave with a creative solution.
And I would add that perfect Elegance event meets the client’s vision, however at the same time surpasses their wildest imagination, and leaves them and their guests in awe.
Here is some of Elegance Decor’s work from our wedding:
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