Naya Studio: Stop Consuming, Start Creating

Saad Rajan, Contributor
Vivek Hv, Contributor

A digital platform enables anyone, anywhere to turn their idea into a unique and meaningful furniture through connection, collaboration, and creativity.

Tell us more about your background and what inspired you to be an entrepreneur. 

We have always had ideas for products (such as clothing, furniture, houses and lighting) that we wanted to make but didn’t necessarily have the skills, resources or creative confidence to pursue. We were fortunate to come back to school to study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design to gain the skills to turn our product ideas into reality. We both are engineers-turned-designers who are fascinated by the process of turning an idea to a product. In addition, before starting Naya, we worked with designers, product developers, fabricators, makers, and artists in various types of customization processes so we had an understanding of how these communities function. So, when we started working on our thesis for the Design Engineering program, it was no surprise that we were both attracted to the concept of “idea to product” and how to enable that to happen more seamlessly. We have both built or worked at startups before and we enjoy the process of turning an idea into a venture. So, when we realized the potential that Naya had, we knew we had to try to make it happen.

What is the problem that you are trying to solve?

In our market research, we found that 86% of people in America have ideas for unique products (especially furniture) that they would like to create but find the process incredibly intimidating, expensive and broken. As a result, only around 11% of people actually end up taking the steps to turn these ideas into reality. 

In fact, over 300 interviews revealed that people who tried to get unique furniture made struggled with four main pain points: 

(1) communicating their design intent 

(2) matching with the right designer and maker 

(3) collaborating to turn that idea into a realization and 

(4) having the piece fabricated at the right price and quality 

We understand the challenges along the journey of “idea to furniture” for all the stakeholders. Designers and makers also face unpredictable capacity. Naya optimizes capacity for the makers and designers to help create a constant and sustainable source of projects and predictable income. 

What is your solution?

Naya is a digital platform that enables users to realize their ideas for products (we are starting with furniture). We use (1) a proprietary, researched, and tested process for co-creation, (2) technology that enhances quality control, efficiency, and creativity (3) a robust network of vetted designers, makers, and fabricators to make that happen. Our platform not only makes truly personalized products and designs (not just choosing colors and fabrics) accessible and affordable but also aims to unearth ideas and creativity from all places.

Imagine someone has a design idea in South Africa, collaborates with a Japanese designer, and gets it made in India. This is possible and easy to do with Naya Studio. We are starting with furniture but see this developing very quickly to other products—art, lighting, sculpture, fashion, ceramics, and so much more.

What was the inspiration behind your company/idea?

With Naya, we want to empower the many others like us who have ideas but perhaps never had the time, skills, confidence or opportunity to realize their creativity. The other big reason was that we wanted to build a platform like Naya that can change the way people consume. We want to nudge users away from “fast cultures” like fast fashion, fast food and fast furniture. And one way to do that is by bringing meaning to the objects we buy and surround ourselves with. When you design and build furniture with Naya, you are entwined in its story and deeply related to it.

Who is the team behind your startup?

The founding team includes us and we have had help from an amazing set of people—part timers, contract workers, advisors and mentors. Before starting Naya, we have worked in jobs with designers, product developers, fabricators and various types of customization processes. 

Saad started a clothing company that brought together artisans in East Africa, developed products, created a marketplace, and sold hundreds of products. He also worked as a project manager developing large-scale residential and commercial buildings from initial land acquisition through design, construction, marketing, and sales. He is currently helping to build an initiative that scales creativity and innovation across the Aga Khan Development Network—a development agency employing 80,000 people across 40 countries.

Vivek started out as an aerospace engineer working on photography drones and customized private jets for celebrities. Since then, he has worked in a series of startups in healthcare, energy, and finance in India and the U.S. He is a hacker, coder, and builder who loves questioning the boundary between the digital and physical. He also teaches coding and data science at Harvard and General Assembly. 

How did you get started?

The ideas behind Naya actually came out of our thesis projects while we were in the Design Engineering Program (MDE) at Harvard. We were working independently in the beginning. Saad was focussed on how to scale digital collaborative design while I was focused on finding a way to connect complex networks of designers and makers around the world. We had been getting feedback from each other until we realized that combining our ideas could magnify the potential of what we were seeking to achieve. Since then, we have plugged away at building Naya one step at a time, from idea to thesis to venture to scale.

What’s next?

In the shorter term, we are now starting to hire a team, expand our ecosystem of designers and makers, further develop our technology and planning for a launch in the coming months. All of this will help us turn many more ideas into enduring and delightful products.

Saad Rajan (MDE ’19) is a passionate designer, entrepreneur and strategist. He has worked on design challenges across scales: digital, product, architecture and city planning. His previous work experience spans five continents and includes starting a clothing company in Tanzania, working in earthquake engineering in Tajikistan, and serving as a project manager in real estate development in Canada. Saad loves to design and fabricate and has worked in ceramics, furniture, and lighting. He holds a Master in Design Engineering from Harvard University, a Master of Environmental Design from the University of Calgary and undergraduate degrees in Business and Civil Engineering from Western University in Canada.

Vivek Hv (MDE ’19) grew up in India and graduated from Indian Institute of Technology Madras. Prior to Harvard, Vivek helped create many custom private jets as an aerospace engineer at Honeywell and worked with founding teams at Predible Health and Aibono. Across his professional and academic work, Vivek believes in creating and empowering through design, engineering, and innovation. Vivek enjoys cats, waffles and cycling, and you can often find him hacking digital art projects in his free time.