Epistle Communications: filling a unique role in the Indian architecture and design industry

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The interconnectedness of the world’s nations and their markets are best captured by history itself. The world’s nations have always been global. This time the key difference being the giant leaps made in telecommunication services led by the internet and digital ecosystem since the end of the 20th century onwards to the current acceleration caused by the pandemic induced lockdowns. Hence, the subsequent need to use the digital ecosystem to account for the human coordination needed to service people for essential products and services. 

Humanity on the whole has learnt a lot over the past 1.5 years, both personally and professionally. Whether it applies to every individual in question, is another matter altogether, since socio-economic structures tend to play a key part in shaping an individual’s perspective about the worth of his or own life and their ability to make an impact in the modern world. There are several long-term trends playing out in the Indian markets, and cues can be found by talking to the founders and entrepreneurs who shape the society around us in profound ways, in their own ways. 

Today, at Bangalore Insider, we spoke to Tanya Khanna, the Founder of Epistle Communications. In order to arrive at a vantage point of view with regards to the importance of design for today’s companies, readers can read the excerpts from our conversation with Tanya below. 

Below is the Questionnaire for the same: 

Give a brief info about your startup?

Epistle Communications fills a unique role in the Indian architecture and design industry – we are bridging the gap that exists between design, practice and business where nothing like this has existed before. While founding Epistle, I attempted to lay the foundation for a one-of-a-kind agency in India, highlighting good design on the global platform. We take pride in creating stories and furthering the cause of good design in the sub-continent, bringing it to the forefront of an otherwise latent industry. Epistle is not just another PR agency that creates content – we are driven by content, process and the strength of design. Bridging the gap that exists between design, practice and business, Epistle Communications has created a niche in the Indian architecture and design industry where nothing like this existed and is proud to be furthering the cause of good design in the sub-continent, bringing it to the forefront in an otherwise latent industry. Epistle is not just another PR Agency that is creating stories- Aiding communication in architecture and design- it is driven by content, process and the strength of design. 

In the interest of appreciating good design, we at Epistle have released five books on contemporary architecture and design in India – a domain which has historically been underappreciated due to a lack of coverage. We have further conceptualised new age academic agendas in the field of design education, spearheading the management initiatives for two reputed design schools in the country. 

I’ve personally been actively involved in the field of design and architecture, having co-authored, and editorially directed a wide range of architectural books and monographs. I also write extensively for Indian & international media on issues of academic insight and communicative breadth alike. Through my role at Epistle, I have attempted to lay the foundation of what is a one-of-its-kind agency in India, facilitating good design and bringing it forth on a global platform. 

What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?

In today’s globalized markets, facilitating design as a business is extremely crucial. Within this milieu, Epistle Communications provides bespoke, strategic communication services for design, architecture, built environment and allied industries. We occupy a niche in the Indian design industry where nothing like this ever existed. Our extensive design background, and knowledge of the technicalities of the industry makes us uniquely equipped to understand and fulfil the needs of the design industry.. By helping young & innovative Indian practices access better projects via proper project packaging, we are proud to be furthering the cause of good design and architecture in the sub-continent. 

Epistle does not offer a generalized plan of activities, but services that range across strategic planning, copywriting and editorial assistance, project packaging and curation, brand development and positioning, award entries, events, promotional activities, media coverage, and media design. Considering that Epistle is not a PR agency, but a strategy driven organization, we learn about the client’s objectives and needs, and then work across the right platforms and at the right scale, to derive relevant results from the market. Our diverse operational capacity, driven by priority-based research and performance, has helped our clients expand their business and establish themselves as colloquial in the design industry. 

Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?

I am a professional architect, with a Master’s degree in architecture from The Bartlett, UCL, London. Even while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree, I was inclined towards writing and architecture, and naturally viewed them as my ideal  career options. Right after graduating, I got the opportunity to work with one of India’s oldest architectural journals, which gave me the right platform to gain experience in both of these fields.. Following that, I was lucky to have found mentors in the UK and subsequently in India, who helped me find my way towards communications for architects and designers.In 2011, I formally started Epistle in 2011- and secured our first project within 6 months.

Where is your startup based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?

We started in New Delhi, and have formal presence in Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore. In a post-pandemic world, however, people have become far more receptive to overlooking regional and geographical barriers. Due to the nature of our work, we have not found location to be a hindrance- and continue to work for clients located across the globe.

As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?

The challenges of a startup evolve as they grow- technically, we are almost in our 10th year of operation and may not even be labelled a startup anymore. In the early days, the prospect of securing projects kept me awake, but as we have grown, we have been very fortunate in that regard. The challenges today are more logistical, revolving around team-management, work culture, and leading a good and healthy organization that delivers quality work while striving to strengthen our own brand.

Who are your competitors and how are you better than them?

Epistle has been very fortunate; when we started in India, there was no similar agency that existed, particularly in the AEC domain. Most agencies offer either PR, content or digital services; in fact most PR agencies have only started offering social and digital services in the post pandemic period, when the focus on digital and social media has increased. However, we have been doing this from Day 0. Our approach at Epistle is to look at the complete gamut of communication activities from a holistic brand perspective and adopt a tailor-made, targeted approach with specific goals. There is no one-size fits all approach. Our unique combination of content, digital, and communications services is our primary strength, as we offer more inclusive and bespoke services, even when compared to international agencies.

We are not just a PR firm, we are a complete communications consultancy, covering activities including branding, positioning, PR, social media, and digital marketing on art, design, real estate and architecture.

How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?

My family has been  the prime reason why Epistle continues to grow and thrive. Without their support, it would not have been possible. Friends, peers and clients have the faith that through Epistle, we add value to what designers do, and their support helps me achieve the necessary balance. Coming from essentially a services background, with no previous experience in entrepreneurship – it has been a steep learning curve – along with multiple heartaches, sleepless nights and literally no holidays. Despite having had both my kids along the way, I have not had a single day of maternity leave. But looking back, I know that those hours of work have led to our present  success. Moving out of the comfort zone with no safety net or monetary goals ahead – is what entrepreneurship is. 

I have been lucky to have found mentors, family, and friends, who have been supportive throughout and helped in getting clarity and allowing me the opportunity to delve into this domain whole-heartedly, and continue to do so. This is the reason I wake up each day – excited about the day ahead, looking forward to learning something new.

Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you are looking to raise.

No, and we are not looking to raise funding. We are a self-sustaining business and our current focus is on providing quality results to our clients. We have been completely bootstrapped- and fortunate that it is a services domain that was not resource-intensive and did not need huge financial investments- just time, effort, and honesty. 

What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?

Firstly, the fundamental belief that we are a PR agency – PR is just one tool, what we do is actually curate a bespoke communications strategy for each brand. Traditionally, most Indian architects, designers and design practices have steered away from communication and marketing activities. However, in today’s globalized markets, creating worldwide opportunities for design and facilitating it as a business has become crucial. 

Epistle has been set up to provide bespoke strategic communication consulting for design, architecture & allied industries. As an architect and designer, I strongly feel that there is a gap that exists between design & practice and it was with this intent to bridge the gap, that Epistle was conceived. At Epistle, we understand the culture, pressures and aspirations of ambitious practices and what they seek to achieve, often on a limited budget. 

What gets you excited about this company?

Our biggest success is the change in outlook of the clients that we have been working with and their own subsequent success. We have worked with over 100 designers, design brands and architects, and helped them find a unique voice, an identity and presence on national and international platforms. Through Epistle, we aim to help Indian design manifest itself on the global stage. Design and architecture are not isolated domains – they are a way of life. Our goal is to reduce the gap and move to make the work of designers more accessible outside of technical circles and broaden the design discourse to include a larger community. With this, we will be able to create a better built environment. 

Today, Epistle is the foremost name when it comes to communication services for the design industry in India. We also seek to work with a wide variety of clients, from large firms to emerging designers – we believe every story and every designer needs to Be Known. 

Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.

Very often when I walk into the office, even today, I wonder if all this is a dream. My daily schedule begins quite early – I have a quick coffee and enjoy some quiet time before I wake the kids up for school. We are all up and ready by about 9 am. This routine towards work – school or professional keeps us in sync. I start with mine, and everyone else with theirs. I keep meetings in the first half of the day, and focus on team and actual content work in the afternoons. which is more quiet thinking and writing time. I log off towards the early evening to get a walk in or do some yoga and spend time with my family prior to dinner. On most days, I also try to get another hour of work in the late evening in order to clear up my day, before I log off for an easy read or some personal time with friends and family. On weekends, I keep my Sundays solely for personal time, but Saturdays are spent planning, conceptualising and doing more strategy work and writing. 

Scheduling of course is easier said than done, since no day is entirely predictable. I try to incorporate as much flexibility into the day as possible. As long as I can balance work and personal life, I am fairly satisfied with my lifestyle. I don’t mind missing new movies or TV shows either – I am content with whatever I can fit into the timeline, as long as it is productive or personally satisfying.

Also, I try to make time for my family, because I owe so much of my success to their support; in my case, with the support from my mother-in-law, my mother and my father and husband, I get the balance in my life. It does take a village to raise a child, and to run a business – which is as good as raising a baby, they have helped me raise three babies- Epistle was the first, and then my 2 sons. Often, it becomes too much- when one doesn’t get an opportunity to take a single day off- it is hard, and one wonders why. But Faith in the overall commitment to my journey is what has kept me going. 

Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?

We have a diverse team of architects, interior designers, graphic designers and media professionals who work together on a daily basis. We recruit simply on the basis of the candidate’s interest and passion for the field, and we have been very lucky to have developed a core, passionate team that is driven by the same values. Most of the people specifically came with an interest to work at Epistle- and we are very grateful for that.

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