Despite her young age, Natasha Jain is nothing less than a serial entrepreneur. She attributes this mindset to being involved with her family’s company — a global manufacturer and supplier of medical microscopes — while still in high school, when she created a supply chain for the company.
“There was a lot of room for optimization, and I saw gaps that existed in our processes that could be fine-tuned,” Jain said.
Born in Ambala, India, and brought up in Delhi, Georgia Tech was always on Jain’s radar, thanks to family and friends who attended the Institute. With her burgeoning interest in supply chain, logistics, and optimizing processes, it made sense for her to enroll in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering’s No. 1 program.
After Jain graduated in 2010, she attended Stanford University for her master’s degree in management science and engineering. While there, she co-founded Freshmentors, a web platform that matched college applicants with current college students who offered advice on admissions, applications, and campus life. Jain continued to work on Freshmentors after she graduated in 2012 and eventually saw the startup successfully scaled for use in India, but as the founding team disbanded, she decided it was time to try something new.
Back in India in 2014, Jain founded Ruplee, a mobile payment app similar to Apple Pay. Ruplee allows users to pay offline retailers, restaurants, and lodgers via a mobile phone.
“At the time, mobile payments were nascent in India,” Jain said. “It was a great time to enter the market because the system was taking over globally, so it made sense to explore it in India.”
After Ruplee was acquired by another company in 2016, Jain then turned her attention to the home décor market. Along with her father, who is one of India’s few three-time Red Dot Design winners, she co-founded Bent Chair. The company now has about 240 employees.
In the following interview, Jain discusses her passion for home décor and how Bent Chair is growing as a company.
What drew you to start a décor company?
I was at the junction where I was phasing out of Ruplee and thinking of what should be next in terms of work, and I was also in the process of doing up my own house. I realized that when I was living in the U.S., there were a lot more options for me as a young professional to decorate my home in terms of brands I could identify with.
That does not exist in India. It’s a very fragmented market when it comes to home décor. There are a lot of boutique stores, but nothing really exists within a uniform brand identity. There’s a market gap.
The second thing was the increase in the imports of furniture from China. In India, we have a longstanding tradition of people who carve and weave and make beautiful products, but their skills were being completely neglected. Everything was import-oriented.
So my father and I thought that given our family’s strong manufacturing background, it would make sense to gather these skilled artisans and create a platform to showcase their skills and products.
Would you say that’s what sets Bent Chair apart — the focus on the local, the historical, on art and culture?
A lot of people, especially younger people, may not want to have traditional-looking items in their homes. We decided that since we are targeting a global market, our products should be something many people can relate to. At the same time, we want to showcase the different techniques our artisans use.
If you browse through the Bent Chair website, many products show a blend of the traditional and the contemporary. We’ve tried to be consistent with that design aesthetic. We try to make home décor fashionable.
How do you stay current with design trends?
The best way to stay on top is to constantly accommodate customer feedback. You have a vision for your brand, but at the end of the day, your product needs to sell to your customers.
We also reach out to the design community and get their input because interior designers and architects are key influencers in this industry. It’s about having a very inclusive approach and keeping everyone’s preferences in mind.
What markets can Bent Chair be found in besides India?
China has become a huge consumer of home décor products, and a lot of Chinese buyers want products that aren’t necessarily made in China. We were approached by a very large Chinese home décor brand called BD Homes; they have over 200 stores in China. They wanted to collaborate with us to open up a store in China, so we recently opened a 5,000 square-foot store-within-a-store in Ningbo. We’re very excited at the response. It’s a good way for us to see how our products compete with products already in China, given that it’s such a big manufacturing hub for furniture worldwide.
The next market we’re actively targeting is Dubai. We’re in the process of talking to designers there to come up with new products that are more suited to the Dubai market.
What’s next for you and for Bent Chair?
We’re determined to expand omni-channel, so in addition to enlarging our digital footprint, we’re also aggressively opening stores in different cities in India and then hopefully will expand to cities outside India as well. What we’ve realized is that it’s not really an either/ or scenario for our industry. People want to be able to see the products online and also be able to come experience them — to get the touch and feel of what they’re buying.
So we have to innovate in terms of how we showcase the product to people — that’s what’s next.
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering