Interview with Rishi Mathur, a Design Entrepreneur

Rishi Mathur

In the realm of design and entrepreneurship, few individuals exemplify the seamless fusion of creativity and business acumen as vividly as Rishi Mathur. As a distinguished Design Entrepreneur, Rishi has charted a remarkable journey, leaving an indelible mark on the industry.

With an innate ability to weave aesthetics into innovation, he has not only shaped visually captivating products but has also demonstrated a profound understanding of the symbiotic relationship between design and entrepreneurship.

This interview delves into the unique perspectives and experiences that have propelled Rishi Mathur into the forefront of the design landscape, unraveling the intricacies of his creative process and the entrepreneurial spirit that propels him forward.

Can you provide an overview of your journey as a design entrepreneur?

Rishi Mathur: During my academic years, I found myself confused with the decision of selecting a career path. In an era dominated by the pursuit of Engineering, design-oriented professions were not as prevalent as they are today.

Despite my ‘just an average’ proficiency in mathematics, I had a strong inclination towards visual arts, design, and the integration of creativity with technological applications—a proficiency I often refer to as ‘visual mathematics.’

During my school days, my hobbies centered around sketching and drawing. These endeavors garnered recognition at the national level and drew praise from prominent figures, including the former Prime Minister and President of India, marking the inception of my creative journey.

In 2006, I enrolled in the Footwear Design & Development Institute (Noida) for a comprehensive three-year education in footwear design and technology. My eagerness and entrepreneurial spirit drove me to expand my skill set into graphics, web design, and more during personal initiatives undertaken on weekends and late hours. The unwavering support of my teachers and colleagues further fueled my efforts.

Upon graduating from FDDI in 2009, I ventured into the footwear and accessories wing of Lee Cooper, a UK-based fashion and lifestyle brand in India, where I served as a Lead Designer for approximately 4.5 years. Subsequently, I transitioned through roles in various companies spanning both footwear and non-footwear industries.

In 2018, I embraced a full-time entrepreneurial venture into the multidisciplinary design industry as an independent design consultant and creative contractor.

While initially collaborating with Indian client companies, opportunities emerged from the US and UK, propelling me to broaden my expertise. My passion for creativity led me to acquire skills in animations, 2D filmmaking, marketing communication, product design, UX design, interaction design, packaging design, political communications, presentations design, and more. I enthusiastically sought new collaborations to leverage my expanding expertise, attracting a diverse clientele and significantly increasing my revenue compared to previous full-time positions.

This journey of continuous learning and strategic promotion persists to date, ensuring my sustained growth and success in the dynamic field of multidisciplinary design.

What inspired you to pursue a career in design and eventually become an entrepreneur?

Rishi Mathur: I found myself excelling more in drawing and creative pursuits compared to my performance in other academic subjects. Deep down, I was kind of aware that my strengths lay in creativity-focused career paths rather than traditional professions like engineering. This realization led me to pursue admission at the Footwear Design & Development Institute in Noida, marking the beginning of my journey into the field of design.

My entrepreneurial mindset was evident from my school days, and like any aspiring businessman, I aimed for growth and excellence. However, being part of a middle-class family with limited financial resources compelled me to take cautious steps due to the significant capital, experience, learnings, and resources required for a business startup.

After approximately 6-7 years of conventional employment, I transitioned into a full-time freelance/contractual venture. I initiated this venture while simultaneously holding my last regular job. At that time, there was less enthusiasm among businesses to hire freelance or contract services compared to the current scenario.

By presenting compelling pitches and demonstrating a lucrative return on investment with my services, I successfully attracted new and prestigious clients. This trend continues, and I attribute my success to divine grace.

As a design entrepreneur, senior design consultant, and mentor, how do you balance these different roles and responsibilities?

Rishi Mathur: I feel my work profile classified in to 2 categories:

  1. Design Consultant
  2. Educator

Juggling these two responsibilities has proven to be quite challenging. However, when I reflect on the rewards in terms of knowledge gained, financial gains, recognition, and personal achievements, it feels like a significant privilege to successfully navigate and harmonize these diverse roles. Concurrently, my esteemed clients have been remarkably supportive, exceeding my expectations. Having such an elite, kind, and supportive client base has been an immense blessing.

In my role as a Design Consultant, I collaborate with various companies in India, the US, and the UK, providing practical design solutions tailored to their business and organizational needs and vision. This engagement typically extends from daytime activities to late evenings and nights as required.

On the other hand, as an Educator/Teacher/Mentor, I am affiliated with DesignLab, a leading US-based design institute. Here, I have the honor of instructing international emerging designers and creative enthusiasts. This commitment usually takes place during nighttime hours to align with US-friendly timings.

Initially it was all difficult to balance and manage all together. I won’t say it’s easy now, but I enjoy it more, while overlooking the difficulties.

What motivated you to take on a mentorship role, and how do you approach mentoring aspiring designers?

Rishi Mathur: My desire to share my expertise in a subject I excel at led me to take a step in that direction by delivering guest lectures in various institutes in Noida a few years ago. While these opportunities were informal and arranged through connections, they kindled a passion within me for teaching. This drove me to actively seek teaching opportunities, particularly in the realm of design.

In 2022, I was fortunate to receive an offer to join DesignLab, a prestigious design education center in the United States, as a Mentor. The application process involved applying for the position, participating in multiple interviews, having my portfolio reviewed by their selection panel, and more.

I am privileged to have established a formal association with DesignLab, where I am currently instructing students aspiring to become designers or who are already working professionals. The majority of my students hail from the US and other Western countries.

My teaching encompasses various facets of design, including UX Design, Visual Design, Career Guidance, and practical design practices. The objective is to aid students in transitioning into the design field and enhancing their career prospects by imparting valuable insights and knowledge.

Joining DesignLab has allowed me to fulfill my dream of becoming a teacher and supporting aspiring designers in shaping their careers, drawing on my extensive experience in diverse creative fields and design domains.

In your opinion, what qualities make a great design mentor, and how have you seen mentorship impact the careers of your mentees?

Rishi Mathur: In my opinion, a design mentor needs to have a combination of technical expertise, effective communication skills, and a genuine passion for fostering the growth of their mentees. And most importantly, an empathetic approach towards different challenges and situations.

Technical expertise is crucial for guiding students through the evolving dynamics of design processes and tools, ensuring they receive the insights they need. However, effective communication is equally vital, as it facilitates the mentor’s ability to convey complex concepts in an accessible manner, providing a clear understanding among students.

I’ve witnessed how mentorship can profoundly impact the careers of my students at DesignLab. Beyond imparting technical skills, mentorship provides valuable real-world insights and advice, helping students navigate the dynamic landscape of the design industry. I must say teaching new designers has equally helped me to continuously bring up fresh perspectives and encouraged me to brush-up my skills.

As a mentor, it’s immensely rewarding to see my mentees not only excel in their design work but also successfully transition into the professional sphere, armed with the skills and knowledge they’ve gained during our mentorship.

As a senior design consultant, how do you stay updated on the latest design trends and innovations?

Rishi Mathur: As a design professional with over 12 years of experience, staying updated to the latest design trends and innovations is integral to delivering cutting-edge solutions for my clients.

I employ a multifaceted approach to ensure I remain at the forefront of the design landscape. Firstly, I prioritize continuous learning through various online platforms, industry publications, and design blogs, where I delve into articles, case studies, and tutorials that highlight emerging trends and innovative techniques.

This allows me to not only stay informed but also to implement new and impactful design elements into my projects.

Attending industry trade events, webinars, and other such interactions enables me to connect with professionals and decision makers across companies and industries, gain insights to potential collaboration and opportunities, advise solutions, and gain firsthand knowledge of the evolving trends in design and allied industries, be it UI/UX design, footwear & accessory design, or other relevant fields.

This dynamic blend of self-directed learning, networking, and collaborative endeavors allows me to not only stay updated but also to contribute innovatively to the projects I undertake as a senior design consultant.

How do you encourage creativity and problem-solving in the face of industry challenges?

Rishi Mathur: Adopting a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving has really helped me significantly. With a background that spans various design domains, I draw upon insights from UI/UX design, visual aesthetics, and even my experience in animated films and footwear/accessory design to bring fresh perspectives to challenges with the implementation of cross-industry experience backed by understanding of user/ customer behavior.

This cross-disciplinary approach not only stimulates creativity but also allows for the synthesis of ideas from different industries, often leading to unique and effective solutions.

Also, staying updated of industry trends and emerging technologies enables us to adapt to evolving challenges while experimenting with new ideas helps cultivate a culture of innovation and resilience.

Could you highlight a few of your favorite design projects or experiences and what made them particularly memorable or rewarding for you?

Rishi Mathur: I have a deep appreciation for the uniqueness of each design, encompassing a diverse array of formats such as Product Design, UX Design, Animations, and more.

While I hold an affinity for all these categories, if I were to pick a personal favorite, it would undoubtedly be designing animated characters. Witnessing the transformation of illustrations into lively entities, capable of talking, walking, singing, and emoting, fascinated me immensely.

This fascination led me to plunge into 2D animations in 2018, bagging a one-in a lifetime opportunity to create political campaigns and communications for The Prime Minister of India, H.E. Shri Narendra Modi.

What advice do you have for young designers who are just starting their careers or considering entrepreneurship in the design field?

Rishi Mathur: Entrepreneurship in design, such as freelance collaborations, contract mode, etc. has emerged as the future of work, especially with the global implementation of layoffs and cost-cutting measures by companies.

Traditional employment models have shifted, with organizations downsizing and increasingly relying on freelance talent for creative and design needs. However, freelancing isn’t a shortcut to success; it demands hard work, dedication, and perseverance.

To build a thriving entrepreneurial design career, be prepared for the challenges and uncertainties, from sporadic client opportunities to demanding projects and delayed payments. Resilience, continuous learning, and skill improvement are essential in this dynamic industry, where staying updated on trends and investing in professional development are crucial.

It’s imperative to present authentic and superior design ideas to clients, avoiding the pitfall of blindly agreeing to ineffective proposals for the sake of maintaining relationships. Many freelancers compromise their convictions to please clients, but this approach can lead to being replaced by more compliant and cost-effective resources.

To succeed in freelancing, maintain integrity in your work, stay adaptable, and prioritize delivering value through innovative and effective design solutions.

How can new design entrepreneurs and freelancers prevent getting harrassed by non-genuine customers?

Rishi Mathur: Being an independent design consultant, distinguishing between genuine and fake clients is essential to safeguarding my work and monetary interests. Remember, while it’s only a small percentage of such non-genuine clients, and most of the prospects are very respectful and valued,  it’s important to protect your interests.

For this, I closely assess how potential clients engage with me – genuine ones provide detailed project requirements, ask pertinent questions, and demonstrate a genuine interest in my work, showcasing a level of professionalism. On the other hand, fake clients often communicate with generic messages and vague project descriptions, lacking a clear understanding of their needs.

To authenticate clients further, I conduct comprehensive research, examining their website, social media profiles, and online presence. Any discrepancies, inconclusive information, or a lack of reviews raise red flags. Utilizing written contracts is a fundamental practice, outlining project details, timelines, and payment terms for mutual understanding. Encouraging the deduction of applicable taxes adds an extra layer of transparency.

Additionally, requesting deposits or milestone payments ensures the client’s commitment and financial capability, fostering a trustworthy collaboration. Trusting my instincts is crucial; if something feels off, I exercise caution to avoid working with suspicious or unprofessional clients.

In concluding this insightful interview with Rishi Mathur, it becomes evident that his role as a Design Entrepreneur extends far beyond the canvas and spreads its roots into the very foundation of business innovation.

Rishi’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of conventional design and his unwavering belief in the power of creativity as a driving force for entrepreneurship serve as an inspiration to aspiring designers and entrepreneurs alike.

As we reflect on the intriguing facets of his journey, it becomes clear that Rishi Mathur’s story is not just about creating visually appealing designs; it’s a testament to the transformative potential that lies at the intersection of design and entrepreneurship.

With an eye for aesthetics and a mind for business, Rishi’s narrative encourages us to view design not merely as an art form but as a catalyst for societal and economic change.

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