For this week’s Humans of TapChief, we’ve got someone very special, Navaneethakrishna Ramanathan. He’s been part of the TapChief community for almost three years now, making him one of our earliest Experts.
He is a UI/UX designer with more than a decade of experience. Most of us have dreams and passions in life; however, not many are courageous enough to go after them. We are too comfortable with our cushy jobs and are fearful of getting out of our comfort zones.
Not Navaneeth though, he persisted and persevered, and pursued his dreams and ambitions. Now he is a successful UX/UI designer and has his own design studio. Read on to learn how he went about it, what drove him on, and the role TapChief has played in his journey.
Navaneeth runs Alchi Design Studio, a UI/UX Design Studio focused primarily on experience design and interface design for web and mobile applications. He has 11 plus years of industry experience in various domains starting from operations, telecom and software Industry.
In the past, he has worked for companies such as Nokia, ThoughtWorks, among others. Currently, he is working on crafting experience design for mental health and wellness projects initiated by public research universities in Australia.
A glimpse into Navaneeth’s professional career
Navaneeth has always been passionate about fine arts. Right from childhood, he loved to create something new and express himself via his art. And although he started his career in the telecom industry, he was clear about where he wanted to be in the long run — get into the design field.
I liked doodling when I was young. Later on, in my college days, I used to create posters and banners for events and symposiums. So, you could say that I’ve always had an inclination for design.
In 2008, after completing his graduation in engineering, Navaneeth joined Nokia Siemens Network as a telecom engineer. He went on to spend three years with the company. Initially, he was part of their telecom operations division, and later on, he was sent to Australia for 3G technology process handover (India was still in 2G technology). During this time, he was involved in creating dashboards and reports.
This was his introduction to User Interface Designing. At the time, the UI/UX field was still in a nascent stage. The more he learned about it, the more curious he became as it cuts across all his interest areas.
I feel that UI/UX is a domain which converges everything from design to human psychology, which is another interest area of mine. That’s another reason why I found it to be very appealing.
And in the summer of 2010, Navaneeth made up his mind. He wanted to learn and explore the domain further. He left his job and enrolled for a 6-month UI/UX certification course. This wasn’t an easy decision, as he had spent all his savings on the course. However, Navaneeth was confident and was eager to learn. He also used this break to learn to code.
After completing the course, he went on to join Toboc.com, a French e-commerce company, as a Web UI developer. He was with them for a year. After that, he joined ThoughtWorks, a global technology consultancy, and worked there for three years. It was during this period that he began seriously considering switching to freelancing.
I always wanted to run my own design studio. It has always been my end goal. After working full-time for nearly seven years, I thought it was the right time to start something on my own.
Navaneeth’s early days as a full-time freelancer and the challenges he faced
Finally, after much pondering, in the autumn of 2014, Navaneeth decided to resign from his full-time job to pursue full-time freelancing.
The prospect of being independent and outside the corporate setup excited me. I knew it would allow me the flexibility and freedom to select projects of my liking. Moreover, my time or earning potential won’t be controlled by someone else.
Navaneeth’s early days as a freelancer were a breeze. He was able to obtain some excellent long-term projects from his network even before he got started.
I began to get gigs through my network and colleagues. By the end of my notice period, I had four solid projects lined up. This made my initial days as a freelancer a cakewalk as most of them were long-term projects.
However, reality struck pretty soon. Once Navaneeth exhausted those long-term projects, he quickly realised that getting projects outside his network wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. Furthermore, he hadn’t expected that operating as a one-man band would be so difficult.
Once the initial projects were completed, that’s when the harsh realities of freelancing became more evident to me. I couldn’t scale my operations, the cash flow dried up, and I was forced to pitch outside my network. I found it hard to do everything on my own— lead generation, handling the admin work, and working on projects.
During this lean patch, I found it incredibly hard to focus on work. It took a toll on me mentally. I just couldn’t accept it because I hadn’t experienced anything like that in my career till then.
How did Navaneeth turn things around?
People with lesser resolve would have probably given up at this stage and returned to their cushy jobs, not Navaneeth. He wasn’t one to give up. He was intuitive, imaginative, and above all, perseverant.
I quickly realised that I needed systems in place that would help me reduce my workload. That’s when I began using tools and apps to streamline various aspects of freelancing — bookkeeping, invoicing, marketing, project management, and contracts and legal documents.
I even set up a personal website which provides an overview of the services I offer and also, features my portfolio. This made it much easier for me to showcase my skills and work experience, and also for potential clients to reach out to me.
From a mental perspective, he feels that his art played a massive role in helping him get through the dry spell.
I spend a lot more time on painting and sketching. As a creator, you must keep creating. It helps you take your mind off things and stay engaged.
Another thing that helped him overcome this tough spell was networking.
I began attending design conferences and freelancer MeetUps, joined design groups on different social networks, and also, conducted workshops.
Meeting and talking to people helped me big time. It helped me stay engaged, learn more, and understand different viewpoints. More importantly, I started getting new clients and referrals.
The network building activities helped him land his first big client in a long time. The project was from an Australian University, and it was in the mental health space, something that Navaneeth is passionate about. He feels that the project went a long way in helping him get back to his feet.
It was a sign of things to come. Navaneeth started collaborating with other freelancers to pick up small gigs. It helped him build a steady pipeline of projects. And it got even better after he signed up to TapChief.
Someone from the TapChief team reached out to me on LinkedIn, briefly explained to me about the platform, and asked if I would like to sign up.
I thought I’d give it a shot. To my surprise, I started getting projects pretty soon after I signed up. Most of them were inbound, as in the TapChief sourced them for me.
Now, two years later, I’m still getting new projects through the platform. The quality of clients I’ve acquired via TapChief has been impressive and very consistent too.
And I’ve also seen the platform grow and evolve in these two years — from a very rudimentary freelancing platform to a fully-fledged one with all the essential features including project management tools, payment wallet, and more.
Navaneeth recently completed his fifth year as a freelancer. In this time, he has worked with clients such as Sattva, Doctor’s Bazaar, Titan – Sonata, Thriver, public research universities in Australia, and The Math Company.
However, he wasn’t one to stand still. Soon, his focus shifted to something bigger, start his own studio. It didn’t take him long to achieve this. In 2018, Navaneeth got together with a friend and founded their own design studio, Alchi Design Studio.
The idea was to combine our expertise and operate under one banner. We knew it would enable us to take on complete projects rather than individual parts of it. More importantly, we wanted to work on projects that we are passionate about.
They have a three-member team now and have an office in Bangalore. Their clientele includes Intutel, Wyze, Nudg Labs, and Hiveminds.
His plans for the future
Navaneeth wants to scale his design studio to a full-service one that is capable of handling everything from branding to video creation.
He is also very passionate about the mental health field and wants to keep working on creating new products in the space. Apart from that, he wants to conduct design process workshops regularly to help graduates become more employable.
This article is part of our Humans of TapChief series, where we highlight inspiring stories of our community members who choose to live and work on their own terms.