Isimbabi Jamil quit his job and started his interior designing company with nothing. He speaks to Saleemah about his experience in running the company since its launch.
- Tell us briefly about your business.
The name of the company is Treuhand Architecture and Design. The agency specializes in offering standalone and turnkey interior solutions for your project at any stage in the process from design to execution.
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In simpler terms we’re basically your interior architect, we offer you a design of how your space will look then we go ahead to execute that. Any good project is made up of two things: Good design: Great execution. A project typically takes a lot of time, money, and energy. Working with the wrong people can be frustrating, that’s where we come in. We’re the right people
We are focused on interior spaces. We can come in at any stage of your project and take the project through to completion. We are a full-service design company, meaning that first, we offer you design, we take the measurements of the space and we propose a design. From the design, we are able to constantly guide you through the processes you need to follow to complete the project. We take all that stress away from the client and handle projects efficiently. Treuhand started its full operation in August 2022.
- How many employees does the company have?
We’re a close-knit team of 6, all fascinated by the way design impacts people, and we share a mission to create spaces that people love to be in. And of course, we also have a team of experienced and reliable artisans
- What’s your backstory and how did you come up with this idea and start it?
My name is Jamil Isimbabi. I was born in Lagos and moved to Abuja in the early 2000s where I attended Nigerian Turkish International College. After this, I proceeded to Turkey for my first degree and then completed my master’s at the European University of Lefke where I also worked as a Research Assistant. Between working as a research assistant and completing my thesis I realized that architects design for people but are usually prone to forgetting that they’re offering a service.
On returning to Nigeria, this disparity drew my attention as it started to become more obvious. I started to see the differences and reactions when architects do a design they see it as beautiful and nice but other people view it as regular and not so appealing.
The user is the center of everything. I strongly believe that design is kind of like a democratic process. Designers are supposed to listen and work with clients to come up with what they want and not just do what you as a designer feel is good.
- What was your financial situation at the time of starting the company?
Well, starting this business, I actually quit my job so that I could face it full-time and put in a lot of effort. I started with little to nothing but I really believed I could offer something better. And for it to grow, I needed—or rather, we needed—to put all into it.
- How do you juggle your work at Bluebricks company with this?
Bluebricks is a construction company in which I am one of the partners, we are four partners. What we are doing in Treuhand is quite different in the sense that we are wholly focused on interior architecture, space usage, organization, and transforming people’s spaces. So it is really two different things entirely.
- What is the hardest part of doing this business?
There are a lot. The Nigerian system is not making it easy for anyone or business so I am sure anyone in business would have a lot of challenges but having the patience and waiting to see results come is the goal of the business. You just have to put in a lot of work and plan, and make changes every day, sometimes you want to see results drastically but it does not always happen fast and that is why you need patience.
- What makes you love the business?
It would definitely put a smile on people’s faces. There is nothing better than proposing a design to a client and we achieve exactly how the client wants. The excitement and satisfaction from the client make me love doing what I do every day. We make sure that no detail is left out during the process.
Secondly, you shouldn’t give up because I think that every business requires patience and there are times when it gets really difficult, times when it is not perfect but you have to be patient and know that there is somewhere bigger you are heading to. You are going to get there eventually. Perseverance is crucial in any business. Secondly, you need to pray because anything you think or don’t think would go wrong would eventually go wrong.
- What are the procedures someone has to follow to be successful in this business?
I think the first should be learning about the business and services and that is the major area a lot of people lack in. Many people are running service-based businesses and they are not working to improve what they do and give people their money’s worth.
And do the job or project in the best way possible.
- What resources did you read that helped your business to grow?
I’m a very curious person so 90% of my free time is spent on YouTube or doing some research. Other times I am searching Google scholar for some random things so I’m always reading.
A book that I read around the time we started Blue Bricks was The Originals by Adam Grant. It is a fantastic book and when I read the book, I found the description in the book similar to mine and it helped. It is a business book too.
- How do you plan to grow the business?
First, we are focusing on knowledge both for the users and also for the team. The team is constantly learning and improving by taking a lot of online courses on design, construction, new methods, and all that. The users also need the knowledge to know that they actually need interior architects to work on their projects. Whenever I speak to clients and tell them what they need, then they see why they need us.
We have clients who buy a house and need to do the finishing and they sometimes go and do the screeding before they realize that they need to move certain kinds of stuff or they buy certain furniture that does not fit into the house because they did not do proper planning. For us, it is more about educating our users and educating ourselves to be more informed.
- What are the tools you use in doing this business?
We use computers and a shared network so we work on designs together.
- What makes your business different from any other business?
I would say because we are professionals. In Nigeria now, there is no school that offers interior design so when you look at a lot of interior designers, you start to ask where they get those qualifications from. For us, we take pride in professionalism first and that we know how to do the job.
The name Treuhand is actually a German word for trust so we are heavy on trust because to do any project for anyone, the person has trusted you with that design and process and completion.
We are a team of highly motivated people that want to offer better interior solutions to people so we don’t just want to do a fancy design that looks good or renovate a place that looks good and after one year it is falling apart.
We believe that these are the things that distinguish us from other interior designers.
- How do you cope in terms of competition with other people doing the same business as you?
To be honest, in Abuja, we think that we are in a lane of our own because like I told you there are a lot of interior designers but up until now, I do not think that there are a lot of interior architects, most likely we are coming into the market as the first. We really don’t look at the competitors because we are just focused on ourselves, our processes, and getting everything right for the client.
- What are the challenges you have to face when starting this business?
Honestly, taking that leap was the major challenge. From being in a job and then leaving to start your own thing from the scratch but believing that it would make a change. It takes a lot of courage to take that leap because you do not know what is going to be on the other side. Finances, capital, and others were all issues but the main thing was making the decision to start the company.
- How do you plan to generate your profit from this business?
We are already generating a profit and it is a service-based business.
- Do you have other plans for the future?
We want to open up a studio where we can work, design, and create at the same time so that we would be able to come up with solutions and test them before taking them out.
We also want to start a design academy where we would train young architects and designers who also want to get more practical knowledge of design.
Lastly, we would want to hold exhibitions.
- What is your advice for those that want to start up this business?
I wouldn’t advise them to merely start. I would say in anything you want to venture into, you need to gain experience because it gives you more confidence. Even if you have to work under someone for a few years or work with a company, just find a way to gain some experience, and when you start you feel very confident in your abilities because there won’t be space for doubt.
- What have you learned so far?
I’ve learned that trust is very important especially in business in Nigeria and everywhere in general too. You have to be trustworthy because people are giving you their money; some people just pay and they travel and they only communicate with you over the phone about their projects and keep sending money down to you for the project so trust is very key in anything you’re doing in life.
- Do you think Turkey as a place you schooled had an impact on your type of architectural design?
Yes, to an extent. Not everything would work because it is a totally different society. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of what we can do with space, to let you know that, “okay the living room and the kitchen don’t have to have a wall between them they can actually be open”. I think now you don’t have to travel to get different mindsets and inspirations; we all watch a lot of television shows so your brain is already thinking you’re in the show.
- If you were to start this business all over again, would you go for it and why?
Yes, definitely. As I stated earlier, I love my business and what I do so I definitely would, and without a doubt want to do this all over again.
- To start this business now, how much would one need as a start-up cost?
I would not say money per se. I think you need people with the right mindset and knowledge. But first, you have to study and have full in-depth knowledge about what you are going to do. Money comes later. I mean there are people who have all the money in the world and still fail in their businesses.