At the earliest stage of a business, one of the most important things founders need to possess is a deep understanding of their target user and the challenges they face in performing their responsibilities.
This is why the York IE team often references founder-market fit in our investment rationales and other content. We want to invest in founders who have intimate knowledge of their users, the problem they are solving for them and the market in which they are playing. Saad Rajan and Vivek Hv, co-founders of York IE’s latest investment, Naya, are great examples.
Saad, Vivek and the Naya team are building the operating system for product design. During our diligence we heard Naya described in several different ways, including Uber for product design, Figma for hardware design and Asana for industrial design. While all of those are catchy descriptions for an early-stage startup, they each only describe part of the founders’ vision. What really attracted our team was listening to Saad and Vivek describe the challenges each persona in the product design process faces and hearing the empathy they had for these users based on their personal experiences.
Saad and Vivek both began their careers working in design and eventually met while getting their graduate degrees at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Saad, who serves as CEO, started his career building high-rises in Canada before becoming an earthquake engineer in Tajikistan while also co-founding Njaro, a Tanzanian-based startup connecting local artisans to means of production. He also worked as a design consultant and in project management before enrolling at Harvard.
Vivek, the CTO, is an aerospace engineer who began his career designing and building jets for Honeywell. He has also built a healthcare startup in India and served as a research assistant and graduate teaching fellow at Harvard in design and data science.
Their combined educational, entrepreneurial and design experiences make Saad and Vivek the perfect founding team to execute on their vision. They lead a talented team of product designers, architects, developers, UI/UX designers and data scientists — who have experience at companies including Google, Figma, McKinsey and Company, Dropbox, Facebook and Puma — that are well-suited to support them in their journey.
Today the physical product design process is tedious. It is full of manual steps, multi-tool hand-offs (often including email, PDFs, computer-aided design renderings, sketches and images) and many context switches that result in errors, unnecessary costs and delays and, in worst-case scenarios, product pullbacks. Naya is the first to challenge the status quo process, not only tackling the inefficiencies that translate to millions of revenue loss and unexpected project costs yearly, but also opening up the ability for under-designed populations to create for themselves.
Naya is a design collaboration platform simplifying the physical object design process with AI-assisted quality and sustainability guidance, a built-in pricing estimator and a designer and fabricator matchmaking function. Through the Naya platform, ideators, designers and fabricators around the world can meet each other more easily and collaborate efficiently to create better, more sustainable and more innovative products, faster and with higher quality, while finding the most cost-efficient path to realization.
Naya is already working with major brands such as Herman Miller, Google, Wayfair, Adidas, Nike and Bose in a consulting fashion. The company is using these engagements to help fund the early days of the business and to build a user feedback loop to inform its product roadmap, and it plans to launch subscription pricing once its funding round is closed and work to convert early customers to recurring revenue contracts.
Naya is initially targeting companies in furniture, interior design, home goods and consumer electronics, fashion, automotive and industrial machinery, with plans to expand to other industries including medical devices, hardware and footwear.
It’s quite clear that the market for helping design and fabricate physical products is huge. Saad and Vivek built a bottom-up market analysis using data from Autodesk, a software company providing tools to the architecture, engineering and construction industries, and they approximated that there are 60 million professionals worldwide using or collaborating with users of design software. Based on their proposed pricing model, this leads to a $117 billion market opportunity. Saad and Vivek took their analysis one step further and determined which industries were best suited for the early incarnations of Naya and estimated that 29 million users represent a $56 billion market opportunity.
As previously stated, Naya is the first company to take on the suboptimal physical product design process. There are a wide range of companies that make up the current process, however. These companies include the Microsoft and Google productivity suites, Autodesk, SketchUp, Fiverr, Dropbox, Figma, Asana, Miro, Canva and Procore. But most of those companies will not be directly competitive, and Naya’s team believes in an open platform, so every competitor or comparator is a partnership opportunity. Naya’s real differentiation comes from its vision of an end-to-end platform.
The company wants a customer (company or an individual) to be able to go from idea to fabrication on the Naya platform, connecting with and pulling in outside tools when necessary. Naya’s team believes this will enable the most simple and efficient process, driving more innovative, inclusive, sustainable and thoughtful product design for the world and communities that have not been designed for. It will also result in significant gains in productivity and cost reduction.
York IE is excited to partner with Saad, Vivek and the rest of the Naya team. We believe Naya is embarking on a groundbreaking endeavor that will truly democratize physical object design and lead to significant gains in productivity and efficiency across dozens of industries.