Armed only with interior design knowledge learnt online, Daphine Okonji made the big leap to start her own interior design business. Her passion for making spaces come alive drove her to launch her business, Elle Interior Designers. She has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Strathmore University and also has a diploma in Human Resource Management. How does somebody move from the world of human resource to interior design you may ask? It is simple. You follow your passion. Daphine had a gateway home that she managed with two other business partners. They furnished this house by themselves. It is at that point that Daphine realized she loved to make spaces brighten up. Her friend saw the good work she had done with furnishing the gateway home and suggested she take up design as a career. “I had a lot of fun seeing spaces transform. After the suggestion, I went and registered the business,” she recalls
She did a lot of research on the internet on all things pertaining to interior design. She taught herself all she knows about this sector online by reading articles, doing an online course and watching You Tube demonstration videos. “I call it YouTube university,” she joked. “I didn’t have a mentor in the interior design industry (at the time) so I was on the job learning,” she added.
Elle Interior Designers does concept development for clients. After this, they develop 3D designs of the developed concept. This allows for their clients to see what a space will look like after completion. Once the 3D designs are approved, they move on to do interior construction. The business also provides training services. They teach people how to profit from interior design.
Challenges that Daphine faced in the beginning of her business differ greatly from those she faces now. When she started her business almost a decade ago, setting up procedures and policies for the business proved difficult. She also struggled to find qualified people to work with and resorted to training some. As is the case with many startups, finding a venue for the business was a challenge as well. “Start ups get attracted to cheaper spaces found in residential areas that do not work well for them as a brand,” she explains. She is now pleased with her office space at Timau Plaza near Yaya Centre and feels that the location is finally perfect for her after all the years gone by. Security was also a challenge. Her business was robbed twice and unfortunately the robberies were insider jobs. ‘The challenge of security can wear you down because you purchase computers and phones all over again. At some point I was spending a lot of money,” she said. She learnt a lot from the experience and now has insurance cover for office items.
After ten years in business, the main challenge Daphine faces now is growth. ” You need new ideas that can keep you on top of your game. Proper sustainable growth is a challenge,” she said.
Awards and recognition
Elle Interior Designers has received both international and local accolades. In 2012, Daphine was awarded the third place position for Young Enterprise Africa at the 5th annual Small Medium and Micro Enterprise (SMME) Awards held in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2013, Elle Interior Designers was one of the companies feted at the African Property Awards in Dubai. Daphine received honorary recognition from the Architectural Association of Kenya for her contribution to interior design in 2014. She also won the award for outstanding young female alumni from her alma matter, Strathmore University.
Experience at PassionBiz Academy
Daphine did the Harness Your Brilliance (HYB) course at PassionBiz Academy. The course is facilitated by James Karundu. She said that the course was transformational to her as she learnt numerous important lessons. “It got me back to getting my target clients and getting the right language to communicate with the client. HYB got me to learn my area of brilliance and capitalize on that,” she recalls.
Daphine concluded by saying people should stop making excuses. “Excuses are a way of procrastinating. If I could do it without an interior design background, so can you,” she adds. She urged anybody interested in starting a business to use the internet to learn about the sector and how to do things to their maximum potential.
You can read more about Elle Interior Designers on their website by clicking here
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