Prime Design Studio is a Kuwait-based architecture and interior design firm. They think limitlessly and work systematically to bring life to the spaces they touch. They’re ambitious – the team has led projects across Kuwait and the GCC, catering to residential and commercial. This year they designed projects in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and the UAE. It’s Abrar’s job to ensure the business continues to grow. We asked her for the best advice on how to start and grow a business.
We are going to start at the beginning. What made you decide to open your own architecture firm?
On a cool night in April 2016, my brother Mohammad and I sat outside and talked about our dreams and passions. We’ve always been ambitious, and we pictured ourselves making an impact in the design world. We felt a creative movement starting locally, and we wanted to be a part of it. This led to the creation of Prime Design Studio: an architecture firm focused on producing imaginative designs that complement the creative concepts constantly brewing in Kuwait. Today, I’m proudly managing Prime Design Studio with my teammates Sara AlAnjari and Anupama Nada Kumar – all smart, talented, young women who are under 30 and dedicated to designing, managing, and building spaces around the GCC.
What is one thing that you really like about running your own firm?
The best thing about running your own firm is setting your own standards. At Prime Design Studio, we get creative with our work process, and the whole team is involved in decisions. I love that we don’t have a typical top-down hierarchical structure and everyone’s voice is heard. We always strive to think creatively and do things differently to achieve maximum efficiency. We still have a long way to go and we are always learning from our mistakes, but the ease of working in a non-traditional way is the best part.
What is one bad thing about running your own firm?
I’m a glass half-full type person, so for the record, what I’m about to highlight is both good and bad. Before Prime Design Studio, I couldn’t possibly imagine the pressures that come with the responsibility of running your own business. Even when we experience successes, celebrations are short because I know I must stay focused on what’s next. When are we going to sign the next client? Is our pipeline clear for the next few months? Do we have enough to cover our costs for the year? Are we operating in the most efficient way? It can get very stressful, but this pressure is also what allows me to keep growing and learning.
When you say you want to be the best at this thing, what is that thing? What is Prime Design all about?
The obvious answer is we want to be the best at design, but design is multi-layered and subjective. We want to provide the best environment for our team to do what they love and to push creative boundaries, because that ultimately leads to great design. We want to be the best at making our clients feel comfortable and capable of expressing themselves around us, because understanding our clients’ needs ultimately leads to great design. We’ve found empathy to be an extremely valuable tool, and as we grow, we will continue to use it to feed our success.
Let’s talk about work life balance. An issue that many entrepreneurs struggle with. I imagine with your situation there is very little separation between work and life? How do you make it work?
Like most entrepreneurs, I do struggle with maintaining a work life balance. However, in the past year, I’ve implemented a rule that has helped me a lot. The reality is you’re always going to have to answer late calls and work late hours – it’s part of running your own business. You need to be available. My rule has been to pick a single day of the week – for me that’s typically Friday – where I step away from work responsibilities. I make sure to keep that day for myself, to be present and in the moment. Without that time to recharge, I wouldn’t be able to handle the pressures of tomorrow.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone interested in starting their own firm, what would it be?
My advice is to be to kind and patient. We are still a very young firm, but over the past years we’ve met so many people that we’ve crossed paths with again and again. We’ve found that leaving a good impression is crucial, because you never know when and under what circumstances you might cross paths with that person again. The first two years of starting your own business are the toughest, and success doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s also important to be patient while working towards achieving your goals.
If you could go back to the time when you just graduated from University, what would you tell your younger self?
I would tell her that her journey will be filled with opportunities, and failures. The opportunities aren’t always going to find you, you need to get ready to create them. You will make mistakes, and it will be very difficult but make sure to stay tough because your failures will be your greatest lessons.
What is one project that you are very proud of? And why?
This is a tough question; all our projects are so special to us and we are so proud of every one of them. Our design process involves extensive research to help us push boundaries and design something unique. This is followed by an extremely detailed set of drawings and specifications which we take great pride in. If I had to pick, I would say our work with Gulf Bank is one I’m most proud of. I was proud that one of Kuwait’s leading banks had approached us, and ultimately chose to work with us despite us being a relatively young firm in the market. It validated the quality of our work. I felt proud because we were competing against firms we look up to and they selected us, it felt great! Eventually our work with the bank opened many doors.