Interview: The Basement Project founders

Ever thought about starting your own business? Wonder what it’s like to be an entrepreneur? The founders of the Basement Project give us some insight into their journey, and what it’s like to set up a company.

I understand that your company is in the digital marketing industry. What exactly is it that the Basement Project does?

We provide creative, stunning and strategic solutions to a company or agency’s digital landscape. Should a problem arise or a complex need arise, we can develop and implement a full digital solution from mobile apps to website development to social media campaigns. We provide any number of access points for a company to engage with its customers. Additionally, we have an innovations division called “The Basement,” wherein we work on developing our own ideas and helping others bring their ideas to life.

Who are the people behind the Basement Project?

Disha Pagarani: Co-Founder, Managing Partner

Bachelor in Business Administration, Major in Marketing and Marketing Communications, American University in Dubai; Diploma, International Advertising Association (IAA), New York.

Disha Pagarani specializes in building and implementing marketing and corporate communication strategies. Disha has a knack for digital media marketing and especially enjoys social media marketing, guerilla marketing and creating integrated marketing campaigns for her clients. Disha has extensively worked with brands such as Forever 21, VOX Cinemas, United Colors of Benetton and Hello Kitty Beauty Spa.

Tanuj Damani: Co-Founder, Managing Partner

Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering, American University in Dubai.

Tanuj Damani has been doing web development since 2003 and specializes in application and hardware development. Tanuj has also formed a website for music enthusiasts in 2009, which he attributes to the starting point of his entrepreneurial vision. His most notable specialty is in creative technical development – finding a way to solve problems using technology. He has worked in the same capacity at Procter & Gamble, which started with a competition held in London.

(A special mention to Milad Bejjani, who is also a Computer Engineer graduated from AUD.  We both started app development together and still work together on some projects. We were a team and curated ideas together, before we officially commenced on The Basement Project.)

Philip Apaza: Co-Founder, Managing Partner

Currently pursuing a BA in International Studies, majoring in Middle Eastern Studies and International Relations; and a BBA in Economics.

A jack-of-all-trades, Philip has worked across multiple sectors, from event management to brand experience agencies to non-profit consultancy and IGO development.  Philip’s most notable specialty lies in content development, ensuring well-sculpted, digital and rhetorical communication to reflect a brand’s ethos. Some of his prestigious clients have included Toyota, Jack Morton Worldwide, DEWA & the Dubai Government.  Philip’s continuing work has been in business analysis and development, creating and implementing well –thought out and comprehensive strategies in marketing, operations and logistics to elevate the potential of a company and brand.

How did the company come into being?

Disha: I co-founded a student organization called “The Agency” in university and I just loved working towards creating something new and having the power to bring a vision to life! Since then, I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t anticipate doing this so early on in my career though. A casual discussion with Tanuj about a website idea led to more interesting ideas, Phil came on board with some amazing contributions as well and we took on just one client project, until we decided this was what we wanted to do.

Tanuj: The Basement Project is where I’ve always wanted to be, an entrepreneur. The journey started somewhere towards the end of my second year at University. I had discussions with a few friends, took the ones I trusted on board, which included Milad Bejjani. None of those people are with The Basement Project currently. Milad and I were the only ones left at the time, and while things were progressing, I spoke with Disha and she came up with the name, which stuck with Milad and me. Eventually Milad had to quit and Phil came on board. There has been no looking back since. We love what we do, and we love working with each other.

Phil:  While the appeal of being an entrepreneur was always there, for me, it was the appeal of making a difference which drew me to The Basement Project. The idea of providing creative solutions to problems is something I would do my whole life even if I made no money doing it.

What kinds of challenges did you face when setting up this company?

Disha: When you are the new kid on the block, you have to prove your worth to people before they can truly entrust you with their projects. That is why it is so important to keep working on something, no matter how small or big. Our personal projects helped us with gaining the client’s trust and showing them what we were truly capable of.

Tanuj: We still face challenges. The main challenge when we set up was that we were new. But we made that our strength. The other aspect that comes along with that was, lack of trust. But if we live up to our promises, the trust grows and spreads.

Phil: I think the three main challenges we faced were:

  • Understanding each other’s points of view: Agreeing on what is in the best interests of the company has never resulted in any emotional arguments and our openness with each other has proven helpful, but it is still difficult to form that unique team communication when everyone is the “boss.”
  • Sticking to the plan: It is very easy in the early stages of the business to see all the opportunities laid out before you and you might want to wander off the path.
  • Sticking to our principles: We’ve always imagined ourselves as a socially responsible company. We stand nothing to gain in the long-term by cheating or misleading. We want to maintain more than just credibility, we want to be a force for good. This is not easy in the beginning, but it must be done if it is part of your principle and character. It pays off in the long run.

What would you say to those who are struggling with finding suitable jobs?

Disha: On an emotional level, keep believing that things will work out for you. Never settle for something you don’t believe in or something that doesn’t give you the happiness that you deserve. On a very practical level, keep yourself busy! You like writing? Start up with your blog! Have an idea? Experiment with it! It does not have to be too expensive or time consuming, but it is very important to keep working on something, no matter how big or small it might be. It’s important to be in the game, so when the right opportunity comes by, you are fully prepared.

Tanuj: Don’t stop trying. The jobs I have done have helped me be the person I am today. Take whatever opportunity you get, let it shape you. Keep progressing and if you ever want to be an entrepreneur, then once you have some experience, GO FOR IT!

Phil:You have to actually be what it is that you want to be. If you say you are a writer, prove it. Write and keep writing. Never think that you are the best – there is always room for improvement. No one owes you anything. No company will know how brilliant you are until you can prove it.

Any advice for those who want to start their own companies?

Disha:Do your research. Use your knowledge but also rely on your instincts. Believe in your idea, yet have the guts to accept relevant criticism. Don’t over think. Keep an action-oriented approach. Set milestones for your personal and business development since success or failure is not always evident for a startup.

Tanuj: Challenges never end, take it in your stride and trudge along. If your passion and conviction is strong (provided you are moral and ethical) you will always succeed. If you have faith in yourself and your idea, then nothing can stop you. However, always be prepared. Being a business owner is a huge commitment and a huge amount of work. Never jump in blind. Test the waters, gather your intel, and then CHARGE!

Phil: Hear everyone but listen to no one. That may sound counter-intuitive (or even rude) but I’ve found that this is what has worked best. I have heard many horror stories and many success stories from business leaders and owners. I have heard many pieces of advice. The truth is what works for one person or one company does not necessarily work for all. Do your own research. Know what you need to do, know your market, attract the right team and don’t stop working.

What advice would you give to recent graduates to prepare them for working life?

Disha: Do what you love. Love what you do.

Tanuj: As Steve Jobs said “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. Your hunger will drive you. Stay foolish towards fear, negativity and those who say you can’t make it happen. You will then have success in whatever you do.

Phil: I was fortunate that I worked before going back to university. The best advice I can give is to be able to read between the lines and learn how to interpret the unknown. You must be able to take the initiative and act without having someone explain everything to you.


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