Nisha Sawhney, CEO of SnS Design, and her talented team took a winning product from season 2, The DrinkSlinger, and had it re-designed into a more viable, market-to-shelf, product. SnS Design is a full-service, design firm, that specializes in product design and product management, from concept through development. We spoke to Nisha, who shared insight into her life, from growing up in India, to becoming a New York CEO in an industry dominated by men.
As a young girl, Nisha was bitten by the design bug at an early age. Born in Hyderabad, India, Nisha grew up with three older siblings in a modest house. When she was six years old she decided that the way to make more space was to put everyone into bunk beds, the designs of which she sketched. From her brother, who did detailed medical sketches, she learned how to hone fine drawings. “From 4th to 9th grade I was participating in a lot of art and on-the-spot competitions — and I won a lot of those competitions….As the youngest, I learned from all of my siblings, who were all doing different types of drawings like medical diagrams of dissected insects or creative arts and crafts project in school.”
Before she found her calling in industrial design, Sawhney earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, where she later earned a master’s degree in industrial design. In pursuing her architectural education, she encountered nepotism. Sawhney realized then, how much she wanted to transition from her architecture degree to industrial design. “I wanted to dive in and examine the insides of what we were working on, to see the results immediately — rather than just seeing the concept from the outside. With architecture you don’t see what you’ve designed until somebody builds the building….” Nisha found fulfillment by switching gears to industrial design, for which she got a scholarship and earned her master’s in two years and was her industrial design class valedictorian.
New York City: SnS Design
One of Nisha’s reasons for doing her own startup, SnS Design, was that she loved the cross-fertilization of ideas derived from accomplishing multiple projects at the same time. Two months after relocating to New York City, Nisha designed a $3,500 baby crib, made in Italy, and exhibited it at the ICFF tradeshow. Sawhney attributed the product’s long-lasting popularity to its rugged materials and modern design. Sawhney soon was designing an air conditioner, an electric car charging station, and a variety of products for clients in Japan, Israel, Argentina, and more. One of her most successful designs was for Zipz wines.
Zipz became an incredibly popular non-glass wine, that revolutionized the packaged wine business. Sawhney’s Zipz design means that wine, like soda or beer, has become portable in a single-serving size that lets wine lovers enjoy a “glass” almost anywhere they’d want to go. “Although Zipz appears to be glass, it won’t shatter if dropped on a patio or pool edge,” she said. “This is a critical design feature because it allows wine lovers to partake of the grape at beaches, parks, stadiums, where real glass, or a wine bottle, would not be permitted.”
Sawhney took Zipz glass from concept to final product — through research, design, manufacturing document, and manufacturing, — in under 10 months. Nisha was involved at every step, from initial face-to-face meetings to product design, graphic design, and renderings in both 2D and 3D, as well as extensive research and testing. Her patented design for Zipz was nominated for the “Best of 2013” packaging and was featured on the December 2013 cover of Food and Beverage Packaging, and won many awards, including the biggest deal in Shark Tank history. Since 2014, millions have been produced and sold in stadiums and in high-end retail outlets like Bloomingdale’s, Whole Foods, and Zachy’s.
Making Design Come Alive on Make48
Nisha’s SnS Design business got another boost when she received an invitation from Make48 to participate both as a product design expert and as a member of the focus group for season 2, as well as producing a winning product. Co-creator, Bob Coulston visited SnS Design in New York on episode 6, and spoke to Nisha and her team on how they re-designed the DrinkSlinger, while manufacturing and mass-producing it at an affordable cost.
“We were there to help guide all 12 teams and educate them about every aspect of product development to help them get selected by the judges,” she said. “…some people look at it as reality TV, but I see the Make48 workshops as educational for any entrepreneur who has the idea for a new product and the dream of starting their own business.”
“If you build it, they will come” is the way a lot of entrepreneurs think. But Nisha Sawhney recognizes that the real secret is in being able to visualize a concept. “Where do you want to sell it? If it’s the global market and not just the U.S., that changes the design. For example, some people want to design and sell a product to a big company, some want to manufacture it themselves, others want to do something else,” she said.
With her accomplishments in industrial design, since 2005 Nisha served for a decade as a judge and panelist at CES (The International Consumer Electronics Show). CES is the world’s gathering place for those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies. CES has been the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies for a half century- a global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.
For Nisha, successful industrial design is conceptualizing — including the whole business strategy — right from the beginning, then building it so they will come. “Nothing matches the satisfaction in seeing things through overall success.”