Welcome to the Emirates Woman weekly series ‘How I got my job as…’ where we speak to some incredible entrepreneurs and businesswomen both based in the UAE and globally to find out about their career paths that led them to where they are now; what their daily routines look like; the advice they’d give to those starting out; and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome.
This week we chat with French entrepreneur and architect Nina Parvaresh, founder of Concept Me. The Dubai design firm first launched in 2008, branding itself as a “multi-disciplinary boutique studio” in the emirate. “Creativity is at the core of what we do, being able to bring life and soul to high-end residential projects,” the founder says.
Emirates Woman sat down with Parvaresh to discuss the making of Concept Me and all of the ups and downs in between.
What was your favourite subject at school?
In short, my favourite subject was History/Geography. The way we studied those in France was as one subject. Maps really stunned me I remember. I was fascinated by the layout of cities, the visuals that showcased their constant development and changes. I would go through those plans and feel an obsessive need to know more about them, trace my hands across the different areas and automatically start visualizing how the little, intricate details in those cities of the past actually looked like. I had a tendency for the obsessive! So, I remember very vividly how much I loved that class and the stories I would make up about the maps and plans we were given.
What was your first job?
I was a teenager when I decided to get a job! I started tutoring other students when I was 15. I always liked explaining concepts and seeing how people understood ideas in their own ways. So, I continued tutoring different kids my age and younger to make some side money. Tutoring always made me happy because it’s a two-way interaction and because it involves two of my favourite elements: people and concepts! Following that, my first official job was a brief stint teaching Architecture in Saudi which didn’t last very long as I kicked off Concept Me around the same time. I don’t think I would make a very good employee, between you and I.
What brought you to Dubai?
I moved to the Middle East (to Jeddah particularly) in 2008, a month after graduating. A couple of years after living there, I believe I wanted to be living somewhere with more flexibility, more openness and somewhere that would ease my way of doing business. I spent some time going back and forth to Dubai, it being the hub that it became during that phase and I found it quite easy to do business, set up the company and most importantly to source and recruit amazing talents. So, yeah, it was about remaining in the Middle East but in a place that I felt more at ease with.
What inspired you to enter the architecture/interior space?
I am not sure there was a specific inspiration for me to go into the field. For as far back as I remember, I was busy sketching houses as a child. I learned to draw before I could speak fluently! Even at home as a child, I had opinions on how we should lay out our furniture, how the elements in our space should be, and how decorative items should line up. Most importantly, I was always sensitive to the spaces around me, which unconsciously is why I was always drawn to the field. More so, I have always loved the human scale of architecture. I am not invested in creating landmark skyscrapers, but rather spaces for real people that can leave an impact on them. My love of maps, cities and the way urban grids dictated peoples’ livelihoods is also a contributing factor. As a child, my parents took me travelling frequently which fostered my obsession with cities like New York, Paris, Milan, etc.. The Middle Eastern heritage in me also goes to see the beauty of cities like Tehran, Beirut, Istanbul… So, I guess that’s what curated my directed love for this field.
Talk us through the inspiration of what Concept Me does.
As a boutique scale firm, my vision for Concept Me was to handle projects in a very holistic manner that takes the project from A to Z. Whatever we do is always focused on creating a unique personality for any space. Creativity is at the core of what we do, being able to bring life and soul to high-end residential projects. However, we also have a mission to be ‘client-centric’. My aim is to have clients that trust us blindly, tell us what they want and then get peace of mind until we hand over the project they had seen in their mind’s eye. We’ve made this possible at Concept Me with our multi-disciplinary team, their international talent and our empathetic intellect.
What are the key elements of your role?
Essentially, I think I am juggling a bit too many roles at the moment, which is maybe natural in a boutique-scale company environment. However, I am working on this, gradually! Primarily, however, one of the key elements of my role is client management. I take it upon myself to understand my client’s mindstate, to reassure them, to direct their vision and to inform them of the rationale behind our design choices and how we can bring their space to life in the best way possible. The second key element is to be the final decision-maker on all design choices. As part of a multi-disciplinary team, one that is driven by creative input, it can become challenging to keep all the creative choices from different people consistent, so that’s where I come in so we can have a final, polished, cohesive space instead of a pastiche. And finally, one of the hats I wear is the business development hat, whereby I keep signing deals while heading the design department! As I said, I am juggling a couple of roles…
Talk us through your daily routine.
This is a great topic haha! My calendar is usually locked from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm. I aim to get a workout in as soon as I get up, which is contrary to my nature since I am not a great morning person! Luckily, I live close to the office and I am trying to maximize my steps count, so I manage to walk to the office where I sift through my emails. I then get to the essential part of catching up with the team, organizing what each one’s day looks like. And then it’s a non-stop rollercoaster of meetings between operations, logistics and design meetings. Of course, there are days when I am on site, days when I am at showrooms, galleries and supplier warehouses! In between those, I try to always make time for meetings with my marketing team and my financial team. It sounds much more organized on paper, but it doesn’t feel that organized when I am cramming my healthy lunch in between Zoom calls at the office! I eventually get home, feed my furry babies, get through some more emails, take a good walk, do my stretches and get to my pillow before I get back up, drink my hot water and lemon and do it all over again gladly!
What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?
The first piece of advice I would have for someone in the field is, ‘Find balance.’ I am someone who sacrificed her 20s for work. I took on quite a big load of stress early on in life. This took away from my health at some point. So, my advice is to prioritize your health, prioritize your personal life at some points, prioritize your best friends’ birthdays or weddings, etc. Keep in mind that sacrifice will come at every step. So, you might miss your trip with the people you love, you might not be there for family reunions and more. So, please, hustle all you can for the business, but find some balance so you don’t look back in retrospect and wish you had done it differently.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
I will keep this short so it resonates with whoever is reading it, ‘The universe has a lag time, so always be patient to see the result of what you’re planting.’ Now, repeat that to yourself.
And what is the worst?
‘You cannot get this done, just give it up.’ Being the stubborn person that I am, I found strength in challenging all the people (and they were many) that told me to give up what I was doing.
What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
This answer is split two ways. The first massive challenge I had to get over professionally came when I was 30. Due to a couple of bad decisions and partnerships, I was left with a business that was bankrupt with 25 people dependent on me. I was abandoned by my business partners with a negative company balance. This was a real defining moment because I had to rebuild the business and grow it better than it was before. The burnout in the aftermath really hit me, but you know, we made it! The second part presents itself as going through a really powerful personal problem and having to live with it, get over it and heal from it whilst handling the complex and overwhelming operations that I run at Concept Me. Thankfully, I was able to get through these difficult situations through patience, self-reflection and a fantastic team.
What are the future plans for your brand?
In summary, the future is to work with clients that are connoisseurs of the craft! I want to work with people who inspire me, who understand the powerful value of high-end design, to penetrate a market that appreciates what we do and push the limits of how spaces can really impact the ways we live. The plan is already underway, we have expanded our repertoire into the kind of markets we want to work on and we are taking the company international with aims to find the quality clients that will allow us to leave our design imprint globally! The future looks bright, thankfully.
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