When Devanshu Narang was growing up in North India, trust never came easy.
“My parents wouldn’t leave me alone in the house,” he remembers. “ ‘You’re going to break something,’ they would say, ‘you’re going to steal something, you’re going to party or you’re going to do something stupid.’ ”
“Were they right?” I asked.
“Well. They weren’t wrong.”
It didn’t bother him then, and this sounds like typical teenage rebellion, right? Surely, we can recall a time in our lives where we felt the tug to revolt. We were learning, exploring, finding our way!
But this lack of trust stems deeper for Devanshu. As it turns out, its meaning and its significance is the pinnacle of his work and passion today.
Now, more than ever, it’s nothing but trust that Devanshu seeks.
Work of empowerment
Devanshu is the founder of Designation, a branding and web development team of four.
He began this company last year based on the realization that so many people in his community were afraid of technology. And instead of taking the time to learn about it and understand it themselves, they would just hire people out to fix something, install something, build something and so on.
“The majority of my relationships have started with me fixing people’s computers,” he says.
He’s happy to do the work, obviously, but he knows there’s a better way.
And so he began Designation, “a company that makes people less afraid of technology.”
How so? “By teaching them along the way.”
“Everybody in South Dakota has looked at technology in such a (way) that it’s going to ruin their day,” Devanshu explains. “That if we’re going to build them a website or build them a software, it’s going to envelop them. And it’s exactly the opposite of how I want them to feel! I want them to feel like this is the best tool they could have all day, that they actually can just envelop themselves into the app instead of the other way around. They just need to be comfortable with it.”
So he patiently instills trust and confidence into his clients — empowering them, really — by talking through with them what he’s doing. It’s the only way that makes sense to him.
“Every time I take my car into Midas, I stand underneath my car with the mechanic,” Devanshu says. “I look under the hood and say, ‘I’m not leaving. You’re going to show me what’s wrong with my car so I can fix it the next time.’
“I just don’t want to be scared of the things I use daily, and neither should my clients.”
A passion for technology
Devanshu has always had a knack for computers.
“The first computer we had in our family was a 1995 Windows 32,” he remembers. “At age 7, I had disassembled the entire computer and put it all back together. Gave my father the biggest heart attack! But I put it back together just fine. It wasn’t hard.”
His parents saw the vocation within Devanshu and encouraged him to study computer science.
“You’re good with computers,” they would tell him. “Learn something good out of it. This is important.”
So he moved to the states, and he did.
“Growing up, you always look at America as the Land of Opportunity,” he says. “As an immigrant, you always had higher expectations because you’re thinking that people are going to reject you right off the bat. You’re not going to sound the same, you’re not going to look the same, you have no reason to relate. So they are going to be very dismissive very quickly unless you have something to offer them.
“Computers became that thing for me.”
He trusted his intuition, moved to Brookings on his 18th birthday and went to South Dakota State University. He began studying computer science but, before freshman year’s end, had switched to art.
“The building next to my dorm was the art room, and I just wanted to walk through to see what it looked like,” Devanshu began telling. “Then the professor asked, ‘Can I help you?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know why I’m here.’ So he asked me into his office. He asked what my interests were, and I showed him the backs of my notebooks.
“Since I was a kid, the backs of my notebooks have had sketches all throughout. I got my ass kicked by my mom for drawing all day! But for example, the ESPN logo, I knew exactly how the curves were in sixth grade. I would draw all the logos I would see, bands I used to listen to, I would draw their typeface every day. I have thousands of notebooks just full of already existing logos.”
He quickly realized that both computers and drawing were “deeply embedded” within him, so he stayed the course.
Devanshu completed his undergraduate degree in visual arts in 2012 and then stayed at SDSU to get his Masters in geography.
“I was always interested in the next thing, always interested in what was happening,” he says.
But working with computers never strayed from his train of thought and, once he moved to Sioux Falls, he began building from his idea for Designation.
“Our job every single day has been exploring opportunities of how we can make our work all-inclusive for the client,” Devanshu says. “Not by offering SEO services or marketing, but by making really good websites — very precise, accurate and functional sites.”
And really fast ones, too.
Designation designed OTA’s new website, and that work was a huge accomplishment for Devanshu and his team. Lead developer Jonathan Turner built such a fast caching server that OTA’s site loads in 1.89 seconds.
And it’s getting noticed.
“Now people are expecting it! It’s insane, it’s unnatural.”
He says they even considered slowing the site down.
“People are very impatient. Whatever they hit, it needs to be seen immediately,” he says. “But anticipation makes everything better. It makes people excited about what’s coming! But we didn’t slow it down, we were too proud of it!”
They’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about OTA’s site — we have, too — and that’s the kind of validation his team is looking for. It’s why all this matters.
“It’s not about the website, it’s about the work.”
Devanshu says his team of four — which includes Jonathan, co-owner Gabe Gartner and software engineer Andrew Meyer — will put in over 100 hours for one client, but they appreciate the opportunity to learn.
“We look at each paycheck as a way to go to school again,” he says. “What is the next best thing that’s happening? We love to teach ourselves.”
And then bring that fresh knowledge to the client.
“We just want to do it right.”
What are the next steps?
Devanshu has been in South Dakota for nine years now. He hasn’t been home since, but his mom visits often. He’s engaged now and thinks about bringing his fiancée, Olivia, back home to India, but for the right reasons.
“I always wanted to go back home and show off,” he admits. “This is how successful I have become on my own, but that was my ego, and with Olivia’s help, I’ve slowly chopped away at it. Now, I would just love to go back and show Olivia that aspect of my life.
“She is my lightning rod.”
And she trusts him.
Devanshu and Olivia plan to move to Philadelphia this summer, but Designation will continue with his same team.
“Oh, we communicate via Slack 24 hours a day,” he assures. “Communication is our first and most important tool.”
Jon will be the only team member in Sioux Falls, actually. “We need someone here to be in person to handle everything.” Otherwise, Andrew is in Germany, and Gabe is moving to Minnesota. “He and his wife are having a baby!” He is so excited for him.
Every member of his team loves working from home and, ideally, Devanshu says, in five to seven years he can be a stay-at-home dad.
“I’m proud of what we’ve started so far and that my team can work from home. I will continue to develop the tools and client base to keep that going.”
And they will continue to empower people.
“We call our business Designation because the client designates us, and we designate you. It has to be a responsibility!” he says. “You have to trust us.”
I know I do.
Angela Tewalt, OTA