When the pandemic hit, Roberto Meza faced an unexpected challenge: he needed to transform a space in his house into his home office. But though Roberto is the founder and president of sustainability and construction consulting firm SPHERA and architecture and interior design firm LOOP, he needed support creating a workspace at home. He co-designed it with another designer over Zoom.
And he got an idea.
During the pandemic, many people were working from home, and where we work plays a crucial role in how we work. Roberto envisioned real-time live design sessions where clients could co-design spaces with expert help, all done virtually. As CEO, he partnered with COO Maria Jose Castro, the founder of consulting firm CAVU, and CDO Alfredo Enciso, founder of branding and design firm Pupila, to bring Pancake to life.
Their mission? Change people’s lives by improving their spaces.
I had the privilege of speaking with Roberto, Maria Jose, and Alfredo to learn more about how the spaces we live and work in impact our mental health, how to build a business that stands out in a crowded market, and what wellness looks like in the like workplace.
How do our spaces impact our wellbeing?
At Pancake, we believe that our wellbeing is fully connected to the way our spaces are designed. The spaces around us influence how we feel, behave and relate to others.
For example, nowadays we’ve had to adapt unusual spaces becoming our work station, and having the right design for these spaces helps mentally, physically, and with your mood. We have learned that making small design tweaks, like having your work station near natural light, comfortable and supportive seating, incorporating elements that minimize the surrounding environment sounds, make a huge difference on productivity and a feel-good work space/environment. So does having visual connection to natural elements like plants or windows with outdoor views.
We are on a mission to improve people’s lives by improving their spaces.
How have you witnessed a redesigned space benefit someone’s wellbeing?
Giving people the opportunity to go through a design process and give them the power to design their own space — with the help and support of our professional designers — is an incredibly emotional experience. We see it during the sessions and on their feedback. The feeling of imagining it, seeing it live in a 3D render and watching it then seeing it come to life, is amazing. Through the co-design experience with the help of professional knowledge, we recommend proper use of colors, lighting, furniture, and even materials. Our customers end up loving their designed-to-their-taste space.
I love that you mention the sense of power that’s inherent in designing a space. How do you help people tap into that sense of power?
Pancake is the fastest and easiest way to design and shop for your spaces: our clients can have a complete room redesigned in less than two hours. We eliminate the frustration of searching high and low and purchasing each furniture piece individually. We’re the only interior design service to offer real-time live design sessions where clients can co-design their spaces with the help of expert professionals. They can access a ready-to-go shopping list of all the furniture and decor used during their session.
Pancake allows clients to give a space of their choice a little refresh or a full revamp, even using furniture and decor they already own. Anyone who books a session gets access to their own project dashboard, where they can upload photos and/or videos of their space, provide measurements, share inspiration, or a Pinterest board. They can also add information on furniture they would like to use or any additional details they want the designer to consider.
After the session, the 3D renders of their newly designed space will be available, as well as a ready-to-go shopping cart with the furniture selected during their session.
We are currently integrating an ecological footprint calculator to make sure that we know what the footprint of each design is and be able to reduce it and compensate for whatever is left. One of our values is to make sure that we do good not only from a wellness perspective but for the environment as well.
When thinking about launching new businesses, many entrepreneurs have to contend with entering a crowded market. How have you navigated that?
Our biggest challenge has been competing against big budgets in the market, as well as the competition’s positioning. They’ve been around for a very long time, so people recognize them. At Pancake, we’re doing things LIVE and FAST. This creates a new type of service, and we are targeting a demographic that has never had access to design experiences.
How did you approach marketing in order to stand out among other design services?
So far, our most successful strategy has been to market our service to people who already know they want an online interior design service through Google Search ads. Also, word of mouth has been one of our best organic marketing strategies. Happy clients always recommend us and invite their friends and family through our referral program.
What advice would you share with other entrepreneurs and business leaders?
1. Keep your clients happy, they will always be your biggest cheerleaders and marketers.
2. Put your team first. Culture is key during good times, but especially important during the not-so-good ones.
3. It is okay to be scared or afraid of doing something, but it is not okay to stay still.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started Pancake?
Cheaper doesn’t mean more clients. For a few months, we thought that keeping the prices lower than the competition would give us more clients. In fact, it was turning them away. It’s part of our learning process, and we’re still learning and seeing how every price change has an effect on our sales. Accessible doesn’t mean inexpensive.
How do you practice wellness as business owners and within Pancake?
Wellness at Pancake means to remind yourself of taking quick breaks to recharge your mind and body — something as easy as a quick stretch and drinking a glass of water, can make you feel more focused and healthy. Company culture and putting people first is a priority for us, along with making sure that we practice what we preach by working from healthy, sustainable and enjoyable spaces.
What quote guides you as leaders? “In times of crisis, there are two types of people: the ones that cry and the ones who sell tissues. Which one do you want to be?” – something that Anabelle Salas (Roberto’s mother) said to him once and something we constantly remind ourselves of.
Feature image: Office by Pancake designer Rebeca Brenes