Following an insightful interview with Fiona Sanipelli, the creative mastermind behind DesignSpec, meet the tech expert who built the platform, Co-Founder of DesignSpec, Graham Sanipelli. The siblings founded the company in 2018 after identifying a pressing need for better design specification software. After building and iterating for years while incorporating designer’s feedback, the software platform is one of the most advanced specification writing platforms in the marketplace today.
“We’re building our platform faster and better than anyone and won’t stop because we love building software.” – Graham Sanipelli
Graham started his career as a software developer in the healthcare tech industry. Over the years, he moved his way up to lead roles and managed a team of software developers and integrated complex platforms. Yet Graham always aimed to create his own software; products that would be useful, innovative, and agile and would continually integrate user feedback. So when he and his sister began to develop the concept for DesignSpec, the perfect opportunity presented itself.
The conversation dives deep into the initial inspiration behind the specification software platform known today as DesignSpec, explores the ins and outs of developing a startup, shares Graham’s admiration for Fiona’s work, and highlights tech as an integral part of the interior design industry’s future.
What was the initial catalyst to spark your interest in tech?
My parents took me to a computer store when they bought their first PC when I was a tiny kid. I was barely tall enough to reach the mouse, and the mouse was still a pretty new and exciting thing at the time. I started clicking on everything I could on the screen, drawing pixels with a paintbrush, while my parents took forever picking one to buy. I had never seen something this powerful and interesting before that I could control. I was hooked instantly.
What would you say you specialize in as it relates to building software?
Integrations. It started as a flip of the coin, as I recall, which team to join at my first proper software job. Integrating totally different systems that have never talked to each other before, that maybe speak totally different languages, seemed like the more interesting and valuable challenge. It’s how you build a bigger, more exciting ecosystem.
When did you decide to start your own business and build a SaaS product?
Those are really two different questions. I wanted to start my own business for as long as I can remember. At 7 years old, I was digging up the backyard to find clay to sell at the town market and painting pet rocks to sell.
I didn’t really get into computers on that level until much later. My career as a developer was built on B2B software, and SaaS was the obvious choice if I was going to start something from scratch. With SaaS, you can make sure whatever you build will be profitable and scalable if you build it right and there’s a need.
At what point did the concept for DesignSpec start to materialize?
Pretty much as soon as Fiona showed me a screenshot of the software big firms were using. I instantly knew this should be a cloud-based system. It wasn’t rocket science by any means, but later, the ideas started flowing and excited us about how much more it could be.
Can you tell us about the first few years of building the platform? Did it start as a side hustle and go from there, or did you jump in quickly?
The first few years were spent sitting at a computer for long hours, coding nonstop with a two-liter bottle of Pepsi by my side at all times. It’s not pretty, I’ll be honest. Especially after doing 8 hours at a computer for the day job, then going right back to it when I get home, coding until 2 am. Fiona and I worked together on it, but she was far away in New York, so it was a rough solo venture for some time. But now we have a whole amazing team that works remotely yet collaborates really well, it makes me so happy!
“The first few years were spent sitting at a computer for long hours, coding nonstop with a two-liter bottle of Pepsi by my side at all times.”
What has been the most surprising aspect of starting this company? Could it be something rewarding and/or challenging?
That’s a tough one. Everything feels new all the time when you start your first company with no experience. It continues to amaze me how much interior design touches everyone in some way, sometimes in a big way, and how many businesses are built around it. I think interior designers are some of the most powerful yet vulnerable people in their profession. I like to think it’s given me a profound appreciation for what Fiona does.
When did it become clear that this platform resonated with designers?
As soon as someone was willing to pay for it, I knew we had something. Especially when it’s an interior design firm, they don’t seem to give up their money easily!
“I think interior designers are some of the most powerful yet vulnerable people in their profession.”
If you could do anything differently over the past 5 years, what would it be?
Number one, get a business mentor as early as possible – someone interested in you or what you’re doing.
Also, establish early on a schedule for taking time out of the day or a routine for thinking long-term, big-picture stuff, and make a workable plan. That can be really hard when you’re just trying to get the next piece built so people will use it, and you can stop burning through savings. But it’s important.
“Number one, get a business mentor as early as possible – someone interested in you or what you’re doing.“
What is the biggest advantage of using DesignSpec over other spec writing platforms today?
We’re building our platform faster and better than anyone and won’t stop because we love building software. So anyone who invests in using it today will continue to see the rewards compound over the years as we keep building it bigger and better. Whatever we don’t have today that designers need, we will have one day.
What do you think is next in tech in the context of design?
Whatever it is, I think it will have to do with making interior design more personal for those experiencing it, experiencing what others have built. By that, I mean really understanding what the designer felt when they made it, what they were thinking. So much thought and experience goes into designing a space; I think it’s lost on most people. That’s something AI can never do by itself.
So much thought and experience goes into designing a space; I think it’s lost on most people. That’s something AI can never do by itself.
Graham Sanipelli lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, along with his partner and their two dogs. When he’s not in the office, he takes advantage of every opportunity to breathe in fresh air. Graham loves spending time in nature, engaging in activities such as camping, gardening, and building things with his hands.