- How does it feel to be a part of a startup incubator like riidl which is doing so well?
‘It’s a different experience altogether. It’s become a day-to-day thing; almost as if I’m not doing any work at all. I get to interact with Microsoft, Google and other big startup incubators of our time, which are one of the biggest accelerators in the world. It’s been a fantastic exposure to me.
Hey, I’m Gaurang Shetty. I’m one of the founders of riidl, a startup incubator. We started riidl in 2010. I’m a musician and an Electronics Engineer.
- How was your experience of being in Orion, going from an Indian Institute like Somaiya and competing with one of the best Universities in Germany, on their home turf?
So I was a part of Orion Racing India, which is like a trend in Somaiya (chuckles). When we had been to Germany, the guys there were so ahead of their time, they had made a car which had a single body, made of carbon fibre. We had no clue that we would have to work round the clock over there, because even once the car is ready, there are other issues related to transport and logistics, which had to be handled by us. And since we were from the electronics team, we had to continuously monitor the car, check the sensors which required us to work all day all night, in the freezing cold. But, we had great fun and a wonderful experience; interestingly, all the six people who started riidl were from Orion! Many of them then got other opportunities, for example, Kumar Saurav is in Apple right now, Shashi is Zeppo, so everyone has diversified. But I liked the idea of pursuing of riidl, because, I always felt that it was going to be the next big thing in India, and it eventually happened.
- What is the importance of a startup incubator in a college, and in India, generally, given that there have been so many technological advances lately?
I’ll bounce back this question to you. Name one company in India that has made a product as an outcome of groundbreaking research and technology (smiles). There are tons of service companies around, but you won’t even find 10 good hardcore data driven, idea-based companies. Imagine life without Google Maps, or WhatsApp for example. If we can get that sort of technology from the campus; like Stanford has companies like Cisco emerging out of their campus. So, the idea is something like that. I want to create a platform where students can make something of their own, or get inspired and make something, and create opportunities for fellowship.
Whenever someone comes to us talking about a startup, we ask them: Is the timing right? Am I starting the company at the right time? For example: Paytm and Demonetisation. We try to see whether the timing is right, We see the team composition. Do you know your teammates really well? Is he someone who might back off? There are many variables in a startup ecosystem. Political and economic factors, family pressure, hundreds of things. So, we narrow them down and focus on teams. It has been a challenging experience for me and the riidl team, but slowly, we’ve been getting a lot of applications from students from various colleges, which is really encouraging.
- What are the important aspects of growing a successful startup?
Of course, there are things like the right time, the selling point and all that, but I feel that the target customer is the most important factor. The idea is to identify the need, the problem, or the opportunity. Many people don’t understand the market requirement of the product. Many startups fail to do that. So we make sure that crack it to the finest point, and make sure we find the target customer. Other aspects are feasibility of mass production, easy accessibility, team building, marketing strategy, etc.
- Can the skills that are required to develop startups taught in schools and colleges?
Most incubators nowadays have these programmes which are planned beforehand. I feel business is not done like that. Every startup is different and needs a differently customised plan of action. It should be an organic process. This is how we do it differently in riidl. You go to the startup, understand its requirements, then you bring in a mentor, and then you customise the business plan according to the startup. When students come to riidl with their ideas, they become the makers of their own fortune.
- How has Somaiya helped you in your venture?
It was all because of our trustee, Mr. Samir Somaiya Sir. He backed us up; this entire center of riidl is solely because of his support, and also other people who helped us a lot in this venture. When we were in Orion, we had seen Samir Sir, but we didn’t talk to him just yet. We made a plan, refined it to an extent, took an appointment and pitched it to him. He was also very excited about the plan, because he had seen these ecosystems in MIT, Harvard, etc, so initially he referred us to have a look at the Deshpande Centre in MIT.
So then, we started off in the canteen, for the first few days. Uday Joshi Sir was generous enough to give us his cabins for the first few meetings, and after 3 months, we got this space on the 5th floor of the library building. We got the space as a bare land, but the idea is to develop it to a world-class incubator ecosystem.
- Tell us about the talent of Somaiya that comes to riidl.
There are a lot of talented people in Somaiya. Frankly speaking, there are lot of guys who can develop million-dollar and billion-dollar companies (mischievously smiles). The only thing lacking is that we’re trying to come out of the structure that we previously had. We gained autonomy recently, so that’s something we’re working on. So we’re waiting for it to evolve into a cutting-edge, resource driven institution. If we get at least 100 developers every year, it’s really worth it.
- Tell us about Maker-Mela.
The idea behind MM relates a lot to riidl. We wanted to build a community of Makers around India. Why? Because there are a lot of people who make stuff, but fail to showcase it. They find some platform, but then it doesn’t come off as they expect. Even after showcasing it there, they’re not able to connect and communicate to like-minded people, and even if they engage, they’re not able to take it forward, due to various reasons.
Now Maker Mela has around 5000 makers, and over 12K likes on Facebook. The community is growing, so we expect at least 10000 makers next year, to come to the campus and interact with like-minded people. The outcomes will be good networks where there’ll be bright ideas; you’ll get to see what people are doing with technology.
- Tell us about Symphony.
Symphony this year was superb. The quality is improving year by year. Even the council has evolved to a great extent, as initially, Symphony used to be cramped up because of the budget, but now it has become bigger and better, and the council has done a great job of putting up such wonderful shows.
- Where do you see riidl in the next 10 years?
Ten years down the line, we want riidl to be a Media Lab. A building with several floors, where, if you walk in with an idea, you can rapid prototype your idea on the 1st floor, you can meet up people, get into a co-working space on the 2nd floor, the third floor will be a bio-lab, where there will be drug discovery and all that, and all the 4th floor, we’ll have a Makers’ space, where you can tinker around, make something collaborate with other startups, make something different. It will be a structure where you can meet people, set up a business, get it running, and move out.
We’re targeting at least 100 startups for the next year, and we may churn out around 5000 meaningful, successful startups in the next 10 years.
- What do you feel about Somaiya Diaries?
It’s very important to understand every person’s perspective and mindset. You may feel that a person is ordinary, but, invariably, he may have something special to say and do, you never know. Every person has something different to offer, so it’s interesting to talk to them. I think it’s a great initiative, because whenever we start ideating, we share our idea with people, and we get 10 new ideas every time, which will ultimately help our business, so I think it’s the way to go!