Rohit Asil and Vijay Varada are not your average 20-something year olds. They are in fact anything but ordinary. Why? Well, frankly, would you have dreamt of being a CEO and CTO of a company that deals with manufacturing, sales and service of Desktop 3D Printers, Rapid Prototyping & Design consultancy as well as Product Design? In conversation with these two young entrepreneurs about how they balance their work lives with their student lives.
At age 23, Vijay Varada, along with his friend Rohit Asil, co-founded Fracktal Works while he was in his third year of Mechnatronics Engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology. Now a fresh graduate, Vijay takes care of R&D, product design, graphic design and team building, while Rohit overlooks everything else like operations, legalities, cash flow, and logistics. Rohit who is still in his final year, says, “I ran a Google search of myself recently and found that I am the Director and CTO of Fracktal Works who is studying at MIT, Manipal and lives in Bengaluru. This is what I am considered. Though, however, I really think of myself as a boy who always happened to be at the right place in the right time,” explains this hardworking, cheerful and impulsive CTO.
Ask them about how the company came about and Vijay says, “I never really had any inclination towards starting my own company. But it’s safe to say that the handful of people I met at Robomanipal (the robotics team of the college) were certainly the best in college”. In fact Rohit and he built a mind controlled robot that they entered into the colleges’ Business Plan competition, after being forced to join. They had won many technical competitions earlier, but thought making a business model out of it was absurd. “Honestly, we would never have thought we were the types who would start a company, at least I didn’t think so,” adds Vijay. But on winning the competition both boys were left speechless and later thought that such an opportunity doesn’t come every day and decided to go forward with it.
Asil mentions though, “I have always been curious and open to new ideas that come in my way. If not for a very successful one, I can make a business plan out of anything!” Then they were given an office space, `5 lakh seed money and were expected to make a Charles Xavier (X-Men) type mind controlled wheelchair for the physically disabled.
They add, “We were searching for ways to make prototypes for our initial designs, and that’s how we found 3D printing. At that time it was still in its nascent stage in the country and was really expensive to get our hands on. So, we did whatever any frustrated engineer would do – build our own!”
Once they were done, they were getting finishes and qualities that could compete with many industrial printers of that time, and that’s when they knew they had a winning product on hand. So, they dropped the wheelchair altogether and for the next year they perfected their design and came out with the first 3D printer. That’s how Fracktal Works was born!
What kind of services do they provide under the company,? They design and manufacture 3D printers and provide end-to-end product design services. “Everything from computer aided design, to rendering, to embedded systems to back-end and front-end programming, and lastly even manufacturing can be done by us,” they inform.
Coming into a market that’s so fresh in terms of manufacturing 3D printers, one might be judgmental about their surviving in this industry especially because they are students. “There are very few in the industry who take both product design and aesthetics as seriously as we do. By starting on small projects and executing them well, we landed ourselves clients like Toshiba, Cisco and many more,” says the young CEO. Their mechatronics background enables just a handful of people to take on multiple disciplines to make products where everything from mechanicals to electronics to the UI/UX and aesthetics is one comprehensive whole, and accomplishing all this at a record pace and costing which makes their customers happy.
So it wasn’t difficult to sell their product in such a market then? “For our 3D printers, we followed a pretty simple mantra – Be the best when it comes to aesthetics, quality of output, reliability and ease of use! After that, marketing and selling our machines wasn’t that hard,” say both the entrepreneurs.
Moving on to the student side… How do you manage to find the time to study when you are working?
According to Rohit, there have always been scenarios where they had to choose between work and study, but luckily the choices have been easy and have always been work. He says, “The professors and my friends are very supportive, especially when it comes to coping with the classes I missed. It’s been one hell of a ride and I still remember the all-nighters I pulled off just before the exam and how exam week used to be the vacation-from-work-week!” The best part he says, “is where you get to apply the lessons learnt in your class in your start-up operations.”
What about personal and social life then? Does that take a back seat? The only way to manage studies and working is by (almost) giving up on social and personal life, states Vijay. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve gone home and seen my parents or hung out with friends, but it’s something that would need to be sacrificed, at least at the beginning if you want to achieve as much in a short period of time as possible”, he says.
Vijay adds to that, “When you are a startup, even growing linearly can kill you and only exponential growth will give you any chance of success.” Speaking of growth and success, what’s the goal for Fracktal Works? “We are currently doing mostly B2B sales and low barrier products like 3D printing. Although there is still good money in B2B, the real challenge will be making consumer products for the B2C market. We are collaborating with many companies, as we speak, on various products ranging from home automation, to IOT to audio systems and aim to come out with well-designed products for the B2C market by next year and make Fracktal a household name.”
Leave them with the question about where they see themselves in five years and they say that there’s scope to get into electric vehicles and even health care. Though they aren’t necessarily sure what they might be doing in the future as they just started out. They began with product design as a service working on a diverse range of products from tablets to home automation. So, “No matter what we get into in the future, we are going to work as hard as humanly possible to be the best at it!” say the hardworking entrepreneurs.