There’s much more to insti than acads, sports, DC, trip sessions at Guru/Zaitoon and the usual mix of extra-curriculars – albeit with more variety than the average college. In addition to all this, the atmosphere at insti is inspiring – so much so, that it has encouraged many of its students to develop and commercialize innovative products and solutions during their stay here. In this series of articles featuring both alumni and current students, T5E takes a look at some of these ventures.
Of late lab nights and quick-fixing
Arun tells us how the whole thing came up. “Well, one night, I was writing a paper for a journal in the lab and Alex was working on his Makeystreet website. That was when he felt that his earphones were driving him crazy because they kept getting tangled – and in an attempt to untangle them, he often ended up damaging them. I realised then that I’d also faced the same problem hazaar baar. I would always buy the 150-rupee Philips earphones from Guru, because I knew that they would get damaged due to entangling and I would have to buy a new one in a month’s time.” This time, they decided to brainstorm and come up with a solution.
They then had the idea to simply wind the headphones around a card. ”By the end of the night we had with us a crude Tangle made out of the hard plastic cover of a folder with holes randomly cut in it,” says Arun. They were happy with the hack, although “it wasn’t perfect.” Over the next week, they trawled the internet for solutions to the same problem, which they’ve listed online.
However, none of the solutions they found had been commercialised, and they realised that they had in their hands a potentially money-making idea.
Honing the idea
One of the selling points of a solution like Tangle is its simplicity – they are so easy to make that it is possible to make one at home. Arun tells us how they went about shaping their initial idea. “We spent a month running through a number of iterations to come up with the perfect dimensions and placement of holes that would make a Tangle usable by 90% of all available earphones. Also, since Tangle is as small as a credit card, you can fit it into a wallet when you’re not using it.”
Next, they tried to incorporate designs on the Tangle that reflected the user’s personality, since it was often left hanging by the earphones when not in use. This wasn’t as easy as it seemed. “Alex and I decided to regularly use some of the Tangle prototypes we made, to get personal feedback on the product. We found a number of issues we hadn’t thought of earlier,” Arun says.
Customizing the prototype
When asked how they went about customizing their initial Tangles, Arun says, “After a point, we froze on the design and decided to focus on printing the graphics on it. We contacted a large number of card manufacturers, card printers, graphic designers and also met a bunch of them personally, to get an idea about the print technology, quality of print, cost, etc.” To start with, they first got spray paints, painted their Tangles themselves and pasted vinyl stickers on them, to get some feel for it, and then got feedback from friends. “These Tangles also served as live demonstrations to a bunch of artists and designers whom we were contacting,” Arun tells us.
Instead of creating the designs from scratch, they only made a photoshop template which the buyers could use to make their own designs. According to Arun, “They can take any image they want and upload it on the website by following the instructions given there. For every Tangle sold with their design, they receive a commission.” This way, people can advertise their designs themselves, and Arun and his team expand their design base. “I think that was a good model and it worked reasonably well. People try to put on more and more creative designs on Tangle, so that more people would buy their designs.” Arun says. “This is a good thing for us as we get some free advertisement and a healthy growth in our database of designs.”
Putting the product together
This was when they decided to launch Tangle as a crowd-sourced campaign on indiegogo. How did they put it all together? Arun says, “We then started looking for a guy to make an awesome video. We found Satish, who runs a freelancing firm. He helped us make the video that you see on the indiegogo campaign. His videography skills were instrumental to us selling Tangles through the campaign.” You can watch the video here.
Next, Arun tells us that they found and contacted Priya, a graphics designer, to help them with the initial designs. “She did a great job and gave us a number of designs that we have put up on the website.” Following that, they spent a few months putting up a basic website, getting the video ready and estimating costs. “I am really thankful to all my friends who helped me during those days. When we started the campaign, it was just Alex, me, Satish and Priya in the team,” Arun says.
A commercial launch
As Arun puts it, “The idea of the campaign was to get the numbers rolling, get the word out of the lab and build some credibility, so that later, when we had to take Tangle to the next stage of selling in bigger numbers to bigger customer bases, we would have some representative numbers to speak about. I think the campaign was fairly successful in that sense.” Alex also gave a TEDx talk in Coimbatore a week before the campaign launch, and they distributed around 200 Tangles for free there. The positive responses and feedback received from the crowd then came in handy when they launched the website.
Arun tells us, “An important idea that we wanted to convey was that you can check out the instructables page and make your own Tangle. However, your hack will not last long and won’t look that good. So, if you want Tangle with some cool designs on them, then you might want to buy them from us. We can give you Tangles with any designs. You can upload your favourite design and build yourself a Tangle – we’ll print it for you and give it to you.” They plan to use this initial customer base to pitch and make bigger volume sales to companies as swags, to marathons, events, souvenirs, branding tools, and so on. ”We have been getting quite a few big orders lately,” Arun says. “Alex is presently in California and the two of us are trying to see if we can market it in big numbers in the US.” So, we can definitely expect another online crowd-sourced campaign from them in the near future.
Widening the customer base
Arun tells us that they expected most of their customers to order from the US and other places, not India, because while $5 for 2 Tangles is cheap in the US, it is not cheap here. “Having said that, we have had a lot of people from India buying Tangles too!” he says. “We have also been successful in selling reasonably large numbers of Tangles to companies and events. That’s actually a bigger market for us and we wish to focus more on it. In events and marathons and so on, swags with the logo or brand name are indispensable.” That is where Tangle comes in handy, because it’s a different product and more interesting than one more of those “boring pens, keychains, or even a mug or T-shirt.”
“Plus, when you receive a swag that is very new in terms of functionality, you tend to remember the brand better than a usual mug or pen,” says Arun. Continuing with the thought, he tells us, “We have been trying to collaborate with some firms that would help us expand our customer base and spread the word far. I think it’s going in the right direction. But we still have a long way to go. The campaign has helped us realise the true potential of this product. We now have Anzal trying to take care of the sales in India while Alex and I are not there.”
Arun’s very happy with the kind of responses he’s received from people – sometimes, strangers who bump into him on the road recognize him as ‘the Tangle guy’. “It feels really nice to wake up in the morning and check your mailbox to see you have received mails from a bunch of people who have seen Tangle and found it useful and are thanking you for it,” he says. “When I came to CMU in August, some guys recognized me from the video and appreciated Tangle. That is a great feeling.” Arun also adds that, having graduated from the ED department, “It is very satisfying to see that not only have we developed a product, but are also seeing the commercial side of it.”
And once in a while, when they get covered in the papers, the pleasure of their parents, neighbours and teachers gives them satisfaction too- “Because we never dreamt that a small idea that we brainstormed up in the lab one night would see the light of the day. We still have a long way to go with Tangle, but both Alex and I are happy with the way things have gone so far.”