In this video, Anoop B Sridhar (Product Manager, Fintech Space) and Ganesh Shankar (Managing Director and CEO, FluxGen Technologies) are going to talk about “How to build Hardware Technology in India”. They will be discussing the solutions to all the possible challenges and what are the necessary ecosystem available in the market to achieve this.
Anoop: Hi folks, welcome to this new edition of TechLite. The theme for this season is, It’s time to build in India.
Anoop: For today’s session, we have Ganesh Shankar from FluxGen technologies as our guest and we will be discussing the topic, To Start Building in India.
Ganesh: Thank you so much for inviting me to TechLite. I’m very happy to be here.
Anoop: Pleasure having you on our platform Ganesh.
So, as per the topic, a lot of people think building hardware is difficult. However, you have an interesting story about that - the way you encountered hardware and you would even possess an idea of whether it is difficult or not. So, can you give us a background on how your journey started?
Ganesh: Thanks. As I say one of the key things in life especially for an innovator or entrepreneur is, ‘The necessity is the mother of invention’. So that’s the same story for me as well. It goes back to my RV college days. Back then, the laboratory course was for 100 marks, later they changed it to 50.
Everybody found it difficult to clear the laboratory exams, especially the electronic circuits, and communication circuits. Since I was in the communication branch, I also had difficulties in clearing my exams. I had to do a lot of repeat experiments in various other places, and then fortunately I cleared my exam in the first lab attempt. But it was a very big nightmare! And then I ended up setting a small laboratory during my college days because I saw a business opportunity in it.
So when you find a business opportunity, you start doing things. As a result, I learned how to make printed circuit boards, how to design them, and everything to make our own modules for the lab. So I didn’t have any training in this PCB design or related activities, but I ended up learning it because it was required. As you saw, it was a necessity which drove me to love that.
Also, setting up the lab was a very good starting point. I ended up working in startups after my Engineering. I didn’t do great in my Engineering, because of doing a lot of these hobbies. However, yes, I ended up working in a start-up and you know startup back in 2005 was great. We learn to do everything there. I was getting the printed circuit board done and was writing the software. So I realized that the more you do, the more you learn on your own. It is all about- Practice makes a man perfect.
Fortunately, I had a very good GATE score and even got a seat at the Indian Institute of Science where I did my Masters. My guides were not particularly from a skill. They only gave a high-level picture of what to build. And also we were supposed to build something called a “Quadrupole Ion trap mass Spectrometer” in our lab.
So when building this, we got an understanding of the physics behind it, and what should be the functionality of this equipment. Most of the other things we started to do included that of building the circuits and components. We started understanding the requirements to gather the functional specifications, converted them into an electrical requirement, and then to an electronic circuit requirement. We finally developed the circuits. Of course in the very first run, these circuits were of very high voltage and there were some errors in the design. But when we ended up doing a couple of versions, it didn’t require any professional help for us to make an MVP.
After graduating from the Indian Institute of Science, I ended up working with ‘General Electric’. I worked with the Aviation business. I was an Analog Engineer there and later worked in the energy business for G.E. Even in G.E, Even in G.E, the initial circuit designs were built from the concepts that I had learned before. Therefore, the concepts are very important. You have no alternative in learning a concept. We were able to build the circuits and of course, we got some training from various teams in G.E. This helped us to make it to be a proper product grid because we were planning to sell 1 million energy meters at that time. So that’s where I got a high level of training to build something for a scale of 1 million.
Everything learned by me, when I was building a product on a smaller or larger scale, was self-taught. That is why I strongly believe the level at which you would build PCBs or circuits can become very good, once you get this kind of self-learning. But today, there are so many tools available. I wish I had a time machine to restart my career with what exists today.
So yes, this is my journey.
And when I started FluxGen, I operated as a managing director and another CEO along with various other roles. Yet, all these things that I do today go back to my previous experiences in building the circuits and systems since our business is very hardware focused IoT business. But I feel more confident today because we have great people on our team and a large ecosystem to build great products.
Anoop: That’s an inspiring background, Ganesh. As you said, necessity is the mother of invention which led you to run your college lab, has that inspired the current course you’re planning to offer? besides what kind of message do you have for students who wish to take your course, as well as for Engineering students who are academic-focused in the hardware space and might not have the hands-on experience at a college level?
Ganesh: One of the reasons why I offer this product prototyping course at my Alma mater is because I come from a family of teachers. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather everybody were teachers and hence I am associated with this at a family traditional level. Nobody was an entrepreneur there. Adding to this, l also feel there are a lot of myths surrounding the building of products. Many believe that one should be trained or should have some 20, 30, or 60 years of experience to build a product. So, this is one of the main reasons why I like to offer this course.
Today even rocket science is not rocket science. So when I say rocket science itself is not rocket science, building electronic products is a very doable thing. And the good news is, you don’t even have to be an Electronics Engineer to build electronic products. The democratization of access to the tools has made anyone build a prototype.
You have so many tools for prototyping, for instance, hardware tools like Arduino or even if you want to design PCBs, there are so many open-source tools that give you a lot of flexibility, even in a freemium model.
So my ultimate goal is to break the myth which tells that it needs a lot of experience to build great products. And through this course or my message, I want to tell that by taking a step-by-step approach and going through various resources available across the internet, anybody can build electronic products today.
So today with more potential manufacturing opportunities in India, what would be the right approach for a perfect start by a budding entrepreneur or an engineer in the electronic space with this current ecosystem? Also, is it possible for someone to do it alone?
Does one need to have all the skill set, or is there any different approach he should be taking when starting a business in the hardware space?
Ganesh: So as I said, for building a basic prototype or for a pilot project to show the functionality or even for seed funding (since you mentioned entrepreneurs), maybe an individual or a couple of people are enough to accomplish the task. You can use basic tools like a breadboard or any other components that are available in SP Road, Bangalore. On the other hand, an online purchase across various platforms would also work well.
After you build a proof of concept, basically a working prototype, then there are different ecosystems that you could take into account. Till now it could have been any engineer who can potentially do this prototype. At the next level, you should have somebody(fairly an Electronics Engineer), who has an understanding of building a product on an electronic circuit.
Said so, we have a great kind of ecosystem available now. And I’m very happy that LionCircuits is doing this amazing job of giving an end-to-end possibility to create your own boards. It is where you just not only get a PCB but, the entire printed circuit board is manufactured. Further, you can get the components sourced and make them assembled as well.
And yes, of course, many other platforms are offering the same. I would strongly recommend that you check the ecosystems available there. Even the ecosystem through IESA, IoT forum, and various other platforms are doing a very good job. You can go through these platforms and get it reviewed. Make sure that your needs are satisfied. It can even be the whole enclosure level that you could actually put it together. Plan it accordingly. I would also recommend another platform called cardcorner.io, where they do the enclosure design. I’ve been very happy with their work.
Also, there are 3D printing and laser cutting tools available in the city which could be ordered online. So the entire supply chain is accessible today, even for small quantities. That’s good news for all the entrepreneurs so they don’t have to have a huge number in their mind to build this.
Anoop: Sure. As you spoke about building products and probably any engineer building into an electronics engineer, I would love to ask, what would work for him to take this to the next level in the market? Should he build a single prototype or multiple prototypes? What exactly does that person need to do before launching something in the hardware space?
Ganesh: I would say that in your initial stage, it is your own funding and there is no company like GE funding for your circuit. Therefore you’ve got to be as minimalist in your spending. You can’t afford to make a lot of mistakes. Suppose if you were in a big company, you can do these mistakes and it gets covered up.
However, in a start-up what generally happens is; and it has happened to me as well. You have an idea to build something. But you don’t build the entire product because you’re still testing with the end-users. To be more precise, you have an idea with what you build a product prototype and start giving it to few users, along with the market analysis of whether the market would need this product or not.
In most cases, especially with a guy like me, who doesn’t come from an MBA or business background makes a lot of mistakes in market analysis. So in the beginning, you end up doing such mistakes as an entrepreneur.
When the product is nice to have it would not go long, you should be solving your bleeding problem. Hence it took me a lot of time to identify what is a bleeding problem to be solved. We started with electrifying villagers by trying to find out the energy monitoring in the houses that were powered by a solar plant. Later we realized that these people are not having enough money to pay and also there was no financial viability. So then we ended up trying to do something for a cell tower monitoring.
This cell tower monitoring would monitor the amount of energy coming from the grid, and how much energy is coming from a diesel generator. We developed this whole project to an extent and not fully. Then again we realized that there were people who didn’t want this product to survive since the diesel sales would go down. Hence the hardware was destroyed in the field and noticed that we couldn’t take this to a large extent.
Later we hopped into a problem to solve the water leak wastage in a mini industrial infrastructure. Since industries buy water at a very high price and have a strict environmental comprise, there was a need for water being well managed in the industries.
When we started doing this product as a prototype for one client, we realized that many other people require the same. That’s why we went to the details and started building a more concrete industry-ready product. But this one, which was good for a specific customer to solve their particular problem was not cost or feature optimized. Then this optimization was done when we realized there was a market fit for this product.
And the same happens to most of the entrepreneurs. They don’t end up building the product they wanted to build. Hence it is very important that you don’t invest too much of your money in making your product in full-stack development, no matter if it is an electronics or software product.
Our product development happened because of great feedback and the results from the customers. So that’s what I would say to all entrepreneurs. Don’t perfect, there will be bugs. It will be broken at different levels over a period of time. So just go from one MVP to the next MVP, which has more viability.
Anoop: Sure. Makes perfect sense. Listen to your customers and make it a practice of using resources that are owned by nature and not by cattle.
And I would love to add this. Having the right customers plays a crucial role. Most of the product features derive from customer interaction. And that’s how we actually developed our product with these potential customer interviews, and even through your segment. Customer interviews have helped us come up with the final product that we are selling today.
Anoop: Yes, Thanks for the background, Ganesh.
I think we have had good interaction. So there’s a lot of takeaways for people who want to build in India. You know that it’s not challenging. It’s not rocket science when even rocket science is not rocket science.
Moreover, yes, there is this ecosystem and the different engineers you would have to interact with. You could talk to Electronics Engineers to take your prototype to what we can call it a ‘product’.
And for the budding hardware entrepreneurs out there, Ganesh’s course on “Prototyping in IoT” is one option to evaluate and remember that you don’t miss listening to your customers.
Ganesh: Yes, thank you so much for this opportunity. I would say that this is the perfect time for us to develop in India. There is the right ecosystem available today and you don’t have to go all the way to various other options. It was previously the default choice, but today India can become the default choice for your entire year’s development. I conclude that the time has come for India today.
Anoop: Yes, it’s the right time to build in India and hopefully in the next few years India starts shipping out a lot of final products.
Anoop: Thanks Ganesh for joining us.
Ganesh: Thanks so much.
Anoop: Thanks to our viewers for watching this.