Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background and how you started inventing things?
Nandu: I am originally from Mumbai India where I graduated in engineering before coming to USA. I have remained in west of Boston area ever since. I have Masters in EE specializing in signal processing and semiconductor physics, and then proceeded to obtain Management Science education (MBA).
I have been engaged in design at sub-system level and system level both on hardware and software/firmware side. I really enjoyed the life as a designer/creator of new products to go with systems for transaction processing, stand-alone systems, and later on to IC level design for graphics application and system level solutions. I always found myself looking to advance the envelope of technology in everything I did. It was a natural progression at times leading to inventions. I personally do not think you go on thinking that you are going to invent something. You have a certain vision of a product you are creating. The need to add features and lack of off-the-shelf semiconductor devices to provide those feature is often a recipe for invention.
Tara: Please could you tell me a few things that you have invented?
Nandu: A laptop in 1983 with dual display capability of monitor and LCD. Innovation was in the LCD area with detachable 25 line LCD display achieved on 16-line physical capacity. This was done by very ingenious proprietary idea to make 16-line LCD, maximum line capacity available at that time, to serve as 25-line full screen through toggling.
Next idea was developing graphics engine for IBM PC compatibility. IBM and others had multi-chip solution which consumed lot of power and board space. I thought there was more logical way to do it, and developed a 1-chip solution. Less power, less board space, and lower cost. It then enabled the add-on board manufacturers to build multi-function boards for the IBM compatible PCs.
Last but not least is the patented technology of High Speed Bus. All my patent applications are now awarded and can be viewed on internet. In all my inventions, this technology invention is by far the most profound!
Tara: What gave you the inspiration for your ideas/where did the ideas come from?
Nandu: I am engineer at heart. Engineers have a unique set of perspective on everything, and if you are very inquisitive then you lack no inspiration. My inspiration comes from the belief that there is always next best thing, and there is always a better “mouse trap” that can be built. Frankly, making money never enters this pursuit of building better mouse trap, advancing the technology, bringing more productive tools to the marketplace. If you can think with consciousness, yo will find plenty of inspiration!
Tara: How do you go about protecting your ideas?
Nandu: It is natural to be very careful not to discuss and divulge ideas in the early sage. Sometimes, I am in a bind because I am also trying to raise early state financing while tying loose ends on the conceptualization of ideas. There are ways to do it and I have learnt to do it without giving up too much information. Once the ideas are near total conceptualization, I work with the best IP law firms. The cost of best law firms is easily justified if you have patents of any value. It is not where you try to save a dime! I write into my lab books everything about it and keep the chronological track of how things have progressed. It is very important in the event there is a challenge by another individual or company about the ownership of the idea.
Tara: How long has it generally taken you to get an idea to market?
It varies but portable PC was selling in large quantities, 7-10K per month, in 18 months whereas the Graphics chips, the ASICs, were selling in less than 12 months, and the graphics boards were selling in about the same amount of time.
All the marketing and sales activity preceded in full force 2-3 months before the actual selling of the products.
Tara: Did you look for outside investment to fund your inventions or finance them yourself?
Nandu: All my ventures were funded by outside investors, categorically Private angels, VCs and corporate investors. Every venture was defined, characterized and modeled by a well thought out business plan before anything else! A good business plan is a must!
Tara: How do you go about promoting your inventions, do you contact possible companies with the idea of licensing your products or do you manufacture them yourself?
Nandu: Well, I happened to be engaged in broader base of ideas and therefore I did cover larger spectrum of business models. In my first venture, after design and development of the proof-of-concept prototypes of the portable computer, it required a very sophisticated manufacturing facility with large scale production capacity. It also translated to requiring extremely large capital for operating the company. It made very little sense for us to start building such operation on our own. But we were in the right place and the right time as two large, operating companies with global manufacturing capabilities showed serious interest in acquiring the company “lock-stock-and-barrel”. We let the acquisition go through.
Next venture was different, the business model called for fab-less ASICs (application specific integrated circuits) for graphics and motherboard logic. For IBM compatible PCs. As our plans for developing graphics engine for IBM PC were manageable with smaller capital requirement and we executed it well until a FTC (Fair Trade Commission) decision rained on our parade, we marketed the graphics chips worldwide capturing significant market share. We also built graphics boards domestically and overseas to augment our profit margins.
My last venture was borne out of my frustration with slower system data transfer rates. It proved the old cliché “necessity is mother of invention”. I knew after the invention for high speed data bus structure was completely conceptualized that it was a “disruptive” technology for sure. I had no doubt nor did hesitation about patenting the IP (intellectual property) and cost of doing it never enter my mind. Investors in the company had fat checkbooks to fund the venture in early stage. However, it was also clear to me that the very nature of the technology, “the disruptive” aspect, meant that my start-up company with very little to no recognition had the “muscle” to change the “egotistical” world of technologists! We promptly aligned ourselves with the leading #1 computer chip manufactures who subsequently acquired the company inside one year!
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Nandu: First and foremost quality for an inventor with an idea is to truly believe in it. This does not mean put blinders on and simply believe that your idea is “Good”! You have to peruse the market with a sharp eye and mind to get a sense of where your idea stacks up? Is it just an “incremental technology” or “idea” or is it “me too” idea, or is it a “breakthrough” idea, or is it a “disruptive technology”? The inventor has to be able to size up his/her idea against this yard stick. Ideas do not have to be complex to be successful; they have to be positioned right in the market domain the inventor wishes to put out a product. Remember, there are thousands of ideas that go begging and end up failed ventures because of lack of total commitment, proper understanding of the marketplace, and poor execution.
Tara: Do you have more ideas you hope to bring to market in the future?
Nandu: Yes. Many ideas and the reason for it is you always look at everything differently. It gives you new perspective on how certain things can be done or how certain things can be advanced to next level of state-of-the-art. I no longer go out and start a new company but look at start-up ventures in their “seed” stage or “embryonic” stage. Then I work with my colleagues to invest in them if we think there is a real potential for success with our hand-holding and help of our business connections. So to answer your question, I now practice nurturing ideas of other’s and nourishing them to success using my experience. It must be understood that “success” comes in different flavors and different degrees. Of course it is not something you do on a daily basis since I’m happily retired now.
Tara: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Nandu: This answer may come to you as a surprise! I do not believe any of us inventors are truly inventors in metaphysical sense. It maybe so in physical sense. When I first read about it, I thought of Einstein’s comment in somewhat of a perplexity that he really did not know why the idea of e=mc2 came to him. Truth is, it is all there in the universe and we just happen to tune into it with our thinking, like “antenna” taking TV/Radio signals out of the air, and attract the idea to us. Of course, our background and intellect has a lot to do with it. More can be said on this topic but it will be utterly out of context for this interview. So I will stop right here!
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