Conversations with Alore : Ushering in innovation into learning South Asian languages – Sum Yantra

Deepika Singh from Alore spoke to Rohit Nair, Co-founder Sum Yantra

Alore: Can you tell us about Sum Yantra and its forthcoming products?

Rohit Nair: Sum Yantra was conceived as a technology company to bring forth new and innovative products and IPs to market. The products/ideas we work on or support need to be unique and should either be patent-able or copyright-able.

The first product that is being developed under this company’s banner is ‘Shabdkoshish’ which is a new and unique way to teach/learn all South Asian languages from Hindi to Tamil and Urdu to Bengali.

As is scientifically recognised, word games, like Scrabble and Boggle, have a significant impact on the growth and ease of adoption of European languages. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of South Asian languages this has not been possible, and we want to change that with shabdkoshish.

Currently the system has been prototyped in a Hindi template which allows us to quickly move to cover all 22 official languages of India.

Our second product is a patented method to make large static images like billboards and signage active at 1/10th the cost and hassle of LED screens. This works with normal flex and acrylic signs and billboards.

Alore: How did you envision Sum Yantra? (How did you come about the idea?)

Rohit Nair: The idea for Sum Yantra came about during a conversation between our CEO, Ashim Ghosh and me. Ashim is what one may call a tinkerer. He had long been distressed at the lack of creative energy around our Indian languages. The core of which was the way learning Indian language has not changed since the middle ages. The lack of word games in our languages was also something that he was keen to solve. He had been working on solving both these problems since 2001 and had cracked most of the problems in gamifying Indian languages when we had talked.

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The rudimentary prototype had been taken to a few existing companies and though everyone loved the product, there wasn’t much support other than encouraging words. We both agreed that it was quite hard to bring innovations to market in India especially in sectors that are as resistant to change as education and so we formed Sum Yantra (a play on words to mean ‘it’s some device’, ‘A sum of devices’)  to tackle “exactly“ this problem.

Alore: Why do you think customers will love to use Sum Yantra products?

Rohit Nair: In case of the Shabdkoshish Pitara, as our primary customers are schools and government education departments, where ever we have demonstrated or tested it be it at NCERT, CBSE Board, schools and colleges, they have unanimously been impressed by it.  Students, educators and even government officials have been unable to resist picking up the word tiles and forming words on the board. The tactile nature of the product and the challenge that the product brings out in people is another reason we are confident of its adoption.

Alore: You plan to offer solutions for innovative technologies and devices in the areas of education, language, culture etc. – How are you going about the idea validation and prototypes?

Rohit Nair: As we are a startup without many resources most of the work in prototyping and market research has been low key and done by ourselves. Our Pitara has gone through over 11 iterations with little tweaks being made every time we get good feedback on improvements. We have been actively testing our product within different setups and have tested the Pitara in a government school, a private school, an NGO run school for street kids, a special needs school and a college. In each of these locations we worked with the educators to see what kind of an effect using the Pitara makes to students learning abilities. In most cases we found that a child’s abilities across various parameters increased by 20-30% in 4 weeks. This method of working with a wide variety of educational institutions, we feel gives us a clearer understanding of the need for products such as ours.

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Alore: While you’re in the nascent stages of your startup, what are your three key focus areas to achieve a good product market fit?

Rohit Nair: As an educational tool our market is pretty much anyone who wants to learn or develop his/her knowledge in a language. However, we have focused our attention onto the student market and have developed three different products as stated before to get to them wherever they are, offline, online or on their mobile.

Alore: What has been the biggest challenge in your journey with Sum Yantra so far?

Rohit Nair: Getting funding ? , but on a serious note, Education is one of the toughest segments to work on for a couple of reasons. First, most of the education in India is run by the government so change is very slow and requires one to be ready to swim upstream for quite a while. Second, the syllabus and teaching methods have remained unchanged for decades and thus teachers and educators have become very resistant to change. The notion that “If it isn’t broken let’s not change” is deeply ingrained into the system. So, while everyone is delighted by new tools and ideas, getting educators to actually to use it appears to be the biggest challenge we will be facing when we hit the market.

Alore: What has been your biggest learning since you started Sum Yantra?

Rohit Nair: The importance of being a believer can never be underestimated in making a company grow. Unless there is a level of belief bordering on madness that your product is essential for your prospective consumers even great ideas get assigned to the rubbish heap. If we did not have this crazy level of belief in our product we not have persisted for as long as we have and would have given up long ago after the first few hurdles. This is why we are very picky about the kind of product we work with. If it doesn’t make all of us jump up with joy, we would rather not work with it.

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Alore: How conducive do you think the environment in India is currently regarding Education-technology startups? (Laws, paperwork, Banking, Investors etc)

Rohit Nair: As I have mentioned before the current system of education isn’t extremely conducive for start-ups. This is due to a number of reasons, first, education being a state subject is different across the states and each state has very different priorities and goals. Second, the general inertia that is there in the boards of education is very hard to break and they are usually reluctant to rock the boat. Some of this is changing but the speed of change is still quite slow.

There are a number of investors who are pumping money into the education space, however most of it is focussed towards the bigger problem of skill development. Even within the primary education space more importance is given to English education as it is seen as a path to better jobs prospects. There is a very odd dichotomy in the market today as more and more companies are trying to launch products for Hindi speakers for example but there isn’t as much interest in teaching the Hindi language.

Alore: What is your productivity mantra? (How do you maximise your day? – Any apps, tools, planning tips you use and would share?)

Rohit Nair: Our productivity mantra is to not waste time on meetings. We are a very small company with just three partners currently, so most of the work is handled between ourselves and with a couple of third-party contractors. To ensure that we don’t really waste much time we rarely have meetings and prefer to share information and track assignments through apps like Asana and WhatsApp.

About Rohit Nair:

Rohit is the co-founder at Sum Yantra . He is an alumnus of the Rotterdam School of management Erasmus University, Netherlands and has done a program at UC Berkley. With a keen interest in Finance, Rohit has spent the last 15 years planning successful strategic market entries for mainstream international products, as well as marketing high-end niche products, across India. Besides Sum Yantra Rohit also manages his automobile business – Lakozy motors.

You can reach out to Rohit here 

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