Kaustuv DeBiswas and Somnath Ray aren’t your typical entrepreneurs. At MIT, they haven’t taken any startup courses, been to networking events or made long business plans. (They do, however have a very cool caricature outside their office at 9-265). And yet, when these good friends were getting set to graduate from the School of Architecture, they started with one goal: to change the way people think about design. To have fun while doing it. To play.
Kaustuv (Ph.D. ’11) is a Managing Partner at dplay, which he now gathers is called a lean bootstrapped design startup. Between him in Boston, and co-founders and long-time Bengali friends Somnath Ray (SM ’09) in New Delhi and Gourab Nath in Nice, they have been quietly picking up roles in design projects that they chanced upon through the MIT community, and simply found fun. These include the world’s first carbon fiber penthouse in London, a toy accompanying the market entry of a prominent chocolate, a tower inspired by old school game Tetris, and a lobby installation at a Hyatt hotel in India.
“Services doesn’t scale, we now get it, and we want dplay to go much further than these projects”, Kaustuv said, inspired by a talk by Desh Deshpande in Course 6 on thinking big. One of their pet projects and MIT $100K entry is Sunglass, a cloud-based suite of plug-in design tools, which Kaustuv insists, will become the NetFlix for designers.
As you chat more with the dplay team, you realize that one of their deep motivations is to bring a change in the way design is taught and practiced in India. – “Architecture and design is not just about problem solving”, Kaustuv said, “the role of a designer is to formulate the problem itself and the engineering-construction centric model of design education is not complete…”
Team dplay was not excited by the work at more traditional and lucrative job opportunities and driven by their interest in fun work, chose to make this startup happen. Somnath chose not to use his experience at design studios in New York and Delhi to get a regular job, and has already set up a small office in New Delhi. He now does a whole bunch of things, from paying the rent and keeping the air conditioning working to playing a much bigger role in working on design production and managing clients. What keeps him going? “Our delightful schizophrenia”, Somnath said. “We’re setting ourselves up to impact design not just technologically but philosophically and artistically as well”. The team is committed to dedicating some time to projects with high social impact, and is currently working on mobility solutions for disabled micro entrepreneurs.
Kaustuv passed on attractive offers from top CAD companies, and is shuttling between finishing his Ph.D. at MIT, and contributing in London to a big project. The third partner, Gourab Nath who is leading technology development continues his full-time job in France as a senior scientist. The concept of a design firm driven by fun is also helping them hugely with attracting talent, and they just hired their fourth employee.
Being in three different places at the moment also makes for some frustrating moments, and Kaustuv’s eyes light up when he shares his moment discovering videoconferencing tool GoToMeeting! “We don’t know where dplay goes from here, but we hope it’s fun. I’m learning something new everyday!” says Kaustuv, still fiddling with their new website (http://www.dplay.org).