Vrushali Prasade never really subscribed to the society’s order of priorities. She’s conscious of the fact that an outsider would never know what’s best for her. She knew as a child, when she bunked her 10th Grade exam, that the finals of the international Table Tennis tournament she had made it to weren’t an opportunity that would come by again. And she knew the same six months ago, when she followed her gut about starting up, knowing that it was now or never, and dropped out of college to give it her 200 percent. This oxymoronic combination of her well-thought out impulsiveness has never failed her. With zero regrets, she is now hoping to reach the Rs 2 crore mark in revenues by April this year.
Her love affair with risk-taking began when she was a child. At the age of 10, she took to a hobby that she loved dearly – table tennis. She represented her district, and then her state and finally, madeit to the Under-17 Junior Girls India team for 2009. She met someone along her professional table tennis training journey who became one of her major childhood influences – her coach Mrs Shailaja Gohad. “She impressed a lot of qualities in me like perseverance, focus, multi-tasking and taking risks. So, I can say I got the courage to take the step of withdrawing from college due to my table tennis experiences. I learned multi-tasking since I was juggling sports and academics all through school, and this experience has been coming in handy throughout my life.”
She went on to join BITS Goa, where she met her creative and impulsive equals Shubham Mishra and Hari Valiyath. “As classmates, we have been working on various other academic projects for the past three years, and were always like-minded.”
Like any 90s kid, they had grown up with gaming consoles like Nintendo Virtual Boyand other futuristic gaming devices. As an engineering student, Vrushali was psyched that she could build what she was once so awed by. And when the Oculus story broke, she knew what she had to do.
“We are in an age where we are constantly innovating to revolutionise the way we interact with digital media. We wanted to build a company that could extend that experience to every common man who cannot invest as much as MNCs and “brands” require. Our self-sustainable ecosystem will disrupt these trends and give overwhelming advantages to a merit-based system over cheap marketing strategies used by big corporations. Competing with Oculus on a global level was our aim. So, we built a developers’ platform as India’s answer to Oculus Rift – our own Virtual Reality community,” says Vrushali.
They founded Absentia in Bengaluru, and created the product – Tesseract– a virtual reality headgear, that can convert any media or game to Virtual Reality and simulate it on a Head Mounted Display. What differentiates this from key competitors like Oculus, though, is that it is compatible with all existing PC games, movies and can also live stream from online gaming communities. It can also be used with mobile phones through devices like Chromecast.
Initially, it was difficult for the trio to convince investors that Virtual Reality is the next big thing. But they soon found their synergy with the right investors and raised their first round of funding of Rs. 1.2 crore from Astarc Ventures, 50k Ventures, and other individual angel investors like Vish Satthapan, Sameer Sainani Rajeev Krishnan, Abhishek Jain, and Nagaraj Magadum.
Another major decision was to choose between academics and her venture, as both required nothing less than her complete time and attention. She followed her gut and chose the latter. “The decision of dropping out was pretty bold and it took us some time convincing ourselves as well as our family but when we considered the complete scenario, the opportunity it keeps for us and the solutions we offer in the market, we knew this was the right step. This was the right time to work on our technology. Virtual Reality is a nascent field at this moment and we know we have the capability to be the front runners in this field. So it was extremely essential to take this step at this time and devote 200per cent of ourtime to bring this to reality,” she explains, adding, “I have never cared much about what people say or think about me, and I have always kept a close circle of people I care about and whose advice I consider.”
But starting up at a raw age, when most people are still getting through college, also came with its set of challenges – as the trio didn’t know the first thing about turning their invention into a business. “Managing the different organs of an organisation, like law, intellectual property, accounts, customs, management, and other such thingsare what a 20-something cringes at; but we get better at with each passing moment. Our board of advisors and investors have been extremely supportive, polishing our sense of business, branding and corporate tact–all things that come with experience. They’ve been generous enough to share their wealth of knowledge with us, and we’re progressing rapidly.”
At this stage, they have a lot of pre-orders, several developer commitments, collaborations with various B2B partners, and so on. Their projected turnover by April 2016 is Rs. 2 crore.
Behind every successful woman…
She attributes her success to two women – one who taught her the rules of the game, and the other who led her through all its compelling plot-twists and levels. “I owe it all to my mom; she has ALWAYS stood by me whenever I dared to take a risky decision– be it missing my 10th grade exams for an International Table Tennis tournament or dropping out. She has always been by my side and has nurtured in me the courage to take difficult decisions and see them through. It would never have been possible to take all the bold decisions in my life if not for her.”
Her top mantra is “to follow your heart and do what you feel is right since a life full of failures and mistakes is more fulfilling than a life full of regrets. Believe in your decisions and then have the courage and willpower to see it through.”