Twenty-seven-year-old Viraj Kalyani’s Pune-based startup provides design to high-end engineering solutions for OEMs and is targeting a revenue of Rs 200 crore in the next 5 years.
There was one thing 27-year-old Viraj Kalyani was always absolutely certain of – starting up. Viraj, the Executive Director of Kalyani Forge, is the nephew of Baba Kalyani, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Forge.
The drive to start up led him launch Pen Solar while he was at University of Pennsylvania, which focused on the use of solar energy. In April this year, he set up Kalyani Studio, a company that aims to infuse creativity and design into high-strength engineering solutions.
Viraj says: “From a young age I was drawn to physics and mathematics; I was geared towards these subjects.” Whether it was venturing into design technology while in high school or looking at solar energy in college, Viraj believed that experimenting and trying different things would help understand how new ventures could be established. But he also knew that he had to work on something that integrated with his family business.
After graduating, Viraj joined Kalyani Forge. “It wasn’t like I was getting back to a family business in the typical sense. I learnt the ropes by being on the shop floor and meeting the thousands of people who were a part of Kalyani Forge,” he says.
At Kalyani, Viraj got first-hand experience of the workings of a manufacturing industry and the early stages of manufacturing a product. During this time he saw that several original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) would keep asking for design inputs for components on high-strength products.
Viraj explains this as a eureka moment for Kalyani, saying,
“I realised that they wouldn’t easily get any of this in the market. The huge struggle for getting the right input and data points needed to build these products showed me the gap in the market. It made me want to start up in the space and focus on providing solutions for high-end engineering solutions for OEMs.”
Currently, Kalyani Studio is focused on the automotive, aerospace, industrial engineering, railways, agritech and construction sectors. The company leverages technology to offer new-age design solutions in high-strength applications, with a focus on engineering, design for manufacturing, technical publishing, analysis and product design.
For Viraj, this is an integration of design, innovation and creativity. He explains that the general notion in the market regarding design is that of external appearances and aesthetics. With Kalyani Studio, he is changing the notion of the use of design for engineering.
This requires a lot of internal R&D work, innovations and deep-diving into every aspect and component.
“We are essentially dealing with physical forces present in every vehicle, equipment or component, and looking how we can redesign or design the product to display far superior strength properties,” Viraj says.
With this focus, Viraj knew that Kalyani Studio had to function as a separate entity. However, he got several learnings from Kalyani Forge into Kalyani Studio. When Viraj began leading the senior team at Kalyani Forge, he knew he had to bring lean transformation from within the organisation.
“I got a great understanding of how the human psyche functions in large organisations. What kind of natural resistances people have to processes and change, and how to deal with them. We were a typical cabins-and-walls kind of organisation, and I had to literally and figuratively break those walls. It was a great learning,” Viraj says.
He was instrumental in redesigning the Kalyani operating system, which gave clearly defined processes and tools that would empower people to work and execute more efficiently.
To those who think it must have been easy, considering the backing he received from Kalyani Forge, Viraj emphatically answers,
“There is no backing; Kalyani Studio is personally backed and runs on a self-sustaining model.”
The journey hasn’t been easy for Viraj. His family runs a large manufacturing conglomerate, but Kalyani Studio – to all intents and purposes – is a startup. The projects at Kalyani Studio range between Rs 5 to 15 lakh, depending on the sophistication and detailing needed in the design.
“We essentially are creating an industry within an industry around high-end engineering. There is little awareness in the space; we are looking to change that. Also with a startup you get a microscopic view of many problems, be it creating new processes, setting new systems, infrastructure or resolving conflicts. Even in small teams, it is important that conflicts are handled with care. It’s all about having a vision and getting people to believe and work towards that vision.”
Whether it is Ananyashree Birla, the daughter of Kumara Mangalam Birla, and Neeraja Bala starting microfinance startup Svatantra, or Shruti Shibulal, daughter of former Infosys CEO Shibulal starting luxury resort The Tamara , the bloodline of corporate India seem to be venturing deeply into the startup world.
When it comes to future plans, Kalyani Studio is keen to double the team size, look at a 50 percent growth in business and is gunning for a revenue of Rs 200 crore in the next five years.
The startup is also planning to expand its footprint in Bengaluru. The team will set up a new office in a year or so as they have identified the city as a hub for engineering design and believe it “holds great potential in terms of business prospects”.
Kalyani Studio has recently also developed new capabilities using mathematics.
“We use mathematics in modelling/predicting engineering product behaviour and are thus investing in mathematics software. We feel Bengaluru is the hub for IT and math in India, and this city shares great synergies with Pune (which is our operating base),” Viraj says.
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