The story of Bangalore-based MadRat Games Pvt. Ltd began when Manuj Dhariwal, studying at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati, in 2005, decided that his design project would be to create a board game in an Indian language. The game was on the lines of Scrabble, except that it was in Hindi. In 2008, Manuj, now 25, moved to Bangalore and got himself a day job. A year later, Rajat (27), his elder brother, returned from a postgraduate course at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, in 2006. They were joined by Madhumita Haldar, 28, Rajat’s wife and batchmate from IIT Mumbai who had just quit her job in a graphics design company to teach at the Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh.
Talking about why he didn’t opt for a “regular” job, Rajat says: “Only the analytical and logical part of me was getting expressed. I had many questions in my mind when I went to Rishi Valley and the educators there were helpful, after which there was no doubt that this was what I’d like to do.”
Haldar adds, “Though I worked at a design company, it really wasn’t what I envisioned.”
Teaching at Rishi Valley School was the beginning of Rajat and Haldar’s understanding of their true calling. “We always knew we wanted to do something with education and as we taught science through games and craft, we realized that was just what we wanted to do,” says Haldar, recalling that students always understood concepts better through games. They had the prototype of Manuj’s game that they wanted to promote.
Taking the prototype of the Hindi version of Scrabble, later named Aksharit, they travelled to Chhattisgarh (because the Unicef education officer was working there at the time) in mid-2009 to speak to the government about introducing the game as a learning tool. In a few months, they had their first customer: The state government ordered 6,000 games. By January 2010, they started MadRat, a company to create games. They have since created mobile and computer versions of Aksharit. With the patent for Aksharit coming through in January, they are all set to put the game in shops.
They’ve also created a DIY (Do it Yourself) kit for children called My Toy Factory. It includes material like paper, straws and ice-cream sticks with guidelines on how to use these to make toys. “We had to ensure that the kit was reusable so we encourage that the toys be made, broken and made again, so that they understand the science behind it,” says Rajat, demonstrating a whistle made from two ice-cream sticks.
After their first order, they started talks with a big non-profit organization, hopeful of a large order. It didn’t work out.
“We were excited at the rate of success and then there was this drop,” says Rajat, adding that in retrospect they are happy the deal did not come through. “Tight funds made us more resourceful, a skill we wouldn’t have had if we were plush with funds,” says Manuj.
Getting back to a day job is the last option for the three, who are sure they will think of another business idea if MadRat Games doesn’t work.
A day at work includes walking up to the playground and playing card or board games with the children. “The parents who escort them must have categorized me as a strange, jobless man,” laughs Manuj.