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Want to access your computer from anywhere? Try iTwin

Last updated on: March 9, 2012 14:05 IST

Want to access your computer from anywhere? Try iTwin

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

Lux Anantharaman designed iTwin, a cable-less cable, which has two identical USB drives with which you can access files kept remotely in a PC. The idea behind iTwin is, "to make remote access simple and secure."

Anantharaman is the co-founder of the Singapore-based iTwin along with Kal Takru.

A B Tech from IIT, Madras and Masters from IISc, Bangalore, Anantharaman talks about his journey as a successful start-up guy.

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Image: Lux Anatharaman
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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Business runs in his blood

Though a civil engineer and an architect by profession, my father was all the time making interesting electrical stuff at home.

He quit his government job to start his own enterprise. I have seen him do things on his own, and as a child I enjoyed watching him and helping him.

But, I didn't know some day I would also be an entrepreneur like him. Probably, it is there in my blood.

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Studying at IIT Madras and IISc, Bangalore

I studied at IIT Madras in 1994, and at that time, it was very academically oriented. No one really spoke about setting up business, then.

After my B-Tech, I joined IISC and there the atmosphere was totally different. That was the time Internet was making its inroads into India.

In fact, one of my classmates started an internet company in Bangalore. As I helped him set it up, I got exposed to how to start your own company and so on. I had many ideas and was planning to start something of my own.

At that time, most of the job opportunities were in big companies and I didn't want to work in a large company. I felt it was too stifling.

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Image: IIT Madras


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Off To Singapore to work in a research lab

I went to Singapore to work in a government funded research lab, A Star. They have always been encouraging innovation. It was 1997 and the dotcom boom had started then. Every engineer wanted to start something on the Internet and I too had the same plan.

My background is information security and I also equally interested in both hardware and software. I was keen on developing support technology for PKI (Public Key Infrastructure). By the time we prepared ourselves, the dotcom boom became a bust. In hindsight, it was good that we didn't really start our company then.

I was quite happy working for A Star, as I was doing many interesting innovations there.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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Security, a concern

After five years, I felt if you looked at security as a chain, the weakest link was the human being. I noticed that most of the researchers were trying to make these stronger; I was also doing that. But it was very difficult to commercialise what we did. That's when I felt frustrated.

An idea originates

I had accumulated files of many years of my research on my PC. I used to use a USB flash drive, copy the files and take them around. Five years ago, I lost my USB drive while travelling.

Those are the frustrating moments when you lose all your files and there is no way you could access them or anyone who has the USB drive could access all your files.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
Tags: USB

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That's when I felt, as a security guy, I needed to do something. At that time, I always had a desktop in my office and it was always connected to the Internet. I asked myself, why shouldn't I be able to access my computer from anywhere?

At that time, we were using VPN and it was such a task to log onto VPN, configure it and access the files. I asked myself, why can't I make something simpler which even my 70 year old mom can use? That was my original intention.

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Tags: VPN

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A cables-less cable

That was how I got the idea of a cable-less cable. Even though it looks like two USB drives, they are like two ends of a cable. So, you plug in one end to one computer and the other into another computer, and the two computers are connected.

This idea struck me four years ago, and I was still an employee of A Star.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
Tags: USB

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Sharing the idea with a friend

I discussed this idea with my colleague, Kal Thakru at A Star. He latched on to the idea and is now the co-founder of iTwin.

Initially, we raised $30,000 internally and developed a prototype. It was a very quick and dirty prototype!

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Image: Lux with Kal Thakru (right)
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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Naming iTwin

We named the device iTwin, though we didn't start a company. The device looked like identical twins and the fact that I have a twin brother, made us call it iTwin.

How iTwin works

Think of iTwin as the two ends of a cable, without the cable. To connect two Internet-enabled computers, plug one end into one computer, the other end into another computer, and the two computers are securely connected over the Internet.

Unlike cloud services like Drop Box, in the case of iTwin, data remains on your own PC and you don't have to move it anywhere else. You are only remotely accessing it. That is how we offer security.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
Tags: Drop Box

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Winner at the Trade show

There is a very big Trade Show called Communique Asia in Singapore. We had a demo of iTwin and it was appreciated a lot by the people.

Even then, we were not sure whether to start our own company or license it.

Techcrunch

The CTO of the famous Techcrunch, (Group-edited blog about technology start-ups) came to Singapore and asked around about interesting innovations. Somebody told him to check out iTwin.

We arranged a demo for him, and we were selected for Techcrunch 50 which is a big show, where new companies are launched. It happens in San Francisco. iTwin was a huge success there. As most of the new ideas were software, there was a huge interest in a hardware device. Thus, one thing led to another and we got our first funding in January 2010.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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Launch on 10-10-10

As I love numbers, we launched our iTwin, on 10-10-10. In the first round of funding we got around $2-3 million. The manufacturing is done by a Singapore company in Penang.

Market

We started selling only online initially. And the product was priced at $99. We decided to focus on the US and Europe as our markets.

In November 2011, we got the second round of funding. After that, we made our physical presence in the US and Europe. But we still continue to sell online. And, we expect to break even this year.


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Future plans

As I lead the engineering team, I am excited about the new innovations that will be out soon. Remote access is not file access alone. So, we want to come out with products that will help our customers to get an access to everything.

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How Lakshminarayanan Anantharaman became Lux

When we were in school, my friends called me Lux as my twin brother had a short name – Raj. At IIT and IISC, I was Lux to my friends. The name stuck to me. So, when I reached Singapore, I shortened it to Lux Anantharaman.

From a techie to a start up guy

I feel "entrepreneur" is a big word and I prefer to be called a "start up guy". It's a lot of work when you start your own company.

From being a hardcore techie to turn into the CEO of a company, and to see that the company sells the products and makes money is a hard task. From a techie, you become a businessman and it's not an easy job, though it is very exciting. And, most certainly I am enjoying every minute of it.

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To take an idea and make it into a product and sell it, gives you the biggest satisfaction. To be a successful start up guy, so many things have to fall in place.

Two most important things are a good team and at least one person to support you, as it is very difficult to shoulder the responsibility of starting a company alone.

Second thing is, you should be very fortunate to find an investor.

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Biggest achievements

Our biggest achievement was winning three awards last year. We won the 2011 Red Dot Product Design Award for outstanding product design. Red Dot is a German museum, and they have been giving this award from 1956.

Popular Science of the US selected iTwin as Best of What's New Award in 2011 in the computing category.

Last month, we won the CES 2012 Design and Innovation Honoree at CES (the biggest consumer electronics exhibition in the world).

But the best award was, when I was at CES, a journalist came and told me that he had been using iTwin everyday for the last six months. He was a total stranger to me but he bought our product and had been using it. That was the most satisfying moment for me as an engineer!




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