Children in traditional Tamil homes are usually fed liberal doses of epics such as Ramayana by their parents and grandparents. Shravan Kumaran, 12, and his brother, Sanjay Kumaran, 10, were no different; except that they also heard from their father, Kumaran, an IT professional, the amazing stories of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and N R Narayana Murthy. Their interest was aroused. One thing led to another and the two, not yet teenagers, developed apps for mobile phones and started a business venture called Go Dimensions. Shravan, the elder of the two, is president of the company, while Sanjay is CEO.
I walk into their house, a lakeside villa in Jaladampet on the outskirts of Chennai, at 9 pm on Tuesday. This is the time parents begin to tuck their kids in bed so that they get up in time for school in the morning. But the young entrepreneurs are ready for the interview. Shravan, dressed in shorts and tee, is the first to greet me. Two biology textbooks are lying open on the sofa in the well-appointed living room. Shravan says that they are in the middle of school exams. Just then, Sanjay walks down the stairs, iPad in hand.
Their father, Kumaran, who has 15 years of experience in various IT companies, sits with us till we settle down and then leaves. Kumaran is perhaps aware that skeptics believe that it is he who developed the apps and not the boys. Also, with so much criticism in the air about “pushy” parents, he doesn’t want to drive the conversation.
But I soon begin to wish he had stayed on as Shravan, the more talkative of the two, starts chattering away in complicated technical jargon. My coffee turns cold as I try to keep pace with him. Sanjay, more taciturn, is poring over his textbooks. Thankfully, their father soon comes to my rescue and explains what Shravan has been saying.
Simply put, Go Dimensions has made 32 applications, four of which are available on the Apple store. Their first app was a game called Catch Me Cop which can be downloaded for free. It is basic, featuring a prisoner who has bolted from captivity and the hunt for him. The prisoner must run through a desert, beaches and a maze to escape the cop. The game has multiple levels, with varying speeds and cops. Catch Me Cop got 2,000 downloads in just two weeks. Even popular app site Cnet.Com has featured the game.
Their three other apps on Apple store are Alphabet Board, Prayer Planet and Colour Pallette. Alphabet Board and Colour Pallette help to hone children’s creativity, while Prayer Planet is — what else? — a prayer application for those on the move. “Downloads have already crossed the 12,000-mark with users from across 32 countries, including Pakistan,” says Sanjay with a naughty smile on his face.
All the apps are free to download, says Shravan and Go Dimensions makes money on advertisements. So far, it has made $100 (around Rs 5,500) through advertisements and Shravan plans to use the money to buy another iPad. The brothers have decided to donate 15 per cent of profits to charity.
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Shravan and Sanjay are students of Vaels Billabong High International School. Their interest in computers started early when their father got them a desktop computer. Starting with painting and games, the two were soon making presentations in school and their teachers encouraged them to do more. “Our inquisitiveness led us to learn computers and thereafter to programing. Dad encouraged us and we spent four years learning all the programs, including Java,” says Shravan.
Their inspirations are Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. “Without Jobs there is no UI [Kumaran comes in to decode that into ‘user interface’] and without Gates no business,” says Sanjay who has now shifted his attention from the biology book to his iPad.
It turns out that he is testing his new application, Olympic Thief, which must be launched before the London Olympics. “We may miss the deadline because of our exams,” says Sanjay. The brothers are also testing a new browser called Webawesome, which will compete with Google’s Chrome, Internet Explorer and Modzilla, and a map application. The latter is an idea that struck the boys when they were in the US on vacation. Sanjay says maps are popular in the US where people use them to locate traffic jams. “We are trying to develop a similar system which can track not just congestion but also pollution.” Also in the works is an app for the physically challenged.
Their ultimate dream? “We want to develop a tablet which will compete with Apple,” says Shravan.
The boys confidently tell me that they can take on any programer. Sanjay says: “We can write a program in 15 minutes.” One of the programs they wrote took only 10 minutes. However, execution takes longer since the app has to pass through several tests and changes. For instance, Apple tests a program for one to three weeks.
When I ask the two about school, it is with much pride that Shravan tells me that both of them have a huge fan following among the girls — after all, not only do they top the class, but they help their friends with projects and also make learning fun by converting some of the “boring” content into animation.
The techie brothers are well equipped with an iPad, iPhone, Mac book Pro, IBM Thinkpad and Galaxy Tab. Talking about their relationship, Shravan and Sanjay admit that they are very close, call each other dude and draw inspiration from one another. “We seldom fight,” says Shravan.
At home the boys spend about an hour learning programing; an hour playing outdoor games like badminton, skating or cricket; and another hour for studies. Their father says that instead of spending time on chatting and social networking, he insists that they should work on developing programs. “Programing is a sort of addiction, and I would want my sons to be addicted to it.”
A typical day such as this ends with the two boys sitting with their parents to talk about school and their company which is currently in the process of being registered. Out of curiosity, I ask how a venture started by two school-going kids can be registered. Kumaran explains that it can be done if either the founder or the company has a pan card. The family has applied for a pan card in the name of Go Dimensions.
What is their business plan for this fledgling company? “Gaining popularity and earning revenue from advertisements through website traffic,” Sanjay says. I leave it at that and begin the long journey back to the city.