01 Jan 2021 17:19 IST

Face it! Here’s your feedback

IIT Kharagpur engineer Ranjan Kumar has turned a college project into an insights providing start-up

Thirty-three-year-old Ranjan Kumar runs Entropik Tech, an emotion AI start-up that uses facial recognition, brainwave mapping and eye tracking to help market researchers and companies get truer feedback on products than survey-based responses.

It was an idea born on campus, when the chemical engineer was studying for his BTech degree at IIT Kharagpur between 2004 and 2008. That idea has now become a 72- people strong company that has attracted $8 million of funding. It is operationally profitable with revenues in the sub $5 million range, according to Kumar.

 

Ranjan Kumar, Founder, Entropik Tech

 

 

 

What was the student project?

While we were in college, we had an elective course called soft computing which covered upcoming topics like AI and neural networks.

I enrolled in that programme during my third year . In those days, AI was only a research-oriented topic and not the buzzword it is today. There were no classroom lessons in this course. We were given learning materials and told to do a project. This was in my sixth semester. I went about designing a soft computing tool that could capture facial expressions of a person, track eye movement, blink rates and so on on a camera and decode them. It could decipher emotions; if a person was happy, angry or sad. The project happened. And I moved on.

How and when did it become a venture?

After college, I joined ONGC and then subsequently ITC, where I was a project manager in its energy projects. In 2012, I plunged into entrepreneurship starting Oye Party.com, a consumer internet company, similar to Zomato but for nightlife places. It was acquired by an events company out of Bengaluru in 2014. That was my first stint in entrepreneurship.

Subsequently, I joined Citrus Payments in 2014 when it had just raised funding from Sequoia and was only a 14 people company. I was the first one to join the business team for South India, subsequently getting a national role. By 2017, I saw Citurs scaling to 700 people. Then it got acquired by PayU.

After Citrus got acquired, there was not much for me to do there. I was looking at what next. I felt that in India there had to be something that was not an app or download-based enterprise. I wanted to do something based on first principles. That was when I recalled my B.Tech project.

Brands spend huge amounts of money to gather consumer insights but it is mostly done through surveys. I felt there was an opportunity of using emotion technology to start understanding consumer behaviour during the time they watch ads or try out new products.

Did you get funded?

To start with I funded myself. Later Bharat Innovation Fund invested in us in 2018 as the first seed round. Subsequently, we got an $8 million Series, a funding led by Alpha Wave Incubation
Group. In my journey I have filed 17 patents on the subject. Globally we are now among top three emotion tech companies.

A lot of engineers do their MBAs. You did not feel the need to go to B-school?

I wrote all those exams. Got calls from Ivy League colleges. But I spoke to some of my seniors and they said if you want to take the entrepreneurial route, do it now, rather than go to B-school and be saddled with educational loans to pay off.

Are you in touch with your alma mater?

I am very active in the entrepreneur cell of IIT Kharagpur. We never had the guts to start a company straight out of college. I see that changing now.

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