Kudix Mug Holder of the MonthSay hello to Naveen, our Mug Holder!

At Toit, our customers have always been our primary focus. They’re the ones who bring life to the place, create memories and end up giving the place its familiar, friendly vibe.

And there are so many different kinds of people who come through our doors daily, that we wanted to get to know their stories.

The Kudix Mug Holder of the Month is our little way of celebrating our customers, and their unique stories.

What do you get when you put Physics, sustainable energy, the Tango, and beer together? Our Mug Holder of the month Naveen, that’s what!

Why do you think you were selected as the Mug Holder?

I believe I deserve it! I’ve been a patron of Toit for a very long time, from the very beginning. And I like this place.

Everyone here knows me and I know them as well. It’s a very comfortable space.

Everyone here knows me and I know them as well. It’s a very comfortable space.

Are you sure it has nothing to do with the amount you drink?

I know the Mug Holders are usually people who can drink a lot, and I’m not. I come here maybe two-three times a week, have a beer, and go. Because I like the beer.

So I’m here at the end of a workday, when I’m hosting friends, or having meetings, whatever.

What do you do?

I’m retired and I have a startup at the same time.

Care to elaborate?

I studied all over the place. I worked in Hawaii and California, and every time I’ve made my pot of gold, I’ve said, “Ok fine, now I need to chill”. But then I get bored and need to do something else.

My last paying job was in solar energy, around the end of 2013. And after that I was just bumming around the world and I got bored again and decided to do something. That’s when my classmate and I started an imaging and machine learning startup.

What does that mean?

We create products that analyse videos or images for different customers.

It could be a retail customer, for whom we might create analytics for in-store. Or it could be for R&D customers who have microscopes and scanning electron systems where they have something that they need to characterise automatically so that their workflow is optimised.

I studied all over the place.

Or it could be med-tech, where you’re helping improve diagnostics.

It’s basically a multi-expertise venture. My background is in Physics, Imaging, and we have team members who are experts in Machine Learning, and other members who are medically oriented.

And this is my small startup/retirement fund.

Has this always been the field you’ve been working in? Since you’ve worked all over and done different things.

Not really. I got my degree in Physics and I was working in solar energy in Hawaii, right out of college. Everyone was very jealous, because they said that now that I’ve gone to Hawaii, I’ll never come back.

Everybody has this island mentality right? In two years of going there you decide on whether it’s too isolated and beautiful for you to come out, or again too isolated and beautiful, hence too idyllic, for you to stay. 

I came out, because I knew it wasn’t representative of the real world—the real world is too chaotic!

What’s wrong with something being ideal?

It’s nice, but when you’re a young person you want a greater stimulus. It’s a great place to grow up, or a great place to retire. 

That’s why I came out and I was travelling in China, and Africa, and Sri Lanka. I was consulting for various companies and NGOs.

I used it as an excuse to travel and meet my friends.

And how did you survive?

There’s a strategy right? You have friends in all these places, you go and exploit their friendship, and stay at their places.

In all the places you’ve stayed/worked in, which one have you liked best?

Well, San Francisco is great because if you’re a geek like me you’re surrounded by geeks and they all also love beer.

It’s a lot of interesting people doing interesting things. Plus, they have a great food culture there.

I was travelling in China, and Africa, and Sri Lanka

But having said that, sometimes it also ends up being random places you’ve traveled to that become your favourites, where for a brief period of time, you end up finding your comfort zones.

How long have you been in Bangalore?

My family has been here for 19 years. I briefly studied in St. Joseph’s, did my final year B.Sc there. Then I went to Bombay, did my Masters in Powai, and then left to Florida.

Only since late 2013, I’ve put my roots here, which has made my Mum very happy.

Are you liking it?

I’m a very closed-circle person, so I only do things that I like. I do my startup, it’s interesting work, and I have a bunch of customers in the U.S. who have interesting challenges for us. 

I also go sit at interesting places and work—so I sit at coffee places, co-working spaces, or come to Toit and sit and work.

Since what we’ve been building as part of the startup has mostly been advanced software, we can really do it out of anywhere. That’s easy.

The last gig in solar energy, we had to be in a  lab because we were creating advanced solar technology and implementing them in various parts of the world.

Have you always been this interested in sustainable energy? And do you face a lot of resistance towards your field of work, from say, corporates?

I love solar! 

The resistance is always economical. You give them a way to reduce their tax burden, and everybody will jump in.

Businesses have already jumped in, consumers need a tax break and that will be it.

No one actually looking at the long run.

No one is actually looking at the long run. It’s long-term thinking versus short-term thinking and I don’t blame people in India for not taking it upfront. We are still a lower-middle income country and you can’t be expected to suddenly make the transitions that Germany or Japan did. Even they have structures that help them out, tax-breaks wise.

These things are coming, for sure! And that’s exciting.

Have you also had to deal with a lot of people who don’t believe that global warming is taking place?Especially in the US?

Not really. Those are usually the ones who have control over the microphones that are so vocal, or others who are in cahoots with big corporations. But even they are changing because they are realising that their bottom lines are getting affected by this.

But for me personally, it was almost like an echo chamber. I grew up in an academic field and with friends who are highly educated. And even if they’re not highly educated, they’re very socially, ecologically, sustainably aware.

…usually the ones who have control over the microphones that are so vocal

So it’s very difficult to find people of completely opposing views. Although, we’ve had conversations among scientists about the details of what the uncertainties are as far as global warming is concerned. Things like how soon cities are going to be submerged, and how crop patterns will get affected, and those kinds of things.

But 99% of scientists and knowledge out there agrees that global warming is happening, so there is no point in debating that within close friends, but we do debate about what the actual changes that might occur will be, and how do we mitigate it.

What then, is the most popular topic for physicists/scientists to debate about over beer?

*laughs*

There are two kinds of people, right? One kind are geeks, who always talk about geeky things and the other kind, are talking about women.

Which category do you fall under?

I’m the interface. I can switch from pop-culture to things as deep as the meaning of life.

What are you most excited about working on with your startup right now?

The recent most exciting thing is that we’re trying to create a product for the medical space. I can’t talk about it too much because we are in a startup competition and we’ve reached the last phase. We’re making the final pitch on August 31st, so that’s pretty exciting.

When you’re not busy working with sustainable energy, is there anything else you like to spend your time doing?

My friends have blackmailed me into learning Tango.*laughs* 

There is a very famous Academy in Bangalore called Bangalore Argentine Tango, and one of my close friends, who also has a lot of random adventures, has been active in the Bangalore Tango scene. Him and his girlfriend blackmailed me into this.

It’s been five to six months now, and Tango music is hypnotic. It takes some time for you to get used to it, but then it just starts running in your mind, almost like background music.

My friends have blackmailed me into learning Tango

It took a long time for me to be convinced, and it’s becoming more and more fun.

Plus, I can approach it in various ways—I can approach it as creating connections with people, or as an amazing bio-mechanical thing that is happening. At some technical level, it’s all about balance of weight, communication, and all that.

And the thing is, people who haven’t danced before, will always find Tango very interesting because it is a natural extension of walking.

And on the sustainable energy front, what excites you about the coming future?

Excitement is the wrong word—I would say that there are a lot of interesting possibilities. So with energy systems per se, there are interesting possibilities that we will make a transition. It might not be complete but people will demand that their cities should have less pollution, the cars in their cities should have good filters, public transport should increase and also have better roads, more trees and stuff like that.

The challenge of integrating technology and people, is real.

The voice always comes with people having a say in their economic environment and that is happening. As far as science and technology is concerned, we are at this point where a lot of things are being replaced by semi-automated systems. So the worry is about how we will provide jobs for 100 million people.

The challenge of integrating technology and people, is real. Providing meaningful lives for everybody, and at the same time create efficiencies and better products. From a science point of view, discovery is always going to happen. And it’s always exciting. The real question is about how socially, economically, and politically relevant these discoveries will be.