10 to Watch – Gauri Nanda, Inventor

Though Gauri Nanda had no intention of founding her own company—her plan was to become a designer at a large tech firm—it’s not surprising that she ended up doing just that. She’s too creative, too much of an out-of-the-box thinker, to follow somebody else’s script.

Take her undergraduate education: As a student at the University of Michigan Performing Arts and Technology program, she received her bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies by combining design, music, video, dance and computers. After college—and a stint at Apple Computer—she obtained her Master’s degree from the MIT Media Lab, where she invented, among other things, a handbag that would tell you if your wallet was missing and an alarm clock that would fly off your bedside table and bounce around the room making crazy robot noises (Nanda is a chronic oversleeper). She called the latter a Clocky, presented it in class, and promptly forgot about it—until some tech bloggers found photos of it online. This led to an onslaught of media attention, leading Nanda, in turn, to realize she had a marketable product. Her next realization was that she wanted creative control over it.

And so in 2004, she founded Nanda Home, a company devoted to taking everyday objects and making them “smart and funny.” In addition to the Clocky, the company sells the Ticky and the Tocky, as well as a line of handbags designed to hold laptops. Nanda is currently working on several new products, i.e., smart and funny objects which are sure to make our everyday lives a lot more fun.

What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever gotten and from whom?
Not all advice is good advice.  I can’t remember where I heard this.  I know a fellow entrepreneur said this once and I ignored it, until I really experienced it.  Now I take everything I hear with a grain of salt.   I remind myself of this both in personal and professional situations!

What do you consider your greatest professional success?
Clocky!  I never dreamt one of my ideas would resonate with people on such a large scale.  A parent told me once that they were watching an interview of mine on the Big Idea show with their 9 year daughter and she said ‘That’s who I want to be when I grow up.  That’s what I want to do!’  That is something that will stay with me forever, and makes me feel like what I’m doing has purpose.

Favorite all-time…
Biography: Andy Warhol’s Philosophy of Andy Warhol
Novel: Interpreter of Maladies
Album: Right now, The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
Song: Right now, “Airplanesby Local Natives or “Mall and Misery” by Broken Bells
Film: Harold and Maude
TV Show: Mad Men
Invention: Eyeliner or Heels, it’s a toss up.
Painter: Gustav Klimt
Clothing Designer: Marc Jacobs

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be and why?
I think we’re going in the wrong direction in terms lack of community and familial support.  There are so many people out there that may have ‘friend’s but not really good friends. Circumstances have led us this way.  I would change the layout of the city and suburbs to encourage more interaction with other people.  I would change the culture so more value is placed on developing relationships within your community.  We have developed so many great things and opportunities, but they came with a cost of personal relationships.

How would you define love?
Love is not a perfect, but a semi-perfect, balance of many things that you desire in life, some of these may be on your ‘must have list’ and others that surprise you.

Describe your perfect day.
Well, I’m in need of a real day off where there is no email and no phone, so assuming I’m not working I’d be doing a creative project for part of the day (e.g. refinishing furniture as part of decorating the home I just moved into, or painting a painting), and then I would spend the rest of the time with loved ones.  It’s autumn, so going to the cider mill and then back to the house to cook a good meal.. and, of course, drink wine and listen to music.  Perhaps a little dancing to cap off the night.

List three things you cannot live without.

Assuming we’re only talking about physical thing here… Even though I’m on my laptop constantly, I fantasize about what it would be like without it.  So I’d say music, wine, and a cozy place to curl up.

Tell us one thing we don’t know about, but we should.

I didn’t get in to MIT the first time around.  My advisor was about to accept me but then they had budget cuts in his group.  That was hard, but I picked myself up, talked to him, and re-applied next year.  Persistence pays off.. big time! Also, I wore heels to MIT almost everyday!  I think it helped set me apart.

What is your greatest extravagance?
My kitchen.  I just renovated my farm house kitchen and purchased some top-of-the-line appliances including a clear glass door Sub Zero fridge, integrated freezer drawers, and a 6 burner range by Italian oven-maker Bertazonni.   I know I’m never going to need to use 6 burners at once but it was just so beautiful!

What would you most like to accomplish going forward?

Professionally:  Nanda Home is not a company that wants to be known for making iterative improvements to existing products.  Personally, that just doesn’t interest me.  Everything we do we want to be fresh, and worth talking about.  I’m not sure where this comes from other than a personal need to share my ideas with the world that drives me to create original things. I love that with Clocky people now think of alarm clocks differently- that they don’t have to be these impersonal machines that just beep at you. An alarm clock that makes you smile?  It seems kind of impossible, but really the idea was so simple.  I often think that it is the simple ideas in life that get people excited and interested.  I like to think of it as re-inventing the world around us. It’s also the idea that character and personality can be a part of the objects we use.  We not only want our products to be functional, we want to make people laugh.  It’s simple-  utilize the emotion behind the product and people will enjoy the product more.  When you look for a lifelong companion, you’re looking for personality, intelligence, a sense of humor…. why should the objects in our lives be any different?

Check out Clocky here

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