An alumnus of IIT Bombay, he had not heard about IIT, till his friends from the 11th standard told him they were preparing for it. An avid rider, he went on a non-stop Bombay to Bangalore road trip to enjoy the company of a friend who was leaving for Germany. But, the adventure nearly cost him his life.
It’s good that he was keen on working on product development, else we might not have known what we call Ideaforge today—the startup that is shaping the drone industry day and night. He is Rahul Singh, one of the co-founders of Ideaforge, and this is his story as told to Mukul Yudhveer Singh.
Naturally inclined towards tinkering and experimenting with new things, it was in the sixth standard that Rahul started working on his first gadget. Essentially a circuit breaker at core, his first gadget was a modest rain alarm. However, he went on to make many more, even complex gadgets during his school days.
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“Sciences that were translating into the real world around us interested me the most. As a kid I was an avid audience of the National Geographic and Discovery channels. The programmes that I saw on these channels really shaped my view of the world for me,” explains Rahul.
He recalls spending hours watching shows related to nature, space technologies, cars, etc on these channels and feels that they helped shape his perception of the world around him.
“These channels are the prime reason that I got interested in making gadgets at a very early age. Though I didn’t know the fundamentals of making gadgets back then, trying my hands on them helped me learn from my own mistakes,” explains Rahul.
Recalling the rain alarm that he tried to make in the sixth standard he says, “I was aware of the fact that a successful gadget needs to go through the phases of designing, fabricating, and testing. As there was no rain at that time, I poured water over the gadget in order to create artificial rain and test the gadget.”
In the process of creating artificial rain, he used a steel vessel to pour water and got an electric shock. His attempts to build gadgets often resulted in short-circuiting and switching off of the electricity supply at home. Such experiments made him realise the essence of understanding fundamentals and concepts of science.
“These experiments were hands-on ways that led me to pick science as something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The experiments were why I chose the science stream in 11th and 12th standards,” explains Rahul.
However, a child studying in sixth standard and experimenting with electricity is a sight that no parent would want to see. Afterall, it is the safety and well-being of a child that concerns them the most. While his parents encouraged him to learn more out of his curiosity, he remembers being scolded once in a while for playing with electricity and short-circuiting the electricity connection at home.
“My parents did realise however that the persistent curiosity and the resultant tinkering was a good thing. They gave me the space to continue doing what I was doing,” explains Rahul.
Rahul, who is a mechanical engineering (B. Tech) graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, had no idea what IIT was, or what it even meant till his senior secondary classes. His family, which included his elder brother, came from a business and finance background, and they also did not know much about IIT.
“IIT was not aspirationally driven for me. Till the time I got to 11th standard I didn’t know what IIT was, or what it meant. My family was also not a very science-background family. It was through friends and peers in the school that I was introduced to the concept of preparing for an IIT and it made perfect sense given my curiosity for science and technology,” explains Rahul.
Rahul decided to consult his elder brother on the subject of pursuing IIT. However, as his brother was into commerce and finance, he also had no idea what an IIT was. His brother then used the Internet to find out and asked a lot of people about the relevance of IIT before giving him the go ahead.
“The only question asked by my brother was: Are you sure you want to go for IIT? I said yes and sat for the entrance exams. What helped me crack IIT was Vidya Mandir classes for IIT entrance preparation,” says Rahul.
Though initially unsure if he would get admitted to Vidya Mandir classes, Rahul, upon seeing the result, realised that the institute was probably helping students who had a problem solving approach and not a mugging up books approach. “The institute was less about books and more about the practical problem solving approach,” he says.
Prior to clearing the entrance exam of IIT, one major achievement that Rahul recalls is getting admitted to Delhi Public School (DPS) at R.K. Puram in New Delhi, a dream of almost every student in Delhi.
“DPS R.K. Puram was one school I wanted to get into, and as I scored well in my 10th CBSE exams, I was able to study there. The privilege of studying with a lot of brilliant students was the biggest upside of studying in that school,” says Rahul.
The go-to-person and food
Rahul, even after becoming co-founder of Ideaforge, still goes to his elder brother for guidance. His elder brother has been his mentor, philosopher, and friend throughout his life. Had it not been for his brother’s support, Rahul says, he would not have been able to accomplish what he has done till date.
“I have always had the privilege of being the younger brother. My elder brother taking most of the responsibilities has allowed me to be more risk taking and exploratory,” says Rahul.
Rahul is proud about the great role his elder brother has played in his journey as an entrepreneur. Had he not had the support of his brother, he says, he would not have been able to accomplish what he has done till date.
He adds, “The role of my elder brother has helped me chart out the journey of my life, and not just as a kid. In fact, his presence has helped me put together what we call Ideaforge today. I tell you that it has not been an easy journey, and it helps when your family supports your plans and actions.”
While he enjoys everything his mother cooks, Rahul’s favourite food happens to be something that he probably has created himself. This dessert, made of milk, breadcrumbs, crushed cookies, and mangoes (or any other fruit), which he used to consume while studying, is something he still relishes. This dish closely resembles an English dessert known as Eton Mess. The flip side, however, of the dish is that it’s laden with calories.
“Apart from the simple food that my mom cooked, something that I still crave and enjoy is the dessert I used to make on my own in my school and college days. When I tried the Eton Mess recipe for the first time, it reminded me of the dessert I used to create,” he says. Eton Mess is a classic English dessert made of a mixture of strawberries, meringue and whipped cream.
He enjoys food that is not cooked with overpowering spices. He likes eating food that still has the natural taste of vegetables. This preference to preserve the basics is reflected in everything he does in life. “I like things that have the element of the base that it is carrying. Covering anything with superficiality is a big turnoff for me,” he explains.
Thanks to the work schedule at Ideaforge, he has now become more practical in what he eats. Though he relies on eating one-pot meals, he also finds himself ordering burgers and rolls often. Rahul loves eating Asian and European cuisines including rice and vegetables that are cooked together in the same pot using as minimal spices as possible.
Wind in his hair
Rahul had always been very passionate about biking. In fact, his love for cycling goes back to his school days. He recalls cycling at high speeds and using speed breakers as platforms to launch cycles in the air in his childhood days to showcase his expertise. He bought an Enfield 500 bike during his college days in Bombay, and made several modifications to it himself.
“Speed continues to give me the kick. My first bike ride was on my brother’s bike. I was not supposed to ride it fast, but I kept on testing the limit of the bike every now and then and ended up meeting with a few accidents,” he says.
“I tweaked the Bullet 500 I bought and played around with it. I tweaked the bike to make it deliver more power than it was originally meant to produce,” shares Rahul.
Rahul is still a bike person at heart. However, he now drives a car and plans to buy a Ducati Scrambler one day (of course after the permission of his family).
Apart from the love for speed and tech, Neha Chauhan, his wife, is the real love of his life.
A romantic at heart, Rahul got married to Neha in a destination wedding in Goa. It was just before the lockdown that the wedding took place. Rahul recalls, if not for the last-moment opportunity they got, the wedding would have been a Zoom event! The couple invited all their friends from school and college life, and Rahul says it was a dream wedding for the couple. Neha is an actress and has featured in several roles on the big and small screens.
And on how the duo met, Rahul answers, “We just bumped into each other one day and became the best of friends before expressing love for each other and getting married finally in Goa!”
Relating life with football
Rahul, who heads the technical teams at one of the most promising startups of India today, used to be a part of his college football team. He feels that being goalkeeper on the football team has helped him shape his professional as well as physical life.
“I have learned a lot of life lessons from the point of view of a goalkeeper. I see the work and collaborations that we do at Ideaforge as a football team analogy where different people have different roles, similar to positions you play in football,” he explains.
Explaining the difference between a goalkeeper and a striker in a football team he says, “A striker has to keep trying and convert two successes out of ten attempts. A goalkeeper on the other hand has to keep saving, and two failures out of ten attempts is a catastrophic failure.”
Each member of the team, as he learned while playing football, needs to understand the importance of their respective roles. Moreover, each individual also needs to understand the difference in each other’s roles while playing as a team.
“You may have done 90% of the things right but a small 10% error can make others complain about how your mistake made the team lose the game. It doesn’t just happen on the football field, it happens in real and professional life too,” he explains.
He adds, “Understanding and cherishing one’s role is the key to success on and off the field. Football has had that influence on me about things that surround me.” When asked if he relates his co-founders (Ideaforge team) to the football analogy he says.
“Ankit as CEO has been taking care of the business and customers, which means looking into sales and funding as well. His role has been that of a striker in the football team and that of the team manager. Vipul and I have had transitions of roles and we both have been goalkeepers here at Ideaforge. Ashish, who is already at the midfield, helps us in setting up the game. Mine and Ashish’s midfield roles include feeding the strikers with the right thing to go forward and score.”
Rahul’s favourite footballer happens to be German goalkeeper and captain Oliver Kahn. Rahul is also an ardent fan of the Formula 1 races. He used to dedicate his Sundays to the races, including pre- and post-race briefings, and everything else around the fast machines.
Anything for a friend
How much importance Rahul gives to his friends is evident from the Ideaforge team, where on more than one occasion he has proved what friendship really means to him. One of these incidents happened around the time when Rahul and his friends were about to graduate from IIT Bombay and hence decided to go for a road trip one last time.
“We decided to do this one long road trip together before graduating as some of the friends were moving to countries outside India,” recalls Rahul.
The plan which was initially for all his friends boiled down to just Rahul and another friend of his as others kept dropping out. Rahul’s bike was hit by a school bus on the day of the road trip and he ended up burning his back due to the hot exhaust of the bike. Rahul got medical treatment and decided to continue with the road trip as the friend accompanying him was to leave for Germany after the trip.
“I thought I couldn’t leave this opportunity and reschedule the road trip. The plan was to ride from Bombay to Bangalore, if possible, non-stop. I look back and find that to be a foolish decision now,” he says.
Though they wanted to complete the ride the same day, they didn’t leave early in the morning and started late.
“We started the road trip at 10am and got exhausted by the time we reached near Karnataka. My brother called me after dinner and told me to stay where we were and continue the journey in the morning. But we were high on this thing that it had to be non-stop and carried on with the ride late in the night,” recalls Rahul.
This is how Rahul met with an accident that almost killed him. There was some repair work going on at a stretch of the highway and Rahul fell nearly ten metres down in a canal along with his bike.
“There was no stop sign and I ran off a cliff. I fell 30 feet into a completely dry canal. My bike and I broke a lot of things in our body. My friend pulled me out of the canal with the help of some locals and I was rushed to a nearby hospital. I was informed of a broken back bone and shattered face,” he recalls about that road trip.
“We did two foolish things at that time. One we rushed into the road trip without carefully planning it and two we left for the road trip without having any medical insurance,” he says.
He adds, “It was once again my elder brother who came to the rescue. He rushed over after listening to what had happened to me and took care of me and all the medical bills. I still bank on him for all the decisions of my life.”
The drone view
The story behind Rahul and his friends coming together to start Ideaforge as a drone startup draws encouragement from their love for robotics. All the co-founders of Ideaforge see robotics as a game changer for humankind and see potential in the same to change the course of lives of humans.
“What I feel is, if someone is interested in physical sciences and devices to get things done, robotics is the end game for them. For me a fan is a robot, a light bulb is a robot. These are a combination of multiple things coming together to make something happen. This has always been the core area of interest to me,” he says.
Rahul adds, “Interestingly, I stumbled upon the co-founders of Ideaforge in IIT Bombay and they had the same view about sciences. It is because of the alignment of the same views we managed to start Ideaforge and have gone through the most challenging of times as founders and friends.”
The first thing these friends started working upon was a hovercraft in the IIT campus. Later, the hovercraft idea transcended to a quad-copter idea. The quad-copter made the co-founders realise the brilliance of the idea. They started reading more about quad-copters and were astonished to see how people from different geographies of the world were trying to work on the same idea.
“Back in 2003 we realised that this was something that Leonardo DiVinci had sketched about long-long back. We now knew that the concept had existed, and we also got hooked to its simplicity,” recalls Rahul.
He adds, “This project was one that neither relied on heavy electronics nor on heavy mechanical engineering. This required a good blend of both and was very simple in approach. Keeping things simple for making it work continues to be the best thing about it. Imagine a helicopter which needs thousands of parts to be active and then imagine quad-copters which are conveniently simple. That exact thought crossed our minds and Ideaforge was born.”
The journey of Ideaforge after that has been about optimising the already simple systems further in order to make them more efficient. The team at Ideaforge is now trying to build drone solutions for every part of the world.
Back in 2007, the friends came together and established a company that’s now turning every head in India, instead of going for full-time employment after IIT, due to lack of core product development jobs in the country back then. Rahul, who has done an internship at one of the biggest organisations in the country, feels that it was always product development that excited him, and continues to excite him.
“What I feel is that different industries in India need to collaborate and develop solutions for the entire world. We need to carve out a name for India in the hardware domain. If we were not there yesterday does not mean we can’t be there today or tomorrow,” says Rahul.
“Instead of having multiple small kingdoms fighting each other, it is good to have one large kingdom working towards one goal,” he adds.
Rahul’s future plans include taking Ideaforge global and transforming the company into a place where people enjoy working and create the best drone solutions possible. Who knows, Rahul and Ideaforge’s co-founders might step up to disrupt the automation and robotics industry soon, just like they have done in drones’ arena!