I wish CoolJunk existed when I was in school. Me and my friends could’ve made a lot of cool stuff using their Basic Electronics Do It Yourself (DIY) kit. CoolJunk is a Delhi based start-up company setup by Gurpawan Mand. CoolJunk makes this amazing DIY electronics kit which students can use to build circuits of different complexities. CoolJunk believes in enabling students with practical learning ways to understand science and technology better. We visited the CoolJunk office in Delhi and met with Gurpawan himself to find out more about what CoolJunk does and their pioneering product. I was amazed to see the quality of work they are bringing out from that small office, right from the package quality of the kit box, the leaning material to video content quality and obviously the innovative kit itself; everything is simply WOW. And that’s what they are aiming for: to give their customers a complete wow experience.
Gurpawan in an exclusive conversation with LifeBeyondNumbers(LBN) talks about CoolJunk, business, education and more.
LBN: How did CoolJunk start?
Gurpawan: When I was a child, I loved watching Junkyard Wars and loved breaking things down. I did that in my backyard storehouse built by my grandfather which was full of all kinds of junk. But as I grew up, board exams and entrance preparations took it all away. When I got into engineering I hoped to do all of that again, but I was disappointed. It was more theoretical learning and people just assumed things based on the studies. We didn’t test, we assumed. I wanted to apply what I learned and experiment. You know, I used to sell Diwali lights in my school days when I got to learn about serial and parallel combinations (laughs..). I always had this in my mind that I wanted to start something of my own. In 2007, I felt the need to promote technology literacy in schools. I thought let’s play junkyard wars in schools. I approached my batch-mates and juniors and they bought into my vision. A group of 15 engineers worked day and night in my house in Delhi, in one room and we built cool stuff out of junk. Then we demonstrated our wok in schools: how to make machines from junk. Students totally loved our work and a lot of them started asking us if we had a kit for this, do we teach how to do this. And then this idea struck. Create technology out of junk, which is pretty cool. So we are CoolJunk.
We started out as research group in 2007 and then slowly and eventually we turned into a company in 2010. We had already built one kit and then we thought now it was time to make the market version of the same. We were getting a lot of inquiries from all over India and globally. So the company was incorporated in 24th August 2010. We developed this product with 2 ½ years of research and worked with 1600 students. Last year we raised the seed round of funding from a couple of investors.
LBN: Tell us about this cool Do It Yourself (DIY) Kit that CoolJunk has developed.
Gurpawan: The Kit-1 basically built for 9th standard to 12th standard students. Also engineering students, B.Sc., M.Sc., B.Tech students can use it. This first kit is based on fundamental electronics. So this much electronics everyone can and should do.
This is our first kit and it’s the basic one. We will be introducing the second kit which will be based on integrated circuits (IC). The Kit 3 will be based on sensors. And then there’s Kit 4 which is based on programming. So you see, we’ve developed a complete course ware. All our kits will be completely DIY and that’s what we are trying to promote. Our kits are completely standalone: you don’t need a teacher or a YouTube video to use our kits. Everything is there in the kit including the troubleshooting guide. So if you are stuck with an experiment, you don’t need to call us, you can go to the troubleshooting guide and start troubleshooting on your own. Even the packaging of the kit is such that it’s not just a packaging, it is a complete workstation. We have designed everything keeping that in mind. It also emerges from the fact that we learn by ourselves. Learning is a very personalized process. No one can force learning on anyone.
We have got a 9 hour video library on DVD that is packaged with the kit. So as I said, the kit is totally standalone, which when opened, the packaging itself becomes the lab – the workstation with all the components, DVDs, books, troubleshooting guide, et al.
LBN: What is the company strength right now?
Gurpawan: We are a team of 7 people who work full time. We have got advisors such as Ramgopal Vallath (ex-COO, iDiscoveri). We have got very good people mentoring us, on the technology front and on the business side. Our investors support us a lot. They bring huge value in terms of experience. We will be going for our next round of investment soon after we reach a certain milestone that we have in our road-map.
LBN: What’s in pipeline for CoolJunk in the next 5-10 years? What are your expansion plans?
Gurpawan: We will be increasing our team size, invest in operations, invest in more product lines. As I told you, we have already done the research on further kits, so we need to do the development.
In a product business you need a lot of investment. You’ve got to have inventories in place, warehouses, production, and there are a lot of elements of development. We do book production, we do film production, we do inventory development, conceptualization, we develop interfaces. So, all these things require a huge team size. Also we need to have a very strong operation. Operation plays a major role in a product business. So if somebody orders a kit from Chennai, we need to be there in Chennai. So we will strengthen our operations also.
And we will invest in research. We are not going to limit ourselves to electronics as a subject. We will be venturing into other technology subjects such as biotechnology, genetics, rocketry, etc.
LBN: Can you talk more on the benefits of practical learning? How is the Indian education system placed in that regard?
Gurpawan: We all know there’s a lot of inherent value once you do the practical learning. Science and technology without practical learning is not complete. A student of medicine cannot learn to do a surgery just by reading textbooks; he/she needs to dissect bodies and learn practically.
In my opinion, India is more a theory oriented economy. We have developed that habit of mugging up a lot and writing exams. We are lacking in creativity and skills. So at CoolJunk, we want to help students become better practical learners, we want to make amazing tools for meaningful, wishful and playful learning. Until and unless, that whole idea doesn’t come into the education scenario where people are able to practically apply the concepts that they learn in textbooks and correlate what they learning in their daily lives, they are not going to appreciate the subject. So then it will be that game only: give exams and get marks. And at the end of the day we’ll have people who have degrees but no skill or knowledge.
LBN: How are students and parents reacting to the kit?
Gurpwawan: We have been getting fantastic response from students and parents. They are just loving CoolJunk. And that’s why we exist. First of all it’s an unique concept, introduced for the first time in India. We have no direct competition in the market as of now. We build our kits of supreme quality. And we want to beat our own standards each and every time. So, the only challenge we have right now is how to get millions of students, parents and families to know about CoolJunk.
LBN: How are you going about getting the CoolJunk Kit into the market?
Gurpawan: We are tied up with many schools and we market the kit there. The schools give us the opportunity to demonstrate our product in front of the students. We conduct an orientation session where we show the students amazing stuff that can be done with the kit, different kinds of circuits that can be built with this kit. When students see these circuits they get very excited, they see how physics can be applied to daily life. So it’s more fun that way rather than getting limited to text books. Right now we are demonstrating it in Delhi/NCR and the product is available for order on our website with doorstep delivery.
We are also looking to tie up with third party companies who tie up with schools for supplying all over India.
LBN: What is your grand vision with CoolJunk?
Gurpawan: We are the pioneers of a new industry, which we call Personal Learning Kits. We aim to be a global product company and be the world’s largest innovation powerhouse for these kits. And we want to make these kit more and more intelligent. I’ll give you an example: a 12 year old girl comes to know about genes, and goes to her dad asking a lot of questions about genes. So what the father does is – goes to CoolJunk’s website and orders the CoolJunk Basic Genetics Kit. And the kit is delivered at the doorstep. Now, the moment this girl opens the kit, the kit will speak. For instance, it will say, “Hello! I am Lisa and I am your personal trainer. Can you bring your communication device (laptop, tablet or mobile phone) closer to me? I want to show you a video.” It shows her a video about genetics, inspiring her to learn more about it. The kit then gets her to start experimenting on genes: she picks up a test tube from the kit. So you know, that’s the kind of learning tools that we want to give to students. That is our vision. We want to impact millions of students around the world. We want to give them things that they can feel, touch, play with and experiment with. Rather than just imagining or visualizing the things that they read in books.
The vision that CoolJunk has is definitely promising. CoolJunk has the potential to change the very way science and technology is learnt and taught. We would keep following the developments of CoolJunk to see how they carve a new space in the educational ecosystem. Team LBN wishes them the very best!