“At first, even I didn’t think it was possible,” quipped Suneet Singh Tuli, maker of the world’s cheapest net access and computing device priced at just $45. But he is talking of the old times when the idea of a cheap computer was still laughable for a world brought up on the staple diet of hi-tech devices that serve more as symbols than anything else.
Today, everything is possible. “If India can usher in a mobile revolution, why not an Internet revolution? A rickshaw puller, who has a cell phone today, can have a computer tomorrow. Our client is not the man who can afford the iPhone. Our client is the man on the street who still reveres the computer.
“We want to end that reverence by making the device as simple as a toy – that common, that easy,” said the Ludhiana-born, 43-year-old Sikh entrepreneur, who, along with his brother Raja Tuli, gave body to India’s vision of producing cheap laptops as educational tools for the poorest of students.
The government was looking for $35 bid, but $49.98 was the closest it got, with Tuli bagging the contract. “I still remember that day. I was in the lounge of IIT Rajasthan at Jodhpur waiting for the results when the other lowest bidders started teasing me. They asked me if I had done the calculations right. I was so anxious that I called my brother back home in North Alberta to check. Luckily, all went well,” recounted Suneet, whose family migrated from Ludhiana to Iran in 1976.
Few would know that their first business venture was “Witefax”, the world’s biggest fax machine which the Guinness recorded as such in 1992. Ask Suneet of its history and he says, “Necessity is the mother of invention. In 1989, the fax machine had just appeared, but it could not do our engineering documents. So we invested in a project to develop our kind of machine which turned out to be the biggest world over.”
But even with a history of invention and 18 US patents on a technology that enhances the speed of downloading on Internet, the Tulis were not sure about “Aakash”. Providence, however, ensured that they bid for it.
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