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Famous Parenting brings a livewire young Mom and a hands on Entrepreneur

Ms. Madhumita Halder

Co-Founder & COO, SuperSuit for our celebrity Interview this week.

Madhumita Haldar Main Photo

Studying computer science at IIT Bombay, teaching kids at a school, running a board games start-up and creating a futuristic wearable gaming platform, may seem to have little connecting it all, but that has been Madhumita’s journey so far.

After graduation, she felt a calling to work with children to help them discover their inner self and left her corporate career to teach at an alternate education centre in India for 4 years. She co-founded a board games start-up, which was awarded as the Top Ten Indian Innovators & Top Ten Startups in Asia.

The frustration of how technology had ignored kids’ play, Madhumita founded SuperSuit. SuperSuit is world’s first wearable gaming platform. SuperSuit received an overwhelming response at CES 2016 with its prototype launch. It was featured among the WIRED & MASHABLE’s list of Coolest Gear at CES 2016.

Madhumita has been recognized by Fortune India amongst the ’40 Under 40′ Business Leaders of 2016. She is an INK Fellow and the recipient of the prestigious Bharat Jyoti Award 2014 for outstanding performance in the field of education. Above all, Madhumita is a spiritual seeker and focused on her journey within.

Here is a candid and freewheeling chat with the hyper energetic Madhumita.

Please connect the dots of your childhood that made you the person you are.

As a kid I was always a hyper active girl – good at academics, interested in drawing, pain­­­ting and loved making friends and fighting with them. I won many arts competitions at school, secured 94% in CBSE Board Exams and made it to IIT in my very first attempt.

Like every child I loved role play games and one of my favourite ones was to play the role of a teacher. I would save my old notebooks and would correct them with a red pen and give remarks.

I grew up in a normal middle class household, not financially rich but creatively affluent. I remember this one incident when I wanted to become a member of Maggi Club. If I did so I would get these cool DIY toys all for free! We had to collect and send 5 Maggi wrappers to them for every toy. Eating Maggi back then was a luxury that we didn’t have. You won’t believe what I did…I started foraging dustbins and garbage drains near my house for the wrappers. I did that for almost a year and collected all the toys in the catalogue!

How has your formal education shaped your life?

Since I enjoyed studying, I always scored well. When I cracked IIT and landed at IIT Mumbai to pursue B.Tech (Computer Science), I stumbled hard on this step of the ladder. I realised that I was a misfit! I thought if I work harder I can make it.  I worked hard and guess what – I failed in one of the subjects! I thought to myself…am I the same person who topped in her class all her life? Like before I was determined and pushed myself even more. I stayed back in the summers and completed the course and scored one of the highest grades in that course. So, my time in IIT was full of anxious moments and confused states, as if someone just pulled the earth from below my feet!

I got into DRDO, Bangalore via campus placement, but I wanted to work in a creative space (by that time I started realising why I was a misfit at IIT – I was a creative person, I should have been in an Arts college not an engineering college. Since I was doing well in school – I got conditioned into thinking engineering is the way to go). So I started looking at companies where I can be in a creative environment doing programming – I wanted to make sure whatever I learnt in the last 4 years did not go waste!

I started working with Rhythm and Hues, one of the world’s top 3 special effects companies of early 2000s. After 8 months of watching the animators, directors, expressing themselves in their work – I had enough! I was sitting right next to them and coding. I went through a lot of turmoil and finally was ready to let go of all the education I had had and take the leap of faith and start from zero! I was ready to find out what am I supposed to do on this planet? What was my purpose? Why did I decide to take a human form? This body has come from the earth (My mom ate vegetables – when she was pregnant, which took nutrients from air and soil and water..and those became my body) and when I die these will be returned back to earth – so in this brief time when those elements chose to take this form…what is this form supposed to do???

Then started my journey of unlearning. I quit my job and got married to my batch-mate Rajat Dhariwal, who was also searching for his real calling. I tinkered along for some time while he finished his MS at CMU, US. And then we decided to move to Rishi Valley School, Bengaluru to teach middle school students. I wanted to spend time with kids and see how they grow and in turn figure out the life questions lingering in my head. We taught there for 4 years. We taught middle school kids science, without using a single text book! All our teachings were through games and activities. We focused on ‘How to Learn’ rather than ‘What to learn’. No matter which topic we were teaching, every kid in our class felt confident about themselves and gave their best. I felt revived and energized with kids. Rajat would research a lot about Global Educational Trends and Learning Interventions. During each vacation, we would visit different Indian Schools and learn about innovative methods (Montessori, Waldorf) used by passionate teachers in schools like

  • CFL(A class had only 4 kids!),
  • Abhaya School (The teacher would go with the student to the next grade and do this for 7 years),
  • Jyoti Public School (Students from rural villages were as smart as any high-end city school. Kudos to the principal who designed the curriculum for his students such that they were not dependent on the limitation of their teachers who were not that qualified or motivating.)

After 4 years, we wanted to reach out to more kids and so started MadRat Games – a board games start-up in 2010.

How has your journey as an Entrepreneur been? Please share some anecdotal moments of this road less travelled.

We started MadRat Games with our flagship product – Aksharit, which was world’s first hindi language board game. We started by selling to government schools, created online versions of the game for Nokia, Google, Intel’s platforms and then started retailing in toy shops. Since then we have created more than 80 titles and sold more than half a million units across 2000 retail stores in India. MadRat Games is a loved brand today.

As a women entrepreneur, it is not easy in the Men’s world. I remember people would not notice you in the first meeting. They might see you by the end of the meeting or the second meeting or after few email exchanges! Since I was raised like a boy – my father never treated his 3 daughters like ladies. We grew up to be rough-n-tough. I would wonder why that was the case for the longest time…then one day it dawned upon me and then from next meeting I was cool about it – ‘Chalo ab yeh bhi second meeting me notice karega!’

It has been an amazing journey – after 6 years of being an entrepreneur, I feel I have learnt much more than I could have in any college or school.

With Her Team

“Technology can enable women to find their true voice. Technology, if used for self-growth, can offer avenues to women which were unavailable earlier”. Your comments.

Technology has made things easier and more accessible to women. Like anyone can make a movie and share it with the world with YouTube. Anyone can share what they are feeling today, not only with their family but with all their friends from college or office through Facebook/WhatsApp etc.  It has given the slight nudge that was needed by all those women who were on the edge! ‘Should I do it or not? How will I do it? And voila!!!…Just login, create a page and share! It has become that easy.

How has your motherhood contributed to you as an individual and as a woman who loves her work? Share your dilemmas and dreams. 

For the longest time, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to become a mother or not. I did not deal with this question for a long time. I always felt that I was not ready to take care of another life when I could not figure out my own life as perfectly as I wanted to. It took me some time to realise that a child will not be owned by me. We as parents can only act as gardeners to our children. A gardener tends to every plant without judging it and gives his/her complete attention without expecting anything from the saplings.

Once I imbibed the gardener analogy, I was confident of becoming a mother. Also Madratgames, our first start-up, felt like a baby to both of us. We have been nurturing this baby with all our might for many years now. Whenever the entrepreneurial road became very bumpy and prompted us to quit, we convinced ourselves to march on and fight as one does not gives up on a baby.

1

My 10 months old baby boy, Joy arrived last year and he is my second baby. As a biological mother now, I am so involved in his every-day life. It is so interesting to see him change and evolve every-day. I am very conscious about how I behave and think around him. This makes me aware of my own mental biases and stereotypes.

We talk to our infants and tell them things like “You are a Good Boy” when the concept of good and bad is alien to them and should not be introduced like a norm. I am trying to be more open towards changing my psychological conditioning like all mothers.

Talk about three people who have had the most profound influence on you.

I have a profound love for my Father. His parents died before he was born, so he was raised by his relatives. He gave an amazing childhood to all four of us. He has been a true inspiration for the way he has turned his life around from being a refugee to raising four kids and giving them the opportunity of good living – we have two IITians, a Doctor and a MBA and above all 4 good human beings! One would love spending time with us.

My Mother is a women of substance. She is a role model for us and many others in the family. She is an avid gardener and social worker. She would plant trees around the colony where we lived, sometimes inviting wrath of neighbours who would not hesitate in burning those shoots by pouring acid. But she would continue to plant and nurture those trees. It is a real pleasure to see many tall trees in the colony which were planted by her decades ago.

My Husband Rajat, is the biggest support and inspiration for being a very calm and balanced individual. He focuses on the right questions during the darkest of times. Choosing him was like sowing a seed whose benefits I would reap my whole life.

With Her Husband

Please tell us about Supersuit. How did it all start and how has the experience been?

SuperSuit really came out of a frustration of seeing how technology had ignored kids’ play, specifically outdoor play. Screens are so powerful that they end up making kids passive and in the name of ‘interactivity’ all that kids end up doing is tapping the screen few times to move the narrative forward. All the so called ‘future of gaming’ tech of VR & AR are for adults. SuperSuit brings tech to outdoor play for the first time, without kids having to look at the world through a screen. Their bodies become the ‘controllers’ & the environment overlaid with an active imagination is the ‘screen’.  This space of having a digital overlay over physical, has been validated by the success of Pokemon Go in a big way. Visit supersuit.io for more details.

Last two months, we’ve tested with over 300 kids in the US via collaboration with SJ Museum to testing at parks and individuals’ backyards & it is heartening to see the joy in parents’ eyes at seeing kids run around, interacting socially and forgetting about screens.

SuperSuit got an overwhelming response at CES & MWC, with WIRED & Mashable featuring it amongst the Coolest Gear this year. It got backed by visionaries, who have themselves changed fundamental user behavior at massive scales. Ratan Tata, founders of Flipkart / Ola / Freshdesk and Blume Ventures have infused fresh funding to back SuperSuit. This takes the total funds raised to $2.3m.

Your philosophy of life in a sentence.

 The worldly side of me says – ‘Train Hard, Fight Easy’ I read it while I was biking in Ladakh near an army camp. The spiritual side of me says – ‘Stay Calm and Move Mountains’.

Tell us about your future plans.

Gaming is about to change forever & for the better. Kids are spending their last few months addicted to screens, slouched & couched! SuperSuit, is here to change that. SuperSuit is a big bold vision of the Future of Play. We got such great response for SuperSuit at CES 2016 that we moved with our 10 month old to the US with a blink of an eye. We are looking forward to redefining outdoor play with Supersuit.

The spiritual seeker inside me continues to embark my inner journey. I continue to question my life, my purpose and train my mind to be limitless.

What would you like to convey to those moms who have dreams and ideas but they feel bogged down by family and social responsibilities.

I feel if the fire inside is strong, it will burn its way out! It will burn its way through the excuses or constraints or fear and will shine. So my question to all those moms is – Is your fire strong enough?

 

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