Dear Friend of Ashaya,
Everything isn’t always hunky-dory, especially in the start-up world. And we know this, but when you see it happening in slow motion, it’s quite daunting.
So far, we had really ridden our luck, making swift progress where it mattered – early breakthroughs, validated direction, and some sort of a home base that felt somewhat like home.
But the last three months has seen a mini-earthquake rattle that start, taking a quick couple of wickets along the way.
As Pune opened up to enterprise, we realized that the original lab space we had leased out was just not cutting it. Within five months, our electricity supply had been cut (literally) twice by the State Electricity Board because our landlord forgot to pay the bill for our shared space. Add other electric power limitations and some landlord drama to the potion, and it all capitulated into a hard truth – we’ve got to move.
Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Because now, we are in a new lab. It is definitely not Shangri-La, but it’s so much more functional and with a boat-load of power. Most importantly, I see Jitu, my co-founding Chief Scientist, at ease here. Even though our budget took a bit of a twist, we lost only one and a half days of work in the move. All in all, it seems like the right decision, at least so far.
We also turned over a colleague, pushing us further back, leaving us rapidly looking for a replacement. Our goal is to have our first product / prototype / MVP by the end of this year. By December 31st. Yes, we are drawing that as a hard deadline. And we still think we can make it happen, albeit there are quite a few things out of our control. Control, such a strange illusion.
Amidst these fireworks, there have also been some strands of carbon-free goodness. We got selected by The Incubation Network for their “Future of Flexibles” incubation program which flushed us with a gallon of validation that I think we secretly craved. It opened doors to mentors and peers and ideas and epiphanies, along with a healthy bout of imposter syndrome – we are the youngest social enterprise of the cohort, and we have so far to go.
We’ve also had promising conversations with the likes of SWaCH and Tetra Pak. SWaCH is keen to partner with us on our first pilot, and Tetra Pak seems curious about whether we’ve really cracked the tech we claim to have. We are getting there but are not there yet. And yes, there’s a fear that this “not-there-yet” phase might stretch endlessly.
We also placed an order for our extruder. That might sound irrelevant, but it’s probably the biggest capital investment we’ll make in the first couple of years of our existence. It was a sizeable chunk of money, and I transferred it over with a big gulp of air. It’s made-to-order, so takes about 12 weeks to manifest. It’s been 8 weeks already. We are excited and nervous and already hedging ourselves, because that 12-week timeline might quite easily become 16.
Meanwhile, our tech continues to scurry along. We have gotten more clarity and direction on where we need to go, and it’s exciting. But sometimes, it feels like we have little to show for it. It’s like a long journey with success pit-stops stretched so far apart that at times, progress isn’t quite visible.
We have brought on a part-time computational chemist to supplement our physical experimentation with simulations. But we’ve no clue whether it will work or not. The only significant thing we’ve learnt is that not many people are exploring this route. And there are fewer people exploring a combination of chemical synthesis, mechanical engineering, computational chemistry and machine learning. But it still somehow doesn’t feel overly complex. Maybe that’s because the steps we take each day seem simple.
There’s this nervous excitement when you start getting closer to the end of the research barrel, when even some of the papers you read say, “beyond this, even we don’t know.”
Or it might just be that we are delusional.
We’ll find out soon enough.
Here’s to calculated delusion,