How winning a contest turned a hobby project into a full-fledged startup – The 4Dea Story

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On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we visited 4Dea’s offices in IIT Gandhinagar to meet Preet Shah and Dhyey Shah – co-founders of 4Dea. They, along with classmates Eepsit Tiwari and Ankit Pandole founded 4Dea in November 2014, while they were still in the final year of engineering in IIT Gandhinagar. “We had actually taken this up in our second year itself, says Dhyey; who had started working on the first prototype in Dec 2012 after seeing a tourist app and how California was showcased so beautifully. “I wanted to do something for my home-city Ahmedabad”, says Dhyey, “so I wrote the code from scratch for Android, added maps and incorporated google street view in that app”

There is a magnificent chowk near Doshiwada ni Pol where you can see 3 different eras of architectural design standing in a single place. “When I tried to explain this to my friends via the still photos I had clicked, it did not give the same feel of the place that I had experienced. I had read about 360-degree panoramic photography, and was amazed by the possibility that people can actually experience the feeling of being in that very place! We wanted to do something that the people should be able to communicate in a very effective manner. That’s how 4D Gujarat was born” (That’s what they called their “initiative” in those days)

“You need a fish-eye lens to shoot a panorama”, explains Dhyey. “But we did not have the money to buy a good entry-level lens, so I figured out a way to make the pano using video-shooting techniques, and used Google Maps’ API to make the Pano Viewer. Using these, we made several panos of the famous Ahmedabad Heritage Walk, and people loved it! They were amazed at the fact that they could be in control of what they want to see in that scene. So we decided to pursue it further”

After that, they went through so many ups and downs “We had no idea that in the next 12 months, we would make a product, lose hope in the idea, would explore other ideas with other people, come back to it eventually, and get our first big contract. The team underwent some fundamental changes in the entire process.”

In September 2013, they presented their Idea to a panel from the Connecticut-based charitable organization called the Indira Foundation. The panelists agreed to give them a seed amount of INR 2 lakhs. “We FINALLY got the money to buy our cameras and equipment!” Using these newly bought lenses, they started shooting a project to woo the Gujarat Tourism office. The plan was, they would make a comprehensive application, which would include everything in the Heritage walk, from transport to food stalls to virtual tours. However, they realized midway that they had to do an unreasonable amount of data collection and tie-ups with local enterprises for the project to work. “It was not an appropriate point for us, as students, to start our venture, so we had to drop the idea”.

We wanted to convey a real scenario so we did a bit of research , went on the streets till we got a glimpse of Delhi Darwaza. It’s a 500 year old monument which is standing right at a busy street of Ahmedabad. It had paan stains all over it , the benches which were installed there were also facing garbage in front of them. It felt heart wrenching to see a piece of history in this situation.

Dropping the core idea can be difficult for the morale of a team. “The motivation was low, we started questioning whether it could work out. The team disintegrated, and we all started thinking of new ideas separately. It was a low point for us”, recalls Preet. Because of the prize money from Indira Foundation, they also had to meet deadlines and present their progress to them every few months. That was what encouraged the team to be proactive and improve on their product. “We had a rough version of the software ready (Dhyey had been developing a new viewer for 4D Gujarat, much more advanced than the initial one using Google Maps’ API) We had thought that once we complete the requirements, we would pass it on to the students of IIT Gandhinagar to take it forward as they seem fit”

At this point of time, all founders were involved in their own different entrepreneurial ventures. Eepsit and Ankit were developing some kind of a network for travelers, while Preet and Dhyey had ventured into the home-automation space. Meanwhile, to gain some exposure, they continued presenting whatever they created for 4D Gujarat in exhibitions and technical summits. During the Industrial Open House in IIT Gandhinagar in September 2014, they came across a quotation of INR 7000 per spot (one spot is one panoramic image. A tour generally consists of 12-15 panos on average). “We had no clue we were creating something of so much value!”

Hence, it was discussed that Dhyey would fine-tune the software for Eepsit and Ankit, who would take it up and create the company, while Preet and Dhyey can continue chasing their dream in home-automation. Still, as Dhyey had made the software and was deeply involved with the 4D Gujarat vision, he just couldn’t let go. “I used to make incremental changes to the software every now and then and go to Eepu, just to know how the company was doing”.

So, one fine evening in November 2014, the four founders (Eepsit, Ankit, Dhyey and Preet) met in the dorm rooms of IIT Gandhinagar, opted out of campus placements and created the company 4Dea. They were in their final year of engineering studies. “It was a momentous occasion. Although we had been working on different ideas, those ups and downs in the past few months actually brought the team closer. We were unsure about ourselves, but had complete confidence and faith in each other and the idea. So, even though we didn’t know whether we would be able to swim, we jumped anyways”

It has been a memorable ride since then. “We managed to do 3 projects even before we graduated! We even presented the IIT Gandhinagar tour in Vibrant Gujarat. It gave us unprecedented recognition and appraisal.” After graduation, their progress has been commendable. “We are constantly improving our software, and have also diversified our sources of revenue. We optimized our business plan, and are working on an innovative upgrade to the virtual reality tours”, describes Preet. 4Dea is currently assisting several real estate companies in Mumbai to better showcase their buildings & homes online, and simultaneously working towards increasing the online presence of prime hotels across the country through their tours.

“But somehow, we always go back to that seed fund by Indira Foundation. Had it not been for their 2 lakhs and corresponding deadlines, the four of us would be having two different startups serving 2 really varied sectors” Dhyey jokes.

So what is that one thing they learnt the most?

“We have changed so many things, that now we are used to change. When things change, we don’t panic like we did earlier. Now we embrace it!”

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