MadRat games is a venture started by a few IIT grads that are actually taking a bottoms-up approach to changing the education system in India. The venture is started by Madhumita Halder, Manuj Dhariwal and Rajat Dhariwal. They all moved from the software world to teaching young children and now, running the games startup.
Cofounder Rajat, after his MS from Carnegie Mellon University came back to India and instead of taking up a corporate job, he (and other cofounders) took up a job of Teacher at Rishi Valley School, a Bangalore based residential school.
After 4 years of teaching at Rishi Valley school, the team decided to launch MadRat games, a company that develops board games for Indian Languages. While teaching, the team realized that there are ways to get kids to learn without getting into the incentives (or carrots?) of ‘you have to be the number 1, you have to be the first’.
So while researching, the team found out that there were hardly any word games in Hindi and while games like Scrabble existed for more than 30 world languages, but none in Indian languages.
“Hence we studied the differences between English and Hindi and it was not long before we realized the obstacles one would have to go past in order to create such a game. Moreover being a game, the solution had to be very simple to understand yet so unique and novel that no one had ever chanced upon it. Akshari achieves this through the inclusion of certain unique features which have emerged through years of thorough research into Hindi and various Indian languages, consultation with experts both in the field of languages and design, considerable intuitive insights, and extensive playtesting with adults and children.”
MadRat Games’ flagship product is Aksharit – the first Indian language word game (i.e. Indian Scrabble). The game has reached 3000 schools in 1.5 yrs through four state govt partnership. Also, digital versions have been launched in partnership with Nokia (on 5 Lakh touchphones), Intel (AppUp store) and Google (official partner for Chromebook’s India launch).
The team has taken a B2B approach to selling the boardgames, but has now started retailing the games at malls, i.e. approaching consumers directly.
The Focus on Local Language
A basic question for MadRat team is whether they are in the business of local language support or in the business of building board games. The present product is a good overlap, but I am just not sure how many Tier-I city residents would like to buy local language games, as opposed to original Scrabble etc.
From an earlier article (Why Indian Languages Failed to make a mark Online!):
English is an aspirational language. Nothing official about it!
It can be confidently said that the percentage of users who will read/write/speak English language will keep growing for next 50 to 100 years. The same cannot be said about Indic languages.
Having said that, the team has done a beautiful job of simplifying the complex scripts and matras (just a fyi: there are 26 letters in English and 600 in Hindi!).
Overall, a very interesting and inspiring startup that has managed to create its own niche without getting into the regular humdrum of “this won’t work because <bureaucracy/add any other reason”, i.e. excuses we often have for not doing our own bit in changing the world.
Aside, do check out this great piece of story telling by the team (click for a better resolution).