BumpTop makes organizing your computer desktop a three-dimensional experience. Things can bump together and be stacked in piles just like on a real desk. The software can be integrated with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to simplify such tasks as uploading and sharing photos.
The idea of things "bumping and colliding" came to Anand Agarawala when he was falling asleep in a computer animation class at the University of Toronto. He found "throwing stuff around" on a touch screen engaging, so he decided to make it his thesis for a master's in computer science.
The result? Mr. Agarawala was named one of Business Week's top 20 young tech entrepreneurs of 2009. BumpTop was released for Windows in April of that year, and the company recently launched a version for Mac.
"The creation part is fun," says Mr. Agarawala, now 28 and founder and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Bump Technologies Inc. "You have this idea in your head and you just start doing it."
Anand Agarawala's master's thesis evolved into replacement for standard folders-and-files system
When he started his master's, he initially thought of creating a video program - the user would be able to slice up a video and reassemble it in blocks. But it evolved into the desktop organizer it is now. "You just throw an idea out there, get your professor's feedback, then iterate on it. The hardest part was writing up the research paper to make it sound academic."
The business side was a new challenge. He says he didn't have a clue about how to build a business.
"I'm flying by the seat of my pants," says Mr. Agarawala. "We actually had some interest from some of the big tech companies early on, to hire me and bring the technology in. But I thought there's something bigger here. We got 3 million views on YouTube [when he posted a video of his master's thesis] so there's got to be something to it."
Even before Mr. Agarawala decided to start a company, he patented his ideas "just in case" in 2006. Then he received an offer to present his invention in California at TED, an annual conference on technology, entertainment and design. Chris Anderson, curator of TED, had caught the YouTube video of BumpTop and was impressed. That gave Mr. Agarawala a chance to take BumpTop to another level.
"It opened tons of doors because I was standing on the stage with Bill Clinton and Sir Richard Branson," says Mr. Agarawala. "It was a huge opportunity for me and the company."
Then came $1.65-million in angel and venture capital from such investors as GrowthWorks Capital and Extreme Venture Partners, and angel investor Andy Hertzfeld, a key Macintosh software designer. BumpTop was incorporated in 2007.
The company's biggest challenge, says Mr. Agarawala, is that they have so many things on the go that it's hard to make progress on all of them. The company recently hired a Harvard MBA to help with the business side.
"I've got to refocus more on product, especially if we're going to maintain our lead," says Mr. Agarawala. "We're playing in the touch market and that market is emerging. We're willing to take the risk of entering when it's small, which means we can grow and become one of the dominate players."
While Mr. Agarawala believes that getting to market quickly is important, he says the patent system makes it difficult. It's hard to get good public feedback without first getting a patent to protect yourself; legally, you have to do it before public disclosure, he says. Then make sure you're building a product that people actually want.