The smart calculator supports Wi-Fi and there is a mobile app that shows the transaction on your smartphone.
A year ago, Praveen Mishra, the co-founder of Tohands, thought making a ‘smart’ calculator would be a stupid idea and nobody would want it. But when he saw a woman running a small store in Sarjapura, Bengaluru, struggling to keep track of all the transactions, Mishra realised the importance of a ‘smart’ calculator that also records the data.
“When I met the lady, I found that she used to calculate the final amount on the calculator and write it on the paper and then at the end of the day she will again calculate the final amount using a calculator,” Mishra told indianexpress.com in a video interview.
“Calculators have a basic use case but we can do a lot of things on top of the calculation part, which is where we think the smart calculator will be a really good tool for the shopkeepers,” said Mishra explaining the idea behind turning a humble calculator into ‘connected’ one.
Mishra, who is from Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, started Tohands in 2017 along with Satyam Sahu and Shanmuga Vadival. All three co-founders handle different domains of the business, with Mishra looking at the product side of things, Sahu taking care of the app and software and Vadival in charge of hardware.
Backbone of small businesses
Mishra observed that small business owners are neither comfortable using the digital khata cash book mobile apps nor do they have the resources to invest in expensive billing machines. What they prefer is a simple calculator to perform the regular computations that are involved in everyday life. “The backbone of small businesses in India is still a calculator, whether you go from a jewellery store to a Kirana store,” he said.
This was when Mishra, 21, decided to reimagine the calculator but the challenge was how to make it better. After all, calculators have already proven to be devices that are a fast and convenient way to do calculations in minutes, all at the push of a few buttons.
The first version of the ‘smart’ calculator Mishra developed was a Raspberry Pi-powered prototype of a device, featuring a keyboard and two buttons—one for credit and another for debit. Mishra then went to a few shopkeepers and showed the prototype device to gauge their interest in the smart calculator. Initially, they managed to take seven pre-orders of the device but Mishra and team soon started work on version two of the calculator.
The second version was a much more polished product and featured the calculation functionality as well as the credit and debit feature but the screen was small and the device used a membrane keyboard. It was after only the startup got selected at T-hub, an incubation centre for IT startups at Raidurgam in Hyderabad, Mishra and team got motivated to take another shot at hardware and level up the design to make a smart calculator a reality. The third version of the smart calculator, which is now available for pre-order on the company’s website, is more user-friendly and can do a lot more than the first and second versions combined.
Mishra is selling the calculator for Rs 3000.
Emphasis on small things
He said they applied the principle of MAYA (Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable). For instance, the button pattern on this smart calculator reminds you of what you see on a Casio or Citizen calculator. “If I replace your Casio calculator with my calculator, you should not feel the difference,” he said. However, there are subtle changes that are unique to this calculator. The memory buttons on the calculator have been made small to accommodate the cash-in and cash-out buttons, for which Mishra’s startup has applied for a patent.
“The size of the calculator is big and not a small one and it was by choice because we do not want our calculator to be thrown around in the shop. We wanted it to be a countertop calculator,” he said.
While designing the product, Mishra said a lot of emphasis was put on little things, like bigger buttons keeping the shopkeeper’s preference in mind. The cash-in and cash-out buttons, for instance, come in green and red so that a shopkeeper knows when they press the green button it means the sale has been completed and the red colour symbolises the expense.
The basic idea behind the smart calculator isn’t any different from a traditional calculator. Like a regular calculator, you can do basic calculations. The difference comes when you can record those calculations and here’s where the ‘smart’ angle comes in. The connected calculator supports Wi-Fi and there is a mobile app that shows the transaction on your smartphone. There is a 16MB built-in memory, which can store 5 million transactions. The device comes with a 2400mAh rechargeable battery, a USB-C port for charging, and a dot-matrix display.
Although it’s a calculator, Mishra said it plans to roll out new features and improve capabilities via OTA updates. Think of how Apple or Google push out new software updates on their smartphones. In the future, the smart calculator will have the ability to record who you paid to or who you got paid from, essentially capturing the details of the customer. This will help the shopkeeper record the name and mobile numbers of their customers. Having access to data of their customers means the shopkeeper can record transactions and remember who has taken udhaar and when is the due date to repay the loan.
The smart calculator has been designed and manufactured in India. The current plan is to build 2000 units per month and gradually expand it to 1 lakh units by next year. To reach out to a broad base of consumers, especially in rural areas of India, Mishra is looking at three types of distribution channels that include reselling, partnering with companies like PayNearby and selling the device directly to consumers through its own website and listing on e-commerce platforms like Amazon. The startup has so far received Rs 30 lakh as investment from the T-hub Startup India Seed Fund and another Rs 20 lakh from angel investors. Mishra will use the money to manufacture the smart calculator.
Mishra’s company is one of the few active startups that is making an attempt at hardware. Designing and building a hardware product has never been easy in India, which is the reason why a country with a population of over a billion people lacks specialised hardware startups.
“To be really honest, it’s very hard,” Mishra said, adding that in hardware, it requires an early adapter and in India, customers are not early adapters.” “They want finished products because our expectations are really high and when a local company doesn’t live up to their expectations, they prefer to get a good quality product from the outside market,” he added.