Order of innovation
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Order of innovation

An MIT dropout from India is changing how Silicon Valley places orders. Yashwant Raj reports.

gadgets Updated: Mar 25, 2012 00:28 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Yashwant Raj,Rajat Suri,Presto

A 24-year-old should have been very scared of a recession that was wrecking lives all around. But, that was Rajat Suri’s advantage. At his age, a recession is no scarier than a week without beer!

Presto, a tablet-based waiter, was born just when the financial world was in meltdown. And its founder, a young Massachusetts Institute of Technology dropout, had no idea what he was getting into.

Suri was sold on an idea that struck him while on a night out with college friends. They wanted to split the bill. It’s then that the idea for Presto was born. This tablet lets you splits bills and do much more. In effect, it empowers diners to take charge of their meal and drinks.

Over 300 US restaurants, including a favourite with Silicon Valley icons such as Steve Jobs, have switched to Presto, a tablet about the same size as an iPad.

Presto takes orders, the waiting staff serves. “It’s just good business for them,” says Suri. That dinner with friends at a Boston restaurant did it for Suri, a second generation Indian American, who grew up in Toronto and Abu Dhabi, and loves cricket.

Suri was studying chemistry at MIT. But once the idea struck him, all he could do was think about his project. MIT is where another famous Indian-origin American started out -- Amar Bose, whose Bose speakers have made him rich. Luckily for Suri, he found an early believer in Krishna Gupta, another Indian-origin MIT student. Gupta and a few friends were already running a small venture fund to back start-ups like Suri’s.

Gupta and the other investors in his group gave Suri $100,000, which is not much as start-ups go, but it was enough for the young innovators to press on with their plans. E la carte, a play on French a la carte, was thus born.

Calafia Cafe, a restaurant in Palo Alto in California, was an early convert and has been a devout faithful since. Calafia is owned by Charlie Ayers, once a chef to Google and the Grateful Dead. “It’s the future,” Ayers told San Francisco Chronicle about Presto.

“People say it’s very inhospitable. But it’s the epitome of hospitality. It empowers the guest to get in and to get out,” says Suri.

Presto is a multinational innovation: conceptualised by an Indian-American, made in China and marketed in the US, with plans of conquering other parts of the world.

India? Sure, says Suri. Someday soon.

First Published: Mar 25, 2012 00:09 IST