While studies, games and entertainment are probable interests and priority for a typical 16 year old, Tanay Kothari has a different approach and decided to tread the path of entrepreneurship. Tanay studies at DPS, RK Puram and is a nothing less than a prodigy. The way he talks about his #startup Proximity in particular and entrepreneurship in general can mesmerise even the seasoned of the trade.
Tanay started professional coding at age 12 by making phishing applications to steal data.Currently, he’s a fluent coder of over 20 programming languages.
Besides coding, he also wrote a research paper on diagnosing early-stage cancer through image scans and is now building software to make this a reality. Last year, he was selected to represent India on a NASA project to design space settlements, and headed engineering teams from five countries in the competition. He has won a silver medal in the Asia Pacific International Olympiad (in May 2015) and a bronze medal at International Olympiad in Informatics.
Tanay had a CGPA of 10 in his matriculation and secured numero uno position in the school (DPS, R.K Puram) by scoring 92.6 per cent during Class XII mid-term examination. He claims to be the only student in India to achieve a full 36/36 in the ACT (similar to the SAT exam), and is one of the youngest Microsoft Certified Software Developers (MCSD in C#), at the age of 16.
Tanay had developed five apps across Windows Phone, Play Store and iOS Store. His current startup Proximity helps people find their friends in proximity by leveraging their social reach (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc.).
Solving father’s pain became son’s priority
Tanay’s father, a frequently traveller, used to often talk about how he bumped into an old friend in a restaurant, after having lived in the same place for six months. During that time, Tanay was interning at Investopad, providing technical assistance to other startups.
Arjun Malhotra (one of the Co-founders of Investopad) and Tanay discussed this pain-point. Arjun too faced the same issue frequently, being a traveller himself. The duo along with Ishaan Parwanda realised the need for the social travel app and developed Proximity. Tanay learnt iOS development in just five days to develop Proximity.
Proximity lets you see which city your friends are in via social media and their trips and notifies friends when you visit their city. It also helps you fix meet-ups and create public or private plans to invite your near and dear ones. Currently, the iOS version of Proximity has over 250 downloads without any marketing efforts, while the Android version is underdevelopment and is slated to hit PlayStore by April this year.
It recently integrated new features including Uber on call and map assistance to figure out where your friends are heading. Proximity can also be used for environment friendly initiative like carpooling and app calling feature using Sinch
Coding and school go simultaneously
Tanay was fascinated by coding at a very early age and has been coding since Class VII. A year later, he tried his hand at Windows platform and built some simple applications, but soon realised that Windows has a limited reach and future. Tanay says:
In Class IX I was exposed to other programming languages and have chosen to immerse myself in developing applications for iOS and Android devices.
On balancing coding and classes at the same time, Tanay says,
I have a penchant for coding and I do it after my school hours. I don’t go for tuition and coaching classes that probably helps me strike a balance between academics and Proximity.
Tryst with maiden hackathon
In 2013, Tanay participated in his maiden hackathon that had over 100 participants coding for 30 hours. He says, “The challenge at my first hackathon, two years ago, was to develop a natural language-processing algorithm to apply context-based auto-correction to human speech.
The algorithm had to understand what the user was asking for. This was vaguely ironic for Tanay and he couldn’t understand anything at all. Meanwhile, the other participants were writing thousands of lines of convoluted code and complex data structures. He adds,
These were doctoral students and professional developers; I was just a kid, inexperienced, overwhelmedand out of place,in desperate need of auto-correction.
Ten hours went by and Tanay was heading in no direction. Eventually, frustrated, he went for a walk and wondered how he would have solved the problem manually. “Finally, lightbulb! Qualifiers were usually adjectives and queries were nouns – English had a structure which I could easily exploit. As the first rays of sunshine hit me, I had solved it,with a mere hundred lines of code,” he quips.
Embrace nothingness and start small
That long night, Tanay learnt one important lesson, that immensely helped him personally and academically,which is to start small. Tanay says with conviction:
Complex problems can always be broken down into chunks and solved creatively,be it math, programming, or life. Embrace nothingness. Be the blank slate.
Tanay is planning to pursue engineering from top-notch institutes at Stanford, MIT and Princeton University. However, he isn’t willing to lose focus on his venture. He emphasizes with great confidence
Studies and startup can go hand in hand. I have been doing it while I am in school, so it can be pursued in college too.
App link: iOS