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September 12, 2008

I Am the Boss of Me

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The Tech Guru
Gauri Nanda, 28, designer of Clocky alarm clocks, New York City

MY INSPIRATION: I always had a hard time getting out of bed — I'd hit the snooze button over and over. So while I was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I designed a crazy alarm clock for a class project. The clock would roll off the night table, zoom around the room, and hide — so I'd have to get out of bed to turn it off. I called it Clocky.

CLOCKY TAKES OFF: After the class, I posted a photo of Clocky on the course website, then tossed the clock in the closet and forgot about it. But the tech bloggers came across my project on the site and started buzzing about it, big time. Next thing you know, Good Morning America called me. I began getting all kinds of interview requests; about 10 radio stations called every day. Hundreds of people contacted me about buying a clock. It was insane. I realized what a huge opportunity I had.

HOW I GOT STARTED: I designed a sleeker version of the clock (the original one was pretty massive and furry, so it could survive the drop from the table to the floor). Then I Googled some manufacturers and went to meet a few of them in China. When I found one I liked, I borrowed money from my family and had 1000 clocks made. In December 2006, I began selling them. In the meantime, I'd set up a website (nandahome.com), and about 30,000 people had expressed interest. So I started working with retailers — like the MoMA Design Store — and catalog companies.

THE PAYOFF: Today I've sold around 100,000 clocks (at $50 each), and they're available in more than 50 countries.

THE BUMMER: Working 24/7. I'm finally planning to hire a couple of employees — so hopefully I can get some ZZZs.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: People are putting wacky videos of Clocky on YouTube: They'll videotape the clock with their pet. As you can imagine, cats and dogs are pretty freaked out by it.

WHAT'S NEXT: I'm experimenting with new features for the clock, like touch screens, fun sounds, Wi-Fi. There's a lot going on with social networking these days on sites like Facebook and MySpace, so maybe people could connect via their clocks, too.

WORD TO THE WISE: If you're launching a start-up, do some networking with other small-business owners. I called entrepreneurs out of the blue and asked for advice. Most of the time, they were pretty helpful. Now people call me to pick my brain.


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