“Olin is a place that feels like family: everyone knows everyone by name.”
Varun Mani is an Olin alum who graduated in 2012. His career has taken both the technical engineering route and the analytical business path. Varun has been busy after Olin, working at Microsoft, attending Harvard Business School, and managing his own startup.
While at Olin, Varun was an Electrical and Computer Engineering Major. His second choice would have been Engineering: Concentration in Robotics with Software. He felt like this was an easy choice for him. He had always known he liked electrical problem solving, and the Olin curriculum taught him to be a well-rounded engineer with a mix of soft and hard skills. For example, he learned how to keep up with rigorous work, put in long hours, and deal with “getting beaten down with work, but still figuring out how to solve things.” At the same time, he was learning how to adapt to the United States culture. Originally from Singapore, Varun came to Olin as the minority and had to adapt to life here.
When asked what his favorite classes were, he says he “loved them all,” but if he had to choose favorites it would be Robotics and Stuff of History. His Stuff of History final project was making a video parody of a Bill Nye the Science Guy episode about Superconductors.
Varun was involved in many unique activities during his time at Olin. Although he was a lifelong vegetarian, he was also an active member of the Olin meat club. While he had no idea how they tasted, Varun learned to cook everything from ribs to chicken. His best friends at Olin started a competitive barbecue team, entered many barbeque competitions and even won a few times! As a long running joke, Varun is the mascot of the team, and is still a vegetarian. He also learned to flex his entrepreneurship muscles at Olin. Over his time here, he started two small ventures, both of which ended in spectacular failures. He nevertheless learned from these experiences and used the lessons for working on his own startup after graduation.
Varun’s career after Olin began at Microsoft where he worked for two years. He loved the people there, stating they “...were a lot like Oliners.” During his Junior year at Olin, Varun applied and was accepted to the Harvard Business School (HBS) 2 + 2 program, which meant that he would work in industry after graduation before coming back to to attend HBS for two years. So after working at Microsoft in Seattle for a couple years, he was supposed to go back to Boston for school. However, his boss at the time encouraged him to defer (wait a year) and apply to a separate team within Microsoft. Despite his boss being extremely excited about the project, he could not tell Varun what the project was about since it had a high level of security clearance within Microsoft. It was not until he went through eight interviews and signed onto the mystery team that he found out that he would be working on the HoloLens: Microsoft’s mixed reality headset. This was a small team of people who were all highly motivated and invested in the project. Once the HoloLens was revealed to the world in early 2015, Varun had the opportunity to work as a technical lead on many high-profile stage shows that involved the HoloLens including TED, the E3 Expo and many other Microsoft events. He ended up deferring business school an additional year because of how much he enjoyed this work.
Why HBS? While Varun says he has always been an engineer, a part of him wanted to see if there was something more he could do. “What if there was something greener on the other side?” he says. One of the biggest takeaways that he gained from being in both engineering and in business is both fields utilize their assets to work through any problem. “Engineering focuses on creating value while business focuses on capturing value.”
While at Harvard, Varun started his own company with two co-founders from MIT, Waypoint Labs: a company dedicated to changing the way front line workers “capture, distribute, and access expert knowledge on the job”. Essentially this means building augmented reality software for businesses that want standardized reliable training for workers. The idea behind Waypoint Labs started at the MIT Reality, Virtually, Hackathon where he randomly met four other teammates. Not only did they win the Hackathon, but three of the five team members decided to join forces and build the concept, which turned into Waypoint Labs. Their value proposition is to use augmented reality to augment human capabilities and save resources spent on training. For example, in order to save valuable lab time, a lab tech would use Waypoint Lab’s software to capture the methods of completing tasks. Then, a new hire would wear the headset to practice performing those same tasks. Waypoint’s software directs them to follow along as if the lab tech is actually training them.
So far, they have had great success. In January of 2017, Waypoint Labs was the grand prize winner of the AT&T AR/VR challenge at the Developer Summit held in Las Vegas. They were also invited to go through the the 2017 MIT Delta V accelerator program.
In March 2018, Waypoint Labs was officially acquired by PTC, Inc. a publicly traded software company, headquartered right here in Needham. Nothing has changed in the product or the vision, since Waypoint continues to function as a startup within PTC. Varun and his co-founders are continuing their quest to revolutionize the way nearly 2.5 billion frontline workers do their jobs every day with augmented reality.
When asked what advice he would give students, Varun said to remember that Olin is special and not necessarily like the real world. “Olin is like a sandbox,” he says, “you get to build and explore however you want.” Conversely, the real world often has rules and regulations to abide by. For him, this does not just apply to technical exploration. He goes on to say that “Olin has a level of trust, conversation, and respect for each other that is very hard to find elsewhere. Olin is so far ahead in some of these areas, that sometimes, it can be difficult to go back to the real world.”
“Value your relationships,” he says. “Stay close to your connections from Olin. You won’t find other people like them.”