No one could accuse Anand Agarawala of fitting the soft-spoken stereotype of a computer science student. “I think we’re in the cave-painting era of computer interfaces,” he told a sympathetic crowd watching a demonstration of BumpTop, the remarkably lifelike interface he developed as his master’s thesis at U of T.
BumpTop looks like a desktop in the traditional sense of the word. Files and photos lie on a rectangular platform, neatly stacked or spread out in blissful disarray. Items can be bunched in this corner or that. The user can shift and arrange them accordingly.
“Instead of point and click, it’s push and pull,” Agarawala explains. “Things collide, as they would on a real desk.” Items of lesser importance can be crunched into a ball and tossed to the side. Post-it notes go on the wall. Careful application of the laws of physics makes larger and heavier objects harder to dislodge than lighter ones.
A Heffernan/Co-Steel Innovation Commercialization Fellowship at
U of T got Agarawala started. The demo went viral on YouTube. BumpTop got a five-star review on CNET. Venture investors were interested; Agarawala raised $1.65 million. Agarawala was named by Businessweek magazine as one of the Top 20 Young Tech Entrepreneurs of 2009.
Google noticed. In 2010, the search-engine colossus bought BumpTop for an undisclosed sum and hired its creator as a product manager. The corporate environment was new for the startup upstart, but Agarawala has adapted.
“Business doesn’t have to be dirty,” he says. “Economics are a necessary part of the equation when you’re doing anything at a scale that touches lots of people.”
Published November 2013