“It was a very organic need that bloomed into a venture,” says Radhika Patil, chief executive officer of Cradlewise, underlining the adage that necessity is often the mother of invention. In a timeless dilemma for new parents, Radhika and her husband Bharath discovered early that their baby daughter was a fussy sleeper. The situation left them tired; being effective at work became a challenge. A search in the marketplace of ready-made solutions came up empty. Leap ahead six years, to 2020, when TIME magazine named Cradlewise’s self-learning crib one of the year’s best inventions.
Before Radhika and Bharath became parents, they were classmates at the elite Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, earning masters degrees in electronics. When they met, mutual admiration took hold. “We were both very entrepreneurial even back then,” says Radhika. “We shared the feeling that one day we’d own a startup.” On campus, they tackled various technical projects together “just for the love of it.” After school Bharath worked at Texas Instruments on the imaging team and Radhika worked at Qualcomm in power systems.
Their chemistry led to marriage. While their family grew, so too did their quest for entrepreneurial success. “Everything we do at Cradlewise is inspired by our kids,” says Radhika, whose children are now 8 and 5. “We were trying to solve a problem at home: If the baby is moving and stirring, how could we detect that and help the baby go back to sleep without our intervention? Once she wakes up crying, you’ve lost the battle. You just signed up for 45 minutes of pacing.”
With no solution available, they designed one of their own. “The first version was pretty much a hack put together using development kits,” says Radhika. “Slowly the product grew and evolved along with my daughter’s sleep needs.”
“The accelerated learning that has happened because of meeting awesome people and networking with them has been incredible.”
The Cradlewise team developed and tested the electronics for their prototype, which led to their selection for SOSV’s HAX accelerator program, where product development was fast-tracked. “All the key members of the HAX and SOSV teams helped get the product to the level it is today,” says Radhika. “If they see that you are well-intentioned and you are working towards your goals, they will go all the way to help you get to the metric that you’re choosing.”
Their flagship crib is equipped with audio monitoring, a high-def night-vision camera, and an app with which to listen in from anywhere. The crib is self-learning; it detects when a baby is stirring and counteracts that waking with sleep-inducing rocking or other motions.
“Its overall movement is designed to imitate the natural bounce of a parent’s arms, and that’s very soothing,” says Radhika.
An array of sensors that feed into the built-in AI makes the smart cradle the hub of the connected nursery. “We want to be the Apple of baby products and services,” says Radhika with a laugh. “At least that’s my one-liner.”
Entrepreneurship came with a unique set of challenges. The pace. The stress. The hours. Every day brought a slate of critical decisions. “When you’re in the thick of it, it’s easy to make knee-jerk reactions and decisions,” says Radhika, “and there is a possibility that you will make a wrong decision under pressure. Honestly, sometimes it is overwhelming, but I don’t regret it a bit. The last thing we want new parents to be anxious about when they’re taking care of a new baby is their crib.”
One of her concerns is that her children will have the wrong idea about entrepreneurship. “I don’t want them to think, ‘Oh my parents are entrepreneurs, and they are always so stressed or working,’” she says. “We are very mindful of that. As parents you don’t have a choice. With kids you must be disciplined enough to balance work and family.”
“All the key members of the HAX and SOSV teams helped get the product to the level it is today. If they see that you are well-intentioned and you are working towards your goals, they will go all the way to help you get to the metric that you’re choosing.”Radhika Patil, CEO, Cradlewise
“We’ve discovered over time that we have skills that complement each other very well,” says Radhika of her working relationship with Bharath. “We understand our blind spots, which I feel is our superpower.”
They’re also learning to navigate the unsure footing of a startup. Radhika is studying how other founders and companies have achieved success. “I ask myself every day: How do we get everybody one level up, so that we can replace a few of the functions we are doing personally and take on other responsibilities? Answer those questions and we can take Cradlewise to the next level.”
Now that their children are educationally age-appropriate, Radhika and Bharath have broadened their scope to learning products. “Like most entrepreneurs, we’ve always looked at problems as opportunities,” Radhika says. “We want to utilize our experience in R&D and building products to help parents raise smart, well-rested kids.
“I cannot thank the universe enough. Every morning I wake up thankful,” she adds. “The accelerated learning that has happened because of meeting awesome people and networking with them, has been incredible. Learning by doing, learning by meeting people provides a great advantage. And when you’re doing a startup—with blood, sweat, and tears day in and day out—you are grateful for every advantage.”
By Bob Gulla
Photos by Mark Madeo