Kevin Rustagi ’11 is a designer, entrepreneur, and musician whom I first met while judging Battle of the Bands at CPW 2010. Today, at 3:54 PM ET, the kickstarter for Ministry of Supply, the business apparel company he cofounded with some MIT classmates, is set to become the most successful fashion / clothing kickstarter in history, with over $400,000 raised.
I asked Kevin to share some of his thoughts on his MIT journey: how it began, how he spent his time here, and now what he is continuing to do.
MIT is an extremely fascinating place. I think most would agree. But, as a recent alum, I’d like to explore that a little further – and specifically, what fascinated me about MIT. So, I came to MIT in April 2007 for my CPW as an admitted pre-frosh, and I had a conversation with myself at my hotel before checking in at CPW. Did I really want to go to MIT? Was it the place that I understood it to be? My 1st choice? A place that would teach me to think like an engineer and at the same time, expose me to starting companies? Would I really meet future business partners here? Would it take me, a fresh 18-year old and put out one of those people that understands the world more deeply, that sees beyond limits? My freshman seminar Professor, Dr. Ed Seldin, a big fan of late 1800’s machinery (he would make his own replacement parts, of course) told us as freshmen, “Most see a building and simply see the façade: brick and glass and metal. You have to train yourself to see the layers – what’s holding up the face? And behind that – what’s in the walls? And beyond that who’s inside? And how’s the building structurally supported?” Evidently, I went to MIT to learn X-Ray vision. Why not? And as I worked through my engineering courses, I began to see the layers. They let me take the course on startups, New Enterprises. The class is primarily MBA students, but as I learned, MIT is a no-limits place. I audited the class as a sophomore with my laser-etched business card team, and I returned with the team I’m still with now, making business apparel better. MIT provided resources, whether that was alumni, free venture mentoring, or a really awesome thesis advisor (my thesis goes over my projects in more depth, and can be found here.) My most recent company was actually even funded in the beginning by MIT alumni. Most of all, MIT provided me the accountability and motivation among friends to get stuff done (in startup speak: GSD.) Halfway through MIT, my good friend, Anshul, sat me down and told me to quit student government. He said that I could stay if I wanted, but that I would be so much happier starting my own project. And he was right. I can’t think of anywhere else where peers would really sit you down and, unafraid of a very imminent negative reaction on my part, gracefully tell you that you can do so much more. This kind of candor is the hallmark of real leadership (we also both joined the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program, which didn't hurt, and ended up connecting us with real entrepreneurs while providing skills that would help me learn how to get my projects off the ground in a real way.) Anshul ultimately inspired me to take the leap and start my own company. In fact, he (our class president, coincidentally), during my sophomore year, pushed me in a different way. Any time I would go to him, saying, “Hey Anshul, I’ve got something cool to tell you!” (which I did often), he would respond with, “Oh! You’ve started your company?” He knew it had always been a dream of mine and this left me a bit less excited and wishing I could respond in the affirmative. And I admit, the feeling of selling my first set of laser-kards (misspelling intentional, unfortunately) was nothing short of exhilarating. I don't do a ton of extreme sports, but I felt the same rush of the chemical dopamine you get when you skydive. Frankly, it's addictive. Luckily, it's also productive. Currently, Anshul and I are both working on companies, he in India on an education camp/platform for teaching Android programming in Bangalore, India and I here in Boston, creating ‘the next generation of business apparel.’ MIT ultimately did introduce me to Gihan, a fellow 2011 who was studying Chemical Engineering and like me, loved designing consumer products. We met in a class as part of the Gordon Program known as Engineering, Innovation, and Design. He shared his interests with me, and I shared with him the list of product design classes I'd scoured. We ended up, between us, covering the entire product design curriculum from the Senior design class, 2.009, to Neil Gershwin's famous How to Make Almost Anything. From there, we’ve gone on a journey with the iterative design process we learned at MIT, staying in a dormant MIT fraternity for a year, eating many many day-old bagels, and even living in a bunk bed in a walk-in closet for while to finally - and here's the exciting news - going on Kickstarter.com to raise funds for our latest product. We've been so fortunate and blessed to receive far beyond our initial goal of $30k - raising at this writing over $370,000 for our new shirts, even getting some cool press. I did end up fulfilling my childhood pre-MIT dream of making it into Popular Science as well. The magazine had admittedly lured me to the school, specifically this article, which I read my senior year before applying. I guess my main message here is simple. MIT teaches more than engineering. It teaches you to see not just the layers of structures or computer science frameworks. MIT teaches you, above all, to see potential. To see what can be. And that is something that I will never forget.