WearFin – India in the path of innovation

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There was a time when Indian technology industry was thriving with software services based companies and BPOs. The likes of Infosys, Wipro Technologies and TCS were major players in both these sectors earning a name amongst the world leaders as delivering the best of services in the software world. In this race to be the best, what got left out was innovation. While the facebooks and the googles and the twitters emerged as the giants in the technology world, India seemed to be content with providing those valuable services in the backdrop. The blame cannot be entirely attributed to the Indian industry alone. There is that faction of Indians who flew across the sevens seas to a land known as the silicon valley to set up shop and be recognized as the entrepreneurs of the west. Some statistics, aptly pointed out by Neesha Bapat in her article in Forbes state that, in 2012, more that 14% of the startups in the Silicon Valley were started by Indians, an astounding rise from around 7% in 1998. When Satya Nadella was appointed as the CEO of Microsoft, amongst the myriad of newspaper articles heaping praises and pointing out success stories, one article caught my eye. I was initially drawn to it through its title – Nadella as Microsoft CEO, a slap in the face of Indian System . Although I must admit that a lot of what is stated in the article can be counter argued through some of the successes that Indians have had in Indian soil, those examples are certainly far and few.

Then came the revolution. One which Shashi Tharoor, a renowned author and columnist, puts as “soft power” started to emerge. The penetration of cell phones, and the emergence of smartphones along with the “phablets” made information a commodity. Internet started to be seen as a regular household utility just like electricity and water. And with it came the thought for innovation.

Back in April 2012, Sijo Kurivila George and Kris Gopalakrishnan, the co-founder of Infosys, started a venture known as The Startup Village with a goal to keep the innovators back in India. The aim was to successfully launch 1000 companies in India by the year 2022. Add on the outbreak of crowd funding through the likes of Wishberry and Ignite Intent , the stage was set. And the play began…

In the recent CES 2014 hardware battlefield, there was one such startup from a small town in India, Kochi. This in particular aroused my curiosity, having personally spent a significant part of my life till date in this metropolitan town by the backwaters, surrounded by a wall of greenery. Fin as the founders called it, was a prototype that captured the wildest of my imaginations. The final version of this product looks even slicker, in the form of a ring worn around the thumb – a gadget that can be used to control anything that can connect via bluetooth by the flick of a finger. It was available to preorder for $99, a couple of days back in their website. The link has mysteriously disappeared now. The prospects are infinite. A little exaggerated, I know. But I always get excited when a new gadget comes into the world, as much as I meet it with a pinch of skepticism.

But what makes me even more excited is the fact that this now has opened doors to many more of those innovators in India to stay back and plant the seeds of their dream startup in those pockets of technology, those silicons valleys that are scattered across the peninsula – along the backwaters down south to the land of fortresses in the north. The future looks hazy today, but it definitely seems bright from where I look!

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Influence of Crowd funding – CES 2014

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When most of the top consumer product manufacturers where burning the midnight oil to solve the smartwatch mystery, that has been a growing trend over the last few years, one company quietly sneeked in a product in 2013 that took the world by surprise. Rather unheard off in every way, Pebble started off as a dream in an upcoming crowdfunding organization called Kickstarter . When traditional venture capitalists failed them, Pebble looked towards crowd funding in April 2012. And soon it turned into a cult raising around 10 million from around 70,000 users around the world, becoming one of the highest crowd funded projects till date. It wasn’t long before they started mass production with a release date of January 2013. With around 200,000 units sold by the end of 2013, Pebble announced their second iteration of the smartwatch – The Pebble Steel at CES 2014 in Las Vegas.

But we are not here to talk to Pebble and its growing success, when companies like Apple and Samsung are still struggling to enter this market of watches. Rather I wanted to focus on what made Pebble possible – Crowd Funding. At least 4 of the gadgets that won the CES 2014 Awards were crowdfunded, with Oculus Rift “Crystal Cove” , the most notable amongst them. Reports suggest that Eureka Park at CES, the launchpad for startups, saw an increase of around 40% in the number of startups with exhibits. And what more, there was even an Indiegogo Zone at the venue with hoards of hardware startups flaunting their jaw-dropping ventures.

Starting a company has traditionally been expensive, when it involves hardware manufacturing. Finding an investor has been even more arduous if you just have a concept or a dream. Most investors for a manufacturing venture require a well chartered business plan stating the plan of action. This has kept a lot of startups stale for long periods of time. Crowd funding has changed all that. Through certain incentives to the crowd that funds the project, these startups have now found a way to bring their dreams to reality. Statistics show that Kickstarter has 128,244 projects registered with around $940 million pledged by close to 5 million users across the globe and around 55,000 projects among them have successfully taken off. Although Indiegogo have not published their statistics yet, I’m sure they have started to see heavy investments from users all around.

A little bit of trivia while I leave you to mull over the next venture you plan to start, CES 2014 took crowd funding rather seriously. So much that even their live streaming was crowd funded!

iCrowd – Unraveling the power of crowd in the web world

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I must begin with a confession. I am a terrible Apple fanatic. So any resemblance in the title here is not a mere coincidence. But I assure you, the resemblance stops here. This is a concept – one that can perhaps be described as a concoction of a multitude of concepts that have already been floating around. Through the posts that follow, you will find me elaborating more on every one of those concepts to unearth a common theme across them – the crowd. Over the past five years, as social media and networking have started to mushroom around the web world, with smartphones and tablets becoming a common man’s gadget, several companies have started to make use of the data that is updated by users around the globe. And indeed many of the entrepreneurs and thinkers of this era have started to find correlations amongst these efforts. And along came several concepts, those which have gradually started to become an everyday term. Among them, Collaborative Consumption coined by Rachel Botsman , Crowd Sourcing coined by Jeff Howe of the Wired Magazine and Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky have grown significantly, in parallel.

While each of these talk about the influence of crowd in the functioning of the today’s world, analyzing and categorizing companies and organizations among various buckets, each have their own distinction. They portray a very specific aspect of the crowd and collectively they can encompass the iCrowd, in its entirety. Collaborative consumption talks about the idea of sharing what you have with a stranger, through a common platform for sharing, that is built upon trust. The product that is shared can vary with an organization that lay forth the platform. Airbnb, Taskbunny, A Spare to Share are all examples of this sharing. Rachel Botsman through her ground breaking talk at TED and her book What’s mine is yours , laid the foundation to this categorization of sharing, into buckets based on services .

Crowd Sourcing, coined back in 2005, talks about the idea of converting user input data into useful information, in the form of trend or recommendations or even just a single point of data depicting the state based on the data gathered from the “crowd”. I have spoken extensively about Crowd Sourcing and have tried to classify them into some reasonable buckets. SkyMotion, Waze, Minutely are all applications that have presented information from a large repository of user input data. There are then the amazon recommendations providing you with a list of products that “other customers” looked at, after viewing a particular product, in which case the input is user data collected passively. We will look into both these situations and how they play a part in the information transfer.

Cognitive Surplus is a more recent term, yet to be defined exhaustively. Clay Shirky describes it as a form of constructively making use of an individual’s free time towards a particular goal. Add in the crowd dimension and you now have an “organization without an organization”. Wikipedia is perhaps the best example of this “revolution”. Although Wikipedia has been around for quite sometime, identifying the concept that made it a huge online encyclopedia was as recent as 2009. As more and more efforts start getting categorized under this umbrella, cognitive surplus can be yet another powerful concept making use of the power of crowd.

In the coming weeks, I will hoop through each of them in more detail, pointing out examples that illustrate the common link and the distinctions.

CrowdSourcing Classified

The term crowd sourcing is rather generic in its own ways. Although coined for a specific function, it soon grew into being a broad term interpreted differently by every organization that has crossed its path. Therefore it might be essential to classify the different aspects of crowdsourcing and identify buckets of projects/organizations that can be put under each. Here is a small effort towards one such classification. Wikipedia in its own way has a different interpretation for the same.

Open Democracy: or Crowdvoting as Wikipedia calls it.
Ever since life began, democracy has been prevalent . Taking that to product design can hence be just an afterthought. Several organizations across the iGlobe has successfully used this method to better understand the consumer needs and interests.

Lego CUUSO is one such. Termed as “just a normal way of doing things” in today’s generation, Lego was able to create the famous Lego MineCraft using power of the crowd.

ThreadLess – an online shirt design company – is yet another, taking advantage of the crowd.

In a perfect world, the underlying principles for all such organizations are the same. Users submit a product design, which is then put up for voting. When the voting number reaches a particular threshold, the product is formalized and staged. Of course the user who submitted the design gets a share of the royalty.

Data Sourcing:
Skymotion and Waze are perhaps the best examples for this. Obtaining the wealth of the data provided by users to portray information. I spoke about Waze and Skymotion in my previous post.

In fact, Wikipedia, can also be viewed as one such entity leveraging the power of the crowd.

Now, the means of providing the information can be direct or indirect. In all the cases above, the information was provided by the users, consciously and hence can be termed as direct. Take the example of Google’s Flu Prediction . The trend has been graphically represented using the search terms related to flu that people search across different parts of United States. In this case, information is gathered passively and hence can be classified as indirect.

Open Sourcing:
Although this term has been in existence since the early 1960s, I feel it could now fall under the umbrella of crowd sourcing. Essentially the development of the product or the software was done by the masses. The ever so popular Linux is perhaps the best example for this.

CrowdFunding or Micropatrionage:
This is one of those which has been less prevalent, but you do see pockets of such organizations cropping up all around the iGlobe. The idea again, follows along the same lines – use crowd to fund projects. Although it can be revolutionary, it does come with a pinch of salt. Whenever an individual is expected to “invest” money, however small it is, there is a sense of ownership that gets built around it. It is for this same reason that the Crowd Funding Exemption Movement was set up to successfully lobby the JOBS Act

KickStarter is one such companies, which has been rather successful in funding projects and startups through small deposits collected through their website. Most prevalent in film community for the making of independent films, for channels such as Sundance , KickStarter has been successful in harnessing the power of crowd to fund a large number of undertakings.

While examples can be drawn from all aspects of the web world, I’m hoping these broad classifications can be a good start to better define crowd sourcing. Let me know your thoughts.

Next up: Why do organizations move towards Crowd Sourcing?

While you wait, let me leave you with this interesting video on crowdsourcing.