“Building your startup is like sculpture or architecture – you need talented people, stable materials and great ideas.” – Zoe Zhang of CreatingBox

Zoe Zhang is a 2014 SLP fellow from the Shanghai chapter. Young and dynamic, Zoe is an avid and ardent art enthusiast, and has acquired her Bachelor’s degree in Public Art from the China Academy of Art. Her Master’s degree is in Interactive Design, from the Eindhoven University of Technology. Presently, she is working on a media platform to bring creative innovation and concepts from around the world, called Creatingbox that she launched in 2013. Creatingbox has academic as well as commercial partners in three countries presently – China, US and Netherlands.

EDUCATION AND EXPERTISE

You brilliantly combine the two fields of art and entrepreneurship. How do you do it?

I think there are some commonalities between art and entrepreneurship – curiosity and persistence being two, among many. Both artists and entrepreneurs have the passion to create something new and valuable for human beings. Art and design education allows me to be creative and innovative. I think the most important thing is not only making creative projects for myself, but to make a bigger impact on society. Most people think that artists are the kind of people who are living in a bubble, but I think what they are thinking is extremely important for the society since they bring in different perspectives. This is why I wanted to create a platform to combine art and the internet. Entrepreneurship, for me, is a new journey of my experimental project. Building your startup is like sculpture or architecture – you need talented people, stable materials and great ideas.

Do you ever feel like going back to doing freelancing work? Tell us about the transition from being a freelance artist to creating your own startup and working as a curator? Did you face any constraints?

As a freelancer, I ran a design consultant studio for company strategy, branding and marketing. After three years of hard work, we got good clients and good cases, but I found we were wasting our time on temporary things. I wanted to create an ecosystem that runs by itself and has a more valuable and bigger impact. As a curator, a lot like a VC in the art industry, we hunt for good artists, create a budget for their show, enhance their value and help them showcase themselves in the art market. My startup is like an internet curator – I want to create an automatic system that can take the place of curators.

You are interested in many experimental projects related to science, literature and humanics. Can you tell us about one of your favourite projects in these categories? Do you see art and design in all aspects of life?

I have so many favourites, but those that top the list are: the ‘Smelling Project’ from Sissel Tolaas, the ‘Sweeties Project’ from a Dutch studio and the ‘Delivery for Mr. Assange’.

Art and design exist in our daily life, we just need to find the funny, interesting and creative sides to our life.

CHINA,  ART AND THE GLOBE

What are some of the cultural barriers you face in bringing art back to China? Are there any hurdles that you had to overcome when you collected art from Netherlands and the US?

With globalization, we believe that the cultural barriers are relatively smaller now. This has greatly helped the cultural environment in China – we are only improving. The environment is more open than before. Additionally, an awareness of intellectual poverty has also developed. The hurdles that exist depend on what kind of art comes from overseas, but it definitely is getting better.

China is a superpower today, thus, it is extremely popular throughout the globe. But there are many countries who do not have the same homogeneous reach. Have you ever found interesting art or design in these remote or less popular countries?

The reason for the increasing popularity of Chinese art or isn’t a result of China’s superpower status, but the power of t globalized capitals. There will be more and more countries which were previously not being focused on and are yet to be discovered – like, for example, South America and Africa.

ART INDUSTRY IN CHINA

Do you feel that there are not enough entrepreneurs who concern themselves with art? Do you think art and entrepreneurship have a bigger and brighter future in the years to come?

I agree that there are not a lot entrepreneurs that focus on art, in terms of comparative numbers. However, there are already a lot of companies or startups like art.sy, fab.com or galleries that are doing business in art or design industry. The art industry is not a normal and not a mass market – it has lots of value and revenue. I do believe that It will be a trend in the future, especially in China.

Off line activity-"Founder Dating" from CreatingBox.com

Creatingbox is an amazing tool for people who are serious about discovering culturally diverse forms of art and design. Have you ever considered expanding into countries of Africa that have a lot to offer in terms of diversity?

We are open to expanding everywhere. In fact, I recently visited Kochi, India and had the opportunity to explore the Indian culture there.

STARTUP LEADERSHIP

How has Startup Leadership helped you through your journey?

I started Creatingbox right before I joined SLP. I met with many talented people and learned a lot from them.

ADVICE

Often, and especially in South Asian countries, art or design is dissociated with study. People also think that it is something that only girls should choose. Keeping these stereotypes (that need to be broken) in mind, what advice would you give young and aspiring artists today?

I would like to keep it very simple : Like an entrepreneur, follow the passion and mission and keep doing what you want to.

Top 5 Companies that made a BANG in 2014

By Neha Verma

2014 was a big year in many ways – Let us look at some of the startups that made an entry into the group of ‘billion dollar companies’. We present to you the top 5 companies of 2014, valuation wise, below:

1. MEITUAN.COM
tg-meituan.pngThere has been a recent increase in what are known as ‘group-buying’ websites, which offer cheaper or discounted products and having typical features like a ‘deal of the day’ and discount coupons. Meituan.com is a similar Chinese website which was founded in 2010 by Xing Wang and has been funded spectacularly since it got created. The latest, or Series C round of funding for the company took place in May, 2014 and helped the company raise $300 million. The main investors were Alibaba, Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic.

2. CLOUDERA

cloudera_search_logo.pngHeadquartered in Palo Alto, California, Cloudera is a software development website which helps enterprises by providing them with Apache Hadoop software – which is an open source software framework for distributed storage and processing for some of the larger data sets. Founded in 2008, the company has come a long way and has received a grand total of $1.2 billion in 8 rounds of funding till date. The last round of funding concluded in September 2014, with an undisclosed amount being funded by EquityZen. Tom Reilly serves as the present CEO of the company.

3. STRIPE:
stripe-logo.pngFounded in 2009 by Patrick and John Collison, the company aims at making online payments easier for its customers. Today, it is valued at about $3.5 billion. Recently, it raised about $70 million in a round of funding that incorporated both existing and new investors.
Patrick has been quoted saying, “We are less than 10 percent of the way there. Building a platform that others can build a meaningful business on top of, we are talking about a multi decade horizon”

4. ATLASSIAN

atlassian.jpgThis company from Sydney that offers enterprises with software solutions,  from its beginnings in 2002, has expanded to serve over 20,000 customers across 134 countries.
Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes serve as the present CEOs and are also the co-founders. In April 2014, it received $150 million in its second round of funding by Dragoneer Investment Group and T. Rowe Price. It stands at a whopping $3.3 billion today.

5. POWA TECHNOLOGIES:
Powa-Technologies-Goes-Mobile.jpgFrom 2007 to 2014, Powa Technologies has had quite the notable journey. The company essentially helps to devise technology that reduces the gap between the physical and digital world – for instance, attempting to make online and offline shopping experiences as similar as can be. Dan Wagner and Jeff Dumbrell are the present CEOs of the company. In November, it raised $70 million in a series C round of funding, by Wellington Management.

Sources:

Links Used:

https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/meituan-com

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-12/alibaba-backed-buying-site-meituan-eyes-u-s-ipo-as-sales-triple.html

https://www.linkedin.com/company/meituan.com

https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/cloudera

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloudera

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_Hadoop

https://www.linkedin.com/company/cloudera

https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/stripe

ThriveTracker Transforms the Mental Health Sector

By Pragya Yadav

http://techliveinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/r9zzY-i4.jpegIn October 2014, ThriveStreams Inc. launched their new app that gamifies mood tracking for individuals with mood disorders. This is now available on the Apple appstore and strives to improve mental healthcare by decreasing costs and assisting professionals in supporting patients. SLP New York fellow, Adrian Cunanan is the founder of ThriveStreams Inc. This is a technology company that creates collaborative mobile solutions utilizing evidence-based research, innovative technology and fun social gaming to empower individuals to achieve any goal.

This iOS app is free in the US – according to National Institute of Mental Health Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult, about 14.8 million people live with major depression and suicide is the tenth leading cause of death. It’s unknown how many suicide attempts are made by individuals with mental disorders, but more than 90 percent of those who die by suicide have one or more mental disorders.

Cunanan  was quoted saying  “I asked myself what community I would like to serve and turned inwards to reflect on my own challenges with learning to manage bipolar disorder over the past decade.  ThriveTracker is our first attempt to utilize technology to assist the over 20.9 million individuals afflicted by mood disorders and the mental health professionals that support them.” For patients of depression, to stay well it is very important to monitor their subtle symptoms. When patients are experiencing episodes of major depression they tend to forget what they experienced once they have recovered. This makes it absolutely vital for them to track their moods, sleep, therapy and maintain a journal to combat this phase of “blindness”. Cunanan stated “I was solving a problem for myself. Every time I meet with my therapist, the first thing asked is ‘how was your week?’ in reference to my mood. I am lucky if I remember how my mood was yesterday. Paper mood journals are impossible to keep consistently. But I am always on my smartphone. So my team started there.” ThriveTracker stands out from other mood tracking apps as it encourages people to keep tracking their mood with a points system that can earn them real world rewards like gift cards and MP3 downloads. This motivated people to not only to use the app regularly but also fill in all sections. ThriveTracker is also developing a dashboard which could potentially allow mental health practitioners access to the patients’ data in the form of interactive charts. Cunanan adds that giving mental health practitioners more access to mood data means that doctors and patients can potentially avoid the challenges and costs of emergency treatments or prevent crises that can lead to risk of suicide.  All said and done, it can’t be assured that patients will keep a regular record even the possibility of gift cards can’t change that. This was released at the perfect time, during the ongoing mental health awareness week in October.

ThriveTracker is currently pre-funding and is exploring three monetization options, including a freemium model with in-app purchases for advanced features; a subscription-based dashboard for mental health practictioners; and a mental wellness software-as-a-service for health insurance providers.

Sources

  1. http://www.examiner.com/article/new-app-provides-proactive-management-of-bipolar-disorder-and-depression?CID=examiner_alerts_article

  2. http://thrivestreams.com/

  3. http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/02/thrivetracker/

“Fund raising is always about telling a great story and telling it enough times until you find investors who love the story” : In conversation with Michael Sheeley of RunKeeper

Michael Sheeley is an SLP fellow from the Boston chapter of 2009. He co-founded FitnessKeeper Inc. and was an integral part of the team that worked on Runkeeper. Runkeeper is a mobile app that turns your phone into a personal trainer in your pocket. Mike also co-founded KickScout Inc. which has been acquired by Mobee. Kickscout is creating the retail omni-channel by turning bookmarked online products into in-store shopping alerts. He is now working on a new venture, Every Labs Inc.

EDUCATION

Q1. What was it that inspired you to take up computer science and engineering from the very beginning?

I was actually very lucky to have fallen into this field. I chose it without knowing much about it, really. I was good in Math and Science in grade school and was always using computers. I can’t say it was a passion at that point in my life, but I showed enough interest in those subjects that teachers and advisors said I should either go into computer science or into engineering. At the time, I found that University of Connecticut offered a dual Computer Science and Engineering degrees program and decided to just go there. This way, I didn’t have to actually figure out what each program was while in high school. I could just do both and figure it out as I went through college.

Q2. If you could go back in time and choose any other sphere to pursue your higher education in what would you pick?

 I can’t – A Computer Science degree, a Masters and then an MBA was more than enough for me – although maybe someday I’d like to attend the Harvard Kennedy School. But that wouldn’t be for a while. Plus it would require a lot of reading, and being dyslexic makes speed reading impossible. It would be a challenge though.

Q3. Do you feel that entrepreneurs would be more successful if they graduated in a particular subject of a specific field, and then applied their entrepreneurial knowledge to the knowledge of their subject matter?

If you want to be an entrepreneur, you don’t have to have a degree in the field or industry you are tackling. Entering a market and winning will require you to have a better strategy than the incumbents. Sometimes, coming from another field can give you a new angle at the problem that others in the industry might not see. That being said, it will be hard not to get a deep understanding of the field as you go. You’ll need to learn fast, but also surround yourself with other people who have a deep knowledge of that field.  

ENVIRONMENT AND INDUSTRY

Q4. What according to you are the most exciting companies in the mobile apps sector these days?

I think apps that don’t just see themselves as “just an app” have always been exciting to me. Chris Dixon describes these companies better than I can in his post Full stack startups http://cdixon.org/2014/03/15/full-stack-startups/

Q5. Do you think Boston has the right kind of business environment that can help companies like yours grow?

Yes. But I view this very differently than many others. I don’t think Boston should help my company grow. It is up to me and my team to grow our company. Boston has many resources, and my team has build a great network here that we highly leverage, but it isn’t the role of a city’s business environment to help a company grow. That falls completely on the entrepreneur. In fact, I see it a bit of the other way around. Building a successful business should, in the end, help the city grow. I guess I frequently ask myself if my company is creating the right environment that can help Boston grow.

RUNKEEPER

Q6. How did you come up with the idea of Runkeeper? Was it inspired by a personal experience?

The RunKeeper Team in the Early Days

The original idea of RunKeeper wasn’t something I came up with. I believe it was actually Raiz Labs that came up with the original idea for RunKeeper and there was actually another app in the app store that beat RunKeeper to market that did the same basic tracking. I was working on another idea that used passive tracking app at the time that would require a smartphone to constantly leverage a smartphone’s location. In 2008 this ended up to be impossible given the limitations of battery life and location services that smartphones had. When I met my future cofounder for RunKeeper, I realized that this idea would only use location when someone was on a run.  Given the lesson that I just learned with the passive tracking app, I knew this idea would be technically possible. I also knew that people were purchasing expensive GPS watches at the time that did the same basic features of the RunKeeper app. Our app was only $10, at the time, and those watches cost over $200. That was enough validation for me. I knew it wasn’t a huge idea, but if we kept at it we could find the larger market to tap into in the health space.

Q7. You have raised funds for RunKeeper in over 3 successful rounds. Please share your fundraising experience with us. What would be the one thing anyone should keep in mind with regard to funding?

Good Question. Fund raising is always about telling a great story and telling it enough times until you find investors who love the story. Fund raising is a sales process – you need to do a lot of prep work to make sure when you start fund raising that you have a bunch of introductions to a bunch of investors at once. Make it happen fast, but make sure you are talking to 20 to 30 investors at a time. Use the process to find the investors you like, and that like your story.

Q8. Can you give us an idea of what Every Labs Inc, your new venture, is all about?

Every Labs is a ‘full stack’ startup as described by Chris Dixon. We are in the food space and are rethinking how people solve the daily problem of figuring out what’s for dinner. We’ll be launching in early 2015, so be sure to look for us. :)

ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND SLP
Q9. You have co-founded and developed various ventures up till now. How do you think you grew with each one?

Mike and his brother, Bret, are now working together on EveryLabs

I can point to each venture I’ve had in the past and think of a few aspects of my professional development that grew from them. Each venture was a lesson learned for sure. Probably too many lessons to describe here. I try to outline many of them on my blog makegreatsoftware.com. I’m not the best writer but I do try to share anything I’ve learned on there. A quick one I can add here is for founders to beware of local maximums. I tried to give more insight into this lesson here: http://www.makegreatsoftware.com/2013/08/the-market-pivot.html

Q10. Entrepreneurship is a long and lonely path. What was the highest and lowest point of your entrepreneurial journey?

The highest point is where I am now. I have a team that I worked with at RunKeeper and other ventures who all have decided to work with me again on Every Labs. I am solving a problem that I’m super passionate about.  I have raised money from people I highly respect, and I am leveraging all of the lessons learned from the previous ventures I was a part of. Early user feedback is super positive and the market size is one of the largest markets on earth. It feels so good right now. It is easily the highest point in my career. It will be a roller coaster for sure. It will have its down points, but I can’t ignore just how right it feels at this point.

The low point is always the moment when you get stabbed in the back by people you put your trust in. It happens, but you move on and forgive.

Q11. What are your working hours like? How do you balance your time between work and other things?

I don’t have a set schedule, I also don’t balance work with other things very well. I don’t do anything else that isn’t family related or work related. I don’t have time for hobbies or even hanging out with friends. I really love working on my company and I really love being with my family. I just can’t justify spending time on anything else.  Family time and work time, also blend together. I’m always working when I’m at home. I don’t stop – I don’t want to stop. There is always something to be done. If I push things off, they just pile up and get missed.  I also take calls or chat with my wife, while I’m at work.  I don’t separate weekends from the week either. I do however try to cut down on emails I send to teammates during the weekend. …well, sometimes :) .

Q12. How far do you think the Startup Leadership has helped you achieve your goals?

I met the lead investor for Every Labs, Chase Garbarino, at a Startup Leadership event. Chase was an entrepreneur in the class after mine, and asked me for advice on his new startup. He sold that startup, and is now an investor in my new company.

Q13. Is there any message that you would like to give to all those people out there who want to be entrepreneurs, but are scared to take the first step in that direction?

I don’t understand this fear. The fear of wasting time and not pursuing your dreams is more scary than taking the jump. I think people actually end up doing what they really want to do in their life anyways. If you can’t take the jump to start a company, then you probably don’t really want it and that is totally okay.

“The era of wearable computing is pretty much upon us now.” – In Conversation with Vaishali Neotia of Merxius

As told to Mitali Mathur

Vaishali Neotia is the co-founder and CEO at Merxius Software – a highly awarded technology innovation company. At Merxius, she is responsible for all executive and strategic decisions of the company.

An engineer from Osmania University with a first class degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, she went on to add the Indian School of Business and Stanford Graduate School of Business to her educational experience.

She is a fellow of the Startup Leadership Program and currently also a Program Leader. She also speaks on women entrepreneurship and has been a guest speaker at the Grace Hopper conference as well as at the ICFAI Business School.

Merxius is a privately owned, multiple award winning technology Innovation  company, that works with Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Interactive and Web technologies. They create innovative products for the defence, health care and marketing sectors.

MERXIUS and AUGMENTED REALITY

1) The recent win by Merxius in the ‘Augmented Reality’ category of the Aegis Graham Bell Award 2014 is laudable. Did you expect to bag the award?

To be very honest, we gave a very good presentation and our product is brilliant. We were overwhelmed on winning this – It is a big deal for a micro enterprise to take part in a national level award and then win it. It felt like the culmination of all our efforts and hard work up till that point. 

2) Tell us about the award winning MARMO. How did the concept come about?

MARMO stands for Mobile Augmented Reality Platform for Machine Maintenance and Operations. It is a platform on top of which Augmented Reality apps can be built. In early 2014, after having spent two years looking for the right people for the task, the Army approached us to build an AR app to help with their machine operations. It just so happened that we were working on a similar idea.

We built upon our initial work and with the added research, MARMO was born. We built a prototype for the Army using MARMO. The first version was shown on a tablet and from there on we have been trying to fix on the right head mounted device. There have been some concerns with the Google Glass not being industrial grade, so we are looking at other devices also.

MARMO works wherever heavy or complex machinery is involved. It takes the content of instruction manuals and overlays them on top of the machine itself. The same flat boring content is now presented in the form of computer generated models and animations, but overlaid on top of the machine itself. This eliminates “context-switching” where the machine operator has to read the book for instructions then look at the machine. This not only reduces human error, but also improves efficiency. Also, the data can be presented in multiple languages, thereby eliminating any language barriers.

MARMO is capable of a lot of different types of applications, for very diverse fields. Any industry which uses heavy machinery can use this to their advantage. Whether they want to use this app for their internal training purposes or consumer related purposes, both would work.

So, if tomorrow a consumer electronic company approaches us to create an app for their washing machines with really complex panels which their customers do not know how to operate; then they can directly tell their customers to download this app instead of reading manuals or asking the company to send in service engineers for every small thing. In the automobile industry, customers can use an app like this to change the oil themselves by following the instructions, instead of waiting for the mechanics to do it for them. Automobile companies can also use it for their internal purposes when they are maintaining engines or working on some parts. Their workers can use this to maintain and operate their machines instead of wasting time on training them. It makes the entire process so much more efficient- saving time, increasing output and also reducing human errors. It all becomes very simple.

3) What is the future of Merxius, and of Augmented Reality?

Merxius wants to be a renowned technology innovation company in the world. Currently, we are working on AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) and if in future these have more advanced versions then we would like to work with them too. The larger purpose of the company itself is that we would like to see people enrich their everyday lives with the use of technology. We do not believe in the whole concept of AR and VR being the technologies of the future, because for us the future is now since we have the right tools and access to information and knowledge and the world is quite equal in that sense. So now in India, when all of these things are possible, we want people to realise how they can harness the power of technology to better their lives.

Augmented Reality is already a huge market world over. There are millions of dollars of investments already made on it and it is estimated that there are about 1.4 bn downloads of AR applications to happen in 2015. The market is expected to grow to $1.06 bn in the next 3 years. It is growing at a very good rate and its acceptance is also increasing. People are still ignorant as to the power of AR and VR and the brilliant applications that we can develop using them. The technology has already existed for a few decades and now is the best time to use it since the powerful devices needed for these apps are now easily available.

STARTUP LEADERSHIP

4) Startup Leadership, as you mentioned, has been an important part of your life. From SLP fellow to Co-Program leader, what has your experience been?

It was great for me, personally, when I joined SLP, to meet the class because until that point I had met entrepreneurs in the city and there was this general camaraderie, but the kind of camaraderie that generates when you are in a classroom together gives the feeling of being in a family. It was nice to soundboard ideas, discuss things with them and the interaction with the people who came to talk to us from the industry was simply great. There was this ‘Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon’ Every event that I went to, I would always see somebody from SLP – even at different places that I hung out at, suddenly there was someone from SLP there – it was like somebody of my own everywhere. Family and familiarity. Apart from that, there was the journey from being an SLP fellow to a Co-program lead – Interestingly, I was offered the position of a Program Leader, but I turned it down because I did not feel that I would have the right amount of time to dedicate to this as this is a role with a lot of responsibility. With the things that were going on in my company, I just could not do justice to that. The current PL is brilliant by the way and he’s doing a very good job.

As a Co-Program Lead, I feel that the contribution that comes as being a part of the team and especially since I am the only woman here, bringing my perspective into things is an interesting experience. It was my responsibility to make sure that the current batch had a decent number of well-deserving women in it, to further the whole concept of balancing entrepreneurship and having more women representatives in SLP. It was great to feel that I was encouraging others, especially women, and the reason that I am stressing on women is not because I am gender biased, but because in the Indian society it still happens that women are not often given the opportunity to be literate. So with that kind of a society, women, especially in their 20s, are just running against time. They have to fulfil their wishes of doing a Masters or having a job or fitting in whatever in they can before they get married. All of that has to be crunched into the time frame that they set for themselves, up to the age of 30. Maybe this exists because it is believed that the biological clock ends at 33, but now it doesn’t really hold true with many advancements in science. We women just set these age limits on our lives, and therefore lose out on something like entrepreneurship because what entrepreneurship requires is time, struggle and above all patience and when you are running against time you have none of these to spare. It is really great for me to see women entrepreneurs, from my ISB group, from the many women organisations I am a part of and every other woman that I have met, managing their households, their children and also handling their careers. It is very inspiring. Today, I feel that all we need to be women entrepreneurs is just the drive and the initiative, because we can do so many things and it is just the self-realisation and belief in ourselves that shows us our true potential which is way beyond what society expects of us.

ENGINEERING IN INDIA

5) India has always been amazing with its engineers. A lot of them, however, leave the country resulting in a brain drain. What are your views on this? 

Luckily for us, this kind of a brain drain has reduced over the years. This improvement is purely because of the whole opportunity and ecosystem that people see here. All that engineers need to grow and thrive are the right opportunities, and the right ecosystem. Things have changed and people are realising that there are good companies here. In fact, with the whole startup system, there were people who would leave and go and startup in the US because they did not have the right exposure and the right companies here, but now this has changed significantly. There are so many good startups that have been set up in India in the last few years. The trend is slowly changing and what we could probably do to further push or reduce this brain drain is to make sure that we create the right ecosystem and we keep the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation alive. Once that support is there, people would not need to look for greener pastures. Even what SLP is doing, the way it’s fostering the entrepreneurship spirit in India, is just brilliant. We do not have to go to the US to be in an entrepreneurial ecosystem anymore. We are still not the same kind of crowd as there is in the US, but it is getting there and SLP itself is doing a lot in that direction. SLP is already present in about 6-7 cities, and slowly expanding.

6) Engineering is perceived as a male dominated field. The ratio of men to women engineers is, arguably, disappointing. How do you suggest our country should change this?

Women are in this race during their 20s, as I discussed earlier, and engineering is traditionally a year longer than the other fields. So even that extra year matters a lot when you are running against time. That could probably be one of the reasons why women tend to do it in lesser numbers. Now the ratios are not as bad as they were earlier. Maybe there is still a misbalance in the traditional fields like civil and mechanical, but in fields like CS, EEE, EC etc., the situation is not that bad anymore. It all boils down to the same reason of how women are trying to fit all of this into the mentioned time frame. They are seeing this as a waste of an extra year and that’s why there are so many things that they don’t even have the opportunity to do. The change can happen with women changing their own mindsets, and pushing their families to understand and accept the same.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP:

7) When did you decide you wanted to enter the sphere of entrepreneurship? Did anyone in particular inspire you? How did you envisage your future as a child? 

Nobody in particular, but I could probably say that I have entrepreneurship in my blood since I am a Marwari. (laughs)  But essentially I am a first generation entrepreneur in my family. It so happened that in the final year of my engineering, my present partner and I created a Facebook Application on the Football World Cup 2010 (in which Spain won). The App that we created was quite unique, fun and very well accepted. That gave a spark to a possibility that since we have some good ideas we could very well implement them. It all boiled down to that moment where we had to make the decision between doing an MS, accepting the job offers that we had and starting up. At that time, based on popular advice and what everyone else was doing we just had two options, doing an MS or taking up the job offers. So when we decided to take the plunge and start up, the first and only thing that came to our minds was that we anyways want to do this and if we don’t do it now then when will we do it – we were young and had nothing to lose apart from a few years of our lives. Later on in life you have so many more commitments – your families, cushioned jobs, loans and it gets more and more difficult to let all that go. We also knew that the kind of jobs that we were getting would anyway take us a good few years until we reached any decent sort of role that would actually help us grow as individuals. We knew that once we got into the safety and security of a well-paying job, it would be difficult to move out and start your own new thing. Even though at that point, there is some money and experience that one can ride on.

All said and done, we did not see a point in waiting because the knowledge we had at that point of time was sufficient to help us get started with what we wanted.

8.) What, according to you, are some of the common mistakes that startups make? How do you suggest they overcome these?

I advise that all startups should get a mentor, somebody who you can look up to, somebody who has knowledge about the field they are in. This would save you a lot of time in learning something on your own what somebody else could easily guide you upon.

Another thing that is very important is to have a co-founder. There is nothing wrong in starting alone, but from my own experience and what I have seen with other people, I think it is very necessary to have support. There is always this fear of co-founder conflicts-that the co-founder will ruin me or run away with all the money, betray me etc. All of that can be easily sorted out if you both get along at some level and you have a good and solid agreement when you start out. If you have these two things in place, it will smoothen out your journey. Predominantly, if you have a co-founder, there is this supportive system because what often happens with first time entrepreneurs is that they are adrift alone on the sea, so this way, at least there is somebody else on the boat with them. Even soundboarding ideas off of the other person and getting their perspective is great, because at some level- both of you have vested interests in what you are doing. There are a lot of battles in life which you have to fight alone anyway, but this one you really don’t need to.

FUNDING, CHALLENGES AND FEARS:

9) Now that Merxius has bagged such glory, it won’t be difficult to raise funds. Was it difficult in the initial stages of starting your company? How did you tackle this problem?

To be very honest, we have not actively approached anybody for funding up till now. First, because we were still stabilizing ourselves and second, because we have always been a services company and it becomes difficult to actually come up with a decent valuation in terms of getting funding. MARMO is actually our first product and now it is important for us to get funding because that will help us scale quickly. The way we have grown so far has been very organic, but to grow bigger and faster now, more resources would definitely help. I do think that the accolades and recognition that we have received will help open some doors for us, but nothing really guarantees funding because at the end of the day it is a business proposal and the wavelengths have to match and everybody has to get a fair deal out of it.

10) Were you afraid when Hasan and you began the company? What were the things you were apprehensive of? How do you see those fears today?

Our biggest apprehension was whether we would succeed or not, whether we would disappoint our families and ourselves. We were taking a huge risk and this was an opportunity cost, the last 4-5 years that we spent on this, we could have easily been in some well cushioned jobs and earning a very good salary. There was also the fear of the unknown- you always fear something that you really do not know anything about. The way we tackled this was simply by being very sure of what we wanted to do and we were also sure that the timing was right, that it had to be then. Also, with our families, even if they were not fully convinced of this step, they were always behind us and supported us. There were initial hiccups, but all of that gets figured out if you have the conviction in yourself. I think all that has paid up somewhere, we have gone through many ups and downs and there have been moments where we really needed motivation. We really enjoy what we do and have this conviction that technology is now and not something of the future. We really do want everybody to enrich their lives with the use of good technology. We want to be this technology innovation company that is doing this indigenously. (It is funny that you asked this today because earlier today somebody from my extended family called and we were having a conversation about Merxius’ recent accomplishments. They were admitting to me that they thought I was wasting my potential and that somewhere they had been disappointed, but now inspite of the fact that I was not fully supported, I have done this. They are very proud of me, and it was great to hear that, the belief somewhere is validated.)

11) Have you run into any problems in the course of managing Merxius? What was the nature of these problems? How did you overcome them?

The biggest problems are always the financial hassles. There are other problems that come and go, but this is the devil that is always hanging on top of your head. We have managed so far by taking incremental investments from our families as loans, and we have worked with other companies in the sense that we have created interesting and innovative applications for them. A lot of times our own ideas took a backseat because we did not have the time or resources to work on them. We have not fully overcome it, but it is a constant process- allocating budgets and balancing. It will become easier if banks give loans easier, and collateral free instead of just having that on paper; And if governments could provide funds for deserving companies to scale faster and grow.

Another thing that was prevalent initially but has thankfully reduced now, is not being taken seriously. So when we started out, at that time, the startup ecosystem was not so well developed as it is right now. Every time we told people that we were a startup, they thought that it was an experiment and did not really take us seriously. We were like two little kids experimenting. And that was not very encouraging. Thankfully, things have changed and we are now a micro-enterprise and not a startup anymore. The way we overcame that problem was by taking ourselves seriously and we were very clear with what we wanted. We did not use the startup tag to get people to treat us differently, unless in exhibitions etc where we wanted a little bit of funding (we would tell them that we are a startup so please give us discounts).

Another problem that has been there is hiring the right kind of people and resources. We now take a lot of interns but initially, we were very apprehensive about taking somebody full time – the pressure of somebody else’s responsibility and salary was huge. In fact, even now, we take a lot lesser salary than what we pay our people. Taking this responsibility was a huge fear for us and for a very long time we did not hire anybody fulltime. And when we did hire somebody, it turned out that he was only interested in the money and somebody who wasn’t really serious about his work. It felt bad because we had hired after a lot of deliberation, but we did not let that daunt us. So we went ahead and hired more people, we learnt from our mistakes and knew what to look for. We made sure that there was a lot of good communication within the company. With all of our employees, we do not follow a hierarchical system, it is more of a heterarchical one. We are all on the same plane and there is open communication, where we have weekly meetings and discuss everybody’s work in front of everybody else, we discuss plans and projects for now and for the future. Apart from keeping the communication lines open all the time, we also make sure that everybody takes out some time in the week to just work on their ideas or something that they like- that keeps the whole innovation and spark going. We are flexible with them and have had a discussion with them regarding their salaries, so that everyone is on the same page and there is no dissent. These small things have really helped us and luckily our current team is quite stable and we have had them for a while now.

GENDER AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

12) Do you think the trends, with regard to gender and entrepreneurship, are changing?

In entrepreneurship, apart from the general fact that there are certain problems that women face, you can also extrapolate and say that there are men also who do not become entrepreneurs so easily. It is just that for women it is even lesser based on the opportunities, society and their own realisation. With entrepreneurship in general, there aren’t many people who are doing it. Entrepreneurship should not just be about starting up a company, it is also at every level and in everything that we do in our daily lives. Being an entrepreneur is taking initiative, leadership, being innovative and having the spirit to act. Even in a job, or if I am working in my father’s company or somebody else’s company, I think I can still innovate and have that entrepreneurial spirit in me. Right now, it is quite crushed in most people because even though they may have this kind of a spirit, it is more often than not throttled when they join certain jobs where their ideas are not accepted. They are slowly bogged down by bureaucracy and hierarchy and I think that this is something that needs to be addressed. It can be changed by all of us individually if we keep at it and see that we have the potential to do more than we already do. There is this very interesting quote that I read somewhere- “people judge you by the extent of their potential. If someone says it’s impossible, it is for them, not you.”  A lot of times people forget this – we do not know the extent of our own potential.

FUTURE

13) Now that your company has beaten some of the giants, like Times Alive and Aircel, it must be an exciting time for you. What are you currently working on?

We are currently working on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and we are doing a lot of simulation work around it. We are currently focussing on defence, automobiles and looking at exploring consumers electronic companies because now that we have the product we can build a lot of applications on it.

14) The AR field is highly popular these days. The Google Glass is a revolutionary product, but unaffordable for the common man. Do you think this shall change in the near future?

Firstly, there are other devices as well, but it is just that Google knows how to market its products very well. This is there with everything, so for example today the IPhone6 is for 70,000 and after a couple of months it will come down to 50,000 and once another version comes out, it will drop further. With technology, it always starts out expensive, but depending on the innovation in the same device itself, prices do start becoming more affordable. The Google Glass at present is extremely expensive, but it is not really ready for consumer use. The problem with the glass right now is that it does not have a lot of battery. As a device itself, it is not really evolved so much that a developer can use it. So for mass usage and consumer usage, they will have to create another version. The price barrier is something like the chicken and egg thing, that exists because there is no real need for the consumer and because the price is so high the consumer feels that there is no real need. With better and more powerful versions, the price of the glass will possibly drop. There are a lot of competitive devices in the market and some of them are priced lower than the glass. The era of wearable computing is pretty much upon us now.

ZOMATO: GETS $60 MILLION IN FUNDING – PROJECTED TO BE WORLD’S EXPERT IN DINING OUT

By Trisha Pande:

ZOMATO AND ITS HISTORY

dgpc1.jpgWith modest beginnings in the city of Bengaluru, Zomato had displayed its might as far back as 2010, though called Foodiebay.in when it was started. Founded by IIT’s Deepinder Goyal, it expanded and reached Pune, and was invested in by Info (Edge) with a whopping sum of $1 million. It proceeded to launch mobile apps on the Android, Apple, Windows and Blackberry appstores – making nearby restaurants and the assessment of their menus by foodies available on their handheld devices.

The concept of ‘food porn’ is another interesting thing that they utilized – glamorising food through tantalizing pictures, so that it looks irresistible. Zomato launched a .xxx domain domain in 2011, dedicated to food porn!

The second round of funding for this delicious company arose, again, from Info (Edge), but this time it was $3.5 million.

THE REVOLUTIONARY APP TODAY


Having personally used Zomato, I can account for the fact that it is my number one go-to app in the time of a decision crisis related to food. Its interface is easy to use, and I can follow my friends to discover where they’re eating, what they’re eating and how they liked it.

Restaurant owners are more liable to their customers now, because a few bad reviews by unsatisfied customers will make their ratings go down – and Zomato is better than word of mouth to assess poor customer service.

The ‘lists’ feature of Zomato is especially useful – where users can create lists dedicated to different genres of foods – be it the best places to eat burgers, go for a night out or simply enjoy some desi food.

Another amazing feature is that it uploads the entire menu on their database, so that the user isn’t confused or constantly wasting her time wondering which place will serve what. Depending on the amount of cash in one’s wallet, or their bank balance, they can pick the perfect place.

Today, Zomato is included in no less than 15 countries – these being Brasil, Canada, Chile, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, UAE and UK!

IN THE NEWS

ee38e127-518b-402c-8abb-1bdde246aeab_screen0.jpgThis phenomenal company got another $60 million in funding (about Rs. 370 crore) on Wednesday, again jointly led by Info (Edge) and a new investor called Vy Capital. Till date, Zomato has raised $113 million, and is valued at $660 million today!

Deepinder Goyal has been quoted saying that Zomato is well on its way to becoming the world’s expert in dining out.

Zomato now caters to 300,000 restaurants across the globe, and has 30 million hits across its mobile apps and website in a month.

Info (Edge) is extremely proud to be backing Zomato, and its founder, Sanjeev Bikhchandani stated, “the company is growing very fast, and we are proud to back them up to further grow the business – both inside and outside of India.”

Sources:

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/smartbuy/tech-news/zomato-gets-60-million-funding/article6613751.ece

http://indianexpress.com/article/technology/technology-others/zomato-gets-60-million-more-in-funding-now-valued-at-660-million/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_porn

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zomato

https://in.linkedin.com/in/deepigoyal

REVOLUTIONISING HUMAN-CAR RELATIONSHIP – CarIQ

By: Neha Verma

How it works:

cariq_technology_mashup.png

http://pn.ispirt.in/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/cariq_technology_mashup.png

CarIQ is a product designed with the idea of making a car smarter. It is a small device that can be easily plugged into the car’s OBD port, near the steering wheel. Once successfully plugged in, it collects data from the car’s microcomputer and sends it to the servers hosted on the cloud. This device has varied features wherein information about events ranging from something as common as the head lights being left on when parked to something as dire as a potential car breakdown can be gathered. With CarIQ, owners can remotely manage, monitor, and interact with their vehicles.
In light of recent events, such as the heinous Uber Cab company rape case, devices like this are the need of the hour. Not only does CarIQ give useful inputs to enhance car performance, it also helps in tracking driver behaviour and sends out important alerts for overspeeding, rash driving and the like.

A detailed list of the features CarIQ supports is as follows :

  • Critical alerts

  • Technical problems with the car

  • Service alerts

  • Battery monitor and health

  • ‘Headlight On’ warning

  • Location information

  • Statistics sharing on Facebook and Twitter

  • Social badges for driver, car condition, etc.

  • Towing alerts

  • Crash alert

  • Over-speeding alerts

  • Rash driving identification

  • Personalized tips for driving (based on driving pattern)

  • Fuel economy

  • Download Entire car driving data

Meet the company and its CEO

Founded in August 2012, CarIQ was guided by the vision to connect car owners to their cars. It boasts of having launched India’s first connected car platform. Sagar Apte, founder and CEO of CarIQ, is an SLP Pune Fellow from the batch of 2013. Having graduated from Xavier School of Management, he has rich experience in product management, services and marketing. Prior to establishing CarIQ along with his colleagues, Sagar had worked for various big companies like Symantec, PubMatic and Ensim.

CarIQ is run by a team of passionate and goal driven individuals who believe in changing the world through innovative technology.

Sources:

SLP Delhi Fellow’s Startup Selected For Microsoft Venture Accelerator

By Mitali Mathur

The BIG News

After a gruelling selection procedure and competition from over 300 startups based in 32 countries around the world, Observe Design, co-founded by an SLP Fellow (New Delhi chapter, 2015), emerged as one of the 11 lucky startups that got selected for the prestigious Microsoft Venture Accelerator Program. This programme is specifically designed for Healthcare and Cyber Security Startups and only six healthcare startups have been chosen from around the world for this year’s programme.This intense and well structured 4 month program will help startups to develop products and services on a world-class level and to make a quick  jump to the global market.

Observe Design

Observe Design is a medical device innovation company with the vision to address the pressing healthcare challenges of the society. It aims to identify the unfulfilled needs of the healthcare system through a keen observation of the market and then solve the identified problems by developing user centered designs.Observe Design is mentored by experts from various institutions including AIIMS, IIM-A, IITs, South Moravian Innovation Center, Czech ICT Alliance and SID-Pune. On the occasion of the  Global Hand Hygiene Day (May 5)( an initiative by the World Health Organization), Observe Design launched an innovative wearable medical device called “Hansure” to fight MERS and other contagious infections.

The Microsoft Venture Accelerator Programme

This immersive programme is specially designed for innovative and promising early-stage startups or first-time entrepreneurs, and aims to provide the startups with strong mentoring, technical guidance, business connections and unparalleled routes to market, to help their companies  grow and mature. Apart from receiving mentoring and individualized guidance from over 100 mentors(senior high-tech and business professionals), Microsoft and industry mentors will also provide the startups with hands-on expertise in key areas like business modeling, connections with prospects and partners, user experience/design, exposure to relevant investors and technology architecture.

Observe Design has also secured additional funds from Becton Dickinson (BD) and Healthbox.

BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), a leading global medical technologies company, and Healthbox, the American healthcare accelerator and investor, will also be joining the healthcare accelerator and offer entrepreneurs an optional investment of $75,000 via convertible bonds and grants, in addition to mentoring from experienced managers who will assist the startups in understanding the healthcare market, customers’ needs, along with potential reimbursement, clinical and regulatory requirements.

Sources:

http://www.observedesign.in/

http://www.microsoftventures.com/blog/tabid/233/ID/79/Microsoft-Ventures-Accelerator-in-Tel-Aviv-Welcomes-Fifth-Batch-of-Startups.aspx

http://www.geektime.com/2014/09/11/microsoftventures-announces-11-startups-for-thematic-accelerator-in-israel/

http://www.starcube.cz/news/observe-design-hand-hygiene-dreams-and-potatoes/

http://www.telegraphindia.com/pressrelease/prnw/enin201405050429_indiapublic.html

LUCA Venture Launches a Global Social Funding Platform

By: Mitali Mathur

Your Contribution. Your Reward.

Flowchart

LUCA:

Founded by Christopher Fung, the co-program leader for the Shanghai Chapter(2013-2014), LUCA is a new and a very different kind of venture which brings about change by combining the power of foreign exchange and crowdfunding. With a passion for social equity, LUCA’s vision is to empower the world with adequate and equal access to health and education. It sources capital from small investors everywhere through a high-yield forex portfolio, and then invests in entrepreneurs with businesses that have a powerful social impact.

THE SOCIAL FUNDING PLATFORM:

Backed by a team of successful entrepreneurs, VCs, engineers, marketers and finance experts, LUCA provides funding and support to companies at any stage of growth. It provides a complete pro-bono marketing and crowdfunding service and aims to form a long-term relationship with all its entrepreneurs, wherein it mentors them and helps them with their businesses. It’s like a lifetime campaign with the additional benefits of mentorship and resources that come with any traditional VC. Continuously backed by crowdfunders, LUCA operates with a “true evergreen” fund and therefore has the resources to continually invest in new entrepreneurs and stay engaged with previous ones.

Bite Sized and Lucrative-People can make small investments as per their convenience and receive periodic notifications of high returns as their equity grows.

Helping Entrepreneurs- As crowdfunded creators, LUCA funds innovative minds and technology and dedicated teams. It enjoys transnational resources and international mentorship as it shares a global resource network with venture funds and accelerators. LUCA provides strong support to its entrepreneurs in terms of product innovation, talent management, marketing strategy etc. It encourages and enables its companies to share capabilities, cross-pollinate and help in each other’s growth.

Global Social Impact- LUCA gives priority to organisations specializing in Primary health care, connectivity and communication, experiential learning and Civil Empowerment.

Source:

lucaventure.com

Right on Target!

By Pragya Yadav

The tech startup based in Delhi, TargetingMantra, founded by the SLP Delhi fellow Saurabh Nangia, alongwith his co-founder, Rahul Singh, has scored a $1.1 million investment. A couple of their former colleagues at Amazon joined them soon after the inception of the company in March’13. Within six months of operations, the startup got over 40 clients across India, the US, South Africa, Mexico, and Europe. TargetingMantra is a ‘Software as a Service’ based personalization platform that creates real time suggestions based on customer’s browsing and shopping habits along with the insights from the profiles of similar users and comparable tastes. These suggestions help customers find similar items from the catalogue, new releases and popular combinations of products. Personalization in e-commerce is about delivering tailored shopping experiences to a targeted audience at the right time. They targeted a one stop solution – an ensemble of multiple machine-learning algorithms. As using separate tools, limits the impact, makes management cumbersome and delivers no marginal benefits. The firm analyses multiple data sources that increase conversion rates and revenue for e-commerce players. It also has an impressive set of names backing it: Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, Rajan Anandan, Managing Director of Google India, Ankur Warikoo, CEO for APAC at Groupon, among others. Having said that, TargetingMantra does have two huge challenges ahead of them – very few companies in this region are currently mature enough in the industry life cycle to appreciate the importance of their services. They are also finding it tough to hire good engineers who understand machine learning and big data analytics. They believe it is their passion and perseverance that has brought them here and to use the funding from 500Startups, Nexus Venture Partners, and One97 Mobility Fund to further develop its offering, create new products, and boost business development and marketing.This cloud based personalization platform provides ample business opportunities, especially in emerging markets!

Sources:

1.       http://yourstory.com/2013/12/targetingmantra/

2.       http://www.theworldreporter.com/2014/02/targetingmantra-personalization-solutions.html

3.       https://www.techinasia.com/targetingmantra-ecommerce-enabler/

4.       http://venturebeat.com/2014/09/15/targetingmantra-scores-1-1-million-to-make-more-recommendations/