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Posts in category Entrepreneurship

Copycat mime or Mousedroid?

Stories of inventors and innovators are usually celebrated and fun to come by. I personally enjoy reading about innovators. I find it thrilling to get a glimpse into their lives and personalities and how that relates to the real story behind their successful innovations. I have noticed, however, that the key word is always successful. Seldom do we read about would-be innovators, whose projects for one reason or another never pulled through, or worse, whose intentions and ideas remained in the world of imagination. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a nice world to live in, especially for a student, but we all know the benefits of bringing great ideas into the real world, whatever that may be. For ease of reference let’s call it "the market."

Well, I have one of those stories for you here. This blog entry is about an idea I came up with about a year ago. I thought it was a pretty unique idea until a friend pointed me to a web page that showed a similar innovation, already implemented and marketed! I felt a sudden excitement seeing that my idea had a real world relative, but at the same time I felt disappointment and regret for not having spent more time working on the idea. I could give several excuses for why I did not do it, but instead i’ll be honest here, I just didn’t believe strongly enough in my own idea. I’ll get back to this, but first let me tell you about my idea. I suspect it might still have some promise, and I’m currently thinking of how to change it and make it better. For this I need your help. Here’s the plan: I will first go through my idea, and then through the strong points of its potential successor, to close I will ask for your opinion, to see whether or not my idea still has any hope. 

So let’s get to it. My idea is about an application for mobile phones. Mobile phones, like some of the one’s running Google Android, include capabilities for location-based services. Recent changes in the Android SDK, available since version 0.9, added a new sensor service to control enabling/disabling the compass and accelerometer functions in supported mobile phones. Combining compass functions together with the location-based service APIs available in Android, makes new and interesting applications possible. What does this mean? It means that mobile phones can now use GPS functions to detect where in the world the phone is located, and compass and acceleration detection functions to get information about movement and direction. This opens the door for interesting applications.  

Combining location with user interaction, enables a mobile phone user to, for instance, “click” on a building to obtain information about it. But how? Well, when a user “clicks” on a building a “virtual bullet” would be fired and tracked (through software) in it’s path towards the target. Each step in this path would involve a look-up to a mapping service that answers the question: Is this a building? The process of tracking and look-up’s continues until the “virtual bullet” hits a building. When it does, the answer would be: This is a building! Then information from the mapping service would be sent back to the mobile phone, for instance in the form of a webpage. New and interesting uses could be given to such an application. For instance, user’s could click on billboards, buildings, objects or even people (granted all security and privacy concerns have been addressed). This application would be a bridge between the physical and virtual worlds, allowing users to literally surf the world (wide web). The image below shows a sketch I drew when explaining the idea to some friends over dinner at Aula.



The application I mentioned previously is already in the market, and was a finalist in the Android Developer Challenge. It is called Wikitude (see below for a 1 minute demo). It is an application for Android that uses location-based information from Wikipedia content to display real-time information about its surroundings. It does this by displaying the information on the mobile phone’s screen about the surroundings of a user who points the phone to a specific location, as if taking a photo or video. One thing I find impressive is that distance doesn’t seem to matter for this application, as the demo shown below shows, points of interest are annotated regardless of how far they are from the user. Another feature I like is how the application presents information about several sites simultaneously and in real-time, without the need for user interaction with the application. At the same time, however, this is a limitation of Wikitude. Despite the ease of use that comes from limited interaction, there are many disadvantages to leaving the user out completely. In my opinion, more relevant information, beyond an informative banner, could be presented to the user, and more importantly, could be the trigger to user interaction.

Much like we interact with the world around us, as opposed to only looking at it, an application for reality augmentation, such as the ones discussed before, should enable users to interact with both virtual and physical worlds. For instance, and this is something I just thought of, second life could be integrated to our real life. Meshing information available on the Internet with things that are out there, such as objects, people, buildings, cars, and so on, would enable a substantial augmentation of reality. Moreover, such integration could be done at different levels of reality and detail, enabling people to create their own version of reality through interaction with their personally created world(s). Comparing Wikitude to Mousedroid (the name I gave to my idea), I see differences that can guide further development and use. As I mentioned previously, I think a powerful feature would be the ability to interact with the user’s surrounding environment. Wikitude does not, as far as I know, offer this feature. Because the information is only presented to the user, without the need for interaction, the potential for manipulating the environment is limited. This is an important difference that could mean success for Mousedroid. 

So, what do you think? Does Mousedroid stand a chance? Perhaps some of this sounds like day dreaming, and partly it is, as it’s mostly brainstorming at this point. But I enjoy this part of coming up with something new, be it what it may, anything from an essay to an invention. Most importantly, the lesson I learned from this experience is to have more confidence in my own ideas, keeping in mind that successful innovations all started out once as "just an idea."

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Bees and Hyves

Have you ever realized that a speaker is outstanding after listening to only a few of his or her words? Have you been interested in a lecture after just a few minutes of sitting in? Sometimes a witty remark right after the first few sentences is enough to attract the attention of a crowd. Great speakers share something that makes their presentations captivating without a need for eye-catching slides, gimmicks or fireworks. They posses a certain air about them, speak clearly and articulately, and make clever use of humor. Several entrepreneurs are bees in this hive (or Hyves in this case). This includes Koen Kam, one of the founders of Hyves – the Dutch social networking site – and an alumni of TU Delft. Koen was the guest speaker at ABC Delft's latest lecture held at the Art Centre Delft on June 5th.

Koen went through the phases of a high-tech start-up based on his experience with Hyves. This included booting-up the start-up (like you would with a computer after pressing the "on" button), dating angels, avoiding red flags, operating in stealth-mode, airing a product, and eventually scaling-out. The lecture started with a brief introduction about the advantages students have in starting a company. Big words were mentioned – optimism, future, and risk. Koen considers students as "empty vessels" that haven't been spoiled by corporate muddling (he started his own company when he was 19). This quickly captured the student crowd's attention. Then Koen took a sharp turn by confidently stating that a Business Plan is not needed, at least not in the very early stages. A few mumbles were heard from an audience that featured students from the course on 'Writing a Business Plan'!

Being smart and agile as an entrepreneur includes knowing when to seek funding. Money from venture capitalists is hard to come by for a young company without a product and no track-record. In short: you won't get it! according to Koen. Some entrepreneurs, he said, are lucky to date an "Angel" – provided they have something to show and can convey huge market potential. This can be done through a demo. With this mention of a demo a former classmate from Starting New Ventures whispered in my ear "…this is not what Ken taught us" (in reference to Ken Morse's example of scaring a jury away with a demo). This guy was missing the point, as Koen was talking here of the very early stages of a start-up when a company barely has one customer whereas Ken's lectures focused on selling an existing solution to a jury in the context of a global company. This confusion was similar to the one caused by the controversial 'you don't need a Business Plan' statement. This made me realize that early in the game a demo can speak more than a Business Plan, especially in the case of a high-tech start-up. For a cross-check with history Koen mentioned the case of Google, Apple, and other legendary high-tech companies. 

Then came the red flags, always something to watch out for. Koen mentioned a few – big salaries, marketing budgets, and change of plans. While operating in stealth-mode entrepreneurs should hold back, work hard, stick to their plans, and tell everyone about their ideas. Pitching, Koen said, gives entrepreneurs the chance to spread their vision and get some feedback (which can sometimes include the horrible truth as I would soon find out).

The most interesting part of Koen's lecture was his detailing of the scaling-out phase. At this point Koen mentioned Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point." This is a great book about how little changes can make a big difference. Having read the book, I knew what Koen meant when he talked about the importance of leveraging different types of people, hiring A+ players, and how getting things done and a short-time to market can be crucial to success. The first is about identifying different types of people; some are better at selling and communicating, others at analyzing and informing. Knowing the right people and leveraging their "type" can do wonders for entrepreneurs, like for example igniting the flame of word of mouth marketing.

My favorite part of the lecture came during the Q&A. Koen was asked about his dreams. He answered that his dream is to play at the same level as companies in Silicon Valley. Resisting acquisition shows he truly believes in his company and his answer confirmed it.   

After the session was over I walked up to Koen and thanked him for a great lecture. I even took the chance to pitch my idea to him, following what I'd just heard. Koen gave me the horrible truth! Although my idea was nice, he said, I shouldn't loose sight of the bigger picture and instead think of all the options and consider market winning propositions. I really appreciated his comments because I found his straight and direct feedback more useful than a complement. As for the idea, I won't pitch that here just yet as I'm now developing it further…

Until next time 😉 

The Elevator Pitched me a curveball…

Giving an elevator pitch is not as easy as it seems. I confirmed this personally in YES!Delft‘s "Made in 60 seconds" elevator pitch contest. As the start of the activities of the High-tech Entrepreneurship week, coincidentally, it also marked the start of my Google Summer of Code project – Incubating an Android in Delft – which was the subject of my pitch. Anyway, as my name was called (I was the first contestant) I stepped up to the floor and started pitching-away…A few seconds into it I realized some of what I had prepared had vanished from my mind!! I managed to improvise but my pitch did not make as much sense as it should’ve, I confirmed this from questions from the jury at the end of first round.

Then, watching the other contestants’ pitches I noticed that the big-screen clock seemed to go slower than normal. That made me realize that time was the problem! It’s not that pitching-time is some sort of a time-warp or that talking in public is some obscure new art, but instead it’s a really simple problem: when pitching or just speaking in public some people tend to speak much faster (at least I usually do) than they usually would. Speaking clearly and articulately is something to keep in mind as it is crucial in getting one’s point across. I think this was the key take-away from the contest for me, in addition to giving concrete numbers (like money and so on) or data to create some sense of urgency.

I sticked around and enjoyed the rest of the event. During the third round there were some excellent pitches, even some really funny ones that deserved a standing ovation but didn’t manage to make it through to the final round. Feedback from the jury was really useful throughout the event, and with one of the jury members it even included up-close-and-personal advice on tactics and techniques to use when pitching – cocktail party, elevator or otherwise. After a final "why should I win" pitch, it was one of my previous classmates from Ken Morse’s ‘Starting New Ventures’ course that won the honors. All in all it was a great experience, surely worth repeating if only to hear about the great ideas floating around campus here in Delft and taking another swing at that convex elevator curve ball!

For those interested, my pitch and more information about my project can be found here: http://androidindelft.googlepages.com 

The “Indivers Phenomenon”

Today I attended the "Indivers Phenomenon" lecture by Dr. Bert Twaalfhoven, the newest in the series organized by ABC Delft. The lecture was lively and had an up-close-and-cozy feel to it, in part because of the great venue and crisp quality sound from the hazzle-free wireless speaker system (something key for lectures in my opinion) It was held at the Theater de Veste and featured great guests and some nice snacks and refreshments. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Twaalfhoven's lecture, he is an oustanding speaker or "preacher" as he himself puts it. In his lecture, I noted three key take-aways that I believe are very insightful and useful to keep in mind.

  • Study the cascade of suppliers. Understand your industry, know what's going on, and perform thorough analysis.
  • Understand the barriers of entry to your industry, perform thorough analysis including cases of failure.
  • Always make a negative business plan. Dare to make it negative, and follow-up on it on a month-by-month basis.

I'm already looking forward to ABC Delft's next lecture…

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