Shazeeye's Blog Thoughts on User Experience, Technology and Business

30Jul/110

Using technology to bring social change

On July 19th I went for a symposium on social change. The panel included Ossama Hassanein, an angel investor and mentor to Arab entrepreneurs, Craig Newmark, Founder and CEO of Craigslist, Sam Bernie, Sr. Director of Engineering at Kiva, Megan Trotter, Program Manager at Tenderloin Technology Lab at St. Anthony Foundation, Jake Levitas, Research Director at Gray Area Foundation For The Arts and Ed Bice, moderator of the panel and founder of Meedan, a non-profit social technology company which aims to increase cross-language interaction on the web.

The event was hosted at St. Anthony's Foundation, a nonprofit that serves a million meals every year to the needy and also acts as a clinic, counseling center and much more. Each panel member spoke of various initiatives they are spearheading to spread social change or the the use of technology to initiate solutions that make sense for the community. Some of those initiatives are listed below.

Craig Newmark founded Craig Connects to support 100+ non profits do good for the community. Though there are many areas the organization focuses on Craig spoke about his work to support military families and veterans. He mentioned that the biggest challenge with social change is that people doing good aren't good at talking about it so that they can get more funding, PR, etc. so he is working hard at addressing this issue especially in sifting the effective and deserving nonprofits from the others.

Sam Bernie who worked at the Grameen Foundation before joining Kiva said that social change is about empowering people at the grass roots level. People such as you and I Provide loans to  entrepreneurs on Kiva primarily because of the moving stories that help establish a meaningful connection between the lender and the entrepreneur. He hopes to create a deeper connection between the lender and borrower through technology. For example, Kiva may add a feature to track multiple loans for a person over time so that lenders can follow the borrower on his or her journey. Sam also states that the divide between access and capital should be narrowed. For example, he helped roll out a web based social initiative in Lebanon but people never used technology there so changes had to be made to best help them.

Ossama Hassanein is connecting Arab entrepreneurs with American Venture Capitalists to help navigate Arab countries through poverty. He has helped finance more than 100,000 companies in his career.

Megan Trotter teaches people to use technology - computers, social media, basic editing software, etc. She states that social change can only come about through education. We can all use technology and resources to solve hunger, poverty, etc. but human contact is essential in facilitating these programs to success. Her classes educate 100 people every day to learn technology at the St. Anthony's Foundation.

Jake Levitas works with technology and government to implement change. His hack-a-thons help organize programmers to build applications to solve social problems. He hosts one every weekend during summer and connects people with the government through this program. His projects include mayoral candidates and he believes that challenges such as these hack-a-thons help sieve through the noise and get people to act more than talk aimlessly. For example, he states how technology helped people find loved ones during the Haiti earthquake.

30Apr/110

UC Berkeley Business Plan Competition: Part 2 of 2

You can read about the first four finalists at the UC Berkeley Business Plan Competition here.

5. Picatcha: is a picture-based captcha that uses images of brands instead of text thus getting ad revenue too. Captchas are text messages to distinguish humans from computers to prevent spam and improve security. They are used on blogs, contact forms, e-commerce sites, etc. Picatcha improves usability and security over current captchas. It aims to recapture the 3-18% new users that leave a website due to a frustrating captcha experience and prevent the 60% hacked captchas.

6. Intimal Solutions: cures deeply embedded ulcers on feet and legs that can't be treated by substitute technologies. This minimally invasive method is a relief to substitutes - surgery or tight compression bandages that may not help and the problem could recur. Intimal Solutions tested a group of patients and found that the technology heals 84% ulcers in 25 weeks and the problem does not recur. They have already applied for 3 patents and received insurance codes to bill to.

7. Easy Parking Spot: is an online parking marketplace. It helps small businesses, individuals, schools, churches, etc. monetize their parking spots by posting their parking availability and cost on this website as well as placing physical signs in front of their parking spaces to help with branding. Using a mobile app you can identify a parking spot near your location and reserve it or recharge it with this app without having to go to the parking meter to add quarters.

8. Gram Power: is a pay-as-you-go energy storage system to improve energy accessibility in the $11.6B rural energy market in India and Africa. This prepaid plan is activated by a dongle and can help entrepreneurs and individuals get access to electricity for a minimal cost. This electricity rental plan will be distributed and managed by sales managers.

Competition Winners

Grand Prize ($20,000): Intimal Solutions

People's Choice Award ($5000): Imprint Energy

Best Elevator Pitch ($1000): Inserogen

Semifinal track winners:

IT & Web: Kopo Kopo and Picatcha competed and Kopo Kopo won

Energy & Clean Tech: Imprint Energy and Gram Power competed and Imprint Energy won

Life sciences: Cardio Paint and Intimal Solutions competed and Intimal Solutions won

Products & Services: Axis and Easy Parking Spot competed and Axis won

30Apr/110

UC Berkeley Business Plan Competition: Part 1 of 2

I went to the UC Berkeley annual business plan competition on Friday evening. It was insightful and impressive. Eight finalists were chosen from 35 semi finalists by a panel of eight judges. Eight finalists were given 15 minutes each to present their ideas and the remaining 27 semi finalists who didn't make it to the final round were given 1 minute to give an elevator pitch. Finalists belonged to one of four tracks - IT & Web, Energy & Clean Tech, Life sciences, Products & Services. There were 2 finalists in each track. Three prizes were distributed at the end of the evening: People's Choice Award ($5000), Best Elevator Pitch ($1000) and Grand Prize ($20,000).

To get details on the semi finalists please read through the UC Berkeley Business Plan Brochure 2011 (pages 17-24). Best Elevator Pitch went to Inserogen, a biotech company that uses non-transgenic tobacco plants as protein bio factories thus accelerating vaccine development.

The eight finalists had the following components in their presentation: identifying an unmet need and solving it well, a substantial and growing market size, a strong team, proof of concept, a robust revenue model/financial analysis, an integrative production and distribution strategy and strong positioning through competitive analysis. The eight finalists were:

1. Kopo Kopo: provides financial services to emerging markets via text messages through mobile phones at approximately $200/month ($100-$400 monthly subscription fee). Kopo Kopo has already partnered with 2 financial institutions (profit shown in image on right) in Kenya to provide the poor access to financial services. They offer a SaaS platform to financial institutions to connect mobile money networks to a Management of Information Systems (MIS). They plan to target this 1.1B market by targeting the 30M small and medium sized Sub Saharan businesses in Africa.

2. Imprint Energy: This was my favorite and I voted for it in the People Choice Award category. Imprint Energy makes rechargeable batteries that can be printed and attached to shoes, clothing, etc.  These customizable, paper thin, longer lasting batteries consist of 5 layers and Imprint Energy has partnered with many companies for its development and manufacturing as seen below. The competitive landscape has few players and Imprint Energy batteries last longer, are rechargeable, are easier to manufacture and are more rugged and safer compared to its competitors.

3. Axis: makes a protective vest that protects athletes from spinal and bodily injuries through advanced sports injury prevention technology. It specifically protects the neck and buttocks in addition to the back as those are the most susceptible parts during an injury. It uses a gel technology which hardens on impact and protects the athlete. Axis plans to start with the equestrian market and then expand to other high risk sports.

4. Cardio Paint: provides heart attack diagnosis and improves risk stratification with a peptide-based injectable. 5M patients visit emergency rooms annually for chest pains of which 60% are told to wait and see what happens. Cardio Paint addresses problem by improving risk stratification through an injectible that accumulates radioisotopes (as seen in the rat's tail below) at a blood clot and better diagnose heart attacks at half the cost and one-tenth of the time.

You can read about the remaining 4 finalists here.

31Mar/110

Trends in Web 2.0: Part 2 of 2

This is continuation of an earlier post on my learnings at the Web 2.0 Expo.

4. Mobile Payment is a big deal: Osama Bedier, Google's VP of Payments, gave an excellent presentation on the future of mobile payments. Mobiles are everywhere (more mobiles in the world than toothbrushes) and Bedier gave an example of how Tesco lets its customers scan the products in their shopping carts with an app (image on right; great example of how online data integrates with offline data). Total payment is computed by adding up all the items in the shopping cart but online payment is still not possible. Bedier suggests that online payments need to revert to old school thinking where you could visit your local grocery store and the owner recognizes you and suggests your favorites or tells you when the item that you couldn't get will come in or if you want it now where else will you get it and even let's you pay later if you forgot your wallet.

5.Sentiment Tracking and Analysis: As the internet becomes a two- way communication channel in the future measure human sentiment is a critical part of measuring engagement. Rosalind Picard, CEO of Affectiva,Inc has a glove that is a wearable, wireless biosensor that measures emotional arousal via skin conductance that grows higher during states such as excitement, attention or anxiety and lower during states such as boredom or relaxation. As it increases during excitement and anxiety she also tracks facial emotion to differentiate the positive from the negative emotion. You can try out this for yourself in the Forbes study.

6. Localization and Social commerce will be a bigger part of  e-Commerce: Dane Glasgow of eBay stated  how localization has helped eBay better cater to its customers and Susan Gregg Koger of ModCloth gave examples of how social commerce has increased customer participation and purchases in clothing and accessories at ModCloth.

eBay acquired Milo to better provide localization services. This helped eBay better serve customers who are in the cross channel - use online resources to research products they want and then go to the local store to buy them- and are important as the segment grows 5X/year.

ModCloth uses three tactics of social commerce to better serve its customers. The first is customers to name the dress/apparel and the winner gets it free. The second is to provide reviews with a twist by encouraging customers to upload pictures of themselves with the product. This encourages self expression and makes it personal. The third is to "act as a buyer" and decide if a product should be bought or skipped. This creates an online product line that is relevant and chosen by the customers who most probably will buy it as they participated in the buying decision.

31Mar/116

Trends in Web 2.0: Part 1 of 2

I spent March 29-31 at Web 2.0 Expo hosted at the beautiful Moscone Center in San Francisco. I would like to share my learnings on trends in Web 2.0.

1. Six Web Trends: Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine identified six web trends that are here to stay: screening, interacting, sharing, flowing, accessing (not owning) and generating (not copying).

Screening refers to screens/interfaces that will dominate areas we never thought of before. For example, virtual phone screens that could be viewed on the palm of our hand and spectacles that could double up as information interfaces. Kevin predicts that one day there will be a single screen for everything - phone, computer, entertainment, navigation, etc.

Interacting refers to the use of modes other than voice, haptic and/or text in communicating with technology. Some other modes could be gestural and eyetracking. He predicts interfaces and humans to be two way communication channels and interfaces will use human input to adapt their layouts to better cater to human needs.

Sharing is going to exponentially grow in the future and will not be limited to sharing information on sleep patterns, locations, health records, etc.

Flowing refers to information in real time. Humans will plug into real time information streams as opposed to static files/pages. Tags will dominate over folders and cloud based services will dominate over web/desktop. Accessing is renting and not owning.  For example, Zipcar, Netflix, renting books, etc. This eliminates maintenance and inventory.

Generating is using operatives that can't be copied. For example, Amazon is in the business of findability and insight (reviews/ratings) not products which can be easily copied. Other generatives could be authentication, personalization, embodiment (see people perform), interpretation (learn how to use) and attention.

Basically, these six verbs describe the future of the web and the money will flow wherever the attention flows.

2. Online Games will be bigger in the future but designing them well is the difference between success and failure. The following core concepts from Amy Jo Kim define 'game thinking':

  1. Know who’s playing – design for their social style such as collaborative (Farmville), competitive or exploratory (ModCloth-online shopping)
  2. Build a system that’s easy to learn and hard to master
  3. Build fun/pleasure/satisfaction into your core activity loop
  4. Use Progress Mechanics to “light the way” towards learning and mastery. Gamers can be novices, regulars or enthusiasts and motivation (badges) for novices, challenges for regulars and exclusivity/recognition for enthusiasts are used as progressive mechanisms
  5. Design for Onboarding, Habit-Building, and Elder Game
  6. As players progress, unlock greater challenges, customization and privileges
  7. Give players real power via stats, voting, earned roles, & crowd-sourcing

3. User Experience differentiates your company from another: For example among the online travel sites hipmunk looks at a factor called Agony which is a combination of price, duration and number of stops which truly captures a traveler's experience.

You can continue reading the other trends here.

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