G.D. (Ram) Ramkumar: The Innovation Interview

G.D. (Ram) Ramkumar, Co-Founder and CEO of Concept.io, the creator of Swell, shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and personalized audio news and information.

Ram was previously Chief Architect for Visual Search at A9.com. He joined A9 via the acquisition of SnapTell, where he was co-founder and CTO. Prior to that, he was Senior Software Architect in the CTO Office of McDATA, via the acquisition of startup Sanera Systems. He has over fifteen years of R&D experience developing scalable software systems. He has been granted ten patents, with eleven more pending, and has published and presented over fifteen research papers in international journals and conferences.

Ram has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University. He earned a President’s Gold Medal for the best undergraduate academic record at Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is creating a product or service that serves a need in the market, often in a way that could not be anticipated. For me, innovation has been the result of tireless and relentless work toward a solution to a problem our user faces.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

I feel that the world of traditional media – TV and radio – could more risks. Old models for delivering content in fixed bundles via cable seem antiquated and ill suited for the new world of online streaming media. Before a new innovative service disrupts cable TV bundles from the outside, the industry should innovate and create it within.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

Focus obsessively on the customer. This is the mantra of Jeff Bezos at Amazon.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

SnapTell, the last startup I co-founded, created the world’s first widely deployed mobile visual search service. As part of Amazon, the technology is used by millions of users to search for products sold online.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital, without a doubt. Mobile devices and services that deliver news and books are improving rapidly. You can carry a much wider selection more easily on a mobile device. Moreover, digital delivery of content is gentler on the environment.

What were some of your greatest takeaways from attending Stanford University?

Stanford University’s culture of supporting entrepreneurship helps me greatly in my career. The pursuit innovation by alumni mean that I am lucky to count many entrepreneurs and investors among my friends.

When you were conceptualizing the idea for Swell, where did you look for inspiration?

I reflected on my life and experience. My last startup SnapTell created a compelling visual search service, but did not create a new daily habit. Swell strives to create a daily habit by serving the best audio content on your commute with zero effort.

How will Swell’s automatic learning algorithm evolve over the coming years? Are there plans to add new data points to better understand why a user is listening to a certain topic and why that same user only listens to x amount of other topics?

Absolutely, the learning algorithm will improve to learn more granular interests of users. Location and context of the user will play a more significant role. Swell will serve local news, hyper-local traffic updates, and more. Swell will understand the user’s commute patterns, listening context, mood, and time of day preference to serve the best content in each listening session.

As Apple and Google move into the infotainment space, are you currently exploring developing a native Swell app for the car? If so, how will you convince loyal am listeners to switch to Swell when they are driving?

Yes, we believe the right approach to deploy applications in cars is via the smartphone. iOS and Android platforms are both making strong efforts to establish presence in cars. Swell will thrive on those platforms in cars.

How are you planning to scale Swell as more consumers are becoming accustomed to listening to content instead of reading in-depth articles on wearable devices?

We plan to scale Swell through word of mouth and social media, a result of relentless focus on the user. US consumers spend over 500 million hours commuting per week, a large addressable market. As smartphone penetration approaches nearly 100%, carrier data plans improve, over half the new cars sold to support Bluetooth support, market trends are clearly in Swell’s favor.

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