Technology Insights

Technology is transforming society and having an impact on every aspect of our daily lives, reshaping businesses, markets and entire economies.

Our insights into technology are listed below in the form of articles and interviews with founders and senior executives for your perusal.

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Dan Bladen: The Innovation Interview

Dan Bladen, Founder & Director of chargifi shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the future of wireless charging.

Dan is the playmaking ideas man and the founder of chargifi. He is passionate about using the latest technologies to solve everyday problems; creating efficient systems that do the hard work.

Dan’s teenage summers were spent at trade shows selling ride-on lawnmowers for his father’s garden machinery company, playing with network components and praying that Norwich City would be better the following season.

Since then, Dan has been involved variously in the arenas of technology, music, management and sales. Prior to chargifi he oversaw a team of 50 and managed the practical completion of IT & Production for a £6.5 million building project. Dan has a BA in Theology.

Dan is quick to spot and embrace innovation and is an early adopter of anything to do with the ‘Internet of Things.’ Dan enjoys the theatre of people’s reactions to new technology.

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

Innovation is a balance of laziness and perseverance. A good example of this is the guy who invented the TV remote control, a hero of our time! He invested time and effort to figure out a way to save a lot of time and effort.

I’m a big fan of systems that work like this, for me the dishwasher is a great trade-off between setup, process and results. You invest time stacking it – hit go – it does the hard work. That is what innovation means to me. Creating products and systems that do the heavy the lifting.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The majority of my family is in the medical industry so I need to tread lightly. With that being stated, I find the National Health Services system in the UK for booking and monitoring my health to be somewhat archaic.

The idea of having to call up at a particular time to book a doctors appointment in two weeks time does not make sense to me now, and certainly isn’t going to make sense to the next generation.

One of the great things about the NHS is that the system can pool resources. There is not another health care system in the world that has the ability to command the amount of value the NHS does.

The ability to order 10 million needles for example, or 40,000 prosthetic hips is an unrivalled luxury that the NHS has when dealing with suppliers. If the NHS could leverage the same buying power to develop applications that could remotely monitor the health of a nation, it would add significant value for all stakeholders in the healthcare chain. Health as digital service would be nice.

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

My Dad always told me – ‘there’s always a way.’ Whatever problem we’re trying to solve, be that in business or everyday life, there is always a way. This attitude breeds great confidence.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

The design and completion of communications and AV systems in a brand new multimillion-pound public building in West London.

Seeing people today use the systems that my team and I designed and built three years ago is really rewarding. Apart from that it has to be marrying my wife. She is a hero. She puts up with all the nervy days that every entrepreneur has and celebrates alongside me on the triumphant days as well.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital. I enjoy physical books but the Kindle Paperwhite and is near perfect. My wife I travelled around the world for 6 months in 2012 we had iPhones and an iPad with us but we both fought over the Kindle. Apart from the obvious instant access to any book that you want, the main advantage for me is the ability to annotate notes and have it immediately backed up on the Kindle Cloud. It’s also much lighter to hold above your head on a beach than an iPad.

What is the future of wireless charging and how are you planning to position chargifi for this trend in the marketplace?

The future of wireless charging changes every week as people push the physical barriers of what’s physically possible. We will eventually see the end of the charging cable. It’s the last cable to be cut.

Furniture, buildings and vehicles will all be equipped with wireless charging transmitters. They will be a blend of high powered transmitters and low powered ‘trickle transmitters’ that act to constantly keep your devices topped up.

Users will be surrounded by a network of wireless charging spots and will not have to think about their phone ever running out of power. At Chargifi we are all about building a network platform that sits on top of wireless charging.

Today that looks like locating a chargifi user, activating the chargifi spot nearest to them and providing them with power. Through this process we have an opportunity to communicate with a user in a specific location. We’re not just looking at phones, we’ll be announcing partnerships for wirelessly charging much larger devices in the next couple of months.

How are the venues that partner with chargifi using the anonymized Facebook data that you share with them? Have these venues seen an uptake in business / revenue since they first installed chargifi?

Similar to many companies, we hash users data to anonymise them to venue owners so the barista doesn’t know a customer’s name or email. We call this Fair Trade Data and it works a bit like a Fair Trade banana.

Data is responsibly sourced and provides value and protection to all parties involved. Everyone’s a winner. People are already realising the value of their data. I believe it won’t be too long before it functions in the same way as any other currency.

What are the benefits of being a startup that is based in Great Britain?

In Great Britain we have been really fortunate to be under a government that is actively helping entrepreneurs. Schemes like SEIS and EIS make it much easier to raise funds from angel investors. We also benefit greatly from Patent Box, a scheme that lowers the tax rate for British companies who generate revenue from their patent portfolios. In my opinion these schemes aren’t championed enough.

I think it’s also fair to say that being a ‘London Startup’ is really powerful. Whether we are in the Middle East, Singapore or Russia selling Chargifi to venues, the power of a London brand is not to be under estimated. That said, I think the property market in London hampers entrepreneurs dramatically and I think we would see a lot more innovation if property was somewhat more reasonably priced.

When will we start to see chargifi integrations with OEM’s, car manufacturers and commercial airlines?

Yes and no. We’re not a hardware company. Though we have developed a piece of network hardware that we call the ‘Chargifi Gateway’ we work with suppliers to source the best wireless charging transmitters on the market.

You will soon see us partnering with airlines and car manufactures but not as hardware providers – Chargifi will be the software platform and brand on top of OEM integrations. We will be in 10 countries by the end of this year with the goal of 20,000 venues over the next 24 months.

As individuals who travel frequently, it would be great to have a national chargifi network at a retailer such as Starbucks. Is this something that you are currently working on? If not, what are your overall thoughts on this concept?

I’m really excited to say that after a year of Beta Testing Chargifi all over the UK, you will see Chargifi start to be rolled out in high street coffee chains in London starting in Q4 this year.

We have also been able to sign up some amazing international hotel chains which means that you will be able to travel to a different country without needing to bring a power adapter with you. You will also see us developing beyond wireless charging of mobile phones and tablets. It has always been personal goal of mine to Chargifi my Macbook and I am excited to say we are getting closer to that day.

Jens Christensen: The Innovation Interview

Jens Christensen, Founder & CEO of Jaunt shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and cinematic virtual reality.

Prior to founding Jaunt, Jens was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Redpoint Ventures. Before that he was a founder and CEO of Ellerdale, an AI startup focused on real-time semantic analysis. Ellerdale assembled a world-class technical team and was one of the first companies to process the full Twitter stream, enabling it to identify and organize trending topics in real-time.

Flipboard acquired Ellerdale in 2010. Jens was also a founder of WebSwap, a pioneering barter site.

Earlier, he was a founder and CEO of PostModern, a software company that developed the first Java ORB. It merged with Visigenic, a private enterprise software company, where he continued on as CTO and board member through its IPO and subsequent acquisition by Borland. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University and a B.A. in Computer Science from Columbia University.

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

True innovation makes people’s lives better, even transforming them. The telephone, air travel, computers, the Internet, and Virtual Reality are all examples of true innovation.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The moribund health care industry.

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

Always try to assemble teams with complementary skills and strengths.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Being co-founder of four companies. It’s been hard at times, but has given me great satisfaction.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital only.

What is the future of the movie business and how are you positioning Jaunt to grow and prosper from your vision of the future of the movie business?

We’re in the early days of cinematic VR right now, but expect it to ultimately have widespread adoption over the next couple of years as the technology becomes more affordable and more easily available. We believe that we’re going to see tens of millions of cinematic VR headsets reaching consumers. There’s been the PC, the web, and mobile and we think VR will be the next big platform to reach mass adoption.

Are Hollywood Studios currently experimenting with Jaunt’s technology? If yes, what has the reaction been from the Studios and Filmmakers? Are they concerned about alienating movie theatre owners?

Jaunt is currently working with New Deal Studios to produce the narrative cinematic VR content in Hollywood. Jaunt is also working with other major Hollywood studios to explore the possibilities of storytelling in cinematic VR as well as content producers across a wide range of non-entertainment verticals. Keep an eye out throughout the rest of the year for a number of exciting partner announcements we have coming down the pipe. The enthusiasm we have seen for our technology has been tremendous and we are working tirelessly to make VR experiences available to mass audiences.

Virtual Reality is inherently a non-social event, how will Jaunt’s technology change the way we think about VR as being something you experience alone?

We look forward to adding social features to our cinematic VR experiences. At a minimum, we believe users will be able to speak to each other while experiencing the same content in VR. Eventually, we think you should be able to attend events with your friends, all in VR.

The company touts the benefits of cinematic virtual reality, but to your average consumer that is just one part of the cool factor. How do you take that cool factor and translate it into experiences built around live events such as baseball game, a concert, or a walk through Central Park in the fall?

Jaunt’s technology can be used to create content for a wide variety of verticals including Hollywood, travel, education, corporate training, concert experiences, sporting events, advertising, and more. Our cameras capture a 360-degree audio and visual recording of an environment that can be viewed with virtual reality goggles, giving a sense of total immersion and of actually “being there.” You put the goggles on and experience your environment naturally, and in any direction with complete freedom.

What are your thoughts on Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift?

It’s a terrific acquisition for Facebook, giving them a front-row seat to what could become the next consumer platform. Facebook will be a driving force in making the VR experience more social.

Mike Perrone: The Innovation Interview

Mike Perrone, CEO of SocialSign.in shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the future of WiFi.

Mike is an experienced entrepreneur who previously co-founded SocialFlow, which pioneered social media optimization by applying predictive analytics to real-time big data. Now, Mike is applying his passion for data insights and social connections to SocialSign.in, a platform that utilizes a visitor’s social identity to connect offline and online brand strategies.

SocialSign.in’s technology leverages guest WiFi networks to enhance a customer’s on-site experience and increase engagement. Throughout his career, Mike has leveraged data and social behaviors in order to create more meaningful connections. He’s worked for major media and industry leading companies in the fields of advertising (JWT), management consulting (KPMG), entertainment technology and direct marketing (Bertelsmann). He holds an MBA from Penn State and a BSBA from Boston University.

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

To me, innovation means constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible or constant improvement of a process or product. Personally, it means a great deal to me because without innovation in fields such as medicine the lives of my family would be impacted. I think a lot of people can resonate with the importance of medical innovations.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

That’s a great question, but I don’t think they’re necessarily the same thing. Taking more risk doesn’t mean you are being innovative. In some respects, innovation reduces risk. From an industry perspective, I think that the different sectors that are heavily influenced by the government are the ones where innovation is most necessary. Transportation, education, community service, etc. are all neglected to an extent. I don’t think risk needs to be a part of innovation. Investing in an innovative idea may be risky from a personal standpoint, but I don’t think an innovative company is one that must make risky decisions in order to succeed.

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

The best piece of advice was to look for opportunity in each circumstance. Even in a situation that looks dire there is always something of value.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Honestly, my family and the strength of our relationships is my greatest achievement. I’m not just saying that because my wife may read this.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital. Always. In my opinion there is no logical reason to carry around a physical book when a superior, lighter, smarter option is available.

As you begin to scale SocialSign.in, what avenues present the greatest growth challenges for the company?

Our focus is on educating the commercial market and business owners about the importance of connectivity as a customer channel. I don’t think many businesses are aware that their on-site connectivity channels can be as important as their website or online presence.

What levels of engagement are venues seeing after they adopt and deploy SocialSign.in?

Really really high levels of engagement. When people don’t consider WiFi as a viable customer channel, they’re usually shocked to see us deliver 20X the engagement that they might see on their website or social channels.

Why is now the right time to introduce SocialSign.in to the marketplace?

The number of WiFi enabled devices that we own is accelerating without any sign of slowing down. With that comes a desire from the owners of those devices to stay connected and use those devices to their maximum capabilities. People crave HD video, data, and connected experiences more now than ever. Let’s be honest, Internet access is a basic utility in today’s world and people expect it wherever they spend time. When you walk into a restaurant, you don’t ask if they have a bathroom, do you? You just ask where it is. It’s expected, and I think we’re approaching a horizon where those same expectations exist for WiFi. We’re removing the if and the where.

Are there plans to deliver exclusive content to fans in the audience of a live concert over the SocialSign.in WiFi network, in venues such as City Winery?

We avoid discussing the specific plans of our customers, but you should expect to see access to great content and services at all SocialSign.in locations as we continue building our network over time.

How has SocialSign.in been received within the hospitality industry?

So far it’s been very good, granted that’s with a limited sample size, but this is just the beginning of what we have planned and the benefits we can bring to the table.

Kulveer Taggar: The Innovation Interview

Kulveer Taggar, Co-Founder & CEO of Egomotion Corp, the creator of Agent, shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the future of context aware computing.

Kulveer sold his first company, Auctomatic, for $5M aged 24. He is a graduate of Oxford, where he read Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and started the Oxford Entrepreneurs society. His was the first international and non-technical team funded by Y Combinator. He lives in San Francisco.

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

I define innovation as bringing to market novel products or services that create economic value. Anything that saves people time or money creates economic value. To me, innovation is the crucial thing that entrepreneurs are responsible for, to keep the economy moving forward. Progress is driven by entrepreneurs, who in turn drive innovation.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Any industry that is oligopolistic in structure. Coming from the UK, I was shocked at the telco and cable industries in the US. It’s absurd the prices that AT&T can get away with. Similarly, the cost of healthcare is very expensive in the US. It doesn’t need to be.

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

Probably early on in my career, it was to read “How to win friends and influence people”. At my first job (when I was still at high school), my boss told me that if 80% was the required mark to get an A grade, then the best possible mark you could get was 80%. Anything more, and you should have spent your time doing other things. I also follow the mantra of “to whom much is given, much shall be expected”.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Being unafraid to take risks. Coming from a single parent family, living in inner city London, it was an achievement to get into Oxford University to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics. The easy thing would have been to stick to banking or something else like that. Instead I packed my suitcases and headed for San Francisco. After selling my first company, I dived into theatre and did sketch comedy for two years.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Newspapers digital, and books physical.

How do you envision the Android platform evolving and do you feel that forked versions of Android could lead to Google taking more control of the operating system and standardizing it for both the benefits of consumers and developers?

I think we are already seeing Google take more control of the ecosystem. The whole deal to sell Motorola to Lenovo was a deal to stop Lenovo forking Android. Overall, having Google control the software is a good thing, they are great at it.

As cars get smarter and in-dash infotainment systems are upgraded, how are you planning to scale Agent to benefit from this trend? Will we see Agent partner with an auto manufacturer to fully integrate Agent into the infotainment system?

This is a possibility. Hopefully if the systems have APIs we can integrate directly with them. The app is already smart enough to know when you driving.

What are the greatest benefits to growing up in London, England when it comes to building, running and scaling a company?

I don’t think there are many benefits. The market is smaller, the investment capital scarcer, and there’s not much of a culture around risk taking. One benefit could be that British companies are forced to look international much earlier in their lives, and so may do a better job at creating global solutions.

Why did you ultimately decide to make Agent free instead of charging $1.99?

We wanted to pursue growth, and get as much feedback as we could to make the app as powerful as possible. We’ve had 12M agents start to date, that’s 12M data points we’ve collected to analyse and understand how users have used their phones. Ultimately, we’ll release a premium version of the app.

What is the future of context aware computing and how are you planning on positioning Agent to benefit from the future?

An analogy I like to make is the switch from manual transmission to automatic transmission in cars. They were already very powerful and useful products, but after the switch to automatic transmission, cars became easier to drive and less stressful. Smartphones right now are in the manual transmission era. We have to continuously launch apps, change settings etc.

Eventually, smartphones will know where you are, what you are doing and who with, and will use that information to augment the phone experience. We’ve started by focusing on answering the question, “what are you doing”, and we get it right 95% of the times.

Also, sensors have become cheaper to integrate into the hardware for OEMs as they come directly on the chipsets, which means that they are proliferating quickly. These sensors can tell us more about your context. Agent is positioned to exploit this trend and usher in the era of contextual computing.

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.