Jaipur: Why are the Angry Birds angry? Why is the apple half bitten in the Apple Inc. logo? Why is the popular sandwich called a hot dog when there is no dog meat in it?
These are the kind of questions Deepak Ravindran and his team answer every day, apart from queries Indians are too shy to put up publicly or to their confidants.
Ravindran’s SMS Gyaan seeks to address just about any query through the text service of the ubiquitous mobile phones, keeping the privacy of people’s various dilemmas. The idea was born when Ravindran, 23, realized that most people in the country don’t have the luxury of Googling for information.
The success of the venture, now available with most telecom service providers, is ascertained by the fact that its research and development team in Bangalore processes 500,000 queries in a day. SMS Gyaan went live in March after a short testing phase. Ravindran, who hopes to clock a turnover of Rs15 crore this year, says the firm has already broken even.
“There is supposed to be a holy grail of sorts when it comes to content that Indians like to savour—astrology, Bollywood, cinema and sex—but there are more queries about news or politics these days,” he says. “People are not afraid to ask questions any more.”
But how to impress a girl is the question most often asked, he quips.
Ravindran is one of the 21 fellows of this year’s INK Conference, held in association with TED, and which concluded in Jaipur on Sunday.
TED, or technology, entertainment and design, is a global set of conferences owned by private not-for-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate innovative ideas.
The annual INK conference aims to fuel innovation and foster knowledge by giving a platform to thinkers and doers from a range of disciplines to share their stories. Apart from the Ink fellows, the four-day conference brought together a host of other speakers who have been no less innovative in their fields. Ruchi Sanghvi is one of them.
As the first woman engineer at Facebook Inc., she helped build technologies for the social networking site—including the news feed and Facebook Connect—that have contributed heavily towards making it the phenomenon it is.
After the initial success, she quit the firm to return to India to marry a person of her family’s choice, but only to soon return. She quit the company again recently even as Facebook has achieved 700 million users and is staring at one of the most successful initial public offers ever for a technology firm. “I was getting complacent because of the success,” she reasons.
Sanghvi has now founded an Internet venture called Cove along with other early former Facebook employees. She is not ready to share more information on the idea she is working on. “It will be in the area of consumer Internet and will be platform-agnostic,” is all she says.
However, she has already raised seed financing from private investors. “I wanted to give it one more shot, do it all another time,” she says, referring to the thrill of creating something from scratch.
The Ink fellows were chosen after an exhaustive online process, where applications were sought from around the world.
Lakshmi Pratury, host and curator of INK, who is also credited with bringing TED to India in 2009, says the one thing that binds the Ink fellows is their accomplishments.
“These people might not be glamorous figures, but what they are doing is having a huge impact on society. They bring something out-of-the-box, a fresh perspective along with a sense of humility, and INK is just a platform for them to express themselves (and) share their stories, which may inspire others, too,” she says.
Kalyan Varma, another INK fellow, gave up his job at Yahoo Inc. to spend time in the jungles as a wildlife photographer. He returned after a full year. “My savings were getting exhausted, so I thought maybe I’ll take up another job,” he says. On coming back, he posted his pictures on the Internet with the idea of sharing them with others for free.
Soon, cheques arrived at his doorsteps after film-makers made posters of his photographs or people sold paintings based on them. Today, he is a freelancer for leading magazines and channels including National Geographic and BBC. “Give freedom to people and they will respect it,” he said.