The business of driving disruptive innovation into a large, highly profitable and competitive global industry.
"No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution."
Machiavelli, The Art of War, 1521
We have been keenly aware of the above. When a founder comes across something very valuable, something that can bring about a disruptive solution for a large space, it is his highest responsibility to protect it from being eaten alive by sharks. I am aware how much innovation that gets created by individuals and startups in poorer countries that is gobbled up by the industry unacknowledged and uncompensated, just because they were not too well known, not well represented or not adequately protected by patents.
However, despite the awareness of the advice above we took the opposite strategy because we could not lose time with this. After filing our patents in the most important countries, we had to move fast across as much public spaces as possible, as many industry demonstrations as possible, go to all the stake holders together, participate in contests. Take it to important international quarters and ombudsmen like the ITU. Make the innovation so well known that everyone has heard about it and everyone knows that it is from a particular startup. This would have required us to launch a thousand ships. This we did, even with our small resources. You will find the evidence of our actions in this new website. That was a functional need of our business. First secure it.
The second problem we deal with relates to the other quote of Michiavelli below.
"It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this Luke warmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had the actual experience of it."
The Prince and The Discourses
One could assume that a technology like this which offers the possibility of typing in their own languages on the phones of 800 million phone users of India alone who do not know English would have been embraced readily by the industry. Especially something that has been accomplished with so much of hard work and innovations by a start up. It is a no brainier that such a thing would be critical values add for a phone manufacturer selling phones in India, a means to earn greater SMS revenue for operators and likewise to many other stake holders including the government. The government would be a very important beneficiary of it for all their plans of m-governance, m-health and so on which would amount to a mere naught without usable regional language support within them. But our technology was not embraced. We presented and presented, we went everywhere and to everyone. We faced conflict of interest from the entrenched and the corrupted everywhere.
"Company managers know that the odds of an inventor being able to afford the costly litigation are less than one in ten; and even if the suit is brought, four times out of five the courts will hold the patent invalid. When the royalties are expected to exceed the legal expense, it makes good business sense to attack the patent... we don't recognize that the consequence of the legal destruction of patents is a decline in innovation..."
-Jerome H Lemelson,
1975, in a Senate hearing investigating the innovation crisis.
While at one hand we got recognitions from industry and society, and media was covering us periodically in glowing words, the handset manufacturers were not putting our technology on their phones. Reasons cited were many and dubious but they could all be seen as manifest forms of the above quote of the 16th century. In one case, a well known MNC brand was caught in the act of trying to steal the technology while working with us in their own research centre under an NDA and we had to disengage with them. You should see how insiders in companies react to superior external innovation that makes them and their previous work irrelevant. And you should see how someone will not support another even for his own good for the fear of the beneficiary becoming bigger than himself in course of time.
"If you have to win with Innovation, you have to find a way to directly talk to the customer because you have to explain your innovations to the public."
We knew this, so the first thing we tried after development of the products in 2009 was to try to go retail directly with the customer. It was a great product and people were ready to pay and we drew up plans of how we could build a retail distribution system through countrywide Resellers administered through scratch cards and online reconciliation. The scratch cards were made and we did a few successful pilots in many stores including at the flagship store of Hotspot in Laxmi Nagar. We were selling but there were other difficulties in that retail model that we will discuss in details in the blog. The problem was there was a lot of quality explaining to be done and where was the staff to do it and at what cost could it come and will the initial rate of sales sustain that cost? We will be trying to do it again but in new ways that will now be more viable.
We were to do this by ourselves. We had to win with the users by ourselves. Build the mandate by ourselves. This is very hard but we have done it.
The health of a country can be determined from how quickly good ideas can move through its circulatory system.
India's circulatory system is not in very good order. Simpler things grow very large by growing virally in developed countries. We were expecting explosive growth. Here it was hard, because people who cared to write in Indian languages were the most impoverished and disempowered lot. They did not own smart phones and were the hardest to reach over the Internet alone. They would not know how to download, install and learn to operate an App on their phones. This was the very first App for so many of these people. And then they had to learn how to type like this. There was no one he could learn from. This was happening very slowly to our impatience. The ecosystem was made worse by phone companies not offering fonts of Indian languages on their phones leading to uninformed users blaming our technology for it. And the regulator and the government doing nothing about the pathetic treatment being given to Indian languages, unlike Bangladesh where the regulator has made it compulsory for phones in their country to include Bangla support.
The challenge was made greater by the apathy of many upper class and other aspiring Indians towards their own languages, which includes the executives in companies. To write in India's languages is considered a backward movement by many. They fail to see its relevance and are excited by other things that have worked in the west. The effect of colonization has been so great that a large number of people look down upon anything to do with Indian languages. This very often includes people who make their living in the name of Indian languages or hail on the importance of them only at conferences.
We did what we could, which is to build the usable products for all the languages for all the phone platforms and give it to the users - free, so as to get them to know it was possible to write in Indian languages on their phones, to learn to type like this, know about its numerous merits and spread the word gradually across this large country. This has now started happening. It is rolling well as some people are getting to comprehend the complete beauty of the solution, they are teaching others with the zeal of the convinced.
We have also now built by ourselves that phone which will offer the Panini Keypad solution embedded in hardware on phones that will cost less than a thousand Rupees. It will be very easy for just anyone to put it on any kind of phones. This will make the revolution rapid now onwards.
There are the other digital devices that are waiting, the remote of the TV, IPTV, ATM and so on. All of these will also readily support all Indian languages using the Panini Keypad. All languages, all devices, one simple usability. The new bicycle to type would have been introduced to the world.