After working with Microsoft for 3 years and waiting for ‘The idea’ to strike him, as he likes to say, Ronak Samantaray finally quit his job to take the route of entrepreneurship. With an aim to use the power of internet to make a difference in the running of local businesses and start-ups, he founded NowFloats, which allows the users to create a website for their organization and update it through SMSs or a simple mobile app. Today, with more than 2000 customers to it’s credit, NowFloats is being used by small boutiques to multiple store chains like Nokia.
This is just the tip of the iceberg!
Apart from NowFloats, Samantary also invented the Speech Glove that interprets finger gestures and converts them to audio speech making communication with hearing impaired people, easier. Most of all, he did all this by the age of 26.
We caught up with him in a brief chat about what drives him to do what he does and his journey so far. Read on. : )
Q)You quit the IT-giant Microsoft to pursue entrepreneurship. What triggered the decision and how challenging was the transition?
A)I always wanted to build something that can be used by millions of people across the globe. I love to explore avenues as to how technology can simplify human lives. During my tenure at Microsoft, I was always waiting for “The idea” to strike me to find the right co-founder to begin my venture. I started toying with a lot of ideas but something or other went wrong. So, after 3 years I decided to just quit without having any clue what I am going to work on. The transition was pretty smooth except for the first Monday when I did not have an office to go to!
Q)Tell us more about NowFloats. When did the idea of allowing an organization to rely entirely on SMSs to update their websites comes to your mind?
A) I started working on a location based platform where a user could easily find about what was happening around him. If you wanted to find movies, conferences, parties, offers in the market around you, just open the app and it would recommend you anything you’re looking for, based on your location. The back-end was powered by web-crawlers which used to crawl the web to find all events and index them in a geo-spatial format.
The primary challenge which I faced was that – there was not enough “latest / fresh” data / updates online for local businesses. So, I decided to think of simple way following which, business owners could create location-based-content. I saw that the common technology which was being used by all business owners was a mobile phone – a device that could send SMSs. This lead to the idea of letting business owners create business-related updates simply by sending text messages. I observed amazing behavior of what merchants update when the content-creation technology is made ultra-simple. I decided to take the same data and allowed the merchants to expose it on their own website (which was built on NowFloats). After this point, it was all about being alert and listening carefully to what customers were saying. This further led to the creation of all the cool features (automated SEO, SMS based subscriptions etc) that we offer on our platform today.
Q)How do you see NowFloats changing the way organizations, especially start-ups and budding entrepreneurs, handle/update their websites?
A)NowFloats provides the power to any start-up which wants local discovery. If the start-up has its own website (for example, http://artbeat.in/) we can power the local discovery for a sub-domain (for example, http://updates.artbeat.in/). With the simplicity of content creation, start-ups can use it to talk about their product offerings or customer engagement. Our automated-local-SEO engine now takes the content and optimizes it for local discovery in search engines. Also using our real-time subscription feature, start-ups can ask their loyal customers to subscribe, and then tips or best practices can be shared with them (for example, http://tips.healthifyme.com/).
Q)You’re very well known for your inventor streak as well, the noteworthy part of that being coming up with The Speech Glove. What made you come up with something of that sort and how did you manage to take that idea and execute it the way you wanted?
A)Speech Glove is primarily aimed at making communication simpler. I got this idea when I was at KFC and I saw two people (who were challenged by speech) talking to each other in sign language. I tried to follow them but it was really difficult for me understand. Now imagine if I had to talk to a guy who talks in sign language, do I need to learn a new language to talk to him? I decided to solve this problem.
I designed a glove which was fitted with flex sensors. These sensors generate a voltage difference when bent so basically it could track finger movements. I used 5 flex sensors (one for each finger) and connected them to the processing unit. The processing unit parses the voltage inputs from these sensors and identifies the gesture pattern. The gesture is then mapped to a speech which is played by the microphone module attached to it. The entire unit was built using “.Net Gadgeteer”. Speech Glove also has Bing Translator integration so that the speech can be converted to any language as and when required.
Q)You were picked as the INK fellow this year among other things. How does it feel to be a 20 something, an entrepreneur, inventor and to have achieved so much when half of the people your age and still figuring out what to do with their lives?
A)My life has always been about experimenting and learning. I personally feel life is too short for the amount of things available to learn or to experiment on. I was quite lucky to have fallen in love early in my life. I fell in love with computers at the age of 10. Before that point as any other kid I wanted to be an astronaut, scientist and what not, but after computers happened in my life, I knew exactly knew what I wanted to do in my life.
My advice to everyone has always been – “Discover the love of your life”. It’s very important to find out what is that one single thing which you can do time and again without getting bored, sleepy, hungry or distracted. I have faced many more failures till date compared to the things that have actually worked out! The only thing which kept me going was my love for computers.
Ronak Samantray is a 2013 INK Fellow. Every year, INK identifies a fresh batch of multidisciplinary young trailblazers who they believe will be the change-makers of tomorrow.
Now Floats are also looking for marketing interns.
Apply now: http://bit.ly/1m7M7j6