Filling the Gap with Technology

The launch of the Apple iWatch, and the Android Wear series before that, ushers in a new era of human-computer integration with attached mobile devices. Many people suggest there is not much difference between seeing a text message on your wrist, from pulling your phone out of your pocket, turning on the display, and viewing the message; that humanity is getting too lazy if this is what we have come to ask for from our technology. But I would look at this from the perception that humanity is asking for something else out of non-interruption technology. We’re asking to be made more complete.

If you think about it, we are technology; we are bio(nano)-technology. Technology has gone from something that was far removed from us, to something that is attached to us. Maybe we just long to upgrade our natural built-in applications and platforms with electronic software and hardware.

 

Back in the day, computers were huge expensive machines that were rare and hard to access. They were the size of whole rooms, their time had to be rented and booked days or weeks ahead of time, and then travelling to, likely miles and miles away. Now, machines with much more power and access to information are in our pockets – with remarkably less interruption. Additionally, technology is becoming more unique to it’s master. Back in the day there was a severe lack of variety. There were only a few makes and models, and the operating system and software was fixed. Today we have a variety of devices, with even more variety of software. They are becoming more unique to their master; if you and your friend both had the same smartphone, trading phones would physically hurt, it wouldn’t feel like your phone and would have less utility to you.

I find myself thinking of PCs as Stairs, and Wearables as moreof a Ramp. The stairs have interruptions, but a ramp is smooth and integrated. Technology will get more and more analog. Moving closer and closer to our life force. Filling a never ending gap in our humanity.

Sara: Hacking a Hackathon

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www.saratells.info

Sara was a project a few friends and I decided to hack on for a weekend in September (Haani, Sumit, Zeeshan and myself). The feedback was great and we learned a lot. We took first place at the hackathon in Toronto (out of 25 teams), and then 3rd place at the Global Judging at MIT (out of several hundred). Here are four tips we discovered for “hacking the hackathon.”


1) Try to solve a Really Big Problem

The bigger the problem, the more likely you will have the attention of the judges and audience. With Sara, we were trying to solve the problem of internet access for five billion people. Identifying a big problem is easier said than done, but it’s important to focus on the steps to take to get there:  Pivots. Which is the 2nd tip…

2) Pivot

Pivots turn into steps. Hacakthons don’t usually last longer than 2-3 days so these have to be made extremely fast. Before landing on the idea of Sara we were brainstorming “Kasaan,” which means farmer in Urdu. Our idea was to build a simple Android app that would give real-time local commodity and produce prices to local farmers so they would know the true price of their goods. We read about many horror stories of farmers being ripped off by brokers and middlemen who benefited from asymmetric information. However good of an idea we thought we had, a quick Google search into the smartphone penetration in the sub-continent showed abysmal figures. Not only that but we discovered even those with smartphones did not have access to data connection. From there we pivoted to providing pricing data via SMS – which subsequently got us to thinking “why not just add a bunch of integrations to other search engines and web directories?” This is how we pivoted our way onto a “bigger problem.”

3) Try to go last if you can

This is an odd one. We did not do this intentionally, rather this was an accidental discovery. When you have so many teams competing (and usually hackathons have a specific cause or purpose) there could be an overlap of your idea with other teams. If the problem is a big one, your solution may umbrella other problems being pursued by other teams. We found there were several teams that decided to leverage the SMS medium to broadcast or distribute relevant information to rural users. This only validating our value proposition. Not only that but we were also able to position Sara as platform for other 3rd party search engines and directories to integrate with. We believe being one of the last teams to pitch made our service more top of mind than the others.

Most importantly, 3) Hustle to be memorable

We learned the underlying objective of any qualitative competition is to be memorable. With competitions like sports games or races, there is a definitive qualitative measure of success; but with a competition on who has the best idea, it’s a completely different game. Our strategy from the get go was to be memorable. We knew we had to stand out because judging can be influenced by so many tiny foreseeable forces. The tactic we used to stand out was getting application into the hands of everyone in the audience, including the judges, at the same time, during the pitch. This was probably just as time consuming as building the application itself. While our team of wizards were knee high in code during the weekend, I was making the rounds, introducing myself and offering product help to other teams in the space. I used this time to introduce (briefly) our idea and ask for their phone numbers in order for them to help us test and better our service (this was the original sentiment). Getting the phone numbers of the judges was the most important, but also harder. A few weird looks from the staff and volunteers shouldn’t deter you; the judges were happy to help. Once we had all the phone numbers, Sumit programmed a quick script which would blast a greeting from Sara to everyone on the list, encouraging them to ask her any question. The timing of this blast was of critical importance – we did it right at the end of our pitch, applying the proverb: Strike While the Iron is Hot.