We bring to you an interesting conversation with Harshal Vora, Founder of RadioLocus, a start-up which aims at delivering brick-and-mortar stores what Google Analytics gives online retailers. Wi-Fi is used to understand consumer movement and behaviour within indoor locations. In this conversation, he shares with us some great insights about his product and own experiences.
1. Tell us about yourself, your educational and professional background.
I have studied computer Science, B.E. CS from Vivekanand Education Society's institute of Technology and M.E. CS from Cornell University. I have worked with a very early stage start up in the bay area and then with Telenav (mobile GPS) as part of the data team in the bay area. In India (Bombay), I have worked with Komli Media again into software as part of the ad-serving and data team.
2. What is your product? What is the problem it helps in solving?
RadioLocus passively understands customer movement and behaviour in physical spaces. No technology till date has been able to do this. Walk in sensors can measure how many customers have entered the location, thermal sensors can measure density of customers in different areas of the store, video analytics can provide customer engagement in a part of the store but none of these technologies can understand customers journey throughout the mall, departmental store, airport etc. To be able to achieve this, you need something attached to the customer throughout. Retailers use loyalty cards so that they can understand their customer's buying behaviour but it cannot provide any information about in-store behaviour except at the cash counter. GPS solves the same problem in outdoor areas. But GPS does not work well in indoor areas and commercial GPS does not provide altitude. Wi-Fi is emerging as the global technology for indoor navigation along with data from other sensors in the phone.
At RadioLocus we use Wi-Fi to understand consumer movement and behaviour within indoor locations. Customers do not need to download any mobile app or connect to any free Wi-Fi. We then generate metrics such as repeat customers and their frequency, movement patterns and dwell time along with density which have never been available to businesses before. These metrics can then be sliced and diced for different day parts, granularities, date ranges and store locations. These metrics are immensely important to businesses and are daily bread and butter for many of these businesses to evaluate their core marketing and operational practices. Corporates today spend a very large amount of money for consulting reports, conducting focus group studies and mystery shopping to capture these metrics that we generate where as RadioLocus can do this at a fraction of a cost and also capture the data on a daily basis and is completely automated.
3. How did this idea of Google Analytics for offline retail stores strike to you? What are your main markets of operations as of now?
Well, combining GPS and internet advertising background, this is a no brainer. We could see there is no data available about customers and their behaviour in the off-line space which is now so common in the on-line space. But the reality is I came across a research paper which spoke about how Wi-Fi is used for indoor navigation and providing facilities such as finding nearest printer, coffee machine, lab etc. In a university and then based on more research it seemed like a technically challenging problem to solve with a huge market potential. We are one of the very few companies to have build this technology in this part of the world and probably the only one. (in South East Asia / Australia ). Along with being in India, we have set up partners in Australia, Dubai (Entire Middle East) and UK and some parts of Europe. We also have a lot of enquiries coming in from Latin America.What were your initial challenges in building up this product and a team? Tell us something about the process.
4. What were your initial challenges in building up this product and a team? Tell us something about the process.
Considering that the technology is very new globally and is quite challenging, we had to spend a lot of time doing R&D. Also with every new technology, the most difficult challenge is to educate people and customers. We have spend considerable efforts in learning various businesses (for ex. Retail, airport, restaurants) and generate metrics which align to their ways of running their businesses. We have also done some great work in technology to build a great product since we believe that as long as the product speaks for itself, we don't have to put a lot of effort in sales. Building a team is I believe one of the most time consuming and difficult task. I spend an awful lot of time interviewing people everyday. It is very important to have a team which is entrepreneurial in nature, who believe in the product and the outcome and people who are willing to put more effort than you just because they love the work that they are doing. Selling the idea has not been difficult for us as the product is genuinely innovative, our challenges have been more to be able to manage expectations of people considering the start up market in India is splurging money all over.
5. What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last six months?
Some decisions such as asking people to leave who do not fit the team / culture or just cant match your expectations and saying no to opportunities which do not stream line with your plan of action have been difficult.
6. What is next in your offerings? How do you see the future of this Industry?
From the initial days, our vision has always been to map people movement behaviour at a city / region level. I believe, that once we are able to do large scale deployments, it will disrupt various retail, airport and real-estate consulting industries. It will also change the off-line advertising industry.
7. How interconnected are the concepts of leadership and entrepreneurship according to you?
Entrepreneurship is having a vision for a product that can change industries and the persistence to go through the journey to be able to achieve. Leadership has different context at different stages of the company. You need to be a good leader to first build a team and then excite the team throughout the journey and to overcome all the uncertainties. You also need to be a a good leader to protect the team from various situations and to understand the dynamics of the market and shape the product accordingly. But mostly, you just need to mentor the team so that they can function by themselves and take the company to a higher level to enjoy the glory. Thus entrepreneurs cannot be selfish and that is only possible if they are actually solving a problem as compared to running just another business.
8. What advice can you give to the future entrepreneurs who would like to take the entrepreneurial plunge?
From whatever small experience that we have had in the last three years, I would advice everyone to study the lives and journeys of various entrepreneur from multiple industries including sports and not only software or technology. Understand their way of thinking, the reasons behind their journeys and the situations that they have faced. Every generation has their own set of challenges. Amul is a wonderful example of how they had to deal with the bureaucracies. Infosys's biggest challenge was to import a computer after starting a technology company. Lately, Mark Zuckerberg failed to launch Free Basics initiative for various reasons. If you believe you are one of the few people in the world who is meant to solve a particular problem and you have the courage to follow your heart, only then take up the responsibility as you will be responsible for many lives working with you.