Meet the winners of Blackberry’s AngelHack Startup Challenge and the winners of People’s Choice Award of Blackberry Jam Asia – ReFocus Labs founded by Mayur More and Shashwat Pradhan. Pune-based ReFocus Labs is their third startup,. The other ventures are Decoding Tech and Hack Planet.
These entrepreneurs, who are yet to graduate from college, have been building products and technology since their early college days. YourStory spoke to the youngsters about what makes them tick and their latest achievement – ARKick.
Shashwat says he was attracted to technology from a young age and got hooked to computers at the age of 12, when he got a Pocket PC (HP iPaq H4350). The Pocket PC had hardware/software installed on it that was way ahead of its time and also ran a good variety of apps. This part-time tech blogger and network security consultant decided to use good technology to impact lives and that has been the single thread running through all the three ventures he has started to date.
Mayur is the tech brain behind all the ventures. He is also a serial competition winner – with over 20 programming competition titles under his belt. He’s a master of HTML5 and can code on many other platforms too.
The duo started their first venture by bootstrapping with $200, and made money through ads in the apps they developed. To raise money for ReFocus Labs, they sold their second startup (Hack Planet) for a good amount, says Shashwat.
The one-and-half-year-old startup is a product developer and has developed a variety of apps in augmented reality (AR), adaptive user interfaces and 3D game development. “Our apps are targeted at the consumer market, we have no niche apps,” says Shashwat. He adds that their focus is to build good technology to operate the apps.
Surprisingly for a young startup, ReFocus Labs is aware of the importance of design in their products. “When good technology meets good design then that is the moment of perfection. With great displays coming out in devices nowadays, it is important for the apps to have a good user interface/experience keeping design in mind. From a user’s point of view the design of the app is one of the major factors in deciding which app to download,” explains Shashwat.
They are a team of 12 who come from varied backgrounds, including game design, developers, music producers, artists and marketing executives. While most of the team is based in Pune, they also have some community support from people based in UK and Singapore.
ARKick and other products
ARKick which helped Refocus Labs win the Blackberry competitions is a contextual app that uses information like weather, time, temperature and place that a customer is in, to give them information about places of interest around them. Compared to maps, Shashwat says AR is more intuitive and helps in better discovery of places. Their proprietary contextual engine called Sidekick engine, which helps them create context aware apps is the underlying engine used in ARKick.
The app is currently being sold on Blackberry World for $3 and the startup plans to launch it soon on Android and Apple stores. ARKick is also closely integrated with social media platforms like FourSquare and Facebook to further personalize the experience on the app for customers using it. “By just pointing your phone in different directions you will be able to see the places around you. And when you tap on a place you are interested in, we also tell you the time taken to reach there,” says Shashwat.
Most product development at ReFocus Labs is based on the latest tech trends in the industry and how social apps, networks and the rest have been evolving. “Devices today have moved from just having social connectors to more sensors being added to the device. Today there is a gyroscope or GPS in mobile phones, using which we can understand what is going on around you. So rather than make an app where you have to put in data yourself, a smart app can pick up information itself and give the user what they need,” says Shashwat.
Since its launch three months ago, ARKick has got over 7,000 downloads on the Blackberry store alone. Picasso Social, Message Reader and Pastry Push are some of the other products developed by ReFocus Labs and have over 100,000 downloads, claims Shashwat.
Product development at ReFocus Labs is a result of interactive development, both within and outside the team. So the team builds a prototype and passes it to a group of 100 users who then test each product and give feedback. Based on the feedback, products are modified to enhance and make them better, says Shashwat. This group of Beta users are 100 in number and comprise of both males and females between the age group of 16-30 years from India, US, UK and Canada.
While the future looks busy for them, ReFocus’ immediate goal is to launch more contextual apps in the coming months. And in the long term, they want to make their Sidekick Engine an open API which will allow other developers to create context aware apps, says Shashwat.