I met Vikas Singh first time at MobileSparks 2013. He appeared calm, composed and confident, standing alone at the back of the hall. After the usual pleasantries like the ones in all kind of networking, I asked him what he does, he responded –
“I am building a time machine.”
Yes, those exact words, with a very straight face. I didn’t believe him and he could sense it. Vikas was not in this kind of a situation for the first time. We continued to talk about it and he explained a little bit more. Vikas Singh, founder of Bangalore-based Psi Phi Labs, is developing Timeport. In his words, “Timeport envisions making time travel a reality. It opens a portal into the future at a specific time and place and lets you connect with the people and moments yet to happen. Timeport uses augmented reality to make the experience of opening such space-time portals super realistic. It is a futuristic, augmented reality rich and completely experience driven technology design.”
In our multiple interactions over emails, phone calls and Google Hangout, Vikas shared his entire entrepreneurial journey.
Vikas’s life and his adventures with technology
Vikas calls himself a quirky mix of left and right brain. He gets his analytical skills from his father, who is a missile scientist working for the defense force, and his creative side stems from his mother who is a social entrepreneur.
When kids of his age were trying to write computer programs to calculate compound interest, he created a game that resembled a lot like what we know today as Angry Birds. He says, “Because my version of Angry Birds was built in 1997, it was all neon green as monitors weren’t colored back then. My first major invention happened when I was in college. I created my own wireless communication technology. I went on to become a research scientist working for McAfee Inc. I worked as a cyber security specialist. While I was busy filing patents and reverse engineering computer worms during my day job, my mom’s side of genes were playing their part. I was into dancing, almost professionally, at one point in life. I was also associated with the production work of a theater group.”
After eight years of corporate life, he felt things were easy. He needed something challenging and exciting. In 2011, he started his entrepreneurial journey with Psi Phi Labs. He says, “We are on this ambitious journey to help the world time travel into the future. Couldn’t get bigger than this, could it?”
Dronna was the first product under Psi Phi Labs. It was an intelligent, machine learning contextual search that understands whom to trust for what information on a day to day basis. It helps users make important everyday decisions for which they can’t depend on Google. Vikas thinks that it was a product ahead of its time, or perhaps they were building it in the wrong market. He adds, “We had trouble raising money in the risk averse, quick revenue demanding Indian ecosystem. When angel investors started telling us that it is very difficult for the Indian investors to take that leap of faith and go for a long run, we figured that something definitely needed to be changed. Luckily, in the meanwhile, Timeport happened.”
Musing on what would a time machine be like, if there were one, Vikas kept diving into the possibilities, the real world implications and limitations of it. The first prototype of Timeport came out of a 24 hour Hackathon conducted by Sequoia Capital. Today, it is available in its first form – a smartphone app. It was launched on the Indian Apple App Store on March 23rd and is available on Play Store too.
The user enters a time in the future, a location and the recipient of the message. The recipient receives a message telling him/her that someone from the past is trying to connect with them. It gives them the exact location where the message can be opened. This adds the space factor to the Timeport. One must be at the exact co-ordinates of the location at the exact time to access the message. The message, which can currently be recorded in form of audio/video, will be destroyed forever after 10 minutes of the time set by the sender.
You can watch a teaser video here.
Vikas says, “It started getting attention both from India and abroad without any marketing. We started getting mails from investors, mentors, users and even businesses showing some serious interest. One day when Rajan (Anandan) saw Timeport and was completely thrilled about the possibilities this product could have, I was assured that this is it. Let’s pivot.”
As air travel is about traveling miles, Timeport is about traveling time. With airlines, the farther you travel, the more it costs. With Timeport, the farther you go into the future, the more energy it takes. The product is free but you need to purchase the energy. Timeport started with this B2C revenue model but things started getting interesting over time. “Businesses started approaching us for something that could become the cash cow of Timeport. You need to wait a little before we spill those beans. For now, I can tell you that we have started working on pebble smart watch integration and are also reaching out to Google Glass team to collaborate,” says Vikas.
He adds, “There have been time schedulers in the past but what we are trying to achieve here blurs the line between what’s reality and what’s not. The product could be ahead of its time, or it could be even in a wrong market, something that we are very careful this time and so we have our options open to see if a more developed ecosystem/market could be the right place to kickstart the product.”
Psi Phi Labs was started with one philosophy – dream crazy and build insanely ambitious products. Vikas believes that only few people are capable of doing this, and if one can, one must do it. Timeport is far from being the next big thing, but it is a positive start. Time will tell the rest. Dronna is not dead too, it is just hibernating, waiting for its time and for a chance to come back to life sometime in the future.
When are you travelling to the future? We are waiting to hear your experience of time travel. Let us know in the comments below.