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Naveen Jain bets on incentivized innovation and incentivized pricing to make great products

Wednesday November 02, 2011 , 8 min Read

Product Conclave

Silicon Valley descends on Banglore in this year’s NASSCOM Product ConclaveNaveen Jain is founder of Moon Express and Intelius and a speaker at #NPC. Previously, He founded InfoSpaceNaveen took InfoSpace public in 1998 on the NASDAQ and served as CEO until he left to start Intelius. Before starting InfoSpace, he was a senior executive at Microsoft Corporation. He has been awarded many honors for his entrepreneurial successes and leadership skills including “Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year”, “Albert Einstein Technology Medal” for pioneers in technology, “Top 20 Entrepreneurs” by Red Herring, “Six People Who Will Change the Internet” by Information Week. He was awarded People’s Choice “Light of India” award for Business Leadership. Naveen is currently focused on finding ways to use advances in science to solve some of the problems that on the surface look like infrastructural problems. He is in the process of setting up an incentive prize challenge to develop “Digital Doctor” (AI based expert system) to improve access to primary care physician around the world. He is also exploring ways to develop a neurometric system to create better learners and to develop neuroscience based multi-sensory video games that are effective and additive to teach students skills like math, science and history. Naveen continues to believe that we should be able to create bio-factories to reduce shortage of food and use synthetic biology to create microbes that can help with clean water and to generate energy from plentiful resources like ocean water. In sum total, technology was a starting point and now he has moved on to many domains with a social consciousness that will impact human lives one way or the other. This is what entrepreneurial success can do to you. Technology entrepreneurs are better positioned maybe because they realize traction faster than their peers in other domains.

Silicon Valley descends on Silicon Capital (Bangalore) during #NPC to give you assorted views on what the Valley is like. So as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Naveen throws open his perspective to Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist, on a range of issues centred on entrepreneurship including NASSCOM Product Conclave 2011 to be held at Bangalore on November 9 and 10. Register here.

YourStory: First of all, can you explain your latest venture Moon Express, which seems to be a very ambitious project? What fueled the idea, just to give our readers an idea about your extended thinking beyond just technology?

Naveen Jain: I fondly recall growing up as a young boy, looking up at the moon, and instinctively knowing and understanding how it connects all of us. My love for the moon and the sheer wonder it represents has been with me as long as I can remember. The moon is for everyone, which is one of the many things that make it such an exciting entrepreneurial challenge.

There is a tremendous opportunity to bring entrepreneurship to space exploration. I’m not doing this for those who are more fortunate, but rather the well being of our planet. Precious minerals on the moon can dramatically change the course of health care and humanity, as we know it.

The moon represents the aspirations and opportunities we all share and endeavor to achieve. It is a great honor and privilege to bring my entrepreneurial spirit and fascination with the moon together in one monumental venture, Moon Express. I can’t wait to see what we discover together.

When did you choose to become an entrepreneur after a very successful stint at Microsoft and what were the reasons?

After a successful tenure and incredibly rewarding experience at Microsoft, I wanted to venture out on my own. I am proud of the amazing work I accomplished with the Microsoft team, but my entrepreneurial drive eventually became too much to ignore. I firmly believe in the powers of innovation and entrepreneurship. If you can see a problem and recognize that problem, you’re a human being. If you can come up with an idea to solve that problem, you’re a visionary. If you can execute on that idea, you’re an entrepreneur.

It is my life’s mission to act on even the most aspirational challenges that face our planet to help make a difference. From empowering women and fostering more accurate disease diagnoses in developing nations, to creating an educational system that utilizes modern neuroscience fundamentals and exploring the moon; there is no problem that can’t be solved and no challenge so large that we can’t make a positive impact.

Product technology is a challenging business. What do you think are the essential components of a product business?

Business plans need to be agile and constantly evolving. Executives should not get overly analytical or rigid with their business plans, particularly when they rely on assumptions. Market dynamics change on a dime. And even the most thorough business plan is likely to be outdated before it is proofread and bound.

I also don’t like to put much emphasis on being ‘first to market’ with a product or service. First to market companies face myriad challenges that are often times far riskier than they are innovative. Companies that focus on improving incumbent products and services, have the existing technology and market penetration to make significant innovations, at reduced cost and risk. First to market companies battle the disadvantage of being without precedent and therefore without the ability to tap into an existing market for testing and widespread adoption.

I also fear that in our hyper-accelerated world, we are not only losing out on our appreciation of human ingenuity and America’s historical can-do spirit, but on our ability to recognize and value of small, yet ingenious, changes in products, processes and services. Worse, by failing to acknowledge the importance of small changes, we may stop trying to generate them altogether, which might further erode the business landscape and global economy.

Resisting the urge to be first, with “the next big thing” is difficult. Having the character to recognize the opportunities in your existing offering and discipline to implement change should be acknowledged for what it is: innovation with the potential to deliver the greatest impact.

Given your immense experience in product technology, where do you see the momentum shifting as far as products are concerned?

The biggest game changers are mobile technology and incentivized innovation (see more on this in my answer to the next question). People want to do everything on the go, and in today’s society it has to be interesting and fun. In countries like India, where fixed broadband penetration is lacking, computers are being skipped over entirely and millions of people are experiencing the Internet and technology for the first time on mobile. This trend makes India, and many other countries, more advanced and ripe for innovative businesses to be built around mobile infrastructure and technology.


Thanks to these advancements in technology, society has changed dramatically as the majority of our relationships are now built and fostered online. In today’s trust economy, people are looking for more trusted relationships in personal interactions and business. We all need to be mindful of our online personas and take every measure to stave off the potential harm that often comes as a result of misleading or inaccurate information online.How can Silicon Valley practices benefit India, a market in which customers are conscious of price but would pay for product value? Or do you believe pricing is irrelevant?

Incentivized pricing is the way of the future and there are no barriers standing in the way. We need to incentivize others to execute on big ideas. Why not incentivize others, including bright people from outside the industry, to come up with something special? This is how innovation will be fostered in the future and India will play an important role.

We can empower people all around the world – particularly those who don’t face the inherent barriers that companies are often saddled with – to innovate and create solutions for big problems. There are so many smart individuals who don’t sit within the glass walls of today’s traditional enterprises. And yet, given the power of the Internet, broadband technology and social media, they can contribute a great deal. To incentivize innovation, companies need to be open to partnerships with outside talent in every respect imaginable. We can empower innovation with incentivized pricing.

What are your expectations from the NASSCOM Product Conclave 2011? How do you think Indian product entrepreneurs stand to gain from your experience?

With success comes obligation. Philanthropic entrepreneurship is important for every business. When entrepreneurs innovate and create a business focus, they can also apply a layer of philanthropy to their plan. Philanthropy can be implemented in many ways, be it through a foundation, incentivized innovation or other altruistic endeavors. I expect India to continue achieving tremendous growth and opportunity for its people and the world at large. India is renowned in the technology world and well known for its brilliant engineers. I’m excited to see what these young, brilliant minds will achieve in the near and distant future. Innovation and entrepreneurship has the ability to change the world.

YourStory thanks Naveen for his insightful comments.

To hear Naveen, register here. It’s a must-wish, must-attend, must-enjoy celebration of product technology brought to you by NASSCOM. YourStory is the online media partner for the Conclave.