Moonraft Innovation Labs is a 5 years old startup based out of Bangalore which conceives, designs and creates interactive experiences across physical and digital customer touchpoints. Some of their notable projects include building India's first smartphone based telematic application for Mahindra Reva e20, orchestrating and implementing projection mapping sequence at Mahindra e2o car launch event in Bangalore, Delhi and Nepal, executing an experience center including interactive experiences with gesture-based controls, tablet-driven interactivity and hi-touch interfaces among others.
Moonraft Innovation Labs is co-founded by four senior ex-Infosys employees Somakumar Kolathur aka Soma, Sreekumar Paramu, Sridhar Marri and Krishna Kadiri. We got in touch with Soma who is the CEO of Moonraft, to know about the story behind the startup.
Edited excerpts from our interaction with Soma:
YS: The founding team was working at a senior position in Infosys. What made you all turn to entrepreneurship? Why didn’t you think of being an intrapreneur instead?
SK: We worked in design and technology domains for a long time, delivering projects for global businesses. This led to the recognition that bringing together design, art and technology is crucial for innovation to happen. Timing seemed to be right as we saw the IT/ITES services maturing and a new wave of product and service innovation starting to take off in India and across the world.
There is accelerated commoditization of products and services, given the increased global competition and decreasing brand loyalty on consumers’ part. Customer experience would be the key differentiator for brands and products in the market. There is also an increasing hybridization of business models with services and products getting combined, leading to a significant part of world economy being driven by services. An innovation agent who could bring together creativity and technology and understand these business models could make a significant impact.
We felt that such an innovation agent, or ‘innovation lab’ as we call it, demanded ground-up rethinking of the way we work. We needed to create a unique culture, which fosters creativity, promotes experimental innovation and attracts a diverse set of talent. We needed to keep an open mind about business models and build a new brand appropriate for a global design and innovation firm.
YS: In one line, how would you describe Moonraft? What all services do you provide?
SK: Moonraft Innovation Labs is a design and innovation firm that creates delightful customer experiences to differentiate our clients in the market.
Businesses globally are looking for new ways to delight their customers and differentiate in the marketplace. The pace of change in technology and consumer needs is making this harder and this is where Moonraft chips in. We enable businesses to embrace this new reality in service innovation, product innovation and in the convergence of digital and physical worlds.
It is not just about your product but also more about the service and the entire ecosystem that caters to the customer needs. This has created a need for service innovation while bringing digital technology into customer touchpoints. The always-on customer is accessing products and services across multiple channels & devices be it physical, digital, mobile, tablets and that too 24X7. Even if you are building a physical product, you need to rethink your product experience by infusing digital technology into them. Putting the consumer at the heart of the product experience and being able to communicate and deliver a 1-to-1, context aware, personalized experience will be the pivotal differentiator for companies.
The convergence of physical and digital worlds has created a need for a new kind of experience. Innovation in this area will be critical going forward. Interactive spaces, wearable tech, and connected devices will revolutionize the way we live and work. The right blend of design and technology is necessary to create optimal consumer experience.
YS: With the value proposition regarding innovation that you were offering, did the first few clients come easy to you?
SK: We started with creating a children’s picture book for a friend’s venture. We created the illustrations, conceived the entire book, printed and shipped it. In that sense, the first client came easy. From then on, it got tough. It took a while for our value proposition to crystallize. During that period, it was difficult to articulate to clients how we can make a difference. As client base grew, our own understanding of this space and therefore articulation improved. We have a client base of 20+ today. We have been careful in pacing our growth in line with building our execution capabilities.
YS: What is the competitive advantage that Moonraft holds in the global market?
SK: The potential market spans across design, technology and marketing services. We believe it is a new category blurring the boundaries among traditional design and technology services. Globally, we can consider IDEO, Frog Design etc. as competitors. They have been in the industry for decades.
Our approach in bringing together design, art & technology to solve business positions us better in exploiting technology in our design as well as ensuring that the design we propose is implementable. The continuous innovation model we adopt breaks down traditional innovation process into more rapid cycles of consumer research, prototyping, design, and implementation, suited for twenty first century businesses.
YS: What has challenged you the most - in the market and inside the organization?
SK: One of our main challenge is the market-readiness, specific to Indian markets. Current budget allocation processes do not always provide enough time and funds for innovative design and experimentation, given the space is relatively new. While there are early-movers, the market at large needs to be made aware of the importance of customer experience across all touch points and budgeting resources accordingly.
Attracting top-notch talent in the initial years was difficult and needed specific focus. Disagreements in the initial team on the business direction led to a few of them moving out. This slowed down our business temporarily while we regrouped. We used the opportunity to clarify our business proposition and articulate our values better.
Today, we have about 50 people comprising of designers and technologists. We also have a labs division where we experiment and prototype on emerging technologies. We intend to hire more and continue to build our strong team.
YS: As an entrepreneur, what has been your greatest learning from mistakes?
SK: You get pulled in different directions. There is no alternative to paying attention to every single detail in the initial stages. As the clarity of business purpose gets better and team gains momentum, this becomes easier.