[The Turning Point] Understanding the support agent market led these entrepreneurs to start data ecosystem platform Aiisma

The Turning Point is a series of short articles that focuses on the moment when an entrepreneur hit upon their winning idea. Today, we look at Las Vegas-based marketing research startup Aiisma.

Three years ago, friends and serial entrepreneurs Nicholas Boehnlein and Ankit Chaudhari were looking at the technical support service industry and working out a solution for a more automated approach.

They found out that when a support agent asks you to download a panel to your device to identify the source of the issue, a lot of device and individual data points are being accumulated.

The duo realised that even from a support perspective, one is accumulating a lot of data and individual insights. This triggered the thought that if support agents have access to such in-depth data, what kind of data do big technology companies have? And what do they do with it?

They did considerable research and discovered a massive public ‘knowledge-gap’, especially in terms of privacy and data monetisation. This made them shift away from automated support and the idea of Aiisma was born.

Nicholas Boehnlein

Founded in 2018, the startup rewards users for anonymously and consensually sharing their data with businesses to improve their products.

Nicholas says, “Data as an asset is still noticeably young and a niche to most digitally connected people around the world. With Europe’s GDPR, India’s personal data protection bill, and the recent big tech privacy breaches in the US, data privacy has become a hot topic over the past few months. But in 2017, we were still ‘outliers’ with our idea.”

He says that at that time there was nobody else in the space doing something like this – and even now, there are only a few players working around the data, trying various solutions as it is still a very niche space.

Product development

“When we started Aiisma in 2018, we had to zero in on how we can create a tool, an app, a software or a program that returns the power and control of data back to individuals with the ability to decide what data they want to share, when they want to share, and how to monetise,” says Nicholas.

Their immediate choice was a smartphone. In the process they lined up the entire value chain - from design to production to software to distribution.

With inputs from some of their trusted advisors, they started pondering around the upcoming smartphone launch as it was still ‘just a hardware tool’.

The co-founders thought, out of hundreds of millions of people being connected in India alone and billions worldwide that use big tech products, how many will actually use our smartphone? Even if it’s successful, could it really change how personal data privacy and monetisation is being handled?

(L-R) Ankit Chaudhari and Nicholas Boehnlein

This made them conclude they need to do more to really have a solution to this problem and to start making a dent in the industry, because the data exploitation of big techs has been, to this day, gigantic.

“We cancelled all our plans and went back to the drawing board. We concluded that we need to create an ecosystem which people can join to actively protect and regulate their data whilst not losing out on the existing conveniences. More so the opposite, because of the transparency and the #mydatamyasset ethos, we can and will offer more convenient and better services,” says Nicholas.

The first step towards this was a data marketplace app where individuals could share their data of choice for rewards. Later, the startup launched AiiSocial, a social media network where individuals can earn rewards for engaging with the platform sharing pictures, videos, and opinions. 

“This is our first product of the entire Aiisma ecosystem embodying our vision of an engaging, fun, yet privacy centric and rewarding solution for individuals to control and monetise their data without compromising on digital socialising,” adds Nicholas.

According to the founders, the startup has over 6,000 members at present. The user base is highest in India followed by UAE and then the Philippines.

Edited by Megha Reddy


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