Raghvendra Saboo on the challenges of being an early adopter
Raghvendra Saboo had a personal itch. Every time a service man came home in his absence, his wife would call him to find out where all the old receipts where. A diligent man, Saboo stored everything on an Excel sheet on his PC, but this process became increasingly cumbersome.
He thought: "Is there any easy way to preserve the information?"
"That was the germ of the idea," says Saboo.
Every physical object has an identity that should -preferably- be accessible with ease. In his search for a platform that would allow this ease, Saboo discovered Near Field Communication or NFC. NFC is essentially short-range wireless communication that allows transfer of small packets of data. It's similar to its predecessor, the Bluetooth, which requires pairing and intercepts more signals than NFC due to its higher range. It's known right now for enabling the 'Tap and Pay' solution. The technology comes integrated in almost all smartphones, more recently in the iPhone, though Apple was previously dismissive of the technology, which has been around for a few years and old news for Android users.
But, Apple's strategically late entry into a slow market means NFC use will pick up significantly.
"That's where LINQS was conceptualised. The word came from hyperlinks. So, basically, these are hyperlinks in the world."
The technical word for it is 'object hyperlinking'.
Simple Solutions for Simple Problems
Saboo started LINQS with a college friend, but had to let him go as bootstrapping was not a financially wise decision for his partner. Ever since, Saboo's been trekking the startup landscape solo, bootstrapping his way through developers and freelancers to help him develop the products at LINQS.
LINQS has both B2C and B2B products. In their B2C line, they have three products: 1Card, Cloudbook and AmILost Tags. Their major B2B product is the Linqup Tags. All of LINQS's products are NFC-enabled or come with QR codes.
1Card is a digital business card. It takes the hassle of printing, carrying and distributing cards that often get lost or discarded. Exchanging cards is an old business etiquette, and using a simple no-frills technology to digitise this etiquette is convenient and efficient. The 1Card information is stored on LINQS's personal profile server.
It's fairly evident smart business cards are the future. All 1Card requires is a tap or scan, after which a link takes you to a simple configuration process that allows you to full customise what you want to add to your business card, including a map to the address of your home or office. You can modify the content at any point, too. It's flexibility in customisation and modification is what makes it superior to the traditional (tearable) business card, which is more permanent and expensive to modify. 1Card allows you to download your QR code, so you can email or message it, too. It's a simple technology that doesn't require getting used to, and is likely to save you a lot of money.
It's not surprising, then, that 1Card is LINQS's more lucrative product.
Cloudbook, on the other hand, is a digital sticky note. Right now, there are thousands of apps, desktop and mobile, that act as sticky notes. "But, people still prefer writing things down, and more importantly, placing it on specific locations."
LINQS takes advantage of this. The Cloudbook is a 3D sticker that stores information for quick and easy access. "It's a convenient interaction," says Saboo. It is just as customisable as the 1Card. You can, for instance, stick one of your fridge, and use it as a shopping list.
And, lastly, AmILost Tags- the idea for these tags came to Saboo when his building caretaker complained about all the lost keys he found. Saboo says, "Why don't people stick their names on these items? First, people are not comfortable putting their name and contact information on tags for privacy reasons. So, we developed a Lost and Found solution with very little technology."
All it requires is for you to tap and configure your information. Because, privacy is crucial, users fully control when and how they wish to reveal their information to the finder of the lost item.
It's more important product, though, is the Linqup Tags, aimed at the B2B community. The tags are like a product's digital identity. There is no requirement for mobile apps. It's a simple platform that allows -in a sense- enterprises to develop micro-web apps on it to create identity for the objects they sell.
When you walk into a shop to buy a dishwasher, either you've made up your mind already through previous online research, or you're going to bumble through the aisles until you select a product. Salespersons are not necessarily experts, or simply regurgitate information already displayed. With a steady increase in online shopping, increasing in-store experience has become crucial to increasing buying tendency at the shop.
That's where Linqup Tags -still to be launched- come in. These tags contain all the information on product specs, ratings and reviews.
"Whatever the customers do in the store," Saboo says, "is measured. It's like Google Analytics for shops. Are they male or female? What is their age group? It's data before they make the purchase, so we're going to track the entire purchasing process of the customer, not just post-purchase." They can do this through Linq Hub, their cloud-based platform that helps compile, manage and measure date from LINQS-enabled products.
Tough Road to Traverse
But, the startup road hasn't been hunky dory for Saboo. The realities of working a startup can be harsh.
"There was a big challenge," Saboo says. The company was incorporated in 2013, and the dilemma between B2B and B2C has been overwhelming since. "But, we're going the B2B route," says Saboo, because that's where most of the success has been. NFC adoption has been challenging. In their B2C category, 1Card has been the most popular.
"It is still new for people to tap to interact. We still type or write, even though it is cumbersome."
Saboos biggest challenge is in knowing how and when to scale the product, especially with the B2B offers. Their products are physical objects, so the question of logistics looms over his head. He's had problems in building the right team, too.
"Being a single founder, it is difficult," says Saboo. People still don't believe in the path he's chosen, and tell him apps are the way to go. "But, for one and a half years, I've been telling people there's an app fatigue we're going to hit."
In essence, what Saboo predicts may be true. There are millions of apps, and many of them do the same thing, too many things or not enough. There are only a few general variety apps commonly used across the globe.
So, it's a matter of "evangelisation of the the technology," says Saboo.
"We have a shop on our website, where the three B2C products are available. We made a soft launch in June. We've had steady orders, especially for 1Card. But, the Cloudbook has been a disaster. We've had a lot of requests from sole proprietors for Linqup Tags, though.
"AmILost kind of works. The NFC stickers have worked more than the tag, as we've seen SME's using it for their portable hardwares."
Still bootstrapped, Saboo knows it cannot be a viable option few months down the line. Within a month, he's planning on going all-out with LINQS marketing.
"I would say it has been encouraging," says Saboo of his startup endeavour, "but its not like something I would have imagined. It's not at all like you develop the product, startup and people start using it.
"We've got less hits on our servers, I'm ashamed.
"But, hopefully, by end of year or early next year, our stuff will be out."
Running Out of Steam
There's a very real possibility of his timing coming back to bite him. We've seen this before: early adopters of technology fail, a bigger player comes into the market and suddenly everyone's scrambling to get into the market. That's more or less the reason for the Apple iPad's success. Tablets were already in prototype phase in the early 90s, influenced by Hollywood science fiction. Then, in 2001, Microsoft unveiled it's Tablet PC. Other brands followed suit, but it wasn't until 2010 that tablets became 'revolutionary' thanks to Apple. If anything, sometimes it seems less important to innovate, and more important to know when and how to adopt an innovation.
"That fear is always there," he says. "The fear is not about other competitors, but about a startup running out steam while the market still matures.
"If there are no competitors, there is no race to buy products. It's hard, actually, because you don't see revenue coming. If you don't have numbers and growth, it becomes difficult to attract venture capitalists."
Saboo feels it's good to be a pioneer. However, it comes with its risks.