Category Archives: Entrepreuninsight

Entrepreuninsight: BookShoppr

We live in a culture of immediacy, an I-want-it-now, instant-reaction, globally-connected planet. Certain online retailers have made their name synonymous with next day, or even next hour delivery. My co-founders and I wondered what it would mean to go one better: next second delivery. That is why we founded BookShoppr, to turn our vision into a reality.

To do so, we had to go back to basics. We love e-commerce, but struggled with certain aspects of the process. Websites weren’t inspirational, not lending themselves to an interactive browsing experience. As helpful as FAQ chatbots can be, we struggled with the sometimes clunky dialogue. We found ourselves questioning fundamental cornerstones of how we buy books, and we decided we would do things differently.

That is not to say it is entirely unfamiliar. When you arrive at Bookshoppr.co, you will see a lot of the same offers, recommendations and deals you would see at other online bookstores. We have minimalist design, and offer the usual bestsellers.

But try clicking on a book you might be interested in, and you will immediately see the difference. Rather than a descriptive page, instead it will feel like the book is actually in your hands. Thumb through it. Read a page or two. If you decide you want to buy the book, keep it in your Hands (just like Amazon’s Shopping Basket). This is a browsing experience rooted in human experience.

If you have any questions, no problem at all. We won’t direct you to some bland FAQ. Engage with one of the Actual People in the store, our Digi-Staff. They will use a natural language processor (we call it “the human brain”) to understand your problem and find a solution. Some people find out Digi-Staff quite attractive, but do not entertain any delusions. You don’t have a chance.

Suppose your Hands are full, you are ready to Check-out. We can do this seamlessly, with no serious effort from you. We accept Android and Apple Pay, credit cards or even actual physical money. You don’t even need to create an account with us to make a purchase – no password required!

And what about delivery, that next-second challenge? As soon as you have checked out, your purchases will go from your Hands to your actual hands – the books will already be there, mere moments after making a purchase. We can also deliver to any address, at your home or your workplace. All you need to do is go to those places with your purchases, and they will be there when you arrive.

So come try out BookShoppr! To find us, go to BookShoppr.co, then stand up, leave your house and walk to one of our physical websites.

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Entrepreuninsight: Ant-esocial

One of the internet’s greatest gifts is its ability to connect people. Anyone with an internet connection can communicate with the whole world, give or take local censorship laws, which would have seemed inconceivable not long ago.

However mankind, unused to such a vast social vista, has tended to form tribes in corners of the internet, communities tied together by a certain webpage, and sometimes also by real-life experience. These are social networks, and in many cases they have outgrown their virtual corner, with Facebook and Twitter sprawling greedily across cyberspace.

The central tenet of all such sites is communication, between members, the site and the advertisers who (oftentimes) pay the bills, and websites are always trying to increase their user engagement. However for some people, this constant communication is a real turn-off. Ralph Arkleton was one such user.

“It was just a bit much, or that’s how I felt,” explains Ralph. “Why did people keep contacting me, or projecting their opinions on me? I wanted to be on Facebook, but I didn’t want to have to deal with all of that. That’s why I started Ant-esocial, the internet’s first antisocial network”

Founded in early 2013, Ant-esocial closely resembles Facebook, but you soon notice the subtle differences. Instead of a newsfeed, the Ant-esocial homepage simply reads “Nothing to see here, do whatever you want.” The messenger function is conspicuous by its absence. And while you can see other people on the site, if you click on anyone’s profile, a pop-up reads “Easy there, give them some space.”

“I’m an introvert, really. So is half of the population of the US. This site is for them,” says Ralph, as he stares contentedly at his No-newsfeed. “People ask why be part of a network at all, and that’s a good question. I don’t know either, but I do definitely want to belong. I just don’t want to have to talk to people.”

Ralph is not alone, with socially reserved users signing up in droves. “We have no idea who they are, of course,” says Ralph. “I would never be so forward as to ask them to fill in personal information. I’m just glad that they’re there, and that they’re not trying to communicate with me.”

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Driverless cars LikeHumansDo

Championed by tech giant Google, driverless cars are widely purported to be the future of the road transport industry.  However not everyone is in favour of the driver-free revolution, with some members of the public expressing concerns around privacy and more importantly safety.

While some may see this lack of wholesale acceptance as a barrier for the industry, some manufacturers are addressing these concerns head on.  LikeHumansDo is a driverless car manufacturer based just outside Cambridge, part of so-called Silicon Fen.

Founder Ben Rickman started making driverless cars in 2012, after several years spent as a Postdoc at the University of Cambridge’s Engineering Department. His aim was to build a computer that could act as the ‘perfect driver’, and his creation, e-Fred (after Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred) was more than up to scratch, with a flawless record in all public road tests.

However after speaking to members of the general public at various trade shows, he was dispirited. “They just didn’t trust the computer as much as a human being,” explains Ben. “It soon became clear that we would have to re-focus on creating a driverless car that drives exactly like a person.”

Ben and his team approached their task with renewed vigour, building additional features on top of the original e-Fred prototype. “We started with the basics, building in a tiredness feature that would steadily reduce alertness over time. We also found we could perfectly mimic a driver taking his eyes off the road by periodically turning off all e-Fred’s sensors.”

Over a painstaking period of months, LikeHumansDo developed road rage, late indication and occasional drunk driving into e-Fred’s arsenal. The driverless car’s performance in public road tests went down accordingly, much to the team’s pleasure. “Where previously we had no accidents, our car is now performing precisely at the level of an average human,” said Ben, describing the vehicle lovingly as “a danger to itself and other drivers.”

The car is still in the final testing stages, but overall Ben is delighted: “It even blows its horn when older drivers are slightly slow to pull off from traffic lights, and will occasionally stall in the middle of a junction. e-Fred is a car that your everyday driver can relate to, and I’m sure they will sell like hotcakes.”

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Entrepreuninsight: Grammer

It is a truism that the modern man (or woman) on the web has more potential megaphones than any of his ancestors.  It has never been easier to broadcast your opinions to the masses, whether the masses are interested or not.

While no one would deny that this democracy of the internet is one of the great gifts of the modern era, some do quibble with how this freedom is being used. Indeed, your author is still baffled by the proliferation of cats, adorable and otherwise, in these virtual hallways. Others are more concerned about how we are taking advantage of the internet as a channel of communication. Entrepreneur John Simkins is one such concerned internet resident.

“I suppose it boils down to the fact that we have been blessed by two man-made miracles,” explains John, “the internet and the English language.  My problem was that we seemed unable to make the most of both simultaneously.”

Indeed this is a very sensitive topic for John, what he refers to as the “bastardisation of the English language”. “I mean it’s ridiculous, what does it all mean?” he exclaims. “I thought this might be the golden era for English prose, but instead we’ve been reduced to a parade of acronyms, selfies, hashtags and emoticons!”

It was this degeneration that inspired John to start Grammer, a social-network for language-lovers. The concept was inspired by Twitter, where there is a maximum number of characters per message. In Grammer, the length is unlimited, with the only requirement being that the message must be written in perfectly composed English.

While the number of subscribers is still in the growth phase, the concept has a fanatical fan-base. Librarian Jen Howland is a super-user. “I used to be on Twitter, but then it all became too much for me. I was just seeing red mist the whole time, so many dangling prepositions! Grammer is like heaven for me.”

The concept is simple.  Upon submitting a message, Grammer’s algorithms go to work, informing you whether your message is fit for online consumption, and how to update it if not, from your to you’re to theirs to there and beyond. Meanwhile, the underlying open-source programme is constantly being updated by a volunteer community of Definers. “I can’t speak highly enough of our Definers,” says John, “they’re the lifeblood of our operation. They’ve even started catching mis-placed gerunds, which is really tricky stuff.”

The project is already attracting significant interest from Venture Capitalists, “though they’re only welcome if they know how to capitalise appropriately,” jokes John. “I think we’re on to a really interesting thing here. Some people call us Grammar Nazis, but we’re a pretty irreverent bunch.  The name of the App is even mis-spelled, intentionally!  We might love grammar, but we still know how to have a good time.”

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Entrepreuninsight: Wikiwordia

I love Wikipedia.  There I’ve said it.  While it may be dismissed out of hand in academia, for the everyman it has become an indispensable tool, primarily when it comes to avoiding ridicule. Where actually is Budapest?  Wikipedia. What does FIFO stand for, again?  Wikipedia. Who on earth is Thomas Piketty? All together now, Wikipedia.

However as useful as Wikipedia is, I soon found that it had its limits.  While it is able to tell you who Sepp Blatter is (a Swiss football administrator), in doing so it relies on words to communicate meaning.  I found myself thinking, what if I didn’t understand words?  How would I possibly even use Wikipedia?  I myself would sometimes not know the meaning of a word in a Wikipedia entry (e.g. administrator), leaving me feeling lost, confused, and unable to find the meaning of that word anywhere on Wikipedia!

It was this mixture of general concern and personal experience that inspired me to start Wikiwordia – Wikipedia, but for the words of Wikipedia. While this may be a startling concept, it has caught popular imagination, and new users have been joining at a rate of knots.

Far from a competitor, Wikiwordia is the perfect companion for Wikipedia.  If you are stumped for the meaning of a word, our Wikiwordia app can tell you what that word means.  For example if, while browsing through Wikipedia pages, you come across a difficult word like “Dictionary” in Samuel Johnson’s entry, and can’t quite recall that word’s meaning, simply click on it, and Wikiwordia’s API interfaces automatically with Wikipedia to help you out (indeed I must do so myself!  Words are tricky, aren’t they?)

As well as constantly refining the app, and most importantly building up an exhaustive list of Wikinitions based on our own proprietary research, we are also constantly building out additional services, in response to requests from our users.  For example we are currently developing sub-app-app Wikiwikiwordia, for those people who don’t understand words they find in Wikiwordia.

Like Wikipedia, Wikiwordia is a non-profit.  Where Wikipedia “exists to bring knowledge to everyone who seeks it”, Wikiwordia exists to bring knowledge of the words of Wikipedia to everyone who needs it.  With your help and continued support, I hope that we can do that.

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