“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see” – Mark Twain.
It is an expensive trait and not many people have the nerve to acknowledge that even the mightiest of people have weaknesses. On the contrary, people with special needs require little attention as they are self-reliant and have other heightened senses. They are referred as people with special needs because they are special in their own way.
Gaurav Mittal, the Rishikesh-boy, realised how visually-impaired people needed support when he attended NAB (National Association for Blind), in 2012, as a part of CSR activity. It was then that he had an awakening that connecting visually-impaired to technology was the necessity of the hour. Motivated by the meet, he conceived the idea of Eye-D, acronym for Eye-Devices.
A 2010-batch IIT-BHU graduate of five year-integrated course in mathematics and computing, Gaurav was always sensitive to his surroundings. The one-day meet at NAB left a deep impact on him and he was moved. This is when he decided to design apps for the visually-impaired and make their daily life easier.
“That’s when I started building different devices for visually-impaired to identify obstacles in path, identify faces etc,” Gaurav says. In order to design these applications, he received grants from Citrix and Microsoft to continue making prototypes. However, this wasn’t an easy task and he needed to connect to the visually-impaired to know their needs and designed the application that met their requirements.
This was a fulfilling task on his end as he was creating something that met his childhood dream of playing with technology and in return helping the visually-impaired in living a convenient life. His inspiration was rooted deep when he started showing the applications to visually impaired in 2013. He received extraordinary response from them thus inspiring him further to design more applications. Their warm reception added only sparks to Gaurav’s endeavors and he worked with enthusiasm to design some application that was handier.
In 2015, Gaurav realized this was his calling. He wanted to partner with few other like-minded people and thus he quit his job and focused entirely on building apps for the visually impaired. But it was not all sugar and candy, he faced criticism which only drove his conviction further. People commented – “Your market size is small.” That was true because he had put in only his toe as of yet and was waiting to put in both feet in the application development. He took every criticism with a sportsman spirit and gave himself the room to grow.
Eye-D was conceptualized in 2012 and remained in research mode till 2014 when GingerMind Technologies Pvt Ltd. was formally created. It is an Artificial Intelligence application. The visually impaired enter their details via the custom made keypad in their language. This translates the data in English and the response is read aloud to the user.
Currently, Eye-D, Eye-D free and Eye-D pro apps are available on Google play, globally. Along with this, his team is also working on few hardware devices which will be launched next year. His four team member are working are based out of Bangalore. However, he has communities abroad which help in refining the product. Eye-D works closely with few most prominent NGOs in India.
“We are four members in the team (Gaurav, Vaibhav, Shaswat, and Rimi). We work with number of volunteers globally while most of them are visually-impaired.”
He spent money on making his first prototype after which he was funded by Citrix, Microsoft and Intel. These early grants helped him in buying 3D printers, file patents and gave him the room to experiment. For first two years, it was a volunteer driven effort which was cost-effective but slow. In 2014, he started forming the team and hired interns as well who contributed immensely. People joined and left as well.
“We have a very balanced team right now, making sustainable revenue and looking to expand. The biggest contribution comes from our users who helped us identify revenue streams. We have built our business model directly by talking to our users,” conveys Gaurav.
Gaurav and his team pivoted from hardware only to app and assisting hardware model after observing growing smartphone adoption among visually-impaired, globally. They focused on the app usability and features and kept it in beta mode for close to an year from August 2015, before releasing it publicly, in August 2016. Ever since then, their user base has been growing by word of mouth with support from the community. Luckily, they never spent a rupee on marketing.
The application uses algorithms to process information, images and AI to derive insights from various sources to assist users. Currently, they have more than 9,000 monthly active users in over 160 countries, available in 12 languages. They aim to empower 1,00,000 visually-impaired users by 2018.
Eye-D has proved to be a boon for the visually-impaired and made their lives easier.
His message to the readers as he concludes is, “Whatever idea you want to work on, start by talking to customers and knowing pain points. Don’t try to retrofit your solution to their needs rather work on what they need. We could have saved an year had we done this earlier.”
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