These Mobile Tech Entrepreneurs Found Love in Data

How MobileROI Co-Founders Learned from Hip Hop and an Ayurvedic Lifestyle

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They connect social media data to their calendars to get up to speed on people they'll meet that day. The egg tray in their fridge alerts them when they're low on yolks. She's a former IBM researcher who's studied Swahili, Sanskrit and C+. He's a former hip-hop DJ with a penchant for vintage motorcycles.

Life isn't just an emerging tech data onslaught for MobileROI Co-Founders Puneet Mehta and Sonpreet Bhatia. Sometimes it's an ayurvedic cup of warm milk with turmeric and organic honey.

The first annual NYC BigApps competition in 2009 steered them from gigs in the financial industry into the world of mobile software. Their NYC Way iPhone app compiled several resources for tourists and residents into one, scored an honorable mention at the conference, and a chance to meet then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

During a post-awards dinner, the mayor asked them bluntly, "What are you guys doing consuming jobs when you could be creating jobs instead?"

The married couple was already on the road to job creation. Alongside MyCityWay, the mobile development firm they co-founded which built the NYC Way app, the entrepreneurs founded MobileROI about a year and a half ago, launching publicly in June. The new company offers software that connects CRM, e-commerce and marketing data and systems to predict customer behavior and optimize and monitor campaigns

Today the power couple has around 40 engineers and developers working for them in India, and around ten people on staff in New York, where the two reside in the West Village. In the next few weeks they plan to broaden their sales footprint to London and Tokyo.

"When we met we were both working in the Watson Lab at IBM," said Mr. Mehta. "I found the geek of my dreams."

Mobile technology is just one of many passions for the couple, who have been married nearly 10 years. While studying computer science and engineering at Punjab Engineering College in India in the late '90s, Mr. Mehta embraced hip hop through DJ-ing, a creative outlet he still loves.

"That was our only option because I came from a pretty conservative background," he said.

Another sign of Mr. Mehta's rebellious spirit: a fascination with vintage British motorcycles. "I like to ride, but I also work on them. I think it's another thing that was picked up in college. It was another productive outlet." (He rides a reproduction of a WWII-era Royal Enfield Bullet 500 to and from the office.)

Ms. Bhatia also gravitated toward computer science. In addition to earning a degree in computer applications from Delhi University, she got a second in English. Ancient practices keep her grounded. She is trained to teach meditation and bases much of her lifestyle on natural ayurvedic healing principles, which in part involves combining foods, herbs and spices to prevent ailments.

"Being an entrepreneur demands top efficiency in various aspects of your life -- physical, mental and emotional. In order to keep up with the high stress and high growth environment, Puneet and I follow a holistic ayurveda-balanced lifestyle," said Ms. Bhatia, who said she recommends execs sip a cup of warm milk with "two pinches of turmeric and a spoon of organic honey," along with a half-slice of whole grain bread the night before a high-pressure sales meeting. And, don't forget to "place a stem of lily flowers by your bedside."

Women "tend to bring a human element to what otherwise could be just bits and bytes," said Ms. Bhatia, who helps spread the word about how young women can be involved in learning tech skills by visiting public schools when she returns to India.

"I strongly believe that tech is the most powerful way to empower women in India and their path to financial freedom," she said. "The poorest populations in India have historically wanted a male child because of the notion that he would grow up and support the family. I want to change that with tech where the girl child has an equal opportunity to get the family out of the cycle of poverty."

Ad Age: How would you compare data scientists and computer engineers in India to the U.S.? What might either group learn from the other?

Mr. Mehta: Beyond their core skills, computer engineers and data scientists in the U.S. and India have different strengths. In the U.S., computer engineers and data scientists have a sense of creativity and freedom while their counterparts in India have strong discipline and work ethic. Some of this has been driven by the business structure in the last couple of decades where new tech business ideas were being born in the U.S. and technologists living in India were mostly involved with developing against a defined product specification.

The resources and capital available to startups in the U.S. vs. startups in India are also very different. This is also reflective in the valuations early start-ups receive in India. The gap has narrowed substantially in the last five years but it is still wide enough to be noticeable.

Ad Age: You both seem to do a lot of personal data tracking or self-quantification. How have you learned from gathering and analyzing all this information? Isn't it time consuming?

Ms. Bhatia: Before the work day starts, we check the day's meetings and use a self-hacked system that brings us data from Facebook, LinkedIn and other profiles of the people we are meeting with, which tells us for instance, if they are a Knicks fan and whether the Knicks lost last night or if they recently had a birthday or anniversary.

Our home is wired with all kinds of gadgets from an egg tray that alerts us if we are running out of eggs to a location detector that turns off lights automatically if neither of us have been home for over 15 minutes. We also pre-program music to play in the house based on our calendar for the day; if I've had a really hectic day or business meetings with people I find challenging to deal with, a different type of music is picked to cheer me up when I get home.

I also have 12 different types of scales and measures in the kitchen for handling precise recipes, though I do make a conscious attempt to retire the 'exact' measurement and go more with intuition after I've cooked using the same recipe multiple times.

We use an app called Sleep Cycle, which wakes you in your lightest sleep phase to make sure you are actually rested and waking up at the optimal time. Ideally I don't want to have any gadgets on me during sleep, but I do wear a Fitbit or Jawbone for a few days every now and then.

I believe we should all hack various aspects of our lives to maximize every day and live to our fullest potential. It's fun to be a living experiment and analyzing the performance of your mind, body, brain and home. At the end of the day, it is all done with a spirit to push boundaries by being in the know.

Ad Age: How is India handling privacy and data security issues related to things like location data? Do you think the U.S. needs more regulation or laws related to mobile data collection?

Mr. Mehta: In my opinion, the current privacy and data security setup in India is not at all ready for the upcoming mobile revolution. There are a lot of lessons learned from the western world to set up a foundation there but India will have its own issues, especially considering the scale (over a billion people) and mobile being the primary device for connected services.

The U.S. absolutely needs better regulation around mobile data collection. We are at the cusp of the mobile and sensor revolution right now. Not only are all of us connected via our smartphones, but we also have our own information exhausts via social networks, wearables and apps that tap into sensors. The Internet of Things will enable us to start connecting our homes, our cars, our pets, our sporting equipment and everything else imaginable, generating even more data on all of us. While this opens the door for really personal experiences, the industry needs to tighten the reins on user privacy and clearly communicate to consumers what data is being collected and why.

Our company was built to help brands leverage their existing customer data as well as the data from the growing number of sensors, but key to our business is customer privacy and ensuring all of our partners have the right privacy practices in place. Without the proper use of mobile data, all of the innovation in mobile and connected tech is all for naught.

Ad Age: Puneet, has hip hop and your interest in motorcycles influenced your approach to software development?

Mr. Mehta: I am still very much interested in hip hop because it really shaped part of my thinking while growing up. I believe that everyone has a creative connection with certain things that bring them into the present moment. And when everything else can fade out, they can just 'be.' Those moments are extremely energizing because they allow you to connect with your own self -- like meditation does.

My creative outlets are with mixing music and working on motorcycles with a simpler mechanical design (from the times when not everything was computer controlled). So they end up being motorcycles designed or built before the '70s. The simplicity and functional nature of pre-computer era motorcycles focuses you just on the user experience. At that time there was no option to include all the extra bells and whistles. There is something about minimalistic design to be learned in software and data design as well -- something I think we are missing in today's world across many dimensions.

I re-built my first motorcycle when I was 20 -- it was a 1979 Yezdi Roadking that had been just sitting at a friend's place for the last eight years. After we completely re-did it, it was the only comet blue bike in town. It was much more economical than buying a new motorcycle but it also was done with the discipline of minimalism -- we did not include unnecessary things because there wasn't enough money for the extras.

That's what I love about start-ups -- initially you only get to build what your customer truly needs and this has been our thought process with MobileROI. There isn't one feature in there that is not truly needed by brands today.

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