I had the pleasure of interviewing Arvind Raichur, CEO and co-founder of MrOwl.
Jean: Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share your story about how you became a startup founder?
I first became a startup founder in 1997. I was working in a large law firm in New Mexico that represented a number of huge corporate clients. The project I was working on required that we partner with another lawyer or firm in Texas, the name of which my colleague could not remember. Back then, to find a lawyer or firm in another state required consulting encyclopedia-like references in the law library. But when I went to consult the book I needed, it was missing. After emailing every attorney at the firm asking where the specific volume I needed was, I resorted to looking on Yahoo!, the biggest search engine at the time, which listed every attorney in the country alphabetically. I was so frustrated by the experience that I went home and told my wife about my idea to make legal information organized and searchable in a useful way. I had the legal knowledge to know what information needed to be online and how it should be organized; she had the technical know-how to make it happen.
At the time, there was virtually no competition that we knew of. In the beginning we set out to create an online legal directory of information. In the end, what we created was an online community of people seeking legal information.
Jean: Tell us about MrOwl.
Officially, we describe MrOwl as “a Community Interest Engine™ that brings together the best of social, search, and digital organization all in one app.” It’s a disruptive technology that brings together the best parts of the internet experience as we know it — the ability to connect with other people; share information, ideas and resources; find information, ideas and resources; express ourselves; be entertained — on one platform. But it does more than that simply because it is organized differently and allows users to organize their topic playlists, or branches, in something other than a chronologically driven feed. MrOwl also gives users more control over what and with whom they share their playlists, so it allows users to create and participate in a variety of social networks organized around a topic of interest, which is much like how people network and form communities in real life.
Jean: Why did you decide to create MrOwl?
I decided to create MrOwl because I had a vision for a better internet experience. Like with my other startups, there was a problem — in this case, users’ lack of control over their internet experience and the challenge of effectively creating topic-driven online communities. I had an innovative solution.
When Becky and I started our first company, I had the legal knowledge and she had the technical knowledge. When we reflected on our experience with that venture, we realized that there are countless other industries and topics for which we do not have the subject matter expertise, but someone does but they don’t have the luxury of having the technical ability to create something for or around that area of interest. There are people “out there” who know a topic more thoroughly, and they should be able to develop a community around that. Websites alone do not create community, and that leaves the knowledge on them largely unknown or un-accessed. MrOwl is the platform that lets people create communities around the topics they’re passionate about. It gives users the space to create and compile content, share it, store and organize it and with greater flexibility in what and with whom they share information than other online communities.
Jean: How is MrOwl impacting social media?
MrOwl is impacting social media in a different way. MrOwl’s social/share capability is novel because its purpose and structure are completely different. It’s not a news feed, so content isn’t lost in the constant stream of information. It’s visual but not image-driven, so knowledge, which is largely textural, can be effectively shared. And, MrOwl allows users to collaborate in the creation and curation of topic playlists rather than limit them to reactions or comments to content someone else has posted. In other words, it’s not just another social media platform attempting to provide the same type of user experience as platforms already available; it’s not just “straight competition.” It is likely to become a social media outlet that supplements the other platforms users prefer because it provides capabilities those do not.
Jean: What are 3 lessons you learned creating MrOwl?
The three major lessons I learned with MrOwl are:
- The importance of cultural diversity and cultural fit in a company. In my previous companies, I achieved cultural diversity by accident because I was looking for the best person for the job, regardless of gender, ethnicity, etc. But, what I wasn’t looking for that I should have been was the best fit within the company culture. With MrOwl, I’m willing to hire someone with less experience or less prestigious credentials but who values what the company values and who’s energy and personality contribute to the environment I’m always trying to create and maintain to keep MrOwl on the cutting edge.
- The importance of creating a workplace environment where every member of the team feels like they’re contributing to the overall effort, team, goal, etc. Without any extrinsic rewards, my team is motivated and their productivity is higher simply because they feel listened to and appreciated. I’ve learned to clearly communicate to my team that what they bring — their ideas, their work — is valued.
- The importance of creativity in marketing a disruptive technology. MrOwl is not like any other search engine or social media platform. There’s nothing like it that potential users can compare it to and really get an accurate understanding for what it does, how it works and why it’s better. Consequently, a lot of the traditional marketing strategies and gimmicks don’t work. We’ve had to think of ways to generate curiosity organically so that people take the time to find out about MrOwl, and that’s what really works for us because we know that the product speaks for itself; once people find MrOwl and start exploring what it can do, they’re going to adopt it.
Jean: Are you working on any additional new projects that you can share?
Of course, we have a lot of projects in the works, everything driven to improve the user experience, but nothing we can really disclose right now.
Originally published at medium.com