Boni seeks to be a “Virtual Assistant for Visually Impaired.” Our main ambition is to make the world a better place for people with disabilities.
Name: Boni Global
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Product / Service Offering: Location Based Accessibility Solutions
Co-founder Interviewed: Sarper Silaoglu, Co-founder
Other Key Management: Hande Senol Ozkut, Director of Marketing; Paul S. Colgan, Director of Strategy
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
Visualization of a completely accessible world is our everyday motivation at Boni Global. Our main ambition is to make the world a better place for people with disabilities.
Since the first day, we have introduced indoor discovery as a way of finding solutions for the visually impaired. We met with different groups of visually impaired people around the world. Their understanding of humor, taste of music, and creativity on design have delighted us and encouraged us to keep working on disability products.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
We founded our company at Istanbul Technical University as a Government Funded Research and Development Project. The core of the technology is to develop micro-location based services in indoor spaces. After development, several business case trials, and pivoting, the original idea of “Virtual Assistant for Visually Impaired”, our core product, came from one of our customers. While we were trying indoor navigation in a venue, the venue managers advised us to develop an application for people who are blind.
We consulted the visually impaired community. With their help we have designed a unique user experience and released the first version of our product, named “Loud Steps”.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
Since people with disabilities cannot use some of their senses, they are excelling in other skills. For Boni Global, to make the most of our products, our first priority is to better understand those skills.
For example, during a way finder practice in a shopping mall at an early phase of our product, we were hardly able to spot entrances of retail stores. We were just able to assist visually impaired users to a place close to a door. We were not able to pinpoint it. What we have witnessed is that, using their other senses such as smelling or hearing, they were easily and naturally pinpointing the entrance. Since then Boni Global, focuses on understanding their skills and designing our products accordingly.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
By design, publicly available places, such as airports, malls, train stations, etc., are very complex to memorize and be independently visited by the visually impaired. Boni Global’s unique solution is designed both for our customers – the venue managers, and our users – the visually impaired community. As a platform, it has unique advantages. sIt is applicable to any kind of venue and provides comprehensive information about the venue for the visually impaired.
Since our first implementation, we have received demands to develop additional tools for people who have hearing impairments. With the help of the volunteer deaf community, we have started another development project to assist them in complex venues. We have had our first implementation in the Istanbul Technical University campus area and are now expanding to other venues.
Boni Global’s competitive edge is that we are the only company focused entirely on people with disabilities and developing assistive technologies to give them independency in many different complex spaces like hospitals, museums, and schools.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
Boni Global is playing a humanitarian role. Although around 10% of the population has disabilities, they are not often seen, even in the developed world. The reason is that the awareness of our generation is just rising and investments to overcome the disabilities are recently increasing. We are facing the truth that as the human life span increases, we all have the risk of being disabled at an elderly age.
The main challenge for Boni Global is to inform the decision makers about these realities and encourage them to invest in accessible technologies like we are providing. We are running nationwide public events with our clients and our sponsors. Each event creates a little more awareness and demand.
The very best thing about Boni Global is that the real estate market is enormous and there is space for all the successful companies. Rather than competing, we are collaborating with most of the competitors around the world.
What resources have you utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
Once you devote yourself to do something for the good, especially for the handicapped, you are more likely to recognize the value of human beings.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
Our first round took 3 months from reaching investors to signing the contract. In 3 months, we closed 1 Million USD. Both the timeframe and the valuation for the company were remarkable. Before the funding-round, I took almost 12 months to get ready for an investment.
If we could start over, we would reduce the time to prepare for the round and extend the time frame a bit for funding.
What questions have you had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
Both social media and the conventional media generally populate exceptional success stories. We see high valuation companies that are not generating revenue attracting investors or acquirers. These are exceptions though. It might happen to any startup, but probably will not to most.
The real success comes with persuasion. It takes years, sometimes decades. If you look at real success stories, and dive deeply in their history, you will see that the major thing a successful entrepreneur does is persuade.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
Finding a viable product was the number one challenge. As with every other startup, we started with an idea. But in time, we have pivoted a lot. In every pivot, we have learned something new. I cannot say that we have perfected the product yet. I assume it will never happen in this constantly changing environment. We are still pivoting by enhancing technology, increasing our value offer, perfecting our team and spreading the mission of our start-up.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
The world has really become flat with diversified cultures and people. A successful company must go beyond its territory. While looking to expand our company, we have utilized accelerators in different countries. We have also participated in a local accelerator, ITU-Gate, that is aims to help products get ready for US market. Next, Boni Global participated in Elm-Spring Accelerator in Chicago. Those two organizations helped us very much. Their value is not comparable with money.
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