Want to make better choices? No crystal ball? James Elste has built a new product - inqiri – that harnesses collective and synthetic intelligence to optimize the decision-making process. Along with Chief Data Architect & Co-founder, Travis Schwieger, inqiri is set to launch at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013. James generously answers a few questions for The Big Plate about his new venture and what went into building it.
The Big Plate: What’s on your plate?
Inqiri: Our big plate is filled with preparing for the launch of the inqiri solution at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013. We have spent the last nine months designing and developing the inqiri solution, and now are in the final days of preparation for the launch event. That means testing, testing, and re-testing, along with applying polish to work out any rough spots in the interface. Lots of hard work and long days, but everyone is very excited about the public launch of inqiri.
TBP: What was the inspiration to build inqiri?
Inqiri: To “change to world” sounds trite these days, but we wanted to build a solution that would have a positive impact in people’s lives. We focused on decisions because ultimately, the decisions we make shape our lives and define our world. My research in areas like cognitive bias and collective intelligence made it clear to me that we could apply technology to overcome the cognitive challenges that influence our decision-making. We knew there were proven techniques in collective intelligence and synthetic intelligence that would optimize the decision-making process and that a web-based application of these techniques would produce improved decisions. If you can improve people’s ability to make decisions, I think you can actually change the world.
TBP: When aggregating synthetic and collective intelligence; do the two data streams tend to complement or correct the other?
Inqiri: These techniques are complimentary and in a sense correct each other, as well. Collective intelligence provides input from large numbers of individuals, each contributing their perspective on criteria, options, and performing evaluations. This aggregation of input generates an optimized, consensus result. To ensure that there is validity in the result, synthetic intelligence techniques provide a normalization function, and a “cleansing” function, which corrects for population variance and attempts to intentionally manipulate results. It also analyzes behaviors and input to develop recommendations for criteria and options. Together, they produce the benefits of the “Law of Large Numbers”, statistical rigor, and intelligence to the data set.
TBP: As you accrue more inqiris, where do you see the greatest near-term potential?
Inqiri: We believe that there are three primary beneficiaries of the inqiri solution in the near term. They are businesses and organizations that are trying to improve their internal decision-making processes and tap into the most valuable resource in their organizations – the knowledge and expertise of their employees. Second, we see great value for socially active organizations and individuals who are trying to foster idea creation and motivate action around social issues or specific problems in their communities. By using inqiri, they can generate a broader set of options, make a collective decision, and galvanize action. Finally, individuals, who are interested in making more informed choices, whether they are consumer choices or major life decisions, will benefit from inqiri by having the perspective of the crowd. They can pose their decision and see a variety of criteria and options that they may not have previously considered.
TBP: Are there new types of technology that are enabling more/better data collection?
Inqiri: The inqiri solution is built on patent-pending technology. We do make use of one technical mechanism, which I can disclose, to improve the data collection process. Without going on a rant about how ineffective voting and 5-star rating systems are, I can assure you that we worked through the deficiencies of these data collection mechanisms and came up with a better solution. We collect user input in a more nuanced manner by using sliders to represent an individual’s rating. By having a fluid spectrum, collecting data within a single decimal point of precision, and representing both a positive and negative sentiments, we significantly improve the accuracy and utility of user inputs. Plus, we have found it is extremely easy and fun to use, especially on mobile platforms.
TBP: What has been the biggest challenge building your new venture
Inqiri: Working in a startup has no shortage of challenges. Probably the biggest challenge is what I would call distractions. Our team has some very strong technical experts, who know what needs to be done to create a solution like inqiri. The distractions involve all the little things that go along with building a new venture, and take the team away from focusing on development. Meetings with attorneys, marketing people, and others takes lots of time, and unlike a large company, there is nobody to do all the additional work like accounting, reviewing contracts, booking travel, and a myriad of operational tasks. Travis and I do our best to keep the distractions to a minimum, so guess who gets to spend their time working on these tasks.
TBP: How can a startup (or an established company) utilize inqiri for better business decision making?
Inqiri: Everyone can benefit from improving their decision-making process, startup or established company. For a startup, I see lots of value, and we have a few startups already using inqiri to do market testing for their products or solutions. They can solicit input into the features and functions that their target customer base really want and focus their development efforts accordingly. For established businesses, inqiri can provide a means to tap into the expertise of their employees, business partners, and customers to identify alternatives for a business decision, and really enhance collaboration across the organization.
TBP: Any lessons you have learned creating inqiri that you can share with other entrepreneurs?
Inqiri: As the saying goes “you can’t jump a chasm in two leaps,” so once you commit, commit fully. Decide exactly what you are going to do, develop a plan, execute the plan, and focus your time, effort, and resources on achieving your objectives. Don’t let doubt creep in and make you hesitate or falter. At inqiri, Travis and I decided that we were going to build a solution that applied collective intelligence to improve decisions, and with commitment and focus, nine months later we are ready to launch the inqiri solution.