Aparna Pujar’s Posts
Aparna Pujar’s Interview on the Wonder Women Podcast: Part Two
The below is a transcript of the Wonder Women podcast, which can be found on YouTube here. Content has been edited for clarity. See part one here.
So what made you switch from corporate to your own startup? What was the driving factor behind that?
I am a product manager by trade and in Silicon Valley, the role of a product manager is to really go after untapped opportunities and find opportunities to build and create solutions. Being in the innovation capital of the world, you’re wired to think very differently. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, even on the projects I’ve worked on. I sort of had this “let’s do things in an innovative way” attitude. I loved problem solving and creating solutions. When my kids were younger, as a family we prioritized for the work-life balance so a corporate job was a perfect way in my mind to accomplish that. I was really happy to have gone through that experience.
Now that my daughters are grown up and they’re a little less dependent on me, I felt like the timing was right to take on entrepreneurship, which was and had always been my dream. The solid experience that I’ve had will certainly be handy and I’m very thankful for that.
It’s very surprising that you’re saying that it’s easier to be a parent in corporate America than an entrepreneur.
The way I think about this is it’s a personal choice and even to some extent what your personal preferences are. Entrepreneurship is definitely much tougher than a corporate job. Now that I’ve gone through a year of being an entrepreneur, I realized that the buck stops at you and you are almost required to be involved in every aspect of running the company. Even though you hire some of the smartest people, people expect you to sort of guide them and give them the vision and drive the company to where you want it to go, so that does require a lot more mental involvement.
In the corporate world you’re working in a larger team, you have other people that are sort of your guiding forces or guiding factors and there is that sense of you know “I have someone to go to if I’m stuck somewhere, and there are people who can mentor me or guide me.” And within the corporate world, it’s much easier to reach out to people so to me it was less of a mental challenge than what it is in the entrepreneur world.
Plus you get to share a little bit of responsibility. Even though you’re not ultimately responsible, you’re not alone and you’re not the only one guiding the company or setting the goals, so yeah I understand. But it’s still surprising because a lot of women have a very hard time going back into the business world with children. It makes it a lot tougher when you have to take care of two children at home and still go back. It’s 8-5 or 9-5, it’s 45 hours a week, 50 hours a week, it’s not 80 hours a week that you put in as an entrepreneur. I would totally agree with you on that one as well.
So your startup — what is this about, why don’t you tell us a little more about it?
Please see part three here.
Aparna Pujar’s Interview on the Wonder Women Podcast: Part One
The below is a transcript of the Wonder Women podcast, which can be found on YouTube here. Content has been edited for clarity.
Hello everybody and welcome to our Wonder Women podcast, the main podcast for the businessmagazineforwomen.com.
In our podcasts, just like in our magazine, we’re focused on promoting women’s voices in business, technology, STEM, politics, sports, arts and culture. My name is Monica Antoki, I’m the founder of the businessmagazineforwomen.com and the host of today’s podcast.
Today we’re speaking with the CEO of Enfavr, Aparna Pujar, and we’ll be delving into the sharing economy and the helping economy and the reciprocity movements that’s going around. So Aparna, hi and welcome.
Hi I’m happy to be here, very nice to have had this opportunity.
Absolutely, so let’s introduce you to our audience. Who is Aparna Pujar?
I’m originally from India as as my name would have given away. I grew up and studied there and I have three siblings. I was always fascinated in tech as I was growing up and I eventually graduated as an electrical engineer. I later completed my master’s in computer science in the U.S. at Santa Clara University. I migrated to the U.S. 25 years ago and was fortunate to land in Silicon Valley. The internet at that time was just taking off and I got hooked. I love being in the thick and thin of all the action that has happened here and continues to happen. I also have two daughters. One of them is in college, and the other one is in high school. My husband also works in high tech and he is a human resource executive.
Prior to Enfavr you worked at eBay and Yahoo!, and you also have a women’s startup lab. Can you provide us with a background on that?
As I mentioned before, my career actually grew with internet companies or internet-based companies. Yahoo! and eBay at the time where these iconic companies — even to this day they still are — and they had some of the most smartest people. I was glad to have had the opportunity to work with them. This is the generation that changed how we use internet today. I learned a lot and made some really good friends.
The women startup lab was different because I had decided to take on entrepreneurship and I knew I had to learn some basic skills about being an entrepreneur. Women startup lab was this fascinating accelerator that was designed to help women succeed as entrepreneurs. It was a perfect extension of the skill sets that I needed to have, especially with what I was trying to do in the next phase of my life.
Please see part two of the interview here.
Retail and Revitalization: Strip Malls Use Tech to Build Community
For more than 60 years, malls have acted as the backdrop for communities throughout America. As de facto “town centers”, these downtown destinations brought people together for communal activities and entertainment purposes. But the digital era changed the way cities, businesses, and people operate on a global scale. In retail, e-commerce disrupted traditional modes of shopping, leaving communities marginalized and in need of spaces for interpersonal interaction.
Despite the disengagement e-commerce has signaled for local communities across the globe, shopping centers (also known as strip malls), in particular, are better positioned to harness the power of community by reinventing themselves into lifestyle centers with emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and big data.
With the help of advanced tech tools, their unique value proposition should focus on one major principle: community. In the future, local shopping malls will lead the way as high-tech, community epicenters for local consumers who will, in turn, provide stability for local culture and business.
Rebuilding Local Strip Malls as Experiential & Communal Destinations
Malls of the past often created the mass appeal to generate long-term impact that improves the economic stability and the socialization of neighboring communities. With the advent of e-commerce, the disappearance of malls could potentially disintegrate communities because they have no communal hub to coalesce. The success of local shopping centers directly affects the health of the local communities and economies surrounding them. In addition, experts predict outdoor shopping malls and centers are positioned to succeed as long as they create a sense of communities that off higher-quality experiences.
The World Economic Forum states in its Shaping the Future of Retail For Consumer Industries report, the physical store will remain a channel that offers the most revenue for the majority of multichannel retailers at least until 2026. But the report also indicates that physical retail stores will need to reshape their value propositions from pure distribution channels to platforms for “discovery, engagement, experience and interaction.”
Strip malls, in particular, are better situated to directly respond to community needs and build upon a greater sense of hyperlocal behaviors and expectations. They’re geographic proximity, ability for personalized service, and reach within the local economy provide the keys to keeping up with global competitors like Amazon. The differentiator continuously relies on the power of building communities.
The Senior Vice President of CBRE, Christian Williams, mentioned in 2017 that the performance of inline strip malls remains extremely positive and ranks only second in retail after high street opportunities. However, the shifting demands of retail need to take into account how shoppers use digital tools and how it can empower local consumer choices to drive people to their stores.
Digital Stores Harness the Power of Community
Technological updates can transform ordinary strip malls into living community centers which help community interaction thrive. According to a KPMG Global Retail Trends 2018 report, AI will gain more importance in retail, using machine learning so businesses can manage customer management and improved data analytics to discover and enhance information about customer needs and trends.
But retail spaces are using high tech to create a new vision of convenience. Realtor Magazine indicates how shops are utilizing AI to offer interactive features like touchscreen mirrors with automated fashion suggestions. The mirror’s interface can also provide information and text details of the item to the user’s phone for them to make future buying decisions.
Companies like Personali are using AI to offer better behavior economics principles to personalize the e-commerce shopping experience. Their platform features optimal pricing offers and incentives to each consumer, based on patterns of their shopping behavior within current and past shopping excursions. Other startups are creating an equal playing field for traditional retailers through AI apps that adjust prices automatically according to non-store data like competitor’s deals, weather and local events. For example, Wise Athena’s app identifies data from competitor’s products through different category, region, and retailer segments. With the use of AI-enabled and big data apps, stores can help appeal to the interests and needs of locals to harness the power of community.
A Unique Value Proposition
Brick and mortar retail stores are creating differentiated customer experiences due to the choice overload created by online retail. For example, “search results burn” occurs when consumers search for items online, but are left more confused about which products to buy due to the overload of information. Increasing the value proposition of community within local stores is a way to combat choice overload that comes with online shopping.
Online shopping sites use chatbots to create that “sense” of personal touch. However, physical stores can not only utilize AI and big data so local shoppers can access information, but store workers also help provide more hands-on support while providing personal interaction during the shopping experience. Ultimately, personal interactions can go a long way in establishing a loyal customer base.
Strip malls and the mom and pop stores located in these spaces can also utilize pop up shops and events. Mixed with revelatory features like AI-enabled customizations, location-based VR entertainment, and big data analytics, consumers will find personalized experiences and products that they can’t find online. As a result, these centers create a demand that builds a strong sense of excitement that attracts diversity and creates a local identity. With this heightened appeal, consumers will focus on these retail districts that allow them to help support local businesses and each other.
Shopping center owners say that trends will continue to stabilize in retail with the adoption of such technologies because they deliver personalized experience with the support of real people in brick and mortar stores. Just as technology has helped form the downfall of the traditional mall, it can also help retail spur the rehabilitation of local communities. They can reap more benefits as strip malls increasingly change into the lifestyle centers that offer valued community interaction and unique retail experiences. In essence, the strip malls of the future will build a high number of touchpoints for people — and where communities thrive, businesses can too.
Emerging Technologies Can Build a World of Compassion
Emerging technologies, from artificially intelligent machine learning to big data analytics, are transforming the way people communicate and interact. Yet, in a world that is heavily influenced by social media, research finds that consumers face increased feelings of isolation, anxiety, and incidents of online bullying. Facebook even has its very own compassion department targeted at incentivizing compassionate and positive online interactions.
How can product developers and technologists alike use emerging tech tools and their insights into consumer behavior to help maximize positive behaviors like connection and compassion amongst users across the globe?
Machine Learning Algorithms
Programmers need to take initiative to develop compassionate machine learning algorithms within AI’s machine learning systems. Consumers, even those usually characterized as kind people, sometimes mirror bad behavior online. Coined by researchers as “troll psychology”, studies show that people who are further apart in distance, even via screen, are less willing to interact fair and nice. While AI’s functions were modeled based on the left brain’s activity, often associated with logic and reasoning, “full AI” (also known as affective computing) can combine cognition, logic, emotion and empathy. However, the modeling of right brain activity in AI technologies is underdeveloped.
Affectiva’s co-founder and Chief Strategy and Science Officer, Rana el Kaliouby, specializes in emotional computing. Her company is an MIT spin-off that produces an emotionally aware technology platform called Affdex. Using a multimodal approach that identifies head poses and facial expressions, the algorithms capture over 50 billion emotional data points. Already, the technology can capture fleeting expressions like a squint. Assessing contextual and cultural information in tandem allows the technology to accurately assess and detect emotions. The AI-based deep learning methodologies implemented in the company’s technology utilize a large data repository to map images and videos of facial expressions and create automated learning patterns.
Catering to consumer needs, AI technologies are allowing us to determine the moods of customers and the way they connect with each other. As a foundation, these technologies can help provide interfaces that create better understanding and community between social users, as they respond to AI-enabled recommendations on user databases. As programmers capitalize on human empathy in machine learning algorithms, AI’s ability to emulate everyday human interactions can assist in the way people associate with technology and online communities. In fact, emotionally-aware app technology seeks to gauge audience responses. Pilots in gaming allow Dr. Rana’s company to analyze game dynamics based on a player’s emotional reactions.The more feedback and data available on consumer emotion and response to online products, the easier it will be for AI to cater to consumers in a personalized way and in turn help them make more compassionate decisions about the way they share, receive and respond to new products and the information and people they see online.
Big Data Initiatives & Internet of Things (IoT) Networks
From big cities to towns across the globe, big data and the Internet of Things can offer a range of connectivity for humans in hyperlocal and regional locations, essentially democratizing the way we access technology and data. According to the Harvard Business Review, product developers can build empathy with their consumers and amongst their consumer base by incorporating design-centric organizations so that employees can analyze behavior and conclude what users need. Organizations need to ensure that data quality is maintained and that statistical correlation analysis is routinely undertaken. In addition, “big empathy” is employed in the way organizations allow users to provide feedback and how they can facilitate more productive and informed mindsets amongst users which could ultimately lead to improved compassion amongst diverse user bases.
Like Affectiva’s Affdex platform, the more user feedback and data that is consolidated via shared cloud platforms through personal devices, the better product developers and technologists can build efficient platforms on which everyone can express their opinions. Ideally, smart cities and governments can use this technology to cater to users’ needs and desires, creating more stable, civil societies.
When technologists and product developers work together to optimize products and technological experiences with empathy, it empowers the consumer to extend a world of empathy all on their own.
Many more posts to come, stay tuned!
Aparna has brought world-class products to technology companies focused in areas such as media, healthcare, and retail and in her current role as the CEO and founder of Enfavr.