Sarper Silaoğlu is now serving as CEO of Boni Global, running offices in Istanbul, Chicago and Hamburg. His mission at the company is to serve impaired people and create an impact in their lives with the next generation mobility solutions. Along with his team, Sarper has created a platform for visually impaired and hard hearing people, providing them visiting urban places independently with virtual assistants. Their forerunning solution, namely Loud Steps, is a smartphone application and it has been used over 30.000 impaired people around the world. Loud Steps, award winning solution, has been expanded to 12 countries around the world so far. It is still pacing its growth globally.
How did you get into the industry?
The story of Boni started with ITU Electronics and Communication Engineering working together in an R&D project in 2011. I've always been focused on developing new technologies to make life easier. We made small initiatives with my friends, then we focused on getting settled in Istanbul. I started to work on mobile technologies. Mobile marketing was rising at that time. I wanted to lean on retail solutions with the vision that we will make payments from our mobile phone. That area is pretty broad, but frankly in time, we needed to focus on a particular niche. I have also had a voluntary service for undeveloped segment. About two years, I worked for Micro Credit Program. It is a Nobel peace Lieutenant, awarded Grameen Bank and Mohammed Yonus. The program offers small amounts of loan to micro-entrepreneur women. I was focused on the development of mobile products both for the organization and the poor. I’ve surveyed micro-entrepreneur women’s stories in many cities around Turkey. The projects had been backed by major telecom operators and banks. The store of Boni started as a combination of these two anchors. Later, we offered an R & D project to TÜBİTAK and then we founded Boni Global. We have produced the Loud Steps application developed for the visually impaired and the hearing impaired to help them to be independent in urban living areas. It has discovery and wayfinding solutions in indoor areas such as Airports, Hospitals, or Shopping Centers.
Any emerging industry trends?
We are under the impression about the concept of Industry 4.0 is also more concerned with the manufacturing industry. Industry 4.0 transformation should not only mean that factories will come to mind, bigger changes will happen in the service sector. Today, sectors such as healthcare, entertainment, education and finance are all turned into industries and the most impact is already happening around them. We see Industry in knowledge-based decision making, financial management, design processes, content creation and process design. We are making preparations to ensure that these autonomous services for people are also compatible with the handicapped. Our work is always in this direction.
Currently, 10 percent of the population is visually impaired, while 65 percent of the population and 35 percent of people with various visual impairments. In other words, it is very important that the products and services to be developed are compatible with the obstacles. These tools will take a process that is fully accessible. Semi-autonomous vehicles will be used until that process is completed. Loud Steps is providing developing solutions about “Accessible Vehicles” for automobile manufacturers.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Our industry is quite broad, it is as broad as every living places. The most demanded places are obviously urban living places and the most needed solution is the mobility. Our solution is respectively new, compared to old-school solutions. The Accessibility Solutions are enforced the law and assistive technologies are not supported by the law itself yet.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Desired future of business is that ensuring that people interact with places. Inspired originality is the importance which we gave to the concept of accessibility. However, the story behind it is the people who in our families, in our circles, among our friends, among us. The expectations of people for their living standards, quality of life, expectations from life, daily or professional life have enabled us to carry out projects focused on our disabilities. In short, we are the main and the only people.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
To mentioned that we are also working on projects that plan to expand our reachable concept by embedding image processing technology in the same theme. The transformation of our technology into a virtual assistant for disabled individuals is our new project that excites us. In addition, we have a project where we map our large spaces such as campuses and provide navigation platform with focus on hearing-impaired individuals also.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
We always believe working together with the stakeholders and being a team in along with them, in a purpose of development of our business and able of reaching more people. Our technology partners are therefore varying from different industries and different geographies. Since our solution became an assistive technology for disabled people, we have begun working with plenty of nonprofit organizations around the world. And through them, we have expanded our reach and became active in working groups for assistive technologies. Our partners have so far helped us to grow our fellow user base up to 30.000 around the world. Through their direct feedbacks, we are extremely lucky that we can shape our solutions based on their needs.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Most difficult moment was the deciding that the expanded of our operation to US and Europe and taking action to accomplish it. I would like to say that companies such as Boni have provided important support. In Turkey, both governmental and institution supports are valuable. Apart from these, we also have a special program offered by our university, Istanbul Technical University.. In its first years of establishment, we became a part of their 360 degree program that includes access to international connections, opening to the market, business model and strategy development opportunities, education, mentoring, consulting and access to the right people and institutions. In 2015, we took our first step, expanded of our operations to US and showed the necessary effort to bring it to a higher level. I strongly agree that the first step is the hardest. It is possible to say that opening abroad, the political social restrictions of the foreign country, unconventional legislation, even the time difference brings many difficulties. After the first step taken, we came up from the difficulties by working discipline. The obviousness of our goal has played a key role in our struggle with the challenges.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Our service is providing indoor and outdoor navigation and localization especially for disabled people. Our customers are generally venue owners such as shopping malls, governmental buildings administrators, president of university campuses, hospital and airports owners. Additionally we are serving the people who visit those venues. Users are mostly enjoy about our unique, easy accessible interface. Our customers appreciate that the products focusing disable people and being a personal assistant for them. Finally they gain reputation and complete the part of social responsibility duties as possible as.
How do you motivate others?
Most effective method is expressing yourself and products in a crystal clear way. The decision process at enterprises or in individuals required a clear understanding of the offer. When they don’t understand the value and the effects of the offer in financial and social term, they generally do not value or priorities it. The strategy for inspiring and encoring the customer and our teammates could be impressive presentations, organizing workshops, making interviews and surveys. In brief, make themselves feel involved the solution not the problem. Serving disable people, helps large number of people and make difference their life and feeling free about doing that is the key strategy.
Career advice to those in your industry?
The success at the start-up life has some patterns that should be considered properly. One of the most important thing of them is the ability to pursue. At a constantly changing environment, there is no recipe for success but there is pursuing it. The team is quite important, while chasing and opportunity, it is mandatory to have multi-disciplinary team that are supporting each other. The value offer is extremely important. It must be the exact solution, obviously at the right time to the right people. As an individual, one must constantly develop him/herself. When a person feels over-confidence and stop challenging to increase personal development, the inevitable end catches.
What do I do best?
I fell myself confident in technology. With technology, I try to make the world better the people. What I focus on is the people with disabilities. I’ve been working on this for decades and I can say that it has become something that I do best.
What makes me the best version of myself?
My best version is my belief in human kind. As human, we have continuously enhanced our life and I believe we’ll keep on doing this. We sometimes break the things, like climate change, but we are also capable of fixing it. This belief make the best of my self.
What are my aspirations?
My true aspiration is as simple as being a humane person and our business aspiration is to do something good for humanity.
My Biggest Success?
I just don’t have the ability to feel the success. And I can’t say that I’ve had one great accomplishment. Every time I look at myself, I always see some experiences rather than an accomplishment.
My Most Challenging Moment?
Not a moment but a series of moments. The world has begun dramatically changing, and the challenge is keeping up the pace every single day.
Make the most of whatever you are on to…
My Favorite People/Role Models?
I’m deep into biographies, I’ve plenty of role models. But when it comes to role models, I must say Rumi with his humanity, or Plato with his philosophy, Gandhi with his endeavor.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
Istanbul during autumn and spring, Berlin in summer and sofa in winter.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
All the products became disposable these days. I don’t have attachment. But If I must choose objects, I’d say books, and therefore my favorite product is e-readers.
My Current Passions?
Is just to make the world accessible for all the people including all types of disadvantage groups.