Shaukat Shamim, Founder/CEO, Youplus in conversation with Jessie Paul, CEO, Paul Writer

Shaukat Shamim is the Founder/CEO of Youplus, a global company headquartered in New York and India. Youplus is a little over three years old with a few hundred employees all over the world.

What is the value that Youplus brings to the market?

Youplus is the world’s first Video Opinion Search Engine. What we are building is like Googlefor video. Today, 74 percent of Internet traffic is video. And in video people are expressing themselves and how they feel, what influences them, and why they buy all kinds of stuff.

A vast majority of the traffic today, in video, is in a black box. It is untouched; nobody knows what’s inside it or what people are saying, how they are feeling. They’re giving a glimpse of their world so what we are doing is we are using technology to understand people – what influences them, how they are buying, how they buy a product, all kinds of stuff. We interpret videos by going inside the videos. We are indexing the video web just like Google has indexed the text web.

How does it crawl the content?

We source videos from multiple directions. We see videos that people have posted publicly – let’s say YouTube or Dailymotion and other places. We also have videos that are captive, that brands or businesses had captured over the years. They have hundreds of millions of hours of those videos. We would not go in your private videos without your permission. We believe in fair use and respecting our privacy.
We understand them using a combination of machine learning, AI, and what we understand from people’s body language using computer vision, and how their voice changes with the phonetics. We break down these videos into different small sections i.e. single-topic short-form videos. Essentially we take long-form videos and change it into single-topic short-form videos. There is only one predominant topic in this short-form – sixty seconds or less – so it gives us an ability to understand what people are saying better. Youplus has created the world’s largest catalog of single-topic short-form opinion videos.

Information search is interesting in text format. But for videos we are looking for insight search?

That’s correct. Information search is very interesting in text format. For example, if you are, if you are searching for ‘How is the weather in Bangalore?’ – you would do a text search in Google – that is information search. Now insight search is about understanding. Why are you saying what you’re saying – could we understand the hidden things you are not saying with your words. For example, in a text-format, you may say ‘I like something’ so that has only one meaning. But when you are looking at or talking to somebody, you can say “I like it” in one hundred different ways and some that can actually mean I don’t like it.

How do you handle for language differences?

We do something we call CCC adjustment – Country, Community, Culture adjustments. People in different cultures or languages – they see the same things differently, so since our objective is to understand insights about what people are saying, we really need to understand the nuances of culture, community, and country and that goes into language also. We’ve been training our neural network to understand different cues that people leave in different languages, different cultures, different countries. We understand nuances in British English versus the American English. We understand how people from North India versus South India differ when talking about the same topic.

Are you seeing a difference between the way people from North India and South India communicate?

There are differences between the way people from different parts of India express themselves. Their expression could be more dramatic or less. For example, let’s compare Kolkata and Bangalore. People from Kolkata would be much more expressive about the same thing, more animated, whereas, people from Bangalore would be less animated but they mean the same thing. We actually model understanding the nuances of pronunciations, of how people from different regions use context and pronunciations to talk about the same stuff. So we train our AI to look for those patterns and adjust accordingly.

What we are seeing especially in video is that there are different parts of the country where people are more comfortable talking in video, they’re more comfortable expressing themselves in video. So that’s a nuance that we are trying to understand There are parts of this country where if you ask people a question they will answer in yes and no. And there are other parts of the country, if you ask them a question, they will give you a full narrative.

How will Youplus change the way we do business?

Our mission is: “To understand a billion people through video”. Over a billion people have left their mark in video about their opinions. If you are a business, if you are trying to understand it, you will use the old way of doing it. You will do a focus group study, you will do research, you will have to recruit a panel, you will wait months and months and months, you will spend a lot of money, then you will use a human technology to interpret those fifty people’s opinion in a room. That is inherently biased and inaccurate. That’s the past.

What we are doing is changing Research as you know it. When you are doing business online, you have so many tools in your hand. You can measure things like – how much time people are spending on your site, what are they clicking on, what are they buying, all kinds of stuff. But if you’re an offline business, you have none of those. You don’t know what people are thinking about your product, you don’t know why people are choosing your competition, you don’t know any of this. Hence, you rely on research. Research today is always post-the-fact, since it takes a long time. But that’s the only signal businesses have today to do better business. We’re changing that fundamentally. We are taking that closer to how people do search today, which is, if imagine, if a brand, let’s say a big brand like Coca Cola could really listen to the what are the retailers thinking about today, right now, why are their consumers choosing their beverages over the others. Now – not three months ago. Then that will help them to do better business. So, this is a combination of technology, looking at interpretation of data differently, and then creating infrastructure so we can understand people’s opinion in near real-time. Hence we have built products that takes businesses closer to where online is. It took online about twenty years to get here, we believe that offline businesses with folks like us and others, will get there in the next three years. We will have enough of these insights and technology to do better business, hence build better society, better products.

How do you collect insights?

We have two things that we use to collect people’s opinions. The first – if the topic is already out there, like say a brand like Samsung wants to know what people think about their camera. There are already millions of people who have talked about that already, right? So, we will find those videos that are in public domain, will analyse them, and will understand them; easy. But then there are questions that brands, or businesses will have that people haven’t talked about. So, for that we have created a network of people, thousands of people all over India and globally. These people have an app that we have given them; we call it MIC. Through this mechanism, we have an ability to ask them questions.

Do you have a lot of insights on politics?

We are very sensitive about politics. We are not in the business of shaping opinions, we are in the business of discovering opinions, we are in the business of uncovering people’s opinions. So, we need to be not only sensitive about being non-partisan, we also have to be very sensitive about the information that we have in our hand that it doesn’t get misinterpreted. So, to answer that question about politics – we are not releasing our knowledge or information about politics given the current political situations in a public format where people may misinterpret what we know, and it actually beats the purpose.

Who are your clients?

We have hundreds of brands in India and globally as our customers. These brands, they’re in industries like FMCG, automotive, electronics, banking, pharmaceuticals and we have hundreds of clients in India and all over the world. In India we have worked some of the most iconic brands in FMCG and automotive and electronics.

What’s your advice to entrepreneurs?

For entrepreneurs who are doing companies especially India or globally, my advice to them is actually an ask – my ask to them is take bigger risks, don’t worry about building the right product, don’t worry about making money – you have to have the right conviction on why you are building what you’re building.
Now for the business leaders of more mature companies especially in India I would say you have come a long way. You have come a long way of creating businesses that has already adapted to a thriving culture and an economy that is soon to be the world’s number one. Hence, now it is time for you to go ahead with your leading ideas, leading convictions, and I see that happening already. And my request to you is do more of that.

So to those renegades in the business who are taking steps forward on their own conviction, please do more so and be more successful in doing so, because the entire country is looking up to you to see how you now lead.

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