This month we are zooming in on Gautam Shah, Founder of Internet of Elephants.
Prior to starting Internet of Elephants, Gautam spent 20 years working on and leading projects for Accenture before moving on to Accenture Development Partnerships, Accenture’s non-profit organization. This helped develop his keen appreciation in the social issues related to conservation. Gautam has travelled across all seven continents, to spend his free time in the presence of wild life.
Internet of Elephants is an organization exploring the vision of how technology and the internet can be used to better connect animals to humans, which leads to better outcomes in wildlife conservation. Internet for Elephants uses data to better understand animal behaviour and the eco-system health and aims to use technology like games to bring more attention to the animals and conservation.
The Nairobi Garage members at Internet of Elephants are launching a crowdfunding campaign to fund Safari Central. The game is based on real time data where players can track the movements of wildlife in their city like elephants, pangolin and lemurs. This will be an augmented reality game, with in-game purchases which supports the conservation efforts. Backers for this campaign will have the chance to become a part of a radical new movement to make conservation fun.
This is what Gautam had to say:
If you are asking why the name, the answer is that it is a play on the term “Internet of Things”. Our initial question was if the Internet of Things allows people to be connected to people, connected to cars, connected to refrigerators, then why not also be connected to elephants? Our mission was always much more than just elephants, but the name just resonated so well with people that we kept it.
More broadly speaking, when I left my job at Accenture, which I had been with for 20 years, I was brand new to wildlife conservation, just trying to find my place in the sector.I had no science background, and so the best way for me to get involved was to use my expertise in IT and try and apply it to the conservation work others were doing. As I thought about what is the most important thing that could happen for conservation, my answer kept bringing me back to “getting wildlife higher on people’s agenda”.
If you could physically take every person in the world and sit them in front of a mountain gorilla in Rwanda or let them swim with a whale shark in Djibouti, it would change everything. Obviously we can’t do that, but technology can do a lot to bridge the gap. And that is what I created Internet of Elephants to do.
First is all the conservation partnerships we have created. When I started, I knew next to no one in wildlife conservation. We were a completely unknown entity with no credibility in conservation, tech, anything. And now we’re partnering with some of the most well known conservation organizations in Africa and the world..
The second is when we brought our whole team together for a 2 day kickoff in Amsterdam. Our team is still very scattered, across Africa, Europe, and North America, and many are working part time on IoE. Getting everyone in the same room, totally focused on the mission of the company, fired up about what we would be doing, was a personally proud moment for me, as this was evidence that highly skilled individuals wanted to be part of what we were doing.
Of course we hope today will make proud moment history as well. We hope to see our first fans and supporters help us to raise the funds we need for a crucial part of the game and to help us create a buzz around the campaign.
I think it is to really understand your risk profile and where and how you feel pressure. I had no intention of starting my own company, it was just the best route to accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish. And I quickly realized that entrepreneurship actually wasn’t for me. I felt a lot of stress around the unknown, and entrepreneurship is all about the unknown.
The best way for me to overcome that was to a) work within my own risk profile. That is, push my limits a little, but not be lured into a place of total discomfort. Maybe that means things would take longer or cost more, but that is better than constantly feeling like a fish out of water. b) know where the pressure was coming from and address that pressure.
I started out by putting time limits on certain things being accomplished. What I was doing was actually putting an artificial pressure on myself, which was easily alleviated. I didn’t have as many financial pressures as most first time entrepreneurs since I had worked for 20 years and built up some savings.
So, if I was willing to dip into that a little, I could take a lot of pressure off. For others that won’t be an option, and therefore pressure might simply come from running out of money in 3 months. But that recognition of what the pressure is, and what options you have to relieve it, will really help in making good decisions about your business, rather than making decisions that are the result of having no other choice.
“What is the What” and “The Power of Now”. The first probably planted the seed in my head that I should do something more than build IT systems for large corporations, and the second really taught me how to handle some difficult personal times in my life.
No one and everyone really. I don’t know any entrepreneurs intimately enough to be able to say whether they are good people or not. My peer group for most of my career were not entrepreneurs and so I’m just starting to meet people in that space. And for those that you read about in books and articles, perhaps I’m impressed by what they do, but I have no idea who they are, and therefore am neither inspired nor uninspired.
At the same time, I find entrepreneurship so challenging, that I’m impressed with anyone that is successful in it. From restaurant owners to mom and pop shops to IT billionaires to social entrepreneurs. The risks people are willing to take, the amount they will invest into something personal, and the ability to overcome all the ups and downs that come with starting your own business are all things that I aspire to.
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