The tech company SNIPS is experiencing great success building a platform for connected living. One explanation is the way they construct and expand their team – among other events, through so-called Hackathons.

Guest post by Line Svenstrup Berger, as part of our support for Founders House.

It all started in 2013 and since then, it has expanded rapidly for the Danish/French tech startup company SNIPS. The company has already had great success and has won several awards. Snips leverages predictive big data technologies to make everything about a user’s daily life more intelligent, from driving safely to commuting more comfortably to finding something fun to do with friends. This concept of “Context Awareness” is what will ultimately allow technology to be fully integrated in our lives. The company would like to work with the best in their field and share their interest and knowledge with the best. That is one of the main reasons for their success.

Hackathons

Snips wants to generate interest for their technology, their field and their way of working in the very best in their field – hardcore mathematicians, programmers and creative people. Therefore, for example, they hold Open Hack Day every Friday and different seminars, where interested parties can come and get a taste of what they do based on concrete problems.

Friday afternoons are a great time to invite people in and hack with us in a casual setting and participate in the general discussion surrounding our field, partner Michael Fester says.

Every other month, Snips invites potential hires to a 3-day hackathon, where a specific problem is addressed. It was, for example, during one such hackathon, in December 2013, that they created a predictive model assessing road safety in the San Francisco Bay Area. This eventually led to a collaboration with Sprint, INRIX and the GSM Association, and an invitation from the latter to showcase the tech at the Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona in February 2014. Perhaps more importantly, it led to the first hire outside of the founding team, Olivier Corradi, a data-scientist fresh from the Google Maps team.

A CV is interesting but is often “linear”. Hacking together is complex and multidimensional — you judge team fit, communication skills, creativity, response speed, Michael Fester says.

Through these Hackathons and talks Snips wish to show talented and ambitious hackers and others interested in their field that it is fun to work with data:

Data is sexy! The problems are manifold, and the solutions often require a beautiful mix of mathematical intuition, creative visualizations and state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms, Michael Fester says and continues:

We are working at a high pace on a hot topic, with hard problems to tackle and fierce competition right at our heels. It is a necessity for us to get the attention of the very best, and our hiring strategy reflects this.

Context awareness

Snips’ focus is to make all connected devices act intelligently by reacting to surrounding context. As part of a larger movement where technology surrounds us self-measurement has become a reality.  Today, we interact with technology through push notifications, which are highly intrusive and distracting, or by juggling several different apps to get small pieces of information. Given that there will be more than 50 billion connected devices by 2020, neither approach can scale to provide a meaningful, relevant experience to the user.

What we need instead is to make technology learn and adapt to us so that it can become ubiquitous and give us the information we need, when we need it. At Snips, we call this Context Awareness, Michael Fester explains.

It’s about understanding how ones life looks like in a current context – whether it is a personal, activity, social or external context.

Right now they collect data from individual users, through which they receive accurate insight into the patterns and dynamics of user behaviour – a platform for connecting living.

Our technology analyzes a user’s actions by cross-referencing them with surrounding context, such as weather, road traffic and points of interest. This contextualized user timeline is then used by our machine learning algorithms to assess the user’s needs and intentions, Michael Fester explains.

A concrete example would be that you wake up in the morning, the technology can then predict that there is a lot of traffic and suggest a city bike rather than a car – a decision which is enforced by the fact that you have not been exercising this week. Or for instance, it knows that you have a meeting in an hour and therefore shows the LinkedIn profile of the person you are meeting as well as transportation options. After the meeting, perhaps it is around lunchtime, and you will be suggested various cafes for lunch nearby and in the sun.

Respect the user’s privacy

There are several different apps which makes self-measurement and tracks user activity — the Finnish app Moves, which Facebook just acquired, and Google Now. One difference between Snips compared with Facebook and Google is the approach to privacy. Snips holds great respect for a users privacy and the user can decide for himself and constantly change the data that Snips has access to.

 Privacy issues are central in our considerations. We are obviously manoeuvring in a area with sensitive information, and we wish to be completely open and transparent about what we are doing with it. We think that this not only crucial, it can really be a competitive advantage, Michael Fester says.

The problems are out there waiting to be solved. The consumers are waiting for them to be solved. Snips wants to solve them and they want to solve them with all ambitious colleagues in their field. Snips already collaborates with major companies worldwide to prove their technology, and they want to collaborate and share their latest technology with everybody:

 We want to be as open as possible so that the best can learn and be inspired by each other. That is why we, to the extent that we can, make our knowledge accessible to our surroundings – with notable exceptions such as personally sensitive information about the user, Michael Fester says.

In the long run, Snips hopes to be able to deal with large-scale societal issues such as the saturation of infrastructures in cities with an ever growing population. It is the hope that this new, bottom-up, user-centric approach will help them gain more precise insight into urban dynamics, thereby closing the loop with their initial endeavours of making cities more liveable, with citizens able to take more informed decisions during their day. Whether they will hirer new ambitious employees depend on the people they meet at their Hackathons.

Facts:

  • Founded: January 2013
  • Employees: Michael Fester, Co-founder; Dr Rand Hindi, Founder & CEO; Dr Alexandre Vallette, Co-founder; Dr Maël Primet Co-founder and Olivier Corradi, Data Scientist
  • Main Awards: DataConnexions 2013, Worldwide Innovation Challenge 2014, MIT TR35 Innovators under 35
  • Key Partners: SNCF, the French National Railway Company; La Poste, the French National Postal Services; Sprint, the 3rd largest wireless network operator in the US; INRIX, worldwide provider of road traffic data.
  • Michael has been operating at Founders House in Copenhagen, a co-working space for ambitious tech startups, but just moved to SNIPS’ corporate office in Paris , where his other colleagues are sitting.

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