How Akash Shastri's AI Virtual Assistant Software Got 100,000 Downloads Within A Year Of Launch
Born in Surat and brought up in Ahmedabad, Akash Shastri comes from a middle class family. His grandfather was a popular Gujarati writer and his father is a digital artist. Akash was an average student in school, but things changed when he joined college. He chose computer applications and topped in all the three years of his degree programme not only in his college but also in the Gujarat University. It was as though he had found his calling. After getting his Bachelor's degree, he went on to pursue a master's degree program, but soon dropped out. By then he had realised that he wanted to go for the world of entrepreneurship.
Talking with computers was Akash's childhood fantasy. Watching sci-fi movies like Terminator, Her, Transcendence, Chappie or Ex-Machina only gave a boost to his curiosity and passion about robotics. In 2010, after Akash had learnt how to program, he started working on building the basic prototype of what's today called the 'Braina Artificial Intelligent Software'. It is a Windows software written in C language that lets you interact with your computer using voice commands in English. Interestingly, Braina is not just another Siri or Cortana clone for PC but rather a powerful personal and office productivity tool. Moreover, using speech recognition built in Braina for Android App users can interact with their computer from anywhere in their house over a WiFi network.
Back in 2013, when Akash couldn't juggle his studies with his pet project, Akash decided to drop out of college to dedicated all his time to develop Braina. He then worked 10-12 hours everyday and was able to develop Braina in 5 months. Today, he says his goal is to develop a strong artificially intelligent software that can understand, learn and think just like a human brain.
From a one-man army 2 years back, Akash's startup called Brainasoft has now grown to a 4 people team and the future sure looks bright. Within an year of its launch, Braina has received over 100,000 downloads and is being used in over 180 countries of the world.
We got Akash Shastri to feature in an exclusive interview with us to talk about his idea, how his software works, challenges he faced and his plans for future. Read on!
Akash Shastri, Founder - Brainasoft
CE: When you started, were there people who told you that the idea was implausible?
Akash: No. I never told anybody that I am working on Braina. I only revealed Braina when it was ready. I believe that one should ignore the naysayers. Instead, they should motivate you to jump out of bed in the morning and create change. When they say it is implausible, you should take it as challenge and it should give you motivation that makes you to work harder than you ever have before.
CE: Tell us more about how this personal assistant works? What features of Braina are you the most proud of?
Akash: Braina personal assistant's user interface is a simple chat window. Users can click on the microphone button and speak into the microphone or type input in the lower region of the window. Users can view the conversation log above, where the application may also present certain options as hyperlinks.
Braina has all the features of personal assistants like Siri, Cortana, Google Now etc. such as Alarms and Reminders, Notes, Music Voice Commands, Dictionary, Weather information, ability to perform Math operations etc., but apart from these Braina has various advanced features which makes it best in the intelligent personal assistant market. Some of these unique features are:
- Dictation - Braina allows users to dictate in third party software and websites in 9 languages.
- Remote control through Android app - Braina's Android app lets you turn your Android device into a external wireless microphone to use voice commands for your Windows PC over a WiFi network. For example, you can relax in your arm-chair and give voice commands to play your favorite songs or even shutdown pc remotely.
- Custom voice commands - Users can define their own commands.
- Keyboard macros - Braina can automate the pressing of keyboard keys.
- Artificial Brain - Braina does language understanding and learns from conversation. It can also remember and recall what it has learned.
- Hotkeys - Hotkeys (also known as shortcut keys or keyboard shortcut) can be used to automatically trigger a custom command action (such as launching a software, website or keyboard macro).
- Remote mouse & keyboard control - Using Braina's Android app, users can control mouse and keyboard over a WiFi network. Users can slide finger on phone's screen to make the PC/Laptop mouse cursor make movement or tap on the phone's touchscreen to click.
The most important feature for us is the Artificial Brain feature. Braina can understand the meaning of simple language statements and recall what it has learned before. As shown in the image below, Braina remembers the birthday of Johnny Depp and when asked for his age, it recalls the birthdate and calculates his age automatically.
CE: How big is the Brainasoft team at the moment? What are the various departments that your employees are currently working on?
Akash: We are a small team of 4 at the moment. I work on research and development. My father who is the co-founder looks after marketing. Our employees handles customer support and content creation for our website. We also outsource various jobs to other companies and freelancers.
CE: What is the pricing model for different Braina versions - Lite, Pro and Pro 3 Years?
Akash: We follow freemium business revenue model. Braina Lite can be downloaded for free. Pro version has many advanced features. Users can subscribe for 1 year or 3 year period. Currently the price of 1 year subscription is $29 and price of 3 year subscription is $59.
CE: Would you like to narrate any interesting experience of dealing happy customer/user?
Akash: I would like of share a review by a Braina Pro user.
"My name is Philip and I am a 60 year old man who loves to play with computers. I have really been enjoying working with Braina. When I was a little boy in first grade I remember watching Alan Shepard our first astronaut flying up in the space on top of a Mercury Redstone rocket. I grew up watching Lost in Space and the robot saying "danger Will Robinson!" Later I avidly watched Star Trek. As a little boy I dreamed about a world where many of these things would be possible.
The idea of talking to a robot was exciting to me as a child and always has been exciting to me. The thought of having an artificial intelligence like Hal in 2001 was something I always thought would be such a wonderful thing. I guess if you ask me the more you can make Braina act like a human the more I will like it. Perhaps it's because since the time I was a child I dreamed of having a robot friend like the robot in lost in space. It intrigues me to no end that this speech recognition has become advanced to the point that I can sit here and talk to my computer and it will answer me back and can carry on conversation with me. I like it when Braina says hello to me.
I guess I dream of a day when a computer intelligence like C-3PO in Star Wars can carry on as meaningful a conversation to me as another human or perhaps maybe even a more profound conversation. I am excited about all the work that you're doing and how it is progressing. I am using Braina to write you this reply.
I am on a learning curve as well learning to dictate my thoughts to her. She is an extremely helpful office assistant. My wife bought me this program for me for an early 61st birthday present and I couldn't be more happy with that. These are my thoughts and I'd like to thank all the people at Brainasoft who are working on this program."
CE: What are your views on competitors in your domain? How do you maintain an edge over them?
Akash: When we heard that Microsoft is going to launch Cortana for PC which will be available for free with Windows 10 OS, we thought that it may have negative impact on our sales.
But in reality our sales has doubled after release of Windows 10. This is because people are always looking for better alternatives.
Here are the 101 reasons why Braina is better than Cortana. Various personal assistant such as Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Google Now, Amazon, Alexa etc. are rudimentary at best and don't have artificial intelligence. We are developing Braina into a real artificial intelligence system that can exhibit human-like intelligence.
CE: How do you cope up with over-demanding shifts in technology world? How do you measure the success rate of your startup?
Akash: While the technology world has always experienced change, the rate of change is speeding up. To cope up one has to constantly work hard and keep on innovating. Lethargy can be lethal. I measure success rate by our reach. As I mentioned earlier that every computer or mobile user is our potential user and we want to make our technology reach to every person of the world.
CE: How do you go about maintenance and customer support?
Akash: Our customers have many options to get support. We have a community forum where users can get help. Users can also message us on our support email id or Facebook page. We believe that customer support is more important than everything else. Our customers are our biggest source of learning and motivation.
CE: What are your major learnings from this startup's journey so far?
Akash: The most important thing I have learned is persistence. Another thing that I have learned is just developing a good product is not enough. Marketing and advertising is as important as making a good product.
CE: What are the future plans for Brainasoft? Where do you see the company 3-5 years down the line?
Akash: Currently we are working to make Braina understand meanings of English language sentences; and respond to user queries by recalling what it had learned before. A future plan is to develop an artificially intelligent operating system. Our goal is to make Braina reach every computer and smartphone in 5 years.
CE: Any message for your readers?
Akash: Never give up.
"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all." - Dale Carnegie
It is very important for young engineers to learn on-the-go. The best learning experience comes from working with a startup which is in its infancy stage as it offers a plethora of opportunities to learn and help develop skill sets.Saurabh AroraLybrate