The Future Is Now: Arvind Baliga Of QMocha On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Do something you truly enjoy doing. I started my career in Engineering simply as a way of avoiding a career in Medicine which seemed to be the only two choices when I graduated from high school in India. I may today be a doctor if not for a random coincidence. I was admitted to a medical school in India and while heading to the interview it was cancelled because someone filed a suit and the courts stayed admissions for a week. I never went back and then joined an Engineering program at a leading school in Mumbai. Ironically it took me years to understand that I did not want a career in Engineering either.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arvind Baliga.
ARVIND BALIGA is CEO and founder of QMocha. With a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering he started his career designing semiconductor lasers launching a career as a technology executive. In 2013 he co-founded a smart home startup where he developed a Shopify store acquiring customers via Facebook Ads and discovered that subtle changes in imagery can drive dramatic improvements in ad and store performance. These insights now power QMocha’s AI which helps eCommerce stores transform their social media and store imagery to better engage their customers and drive sales.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I actually changed careers from technology to marketing through an unintended sequence of events. For most of my career I was developing lasers and LEDs for telecom and lighting applications. I was successful in my career eventually becoming VP of Engineering for a company that designed super bright LEDs that were used by Samsung, LG and Philips among others. I always had the urge to start a company so I quit this career to cofound my first startup BeON Home. We invented LED security bulbs that made your home look lived in when you were away. I ended up with the responsibility of running the Shopify store as well as the Facebook ads. I found that I really enjoyed the combination of creativity and technology in eCommerce and digital marketing. This is what led to my current career in eCommerce marketing and visual design.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Yes, I had a literal lightbulb moment at BeON Home. When we were running Facebook Ads we found that some ads performed way better than others. Surprisingly, what was different about them was just the backdrop. The best performing image was one where the light bulbs were placed on a granite countertop. It was amazing that the same product would get such different audience engagement when placed on different surfaces and backdrops.
We realized that backdrops tell a story and that our customers were not just buying the product but their experience when the product solves a problem for them. This insight led to the founding of QMocha and is now available as a Shopify App.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
QMocha is working at the intersection of technology and creativity. Our vision is to develop breakthroughs that help creators, artists and photographers integrate their creative output seamlessly into retail imagery. Many stores use dull, plain backdrops for their products that are just not right for today’s world where we see such wonderful creativity on Instagram and Tiktok.
QMocha’s technologies will help liven up eCommerce imagery by enabling creatives to integrate with eCommerce imagery in ways that were never before possible.
How do you think this might change the world?
We want to create a win-win-win situation for retailers, creatives and shoppers. Retailers will be able to run new inspiring campaigns using imagery that is dynamically integrated with output from creatives. Creatives will see an expanded marketplace for their creative output and new opportunities to earn a living while following their passions. Shoppers will enjoy engaging with entertaining and inspiring content that resonates with them rather than the dull shopping experience that many often encounter today.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Millenia before the Black Mirror, in the Bronze age, metallurgy was used to improve daily life with tools, pottery, creativity with carvings and castings but also to make swords and weapons. There is nothing inherently right or wrong about technology, but we always have to be thoughtful about misuse and unintended consequences. For AI imagery and the metaverse, there is always the concern that images can be used to mislead. In our case, we have narrowly deployed our technology in an eCommerce context and it is not really available to use outside that. So it is designed to work really well for all eCommerce products but not for just any image.
We use machine learning and AI in two ways — to help creatives collaborate better with eCommerce and to help those without specialized training produce high quality creative output. We want to make sure that the technology safeguards the rights of the creators and that our users are always careful to only use imagery that they have the rights to use.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Yes, once we realized the power of backdrops to tell a story, we were still not sure that we could produce images that would meet the very high standards of retail and fashion. We were introduced to the owner of a boutique store in the area who was generous enough to work with us while we were at such an early stage. She provided us backdrops that would work well with her brand and we started understanding all of the subtleties that go into making those choices. The quality of the images from our collaboration were just spectacular and that really was the tipping point that convinced us that our approach was feasible.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
With our technology users can accomplish in a few clicks what might otherwise take hours or days. This enables new possibilities for marketing campaigns. However, since this has simply not been done before, we need to demonstrate the product to new customers so they can see the possibilities. We are also learning about the business processes at our retail partners so we can design the technology to fit into how they currently do business. We also know that we have to solve pain points that matter to them today while communicating the new opportunities created by our technology. As they get familiar with the technology, they will then begin to use the broad creative possibilities that our platform unlocks both for them and for creators.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
We have had the opportunity to share our story in several leading publications such as Women’s Wear Daily, Daily Front Row, Entrepreneur.com. We are proud to have worked on the #StopHate campaign with Boy Meets Girl USA, an athleisure cause driven brand that used QMocha to help 7 activists communicate their response to hate using color and texture.
We also partnered with Caravan Social Club to run an innovative comarketing campaign where six retailers and six fashion models collaborated on a photoshoot in Brooklyn. We then transported the creatives to their favorite destinations around the world (virtually and therefore safely in these challenging times!). We also were able to match the same model images to backdrops that were brand approved.
We will soon be running contests where creators and retailers can collaborate to produce inspiring content. Look for them to be showcased on the QMocha website — there are some fun campaigns coming up. We also have virtual events planned at Fashion Week and other venues.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
As an engineer, I used to pride myself on being dispassionate and objective when solving problems and leading teams. At one point in my career I was leading an important project for a major telecom customer. In a key meeting with my project team which my boss was attending, he repeatedly provoked me but I worked hard not to lose my temper.
After the meeting I went to his office, closed the door and told him that he almost made me lose my temper. He said “Great! I was trying to make you lose your temper. You need to pay more attention to emotions when you lead people and showing some passion is not a bad thing.” It was an important lesson for me that I have taken to heart since. Emotions do matter and I am glad my boss helped me with that insight. I have become more open and aware about my and other people’s emotional needs since.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I was successful as an engineer rising to become VP of Engineering of a LED company. However I felt like my contributions were relatively narrow and only understandable to engineers that used our products in TVs, projectors and entertainment lighting. But along the way, I learned about color and light and perception. My technical knowledge is now helping develop new creative and commercial possibilities. At QMocha, we are hoping that this creates new earning possibilities for artists, creators and photographers to participate in the growing world of eCommerce.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Do something you truly enjoy doing.
I started my career in Engineering simply as a way of avoiding a career in Medicine which seemed to be the only two choices when I graduated from high school in India. I may today be a doctor if not for a random coincidence. I was admitted to a medical school in India and while heading to the interview it was cancelled because someone filed a suit and the courts stayed admissions for a week. I never went back and then joined an Engineering program at a leading school in Mumbai. Ironically it took me years to understand that I did not want a career in Engineering either.
2. Don’t wait till tomorrow.
This is definitely easier said than done. I always wanted to start my own company but there always seemed to be a reason not to do it at the time. There may never be a time that is exactly right. The first time I had the opportunity was during the fading days of the telecom boom. I was at Nortel Networks at the time and our site was being shut down. I could have joined a couple of startups with my friends or started one on my own. I had a young family at the time and hesitated. It was another decade before I had my next opportunity.
3. It takes both inspiration and perseverance.
We all hear narratives that make it appear that there was a singular moment of inspiration that led to dramatic success. We all know that is a fantasy but it is an appealing fantasy. The truth is that it is a long journey and while the moments of inspiration do matter, it is persevering on the journey that matters the most. At the very first company I worked at, my team was working on improving the current generation of lasers and there was a second team that was working on a completely new technology. Our team persevered, steadily producing 10 to 20% compounding improvements in brightness — the new technology was never able to catch up to us.
4. Walk towards your difficulties.
We all avoid doing things that make us uncomfortable. I once listened to a meditation which asked — what if you walked towards your difficulties instead of away from them. Embrace how you feel and be curious about what might happen when you do that. It is a lovely metaphor and I now use curiosity as the fuel and motivation to embrace my challenges.
5. Value the process and not just the outcomes.
This is consistent with the themes of perseverance and embracing challenges. Being mindful and focusing on the process maximizes the possibility of good outcomes. We hold ourselves to high standards at QMocha. Our product works for all eCommerce products but is especially effective for fashion retailers. Fashion retailers have very high standards for their imagery and the only way to achieve them is to have an extraordinary focus on detail. We obsess about every subtlety when it comes to imagery. We use the power of machine learning to meet the high standards set by creatives. This process is essential to delivering a quality outcome.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
At a time when we are flooded with information about the world around us, we are surprisingly ignorant about the workings of our own mind. I think one of the root causes of polarization is a lack of awareness of our own responses to external triggers and a lack of openness to new ideas. Despite my own initial skepticism, I have found that meditation and mindfulness are powerful tools that can help us become more aware of what triggers us and build intellectual curiosity.
I see many wonderful meditation apps these days that are building awareness of these techniques but think even more could be done. I truly believe that this could be an antidote to the poison of polarization.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by the author James Sherman. He said “You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending.”. I started my career doing something very different — working with quantum mechanics and designing lasers and LEDs. While I enjoyed the intellectual challenges and the complexities of developing new products, I was looking for something that balanced technology with creativity. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do just that today leveraging my analytical side to help unlock creative possibilities
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
QMocha AI brings the photoshoot location to the product catalog, when stores cannot get their product to the location.
QMocha has unlocked a $3B+ TAM opportunity targeting growing eCommerce stores that cannot afford the cost and logistics of editorial photography but know that retail imagery has to be Instagram ready to convert sales. The QMocha Shopify app seamlessly connects the store’s existing studio product photography to millions of backdrops from Getty Images™and creators with an AI powered no-code, no-editing platform.
QMocha AI dynamically restyles an entire store in a few clicks which would otherwise take hours or days with photoshoots or traditional editing solutions. With innovative technology that merges machine learning and creativity, QMocha’s analytics power marketing campaigns transforming how retailers deploy imagery to engage customers.
When you tag your VC friends, be sure to tell them to ask about our super cool demo 🙂 Seeing is believing!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on LinkedIn and on our Instagram page. We will be sharing our journey as we launch our product for Shopify retailers
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
The Future Is Now: Arvind Baliga Of QMocha On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.