Talking innovation with ex-Ormondian Ed Hooper
Strolling across the vibrant, co-working space The York Butter Factory, it is clear that Ed Hooper has come far in the five short years since he bounded about Ormond’s corridors as a Computer Science major. Now CEO of the start-up 121Cast, he presented to us his latest creation with palpable enthusiasm.
Ed saw a problem that needed solving. Mainstream radio gives you news, music, weather and talk shows, all curated by networks who guess what it is you want to hear. But what if you love Hamish and Andy, but not the Top 40? Or want your NPR with heavy metal? Omny is the solution, in app form.
Launching this Thursday, hype is already starting to build for Omny. It works as a system of personalised radio, but it’s more than Pandora. It draws content from Facebook, Fox FM, Google, Apple, ABC and more, then ranks and tailors that content to you through a series of complex algorithms. Ed’s team have been working around the clock for the Thursday October 10 iOS launch. It’s been a long road. So how exactly did he get here? Ed shared with us three key lessons for innovation.
1. Find a problem needing solving
Ed’s first big break came in his final year of college, when he won a global software competition funded by Microsoft, beating out over 200,000 students from around the world.
While on the farm of a family friend, Ed had nothing to do after lunch, so he took to wandering around the fields. The head farmer, showing Ed the irrigation system, would “turn on a tap” and “do some estimates in his head”. Here, Ed saw a serious inefficiency. “It was all manual,” he explains. It took time to learn, was hard to train others to do and if ever the farmer was sick, the field did not get watered.
So Ed and some fellow students from Tasmania, Monash and Swinburne devised a solution. They established an array of moisture sensors all over the farm, then hooked it up to Google Maps. Then they wrote a program that asked a series of questions. Do I need water? When is it next expected to rain? Did it just rain? Was that enough? Where needs water most urgently?
The system then irrigated the field accordingly.
Ed says, “a lot of people doing start-ups are entrepreneurs looking for an excuse to make something”, but it’s “the ones who experience the problem themselves and are passionate about it who are the ones that make it.”
“There are a lot of problems out there. Technology is a really good way to solve them.”
2. Get connected
Ed tells us Ormond is not just great for making connections, but keeping them. “I remember when I was in Paris for a conference and this guy took us out to a fancy club. I posted on Facebook “hey, we’re here. Feel free to catch up with us”, and some Ormondians rocked up that I hadn’t seen in three years. They’re all scattered, they’re all doing cool stuff and they’re all helping each other out.” Even now, a College friend is working on his team for the app.
Connections, especially the big ones, are a good test for your ideas. “When we got SingTel, who are like the Telstra of Asia, that’s when we knew we had something big.”
3. Never stop learning
Ed described his time at Ormond as “a 24-hour education”. He was always busy, whether it was with subcommittee projects or Dining Hall debates. But when he started working, he “finished at 6pm and the rest of the evening was up to me.” It felt strange after the continual buzz of College. “That’s why I had to get started on my own business.”
Software design requires the same approach. The key is constantly getting feedback and constantly tweaking – always improving. The final weeks to the launch Ed describes as a torturous sprint of coffee and coding, but he assures us the best is yet to come.
Ed Hooper is an excellent reminder of the talent and opportunity bristling between Ormond walls. For many here, the best is also yet to come.
Head to Omnyapp.com to see what all the hype’s about.