Do It Yourself

Mobility Quotient is proving that a young firm can be a pioneer without venture capital, and it’s teaching others to do the same

After his company was sold to Verizon, Nikhil Sonpal’s retirement lasted only three days before he decided to create Mobility Quotient.
After his company was sold to TCS, Nikhil Sonpal’s retirement lasted only three days before he decided to create Mobility Quotient.

Nikhil Sonpal was burnt out. The young software engineer had spent many years creating user-facing web and mobile solutions for top software and telecom companies. He spent a decade at Autodesk, and later, as CTO of LocationLogic, he helped roll out the location infrastructure “Family Locator” for Verizon. When his company spun out, rebranded, and sold for $25 million in 2009, Sonpal retired—but the hiatus lasted only three days.

After the 72-hour break, Sonpal had an epiphany. “I had seen large companies go through huge amounts of cash quickly,” he says. “I wanted to start my own company and run it in a new way. I wanted to bootstrap the organization and work under the concept of fiscal responsibility, using our own cash to fund our own products, not relying on bureaucratic processes to stifle us.” And with that, Mobility Quotient Solutions Inc. (MQ) was born.

Sonpal says he based the company on one word: change. After seeing companies grind to a halt, gummed up by backlogs and red tape, he wanted to provide a new way forward. Sonpal crafted a products-and-services organization built around four concepts: business development, creative, evolution through development, and integration. MQ leverages these four pillars to create connected mobile and web solutions to help companies plan and implement transformative strategies.

5 Questions
with Nikhil Sonpal

 

What does innovation mean to your company?
We view ourselves as an innovation agency, keeping on top of trends and always looking through different lenses to craft new ideas and bring change through innovative technologies.

Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
Mobile is first and foremost. People spend several hours a day on their phones, and we want to streamline everyday processes to make their lives easier and more complete.

How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
We’ve borrowed the four-fifths rule from Google and other companies. That means we take four days of the week to do our job, and the fifth is set aside to do something new, learn, and innovate.

Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
A few years ago, we wanted to build this temporary social networking system with a privacy focus. I would love to be able to carry this idea forward and bring it to the marketplace because it is safer and more efficient.

How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
The biggest driving force is the level of feedback you get from the world now. Hotels, airlines, and restaurants are so aware of social media now because the world now has a strong voice in this respect.

There are no silos at MQ. Through collaboration, Sonpal and his coworkers can uncover underlying problems or untapped growth areas. “We tend to be disruptive in everything we do,” he says. The firm takes a business-analyst role for its customers and has full creative and technical teams in-house. MQ plans, designs, implements, tests, reworks, and perfects each system until everything is fine-tuned and integrated. Then the company transitions those systems back into the hands of its clients. “We’ve set up a system that is so easy to use and logical that clients are able to take back control and manage successful, innovative products,” Sonpal says.

That’s exactly what MQ has done for clients in a wide range of industries, including nonprofit organizations, retailers, airline and automotive companies, and multimedia social giants. These companies were all IT-strapped organizations. They needed change; they just didn’t know what to do. MQ was able to determine what needed to be done and where, and it carved the best path forward using custom software, analytics, web design, and creative processes to roll out streamlined solutions.

A successful services division anchors MQ’s development. The four-pillars model that the company uses to bring service companies to the next level of technology has also become the foundation upon which Sonpal and his staff build the custom products that they’re passionate about. “‘Efficiency Realized’ crosses every border of technology, and we proved that it worked so well [that] we simply applied it to our own ideas,” Sonpal says.

Just after starting his new company, Sonpal found the perfect reason to beta test a new product: he needed to impress a girl. “We were going for a wine-tasting weekend in the Okanagan, and we needed some way to organize our tasting experiences in a digital platform so [that] we could easily access the notes when we got home,” he explains. The initial app, Just Wine, was built in two days, with the next eight months spent refining and perfecting it. It is a fully connected app on which wine enthusiasts and amateurs alike can find restaurant menus, wine-related events, a price selector, a tasting journal, and etiquette advice. And the girl Sonpal was trying to impress? The wine app worked. He married her 18 months later.

Backed by the success of Just Wine, Mobility Quotient has launched its second app, GreenThumb. It was created by an employee with a passion for horticulture, and it transforms a smartphone’s camera into an incidental light meter.

Now the young company is growing, and Sonpal expects 2014 to be an important year. “Because services are successful and we embrace change, and because we have no [venture capital] funding, we have the freedom to make as many changes as we want,” he says. “We’re unencumbered, and that allows innovation to take place.”

Moving forward, Sonpal is looking to teach his cash-flow-positive model to underdeveloped countries. “I want to take change and innovation and make it go global,” he says. Sonpal, who was born in Kenya, wants to teach others how to run a business with minimal capital investments using free and available resources.