SignTalk: a Chennai based startup dedicatedly working for Deaf people

Saswat Mishra

Saswat founder of SignTalk, is a final year student at IIT Madras, pursuing a Bachelor’s in Ocean Engineering and Master’s in Data Science. He is passionate about impacting lives through technology. Currently he is working on building SignTalk, an early-stage social enterprise that’s dedicated to bridging the communication gap between the Deaf and Hearing Community. 

What inspired you to start this company?

I think what brought the SignTalk team together was an innate desire to add value to society. We’re largely comprised of a team of students and initially we felt we could make a difference through an AI-based sign language translation system. After interacting with the Deaf community, we discovered that a product pivot would be required due to the nascent nature of the Indian Sign Language. I think talking to the Deaf Community helped us identify the problems that needed the most attention.   

What are some of the new ideas you would implement in this company?

One really exciting project we’re working on is called Learn ISL. It’s a gamified language learning platform for the Indian Sign Language. The whole idea is to treat learning sign language as a journey and to ensure that this journey is fun! We’ve got a positive response from a variety of potential future customers and we really hope our product helps people learn the Indian Sign Language. 

What is the problem solved by your start-up?

Our mission is to bridge the communication gap between the Hearing and Deaf Community. We’ve got several projects planned in the spheres of Education, Media, and Technology to help us achieve this mission. We hope to promote a more inclusive society and raise awareness about the potential of the Deaf community. After all, we are less when we don’t include everyone!

What obstacles have you faced trying to reach your goals and what steps have you taken to overcome them?

I think the biggest obstacle we’ve faced so far is to know our customer base. We really needed to empathize with the Deaf Community to understand a suitable solution. We’ve been through months of customer discovery exercises, strategy sessions, and brainstorming to reach where we are today. One crucial step was to attend a sign language class taught by a Deaf individual and a sign language interpreter. That really helped us get a sneak peek into what the Indian Sign Language is like. 

What according to you drive sales to a company?

I do believe we have to understand three critical areas to drive sales. One, understand your customer audience, their needs and adapt accordingly. Two, add real value through your solution so that the USPs are obvious. And three, ensure that your customers are aware of your solutions!

Who do you look to as a role model?

One of my favorite leaders is Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. His leadership style is centered on building a great culture and environment for his teams. He’s been astounding as Microsoft CEO for the last few years and put them back near the top when they were stagnating for a few years. The greatest responsibility of a leader is to empower others and I really hope I can emulate Satya Nadella’s example in the teams that I lead today and teams that I lead in the future. 

Answer in one line:

Share a quote that inspires you the most: Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy; ask if they’re crazy enough. 

What is your life mantra? Heroes are people whose work lets others dream. 

How to be a leader according to you?

I think this can be best answered in another quote that I hold close to my heart: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Adams

How do you respond to constructive criticism?

I believe taking constructive criticism is one of the most important traits an entrepreneur needs to instill within him/herself to be successful. Speaking is a talent but listening is equally important. I think you when you face constructive criticism, you really have to step into their shoes and understand where they’re coming from. If you can reach an understanding, you can use that criticism to further improve your business

Any suggestions that you want to give to aspiring start-ups for starting their business?

It’s been an adventurous 10 months. It’s had its ups and downs. But to other aspiring entrepreneurs, especially students like me, my biggest piece of advice is to understand that ideas are great, but the execution is even better. Take the first step. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll grow. You either succeed or you learn. That sounds like a win-win scenario to me!

What do you think are the most important elements of successful business relationships?

There’s one undisputed fact when it comes to having a successful business relationship. If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if people trust you, they’ll do business with you. Trust is extremely important and building it is a long-term process. At the same time, breaking it takes a very short amount of time. Ensure you prove yourself trustworthy and build your relationships on trust. 

 How COVID-19 impacted your business? How are you tackling the COVID crisis? Any Suggestion for rest of the startups.

Since we are currently building a web platform, work has progressed steadily. I do believe the crucial factor behind that is communication. We regularly meet, discuss, and interact through online channels so we ensure we’re all on the same page. Of course, expectations have to be adjusted during a pandemic but I think we’ve done decently so far. I’d suggest having clear, concise agendas so that you can make the most of your meetings, and trust your team to execute. Excessive micromanagement will only hinder the team environment!

According to you, what is much needed to support Make in India?

I believe prior to the global pandemic situation, India’s Ease of Doing Business index was improving, but there was still a lot of room for improvement. India’s education sector still needs to be revamped around this space to cater to the latest trends and technologies in manufacturing. This would need policy tweaks, a new incentivization structure, and an increase in the R&D budget. Additionally, enforcement of business contracts is still done poorly in this sector, and fixing this issue would lead to greater manufacturing productivity and a larger contribution to GDP.  

What’s your opinion about StartupLanes?

It is a great initiative to connect and build a community of change-makers. At SignTalk, we are early-stage and we need all the help we can get especially in terms of visibility! Thank you StartupLanes for showcasing our story!