Sunday, February 3, 2008

Are we nuts?

People are asking that question since Serotek elected to make its AFB Access Award winning product, SAToGo, available to all, in conjunction with The AIR Foundation, for no charge.
For the record, the answer is “No. We are not crazy. This makes good sense both from a humanitarian perspective and from a business perspective.”
Stop and think a minute. Does Google charge for using its search engine or for looking up a location on Google Maps? Does Microsoft charge for Internet Explorer? How about Firefox? And wasn’t it Netscape that broke open the Internet with a free browser?
In the long run Netscape lost the battle of the browsers but they completely changed the marketplace.
I think everyone out there understands the humanitarian reasons for making SAToGo available at no charge, but let me talk about the business reasons.
Before we made the free accessibility announcement the entire market for accessibility tools was a few hundred thousand people, worldwide. But there are more than 350 million blind people and a couple hundred million low vision people who would benefit from these tools. So in a very real sense the structure of the adaptive technology marketplace was such that it could never be more than a tiny niche market – a few thousand people fortunate enough to be subsidized by their government or some charity to purchase and be trained in complex accessibility tools.
When you’re a new company like Serotek an artificially restricted market is not only frustrating but debilitating. Even with the best tools available it is not possible to attract the capital to penetrate the market and claim your rightful share. The traditional vendors have a monopolistic stranglehold that virtually protects them from innovation. And who suffers? WE DO! Blind and low vision people suffer because they are left behind.
Our intent in giving away SAToGo is not to compete for the business that traditional screen readers are getting but to blow open the market and invite in millions more blind and low vision people. Our strategy is to say: “Hey this is no longer a private party for a few elite. Accessibility is for everyone, anytime, anywhere.”
So how will we make money? Well clearly we must make money or we will go out of business. We aren’t a charity and we aren’t subsidized by any fund. We survive on the sale of our products and services, pure and simple.
If you look at our Accessible Digital Lifestyle offering you can see that we have a very attractive suite of products for people who want a bit more than screen reader-like access. We anticipate that many SAToGo users will decide they want System Access Mobile and the SAM Net service. We anticipate many public and private institutions, organizations and businesses will want Remote Access Manager and/or Remote Incident Manager. We see schools that perhaps don’t want kids on the Internet, buying site licenses for System Access, confident that the kids have the same software at home that they have at school. Those are just a start.
We anticipate many, many new products that expand the accessible digital lifestyle to every facet of life. The fun of it is we no longer have to think small about a handful of possible users. We can think huge – every blind and low vision person in the world.
To us that makes very good business sense.
What do you think? Are we nuts?

11 comments:

Bat said...

No you aren't even close to being nuts, this is really great news. While I am an avid JFW user, I am really impressed with System Access's ability to work well with online content since it has a few features that JFW doesn't have. Whether it is an American having to get by with a 40 minute demo of some other screen reader or a student in a third world who has to walk miles just to get to a computer, this is gonna be awesome for those who can't afford a screen reader. This is definitely gonna make life better for a lot of people.

JD said...

Thanks for starting this discussion.
Could you say something about why you didn't release
a free software product (free as in Firefox, not free as
in Netscape).
Do you think your partnership with AccessibilityIsaRight will
poison the well for those who are looking for funding to develop
a truly open and sustainable accessibility stack?


--Jim

Anonymous said...

A new nonprofit to help the blind…hmm.

I note that the contact information for the Air Foundation is the same as the contact information for Serotek. I also note that Michael Fox, an investor in Serotek, was staffing the Air Foundation booth at ATIA. Based on your press release, the purpose of the Air Foundation is to solicit funds that it will give to Serotek for “…contract development of product enhancements...”

What a cozy relationship. The principals at Serotek control the Air Foundation. The Air Foundation solicits donations under the guise of helping the blind. The Air Foundation then gives the money to Serotek, a for profit company, for product development.

This will not pass muster under the 501(c)(3) nonprofit rules and I can assure that I will point this out to the appropriate authorities if someone else does not beat me to it.

I can only surmise that your business is in deep trouble and this is a desperate effort to raise the money you need to develop a competitive product.

Mike Calvo said...

Response to “anonymous”

It is always interesting to be attacked by a party who lacks the courage to sign his or her name. But these are criticisms we anticipated from the competition and the public has a right to know our response.
Serotek is a founder of The AIR Foundation. We chose this means of making our award-winning SAToGo accessibility tool free to all because this is a cause that is bigger than Serotek. We have an open invitation to all adaptive technology vendors, mainstream technology vendors and any and all other interested parties to join in and once and for all, level the playing field. We are actively seeking high profile professionals from the blind and low-vision community to join The AIR Foundation board. Corporations and organizations that join The AIR Foundation at the “Founding Pillar” level will also be offered a board seat until we complete the board (currently chartered at seven members). Serotek has two seats on the board and will not control the board once the full board is seated.
Serotek has committed to delivering any and all functional enhancements to SAToGo to those using the software via The AIR Foundation at no charge. If organizations wish to have SAToGo in different languages or with different cultural adaptations, Serotek will undertake those developments under contract to The AIR Foundation at cost. But any functionality we add to SAToGo for our user base is available to all, at no charge.
If one of our competitors should choose to donate product to be distributed at no charge through The AIR foundation, we would expect that similar language and cultural enhancements to that product, funded through donations to The AIR Foundation, would be performed by the company that owns the technology. Who else is qualified or has the necessary proprietary access?
Currently, The AIR Foundation is housed in the same facility as Serotek Corporation. And, in fact, Serotek Corporation is providing all of the administrative support required to operate the non-profit. That will change as The AIR Foundation succeeds in raising funds and hiring its own staff. We look forward to that day. (If one researched the history of most non-profit organizations that are founded by for-profit corporations, they would find a similar comingling of resources in the beginning, as the non-profits struggle to get off the ground. It’s a great relief to both sides when the non-profit is sufficiently funded to operate on its own.)
While Serotek is still relatively small, we are growing rapidly and operating within our cash flow. Our business has doubled since we elected to focus on the Serotek and System Access product brands, back in June of 2007. Before that time our growth was inhibited by some marketplace confusion with traditional adaptive technologies. Today the Serotek brand is clearly recognized as the mark of technical innovation, as attested by our recent award from the American Foundation for the Blind.
We are confident that The AIR Foundation will be awarded 501-3C status by the IRS. The organization’s legal advisors assure us that it meets all the criteria and it is structured such that every dollar received will contribute to delivering free accessibility to every blind person in the world. Undoubtedly there are adaptive technology vendors out there who have never given anything away and can’t comprehend the idea that the whole world benefits when every person has equal accessibility and is not shackled to ancient, cumbersome and expensive technologies. Like plantation owners of old, these companies may see the emancipation proclamation that The AIR Foundation has delivered to blind people everywhere as a direct attack on their economic structure. So it is. But like the economic structure of slavery, the economic structure of restricted accessibility cannot and must not stand. Every person on the planet can and should have an equal right to access digital information. That’s what The AIR Foundation stands for and Serotek Corporation subscribes to that philosophy one hundred percent.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike and the rest of serotek.
I do not think you are nuts for what you're doing. Keep it up! As someone who was out of town last week, and had to use friends computers,I can tell you that satogo for free has already made things much more convenient.
I cannot wait to see what the future of both this product and the air foundation have in store for us.
Best of luck to you. Nice job so far!

Anonymous said...

Nuts? I don't think so! Maybe you're just nuts for thinking you're nuts. I, like the first person who posted a comment, am an avid JAWS user but I have run the System Access package as a trial before and think it is awesome! Just think of the many opportunities this great venture will open up. Not only will people in third-world countries benefit greatly from this. It will also benefit people here in the States who are in need of adaptive software but cannot obtain it due to financial concerns. Let me give just one example. I knew I needed a reliable and affordable screen reader at the job which I started not too long ago. My first thought was JAWS, since I had been using it for a long time and felt most comfortable with it. However, after discussing things with my state VR agency--including what the job specifics were--I knew that JAWS was out of the question. So I made the final decision to go with the free and open-source screen reader Non-Visual Desktop Access. As good as NVDA is I haven't found it to work that well in Windows Vista, and some of the computers at my place of employment have Windows Vista on them. Thus far I have not been assigned duties where I've had to use Vista, but if and when that comes up I now know that there is an affordable option which works well. My home computer does have Windows Vista on it and I have very successfully run a trial of System Access and the SAM Network. Three cheers for Serotek and the AIR Foundation, and please keep it up! I wonder if that person who says he/she is going to report you to the authorities, really knows how to use his/her screen reader. Who knows, maybe that person doesn't own one but wants one badly. I guess that person will just have to wait and see what happens when their "screen reader" fails them and the person won't have anywhere else to turn. Boo-hoo!

dean1987 said...

hello, well done for making such a reliable product i have found so many uses for it in college where they don't have speech software installed. and your support for vista is amazing. oh and i urge people to try the sa mobile network it has loads of content and good stuff

Anonymous said...

Keep up the excellent work, Mike and all. It's damned good to know I'm not the only humanitarian out there who can see past the bottom line. What you're trying to do absolutely needs to be done. Having taken SA2go for a few brief spins, I'm very impressed with its simplicity and robustness. However, there's one major problem. I have a pretty reliable residential cable Internet connection here. However, there are occasional brief hiccups. Unfortunately, when one of these happens, the SA2go software just shuts down with no ifs ands or buts. I would have to compare it to giving away cars for free which would just disappear from around their occupants when the sun failed to shine on them. The instant a cloud passed over or they drove through a tunnel, poof! No more car. If that's happened four times to me during around six hours of using SA2go, how often might it happen to people in less fortunate circumstances than I enjoy? Might there be some sort of compromise here? For instance, could you design it so that you had to have an Internet connection to start using SA2go but that it would then keep running until the user decided to shut it down? That would certainly make things easier for people who had to either pay for or share an Internet connection but had their own laptops for example. Alternatively, what about making a certain length of time where an Internet connection isn't required for the speech to continue? For example, have it so that every ten hours, the connection would be necessary for the validity of the activation to be renewed? I assume that you require a connection since having things run off the local computer would essentially be giving away System Access for free. Am I right about that? Anyhow, just some thoughts from someone who very much appreciates your sentaments while being at the same time profoundly thankful I don't have to rely upon your product to get a day's work done. Best of luck with what you're trying to achieve. You certainly seem to have the right spirit.

focusfinder said...

Teaching computers to students in a college for blind and partially sighted young learners requires screen readers.
Individual learners are empowered through choice. The more access technology products they have from which to choose, the better.
Peter Bryenton
IT Trainer
New College Worcester, UK

Rick Harmon said...

Hey Mike, keep up all of your great efforts. Don't let anonymous bashers bother you. I think SA2Go for free is a great jesture on your companys part to help many people to gain access to pc's and what they can offer for so many that otherwise would never get a chance to see what the world of the internet has to offer now can have the same chance as people in the sighted world. I also think the new pricing structure of your products will also allow many more people the use of a pc that otherwise could not afford to do so. I say the hell with the bashers that are afraid to show their true identities. Again keep up all of your great efforts.

Deborah Norling said...

I agree with Rick. anonymous bashers mean very little. I am a JAWS Power user, and I work with LD sighted students at a college. However, blind students ask me for help, so I wanted to know system access well. Since teaching the blind isn't part of my job, I couldn't ask my employer to buy me a new screen reader. Satogo is perfect, because I can use it to help people and offer starving students something they don't need to pay for. Today's students are tomorrow's income earners -- and in time they'll be able to afford your services, so I think this is a fine business move.
Just for fun, I tried, without reading any documentation, to use the free SAtogo to create a blog on google. I did it. I'm not familiar with all of blogger's formatting commands yet, so my blog looks a little weird, but it's so exciting that this screen reader is as easy to use as that. After reading some blogger help, I'm sure I'll be able to clean up the blog and have no need for JAWS to do so.