crowdsourcing
Cloud Computing

Crowdsourcing Innovation: Leon Harris, Combicloud

Crowdfunding sites are offering a new path for inventors with original ideas. We talk to inventors looking to gain the public’s favour...

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 Name:
Leon Harris

 Job title: Director and Project Manager

 Organisation: Combicloud

 Location: Brighton, UK

 

Product: Combicloud

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What it does & how it works:

Combicloud is the first of its kind - an app-based “virtual cloud” system which can connect together almost any computer system from any location. “Virtual cloud” is our own term for our system, which expands on the “personal cloud” concept in which you store your own data, but can access it from anywhere.

What makes it special?

Combicloud is not cloud storage, it combines existing storage into one interface so you can drag-and-drop between them, and a lot more. You’ll be able to access all your cloud accounts with a single login, allowing you drag and drop files between them, lets you access or share files at home or in the office. You can backup from multiple devices, and even balance storage between your cloud accounts to keep costs down. It runs on tablet, development kits or even an old smartphone. You don't need any specific hardware. Combicloud can manage IoT devices such as smart home heating and lighting, wearable devices and in-car internet devices, which is a rapidly growing market. 

What’s your background, and what inspired you to come up with the idea?

I was working as a project manager for a finance company before I set up my own business publishing content for digital media. In the publishing industry, you see a lot of collaboration on digital projects, which means a lot of file uploading and sharing. Obviously we jumped on the whole Cloud storage thing, always needing more and more space and using three or four different cloud accounts. We were constantly uploading and backing up from network attached storage, laptops, external hard drives and other devices. And that was just a small operation between 3 people!

Eventually I got sick of manually logging in, uploading and backing up, and realised that all these systems could talk to each other, and you could take all the manual work out of these tasks. So I built a simple system which allowed us to drag-and-drop between all the devices and accounts we used. That was the start of Combicloud!

Why choose Seedrs and equity crowdfunding?

I began networking once I’d founded Combicloud, and investigating all ways to raise seed capital. I was given advice from people, and the name Seedrs kept coming up. When I first looked at their site and saw that they only added a handful of new campaigns each month I found it quite reassuring, quality not quantity. But that meant the acceptance process was very tough – because they are FSA authorised every fact has to be double-checked to ensure their startups are not misleading investors. The end result is a small number of very high-quality business proposals.

Is Crowdfunding good for innovation? How so?

What is interesting with crowdfunding campaigns is the way the investors form a sort of online community around the businesses they invest in. Through social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn, people are happy to talk about their investments. Because it’s more open (your idea is made very public) I think it encourages not just ideas but solid business plans and teams. You have to spend less time worrying about competitors stealing your ideas and more time trying to build a solid business that can compete and continue to innovate.

Reactions from users on Seedrs so far?

The level of encouragement has been inspiring. Having people who really know their stuff tell you they think your company is doing great things is very reassuring. People ask some good questions as well, so we have discussed topics on the Seedrs campaign such as internet security, mobile broadband, exit strategies – it's great to see people getting so involved.

What lessons have you learned from your campaign?

The main thing is to keep it simple and straight to the point. It’s easy to go into minute detail about a technical project, and lose sight of the bullet-points which people want to know about. It’s been extremely helpful to refine our online information and communicate our idea through diagrams and videos of the killer features, which can be found on our site.

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Is managing multiple services in one dashboard the next stage in Cloud computing?

In a word, yes! As a concept, flexible networks of many devices and accounts are the next stage in personal computing. Investment in wearables and portable device sales are through the roof, and IoT/smart cities; to say it will be huge doesn’t even cover it! We are talking about trillion-dollar tech markets. But there hasn’t been enough thought put into platforms and operating systems which tie these things together with the cloud infrastructure they rely on. That’s what we are hoping to achieve with Combicloud.

How difficult is to develop a secure app that combines so many services into one?

Fortunately, we don’t have to re-invent internet security to do what we need with Combicloud. This is discussed in more detail in the Seedrs Q&A, but suffice to say the infrastructure behind the Combicloud system was designed with security at the forefront. We have borrowed a lot of ideas from banking and the M.O.D. for our security inspiration!

What sort of use cases do you see for people using CombiCloud and how do you personally use it?

Everyone can use Combicloud in their own way, so I’m reluctant to describe the system with endless user-case-scenarios. However, here are some of my favourites, from my own experience and other people’s suggestions:

- If you were on the train with limited mobile access, and you need to share a large file from the office, you can do that instantly, with no need to upload first.

- You could check your heating on the way home, to make sure the house is warm when you arrive, even if you are late.

- If you were running out of space on your Dropbox, but you have spare space on Onedrive, Combicloud could be set to balance the load automatically. Or if they are both full old files could be archived to a home hard drive or cloud archive automatically.

Possible business use/advantage?

Combine office, home and portable locations into one interface, so you can work wherever you are without worrying if you have the right files. Further to that, we are intending to provide business customers with a multi-user secure system – different users have access to different files across each storage location. This means you can protect certain data while still giving everyone access to the drive or account. 

What next for the company and the product?

We are hoping to raise seed capital to develop and extensively test Combicloud before launching the app. Another thing which is important to us is customer support, right from the off. Customer reviews and word of mouth will be very important to us in the early stages, so even if there are problems with early releases of the software, its important that we can talk customers through them and give them a good customer experience as quickly as possible. 

 

 

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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