Finalist team TL;DR: Our Ericsson Innovation Awards Journey
The story of TL;DR
One fine ochre-winter day, four students met in a dingy room of a public library to discuss, process and create a product which shall make people aware about their rights online, help them to understand the baroque language of terms and conditions and change the way customer agreements are read. The process was simple: to work as a team for the project. But that day the passion in our hearts, the gleam in our eyes and the utmost belief in our idea nurtured it into a dream. A dream of climbing the stairs of Nobel Museum someday, a dream of flying to a country 3982.368 miles away from home, a dream of creating TL;DR. So, friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears, here’s a story of how dreams come true!
From Brainstorming to the semi-finals
It was in August when Neelabh called me to wish me on my birthday and between the discussions of samosas and snacks, I first told him about Ericsson Innovation Awards, a competition I read about while casually browsing the internet. Since the last year’s theme was food, we speculated that the theme might be medicine or healthcare this year. While I was recovering from chronic Typhoid and Neelabh was busy with his own studies, we could not catch up for almost four months. It was on 8th November when on a chilly winter evening of Delhi, Neelabh literally came running to my hostel and told me that we have just one week to submit our idea on the theme – Future of truth. So, then and there, we pulled out our notepads and brainstormed day and night for the entire week.
We were particularly interested in the fact that (almost) no one reads end-user license agreements (EULAs). One company, PC Pitstop, decided to prove this in 2005 by sticking a note inside their EULA which announced a monetary reward to a limited number of users who e-mailed them about it. In the end, it took “five months and more than 3,000 sales before the first person dropped us a line asking about the clause.” That customer won $1,000. This became the basis of our idea and finally took the form of “TL;DR”.
With semester exams hovering over our heads and just a week in hand, we valued each second that passed by. On top of it, Neelabh had to skip his practical exam to submit the idea on time. But all pains got assuaged, when team TL;DR got selected for the semi-finals. We were at the zenith of happiness.
From semi-finals to finals
As they say, “The first step is always the hardest.” After an intense battle between those self-doubts and indomitable curiosity, it all somehow makes perfect sense. And in no time, you find yourself wanting to climb rest of it quickly and explore what’s waiting up there. As you move some further, you meet your people with different stories but the same goal. Like we found our perfect teammates and now best friends in Yashish and Shaurya who being the brainy geeks that they are managed our technical part with much fervour and formed the backbone of Team TL;DR. Neelabh’s family graciously offered their house (and ofcourse food) as the team meeting spot where amidst loud laughter, water balloon fights and late night walks, TL;DR took shape. While Shaurya had to sacrifice his weekly home stay, Yashish commuted for four hours to join for meetings. There were days when the poor kid use to nap in the metro itself! Few days we struggled pulling all nighters to stand to our deadlines and on others the boys strived to help me climb my college walls to reach my hostel on time. And this is how a set of four different people, Three “would be engineers” and one “would be researcher” (I hope) formed the four pillars of Team TL;DR.
I clearly remember the day, when four of us went to meet our mentors Raghurama Chilukuri, Rishabh Banga, Ebru Siki, Dilek Kocal and Irfan Mian over a video call in Ericsson office in Gurgaon, half nervous, fully excited when we first stepped in the premises of the office even our cab driver wished us luck for the future. I think it was wishes like these and also the constant support of our mentors that we reached where we are today in this competition. Each time we were dubious, they became our strength, picked us up, dusted our back and helped us walk again. Ever-patient. Ever-understanding. Ever-valuable. I don’t know how we will ever thank them to build us. To build TL;DR.
And when the team is together the pen glides, creativity flows, ideas strike and problems simplify. The irony of every journey is that the closer you get to the destination, the more you realize how much you are going to miss these steps and memories you made while climbing. And if you ask me to pick one memory from the million we made I don’t know which one I shall pick. Maybe I will choose the one when we stayed all night working on our video, munching on “Ujjaini Sev”, laughing and writing the script at the same time. Or the one when we accidentally deleted the entire code base. With trembling voice and in cold sweat, we told our mentors about it, expecting to be rebuked for our carelessness but we earned laughter and encouragement in response instead. Or when the team transformed itself into shrinks to motivate and help each other to manage exams and the competition simultaneously. Or maybe I will choose the one when we decided to film the video all by ourselves and four days, and five hundred and fifty-five shots later ended up with a video in which the birds were chirping more than us. All thanks to Yashish and Shaurya who burnt their midnight oil for two days to edit the video and submitted it on time.
But the most cherishable was when we got selected for the EIA-2018 Grand Finale. Words jumble up each time I try to write those feelings. There were screams, laughs and tears of happiness. I live far from home but still could feel the joy in my parents’ voice. Yashish’s parents cried and hugged him for complete ten minutes. While Neelabh’s Dad invited us for a family dinner. Home it was. We were fortunate to witness this beatitude.
One of the interesting stories that we lived through EIA is while discussing the idea of TL;DR with all my friends in the dining room of my hostel, one of my visually challenged friend questioned, “Can we listen to the summaries too ?” First, I went mute for a moment but then thought of adding an audio feature in our application and said “Yes!” which was rewarded with a smile and a hug from my friend. The journey of TL;DR has not only provided us with various opportunities but has also been a journey of personal growth. It taught us to be more compassionate, more kind and to make a platform which will be user friendly. This is why my team mates came up with an idea of adding a Chrome browser extension along with the Android application for the users who still prefer working on laptops than on mobile phones.
Our idea is to summarise and highlight the good and bad points hidden in the terms and conditions and policy documents of companies. Some insurance companies deliberately add loopholes in their policy documents to deny claims later, which not only burns a hole in the customer’s pocket but also leads to a lot of mental stress. We aim to change this trend of companies making money through buried clauses. We hope that TL;DR will not only become an aid for reading summarised documents but also compel the companies to change their policies for the betterment of customers and not just for their own good.
If we win EIA-2018, We will use the winning amount to launch our company in the Indian market. After establishing it in health insurance sector in India we shall expand it in other countries and domains such as other insurance sectors, loans, mutual funds and online services. We will keep working towards making customer agreements more transparent to the users. Truth is, if you believe in the existence of bad, you are required by logic, to trust that good exists too. To keep the future of truth secure it’s our right and responsibility to know and identify the bad in good and good in bad, the Yin and Yang of the universe. We have been neglecting our responsibility for so long, we believe TL;DR is a reminder for both the customers and companies to secure our future. To secure the future of truth.
Watch TL;DR in the Grand Final livestream on May 17!
Watch TL;DR compete with student teams from China, Senegal and The United States in the Ericsson Innovation Awards 2018 Grand Final. We’re streaming live from the Nobel Museum in Stockholm on May 17, 2018 at 6 pm GMT. Click here to watch.