Ishan is the founder and CEO of VIP World Services, where they design innovative accessible solutions for corporates to cater to the needs of Visually Impaired People (VIP). He is a Service Designer with 10+ years of experiences in multi-national companies, healthcare organizations, government bodies, and startups, leveraging professional, creative and analytical skills combining his Engineering background. He is primarily skilled with ensuring user engagement and retention for the business.
Melody Goodspeed: Hi everybody. This is Melody Goodspeed with the American Foundation for the Blind Inform & Connect Podcast. We're so excited to have you here today. And we have a special guest. We have Ishan Jha with us from VIP World Services. And we're so excited to have you today. How are you?
Ishan Jha: I'm doing well. Thank you Melody, for having me over.
Melody Goodspeed: We're so excited to have you. Ishan, can you tell us where you're from?
Ishan Jha: Yeah. My hometown is Kathmandu, Nepal, but I'm based out of London, UK at the moment.
Melody Goodspeed: Wonderful. Can you tell us a little bit about you and your company? I'm super excited to hear all about it.
Ishan Jha: Yes. As I said, I'm from Nepal. I spent most of my life hustling in India, did my engineering there. And then I came to UK four years ago to do my masters in a subject called service design. And during my course, I had to pick up a thesis topic which I thought is closer to my heart and something I could build as a startup.
Ishan Jha: So I researched and I figured that making employability easy for visually impaired people is a challenge. And I thought that could be an area where I can make my thesis. And the result of my thesis is my best business, VIP World Services, where VIP stands for Visually Impaired People.
Ishan Jha: And we are creating a platform where corporate clients can connect with VIP or people with other disabilities and accessibility designers, experts to use a test and perform user research with their products and services so that they can be made accessible. Not just following the guidelines, but something that is usable, something that brings sales to the company but it's of value to the disabled audience.
Ishan Jha: And in all of this we are bringing VIPs to connect digitally. We have been helping them to use digital staff, use assistive tech, improve their skills, help each other in the community and eventually get paid for the time they work with us on different projects. So this is what VIP World is, in crux.
Melody Goodspeed: That is wonderful. Can you maybe cite one example or success story where you've really seen some good synergy and how that's been able to elevate someone who's blind like myself, their reach to employment?
Ishan Jha: Yeah, so before the pandemic hit, UK had 85,000 VIPs who were working age population, and after the pandemic, that number has increased many full times. There's not even data to confirm that number.
Ishan Jha: But what happened was, most of the jobs they all became online and it was important to bring the VIP community to be more active online and to reap the benefits of working here. So we have started connecting companies to people who are based out of, let's say US, or there are other members who are in Nepal or India.
Ishan Jha: Depending on the need of the corporate client, we bring them different profiles. So I think the benefit of coming online using assistive tech and practicing, which you can definitely [inaudible 00:04:09], assistive tech the most... Practice using assistive tech is definitely the most important thing, I believe, that brings VIPs closer to employability.
Ishan Jha: And we bring in VIPs to do three hour projects, four hour projects a week with a particular client that gives them confidence that gives them, they feel that their words are being valued, they're very heard.
Ishan Jha: And we have worked with a list of corporate clients, I cannot name them. But to give an example of the synergy that is developed, I can talk about our own product, Travel Hands, which was created by the VIP World community members. VIP World community members, everyone complained about how difficult it is to travel outdoors for a visually impaired person.
Ishan Jha: And we researched with them. We did workshops, we went around the city. We had interactions with charity managers, caregivers, transport for London staff, and we found out that Travel Hands can be an app which can pair a visually impaired person with a sighted guide to go together, to work together from point A to point B, or towards a similar destination.
Ishan Jha: And that concept, that idea that was developed with the community members two years ago, I can proudly say that we have been running Travel Hands through a call center service since May, 2021, and we have been getting good feedback. We have good number of people using it. And soon, the mobile app, Traveled Hands, will be launched I hope by next month.
John Mackin: That is fascinating. Thank you, Ishan. This is John Mackin, I'm the public relations manager with AFB. And I'm jumping in because Melody is having a technical difficulty at the moment. Thank you for that explanation. That was fascinating. I'm curious to see how the next month goes. If I can shift gears for one second, how did you come up with the name for your company?
Ishan Jha: As I said, while I was studying and I was researching on my thesis, I joined as a volunteer to understand exactly how VIP used the service, how they live, what are the challenges. And I joined this charity called BlindAid, and I started going there. I learned myself how to use assistive tech, different softwares and helping others to practice more, learn more.
Ishan Jha: And during one of those days, I think one of the students there said, "We have a WhatsApp group. It's called VIP..." something, something. And then I said, "Wow, that's a nice one." And actually, she had a smile on her face, and I thought, "Well, this is very interesting, and this actually brings smile to everyone's face. People have been asking about the name every time." And that's the story.
Melody Goodspeed: That's incredible. Obviously the pandemic has really touched all of us, and I love the fact that you've really leveraged the time that we've had to be home to use that as essentially, a really good landing station for people that are visually impaired and blind to learn the technology, be able to apply it and then find user corporate partners for employment.
Melody Goodspeed: And that is really wonderful. And also Travel, that that project as well has obviously, Ishan, is a very hard keeping the distances. And it can be very terrifying in these times. So I thank you so much for that. With the feedback with the traveling, have you noticed that people are getting out more and feeling more comfortable?
Ishan Jha: Well, here in London, after May last year, things opened up quite a bit after June, especially. So we did see an upward curve where people were more optimistic. And as well in London, the summer which is three, four months technically, [inaudible 00:09:15] period where people are more happy.
Ishan Jha: The sun comes out and everybody's looking forward. And I think that helped as well. People were fed up sitting at home. And the winters, it's cold, it's dark, it's windy, it's raining. I'm not complaining.
Melody Goodspeed: Totally with you on this.
Ishan Jha: But I think weather and then timing of that helped. So it was good back then, but then again, the Omicron spread in December, it was just very scary. I mean, nobody knows what's happening, so we stopped the service.
Ishan Jha: But this Monday, a few days ago, we started again, Travel Hands. And we've been getting journey requests from all over London again. People are happy, they actually called us. They kept calling us and saying, "When are you starting?" So I think that helped.
Melody Goodspeed: It does. Can you run us through just an example of how that service works? So if I, myself, as a user wanted to apply it with, can you walk us through the logistics?
Ishan Jha: Yeah, sure. So Travel Hands, what happens is you register with us, and the VIP at the moment, they call us on our toll free number or WhatsApp, and share their journey request... Like X-Y-Z-date, and what time they would like to go, how much duration would they need a volunteer to spend time with, what would be the pickup point where they'll be comfortable for the volunteer to pick them up, and the drop-off point.
Ishan Jha: So these are the information we ask for each journey, and we ask them to share this at least 24 hours before the journey so that we can find the best possible match for them. Once a volunteer, who's most likely available on those times and happy with the duration and everything, confirms, then we share the confirmation with both the parties.
Ishan Jha: And before the journey, we give them a one-time password, which is a funny word every time, to make people recognize each other when they're on the ground. As well as, it's a icebreaker so that people can start chatting.
Melody Goodspeed: I love that.
Ishan Jha: And we ask our VIPs to pay for a small fee for the service. So £3 for up to three hours of volunteer help, and £5 for over 24 hours of, maybe it could be different volunteers... maybe someone to drop them somewhere and someone else would pick them up from the other end. So that's how to pricing as well.
Melody Goodspeed: Oh wow, that's really great. Is your goal maybe... Well, let me ask for your whole organization, I love how you say it's VIP World Services. Are you planning to expand all over the world and providing these services?
Ishan Jha: That would be the dream [inaudible 00:12:39].
Melody Goodspeed: I love it.
Ishan Jha: The dream would be that 25 million VIP, statistically, all around the world, our VIP is struggles to socialize, connect and feel comfortable interacting with whosoever. Now, with this community, we want change that.
Ishan Jha: We want to give them the upper hand, let the VIP know that they're a VIP, not just by value, but also responsibly. And bring them online, create as many opportunities working with different organizations.
Ishan Jha: I hope that after working online, there could be projects where people would say, "Why don't you physically come and review the space if it is accessible? Why don't you physically come and review if my airline service is something disabled friendly?" I hope that something like that could be created in the future.
Ishan Jha: In terms of adding more services. I mean right now, these two propositions are maybe a startup, I'd say. And we have had a, I'd say challenging journey of course, given the scenario. Anyway, it's challenging for a startup, but then pandemic just made it more fun.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes. I like how you put the that.
Ishan Jha: I take it as fun and say, "Okay, let's just crack a joke on it and move on."
Melody Goodspeed: Right. I love your attitude. At the American Foundation for the Blind, where we are all about inclusion and workforce development programs.... And really, I love how you're showing the strength of partnerships and networking to open those doors so that we are in a systemic landscape.
Ishan Jha: Sure. I'm very happy that we can provide more and more value. At the moment, we are focused in UK, but definitely, we have a good set of community members who also come on our Zoom calls as well from US, and it's fascinating.
Melody Goodspeed: That's wonderful. And I really appreciate you sharing with us because I think it's important for our listeners to know that. We're obviously in the United States, but it's nice to know what we're doing in other parts of the world for the blind and vision impaired communities.
Melody Goodspeed: So I just wanted to thank you so much for coming with us today. And we're already at the time of the question and answer, but if people wanted to learn more about your product services and how maybe they could get involved, do you have any social media channels or any place they could go to contact you?
Ishan Jha: 100%. We have presence in most of the social media channels. So vipworldservices.com, that's the main website. If you want to have a look at our Travel Hands service, the website is travelhands.co.uk.
Ishan Jha: On Facebook, we have a VIP World community where members interact with us, and that's where we put our projects in display, first of all. Then we have Instagram channel as well. A lot of partially sighted VIPs are active there, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube channel as well. I'm not a TikTok fan.
Melody Goodspeed: No worries. It's wonderful that you have all these areas. I think it's great. And I thank you so much. I will definitely keep following you and seeing what you're doing because it's so impressive and so fun and we're really happy to have you. John, would you have some questions for Ishan today?
John Mackin: Oh, we sure do. And I appreciate that you didn't have to introduce me because I had a cameo about 10 minutes ago.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, that's why I did it. And thank you for helping me through my technical difficulties.
John Mackin: No, it was my pleasure, and it made me appreciate the work that you do because it's not as easy as it sounds. So Ishan, thank you for being here with us today. I'm going to start with a question that we like to ask guests like you, and in that, I mean guests who have shown an entrepreneurial spirit. What was your favorite subject in school?
Ishan Jha: Maths. I love mathematics. I am a very number person. I just used to study maths and nothing else. My mathematics teacher was the only guy who was always happy and the others were like, "He could be better."
John Mackin: Sounds about right.
Melody Goodspeed: [crosstalk 00:17:59].
John Mackin: That's the thing about numbers, right? There's no room for interpretation. The numbers are the facts, I do appreciate that about math.
Melody Goodspeed: Me too.
Ishan Jha: But then, let's say with work experience and within my field, designing services with the people, how do we draw important insights from the numbers so that the quality of the service can be improved focusing on areas with... following up with the numbers, let's say. I feel like that interest has helped and I can continue creating wonderful services in the future.
John Mackin: Great. You mentioned something during your answer that I want to go back to a little bit. You mentioned your math teacher. That brings me to the next question. Could you tell us a little bit about the three most influential people in your life and how they impacted you?
Ishan Jha: Well, yeah. I love my family a lot. I've been very lucky to have wonderful guidance from my parents. My grandfather, my mom's dad, he has been my pillar of strength. He's the one who made me crazy. Sometimes I feel like that.
Ishan Jha: He's the one who said, "Jump from..." "Don't be scared. Fear is only something that is, it's a mindset." And he has always been highly energetic. I always remember him when there is roadblocks in my life, and just think about how he pushed me and all that.
Ishan Jha: So I would say he has been very influential. My dad is a very practical person giving very practical advices. So once I jump, my dad will say, "Ensure that you don't die, and how you can cope with it." So I take that inspiration. And my mom has given me all the emotional strength.
Ishan Jha: A lot of creating entrepreneurship profile work, innovation deals with failures. And I think being emotionally ready to face failures, it's something that my mom has been very, very helpful in dealing with that.
Ishan Jha: So I would say them, and then there are so many other inspirational leaders who I look up to, read about them, take inspiration from their stories. But for now, I would say my three family members who I really look up to.
John Mackin: Family first, we love that here.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes we do. And I love how you tied fear with having that emotional maturity to be able to handle it too. So thank you for that. I'm going to keep that one in my pocket.
John Mackin: Yeah. Two things there... When you read these professional development books and self-help books a little bit, they often underscore a very particular point about not being afraid of failure and failing your way to success, and if you haven't made it yet it's because you haven't failed enough.
John Mackin: I think there's definitely a kernel of truth to that. And also doing that, I think builds emotional intelligence. So fantastic responses Ishan, thank you. Along those lines, can you tell us a little bit about what you think is the most important lesson you've learned over your career?
Ishan Jha: Interesting. Well, I think professionally, I feel like what I learned is that creating solutions, it has to come from the people, it has to come from the needs of the people. A large part of my career, I was create, and a lot of companies outside, a lot of people, they create something which they think will be good and will be right for other people, but then it ends out to be not so.
Ishan Jha: So I think asking and inquiring the people, exactly what they require and then creating solutions on that brings definite value. For example, Travel Hands, we created that because our community said, "Hey, can you imagine going to the Tube station 10 minutes walk with your eyes closed, navigating through all the turns and the corners and cars, and everything coming out there? How can we make that easy?"
Ishan Jha: So that really helped us to make the solution. And we're going to continue doing that. To continue bringing our community in the center and design solutions with them. So I think that would be the biggest learning, I feel.
Melody Goodspeed: That is wonderful. I love the fact that you're talking about it's your client first or your customer base first, and really listening to what it is that their needs are. That was great. I loved it.
John Mackin: And let's shift gears a little bit. Ishan, if you could have coffee with any historical figure, who would you choose?
Melody Goodspeed: I love this question.
Ishan Jha: Historical person... there are many, to be honest.
John Mackin: You can say more than one, for sure.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes. They can be a tea party or a coffee party. Yes.
Ishan Jha: Okay. I'd love to have a chat with Nelson Mandela. I don't know how this person, his kindness, even after being humiliated and tortured, on how can he forgive and create something unbelievable. Change the world, bring change in the attitudes and lives of so many millions of people.
Ishan Jha: So I'd love to have a chat with him and see how does he shape his thoughts. It's very godly. It's difficult to imagine what that person went through. So that would be very interesting, I feel. Other than him, well there have been many warriors in the Indian history that I learned and who have fought adversities and who have shown courage and who have done the unbelievable.
Ishan Jha: So I'd like love to have interactions with them and see how do we adapt and equip and how can we shape our future for the next generations, countering all the challenges like climate change and all these things. I feel that it's something maybe we can learn from the past and apply for the future. So I'd love to speak to those personalities, definitely.
Melody Goodspeed: I want to be a part of this coffee chat when you have it because I'm going to be on all fronts.
Ishan Jha: [inaudible 00:26:16].
Melody Goodspeed: No really, it's amazing. But Ishan, I just wanted to thank you so much for joining us today. John, I really appreciated having you. John, did we have any other questions we want to end on?
John Mackin: Let's end with one last question. And that question Ishan is, what's the one question that you wish I'd asked you and how would you have answered it?
Ishan Jha: That's interesting question. Well, I think I would say maybe, how do I counter stress?
Melody Goodspeed: Well, please share. I would like to know. All of us need that in the toolkits, man.
Ishan Jha: So I think I've, especially after the pandemic, I made a routine for myself and I said, "I'm going to meditate. I'm going to walk. So I will set a distance every day." Which doesn't happen every day. But then I joined the gym, workout.
Ishan Jha: And I love to play cricket a lot. I follow, I watch and I love to play. So participating in the game itself, helps me to... When I go and play, I forget about every the thing. There's nothing in the mind, which is very helpful.
Ishan Jha: That's something I think everybody should have something like that. And most of the people do have, and they know how to use it. So for me, routine, meditation, workout, cricket. That's what I enjoy.
John Mackin: Love it.
Melody Goodspeed: I do too. I think this is a great way to end because I think it's really important to especially emphasize the fact that you're an entrepreneur, which it takes an incredible amount and.
Melody Goodspeed: And to really, we all need to have balance. And I love that you've pointed that out. That we need to have something we're involved in that just makes us forget about everything so that we can reset and refocus. So thank you so much for that.
Melody Goodspeed: And thank you for all that you do at VIP World Services. We are so incredibly thankful to have you and for all of your work. And thanks for joining us on the Inform & Connect Podcast today.
Ishan Jha: Thank you, it's been a pleasure. Really enjoyed it.
Melody Goodspeed: Thank you so much. I hope you guys have a great and amazing rest of your day and week, and we look forward to seeing you back here soon. Take care. Bye.
Ishan Jha: Bye.
John Mackin: Thanks, Ishan. Bye-bye.
Ishan Jha: Goodbye.