Meet Kal K. Sahota, the driving force behind HeroX, an open innovation platform revolutionizing problem-solving across a multitude of industries. As CEO, Sahota is steering HeroX’s mission to enable people around the world to connect, collaborate, and innovate.
As a turnkey solution, HeroX provides all the necessary tools and support to build, develop, and manage prize challenges and connect with innovators across the globe to solve them. The platform’s flexibility allows for both self-service and expert-supported management, depending on the organization’s needs.
Hosting hundreds of prize challenges, HeroX has become a unique hub for open innovation, providing a platform where organizations can establish and grow their community of innovators. With Sahota at the helm, HeroX is changing the way the world approaches problem-solving, emphasizing the power of collective intelligence and global collaboration.
Tell us about yourself?
With a solid background of 25 years in financial services and fueled by a passion for open innovation, I work alongside my team to help individuals and organizations identify opportunities for open innovation within their strategic and tactical plans.
As the CEO of HeroX, I’m dedicated to building a powerful team and executing a robust growth strategy that positions our company as the leading solution in the crowdsourcing platform industry. I’m proud to lead a fully global and virtual team from Vancouver, BC, Canada.
My professional journey began with HSBC Bank Canada, where I started my career in financial services. At 26, I was leading the bank’s mutual fund valuation team. In 2003, I joined the Standard Life mutual fund wholesaling team. After nearly eight years, I left my position as sales manager for Western Canada, leaving the corporate world to join Westward Advisors, a boutique tax and estate planning firm.
At Westward Advisors, I worked closely with the co-founder to drive business growth. Together, we reached record-breaking levels of success. However, despite these accomplishments, I felt as though something was missing. It was not long before I found myself across the table from Christian Cotichini, co-founder of HeroX, a tech startup operating in the crowdsourcing space. After just one meeting, I knew that this was where I wanted to be – a place where I could make an impact at the intersection of business, technology, and the future of work.
In June 2015, I joined the HeroX team, focusing initially on driving revenue growth. Eventually, I found myself spearheading operations, championing the adoption of open innovation as a core strategy across industries. In 2019, my efforts earned me the prestigious Intercon Top 50 Tech Visionary Award. By July 2021, I was appointed President & CEO of HeroX.
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
At HeroX, we operate in an industry that is constantly evolving, and innovation is critical to our success, as it is for any organization in such a fast-paced business environment. I have often found myself in situations where there was no direct experience to guide me.
So, the advice to myself would be this:
When faced with uncertainty, it’s important not to second-guess yourself. Trust your instincts and, more importantly, trust the expertise of your team. Be courageous and take calculated risks, even if they create fear or cause you to pause. Embrace innovation and stay open to new ideas. Be transparent and share the ‘why’ behind your decisions.
This approach supports you in moving forward with alignment, and it allows you to share your leadership style with your team. Coaching in real-time during everyday situations that arise is the ideal way to foster and cultivate your team’s leadership.
With this mindset, you can confidently navigate uncharted territory and drive your organization’s growth with power and velocity.
What problem does your business solve?
As a company, we provide a solution to the challenge of innovation stagnation. As a crowdsourcing platform, we empower organizations to leverage the power of the global crowd by hosting prize competitions. This approach invites fresh perspectives and solutions to any manner of problem.
Crowdsourcing has been around for years yet its application in everyday business operations is only now picking up pace. Our platform demonstrates the simplicity yet potency of crowdsourcing. If organizations hit a roadblock, or seek new approaches or ideas, they can present their challenge on our platform. They define what they need clearly, inviting anyone from a global community of connected users to submit their ideas or solutions in exchange for a prize, which is typically monetary (but not always).
● Get inspired, view ‘Success Stories’ at (www.herox.com/results).
The value proposition of our platform is that it allows organizations not to restrict themselves to their internal team or direct contacts for problem-solving. Instead, they can take it to the global crowd; an expansive network of over three billion people connected online, oftentimes referred to as innovators. With our turnkey platform, we equip organizations with everything they need to run a successful challenge. Ultimately, HeroX is democratizing the innovation process.
What is the inspiration behind your business?
HeroX’s origins trace back to a Skunk Works project, fostered by XPRIZE and City Light Capital. It became a standalone entity in 2013, thanks to the visionary efforts of its co-founders: Peter Diamandis, the founder and chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation and coauthor of The New York Times bestsellers ‘Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think’; Christian Cotichini, a serial entrepreneur; Emily Fowler, a renowned innovation expert and transformational leadership coach; and City Light Capital, a leading impact investor.
Recognizing the potential of crowdsourcing and incentive-based challenges as powerful catalysts for innovation, the founders sought to create a platform where anyone, anywhere, could create or participate in prize challenges aimed at addressing global concerns.
What sets crowdsourcing apart is its democratizing aspect: it removes all barriers to participation and purely focuses on the best idea, regardless of the submitter’s credentials. By design, it creates a level of fairness. That is where my passion lies, democratizing opportunities for all citizens of this world.
What is your magic sauce?
HeroX can run prize challenges of all sizes and scope, spanning a myriad of industries and topics. Our platform operates as an open innovation marketplace and community network, enabling brands to build their very own crowd within the community by nurturing followers.
As of April 2023, our platform has recorded over 200,000 user submissions registered from within a global partnership network that includes over two million problem solvers across 175 counties and seven continents. Each user individually identifies their own set of skills and expertise, ranging from engineers, artists, inventors, students, researchers, designers, writers/editors to project managers, analysts, entrepreneurs, technologists, scientists, educators, and software developers.
What sets us apart in the marketplace, our ‘secret ingredient’ if you will, can be attributed to two key factors: Firstly, we enable real-time impact, which is both rewarding and intoxicating. Crowdsourced solutions happen fast, allowing organizations to keep up with the fast-evolving pace of business and market shifts, simultaneously fueling and supporting the future of work for innovators.
This is coupled with having the pleasure of working alongside an exceptional team that takes pride in building, developing, and driving the growth of the organization. It’s the culture at HeroX that compels me. Our team shows up every day in service of one another. Cultivating a strong, collaborative, and supportive company culture remains one of the pillars of HeroX.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
We are going to continue to deliver exceptional value to our valued clients, by staying the course with prize challenges and facilitating the creation of new connections and networks.
There’s a need to continue to enhance knowledge sharing, and unlock new opportunities for innovation and growth for companies around the world through partnerships, tech integrations and more. We remain in service of our clients at all times, which includes remaining open to new ways of supporting their needs. Innovation isn’t something we just talk about, it’s something that is foundational to how the HeroX team operates and continues to drive forward to the next phase of growth for our organization.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
As all organizations in today’s environment must do, we adapt. Being in the space of innovation, we address challenges in real-time in client conversations. If any common themes show up, we launch bigger-picture strategic initiatives to support necessary shifts, both for now and for what we anticipate may be coming.
The buy-in for the concept of tapping into cognitive surplus from outside the core team is absolutely there and continues to be fortified particularly since the pandemic. Where we see an ongoing struggle is when it comes to removing barriers and friction, preventing organizations from integrating innovation into their everyday business processes. They get it, it’s just not ‘easy to do’ – this is what we need to continue to address, simplify, and facilitate.
The implementation of these strategies has proven challenging for various reasons; lack of buy-in from leadership, no budget allocations, and internal processes that aren’t designed to support forward-thinking business practices like open innovation. There’s also potential misalignment in the timing of ROI and lack of relevant KPIs, etc.
Using crowdsourcing to solve business issues often reminds me of the rise of digital marketing, when social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn started to gain traction. Initially, it felt like a fad to me and likely to others as well. The whole concept of content creation, posting, and all the intricacies around social media was confusing and seemingly unnecessary. However, over time it became abundantly clear that this was not just a new way to market, but a highly effective one.
It completely disrupted the marketing industry. Organizations soon realized that if they didn’t figure out how to integrate ‘social’ into their operations, they would be at a considerable disadvantage. Things moved quickly. Now, in every organization you see social media experts, SEO specialists, content marketing and more. Initially, many of these roles were outsourced, but as companies progressed down the adoption curve, the roles began to move in-house.
Drawing from this parallel, I would offer that solving business issues through ‘crowd’ will soon be recognized as the most effective way to solve business issues and drive innovation.
As we speak, innovation managers are bridging those gaps, and it’s just a matter of time before the methodology is mainstream.
How can people get involved?
HeroX offers several ways for people to get involved with crowdsourcing projects.
To launch a challenge, we recommend starting with a discovery call with our Possibilities team ([email protected]), Adam or Ed. Our team’s approach is to first start with asking the right questions to both gain an understanding of where your knowledge level on this approach is and on what you are looking to solve. From there, we guide the discussion to ensure you have what you need to complete your due diligence. That said, some people prefer to learn more before that conversation. There are tons of resources on our Blog (www.herox.com/blog) and the “For Businesses”
Innovators can head over to the “Challenges page” (www.herox.com/crowdsourcing-projects) to explore open projects. They can join a team or register as an individual. There are no fees. From there, they can self-select any projects they either want to follow or compete in.
Click on the ‘Get Started’ button (www.herox.com/sign-up?next=/crowdsourcing-projects) to create your profile. It’s completely free to sign up!
Partners can explore the “Partner With Us” page (www.herox.com/partnerships). We work with leading consultancies, solution providers, crowdsourcing platforms, and marketing agencies to make crowdsourcing available, viable, and successful for their clients. Ask us about integrations as well.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak about HeroX.