Startup of the Week / Keepod: Taking Your Virtual Soul Wherever You Go

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If you 're reading this, you're using a computer and know that frustration of being away from your machine, and not being able to access your precious files. Yes, there are useful innovations like Google's Drive and other browser-based sharing programs, but what if you could keep your whole digital soul on you all the time?

Enter Keepod, the Israeli startup with a simple but revolutionary vision - to transfer all the computing from a PC to a disk-on-key, or in geek-speak, a USB flash drive.

The company's name, Keepod, means "hedgehog" in Hebrew, by the way.

So why did the company call itself "Keepod?" Several reasons, explains its CEO. For one thing, the hedgehog is small and cute but knows how to protect itself very well, thank you. For another, the name includes both the English word "keep" and the Hebrew word "od", which means more – you can keep more and more using the Keepod system.

While much of the name's charm is lost on non-Hebrew speakers, he admits, the name is still catchy; you hear it and you remember it.

A private mobile desktop

In the company’s vision, in the not so distant future each of us will have a disk-on-key in his pocket. This device will be our virtual soul, and the moment we insert it into a computer, any computer, it will be turned on and we will have our own private desktop, with our personal programs, our personal files, and so on.

The moment we remove the Keepod, the computer turns off and no trace of what we did remains on it. The PC is basically an empty shell.

"We set out to understand what bothers people today about the computing experience and reached the conclusion that our computing ‘soul’ is too scattered," says Nissan Bahar, the company’s CEO. "Some is on the laptop, some on the computer at work, etc. And even in the era of cloud, some of the material is on one cloud and some on another one."

Next, Bahar says, we asked ourselves a few questions about the paradigm: "Who said that the operating system has to be on a computer? And who says that the computer has to cost so much? Certainly when most users use the computer for surfing, emails, watching video clips.”

All that led the firm to arrive at its concept: A computer on a disk-on-key, or as it says on the company’s website: “Leave the computer, take your OS (operating system). Keepod was designed to jump between PCs so you can have your OS wherever you go.”

Thus the company developed its own Linux-based operating system, called KeepodOS, which works from the disk-on-key, on almost any type of computer: new or very old, with strong hardware and weak hardware.

“The product is free for the end user,” Bahar clarifies. “Today most of our users are early adopters, but we want to reach all the target audiences. You can download a simple program from our website and prepare Keepod for yourself."

Don't want that soda? Too bad

The problem is that today it’s very hard to buy a computer without Windows already installed, he says. "It’s like I order a sandwich in a café and they’ll force me to buy Coca Cola, and for a lot of money to boot. The Windows license increases the price of the computer by something like $70-$90. We’re talking with computer manufacturers such as Dell and Asus, to market a slim computer that suits our concept, a computer that doesn’t even contain a hard disk.”

Lovely. So where’s the money? “In the enterprise market. There it’s very easy for us to demonstrate a saving in costs," Bahar says. "We show how much new computers cost, software licenses, maintenance, support, backup and so on, and then we show how much can be saved with Keepod. Among our customers, for example, are UniCredit and MPS Bank in Italy. We’re a firm that has stood on its feet from the start. We have never asked anyone for money.”

Oddly, banks of all places, institutions that are usually conservative, are haring for the new concept, but Bahar explains that banks actually like Keepod because of its strong encryption and because work on it leaves no traces.

Recently the company announced another project called KeepodUnite, in the context of activity for corporate social responsibility.

“Every year tens of millions of computers are tossed into the garbage in the United States alone,” explains Bahar. “These computers are good for us. We have formed a partnership that will enable us to bring such computers to the third world, to the five billion people who are still not connected to the Internet, with our part being a system of USB devices with the KeepodOS system on it.”

Keepod has 26 employees with offices in Milan, and other employees in Israel, Russia, Germany and other countries.

Keepod: The yellow card contains your desktop information.Credit: Screen capture from Keepod video
The company's muse - a hedgehog.Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz