Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Archive for the ‘Proto.in’ Category

Its not a rarity these days to hear talks about turning entrepreneurship into a lifestyle. As a matter of fact, we – everyone of us who are involved in shaping the startup space in India – are quite glad that thats happening, because it just shows that things are changing, very much for the better.

Even as Barcamps, Open Coffee Clubs, Startup Saturdays and several forms of informal support groups are emerging in this country, one of the biggest problem that we seem to be facing is the fact that we are still very urban-centric. All these meets happen in four or five of the major metros in the country – whereas we probably should be a bit more inclusive about it. There are issues such as the lack of experienced entrepreneurs to share from their life’s tale and help out emerging and aspiring entrepreneurs that seem to be stiffling some of the productivity in some of these informal meets.

Well, technology can solve that problem in some aspect, and we are going to give it our best shot.

We are opening up this Chat Application that we’ve had built, and testing in some occassions to see how we can spin this to solve this issue. Every Saturday between 9am and 5pm – and without fail, every week, we are planning to keep the Proto.in Chat [Link here] open and anyone can visit the site, and interact with entrepreneurs from across the country. We understand that Startup Saturdays happen on the same dates, so if possible we will get someone who is attending the sessions to live chat in the sessions so that the wisdom share can be spread to a larger audience if possible.

So, we’ve done and are doing our part to solve this problem. Now the request is that you be a part of this, to be there, spend sometime in the channel, interacting with, and helping out one entrepreneur to another, and in truly making entrepreneurship a lifestyle choice for those who wish for it – even beyond the metros.

Looking forward to seeing you there. And spread the word.

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Have you ever wondered how to impress an inscrutable Venture Capitalist, convince a doubting journalist or perfect the guaranteed door opener for a partner?

Then this workshop is for you. Learn the inside scoop on how VC’s, corporate partners and journalists think. Hear tips on how you can compellingly explain your business to each audience—whether it’s raising money, trying to close partnerships, or getting attention from the media. Watch as fellow entrepreneurs develop concise, and unique value propositions that generate fever and excitement in their markets. And personally participate with industry experts to find the best ways to position and pitch YOUR company.

This Proto.in, we are having a workshop for startup companies to hone their skills in the art of Pitching. And it will be something to look forward to. This is how it works (Follows the same model as Pitchcamp in Oreilly Conference):

This is a highly interactive hands-on workshop where you will have the opportunity to refine your own company’s message, learn more about how to pitch the people you need to impress, and have fun at the same time – the expert panel will help coach you to success and be judges at the end of the workshop, awarding prizes to some lucky participants.

8-12 Companies will be selected to officially participate. The selected companies will be assigned a pitch coach from a list of highly experienced marketing team. After a general overview of the do’s and don’ts of pitching, the individual companies will go into a break out session with their assigned pitch coach to refine their pitch. Other attendees of the workshop will be invited to participate in the breakout sessions as well. The final hour of the workshop will be the companies presenting their revised pitch to the entire panel of experts who will critique and evaluate the new pitches.

The companies with the top two scores will receive prizes that might include Marketing and PR Services, VC Pitch Consulting or Premium memberships to various networks.

While the team here at Proto.in is busy putting together an elite team of marketing and experienced entrepreneurs to drive this workshop, spanning all the way from the world of advertisement, film industry, technology and pure business, do let us know if there is someone who’d make the perfect fit for this activity.

We look forward to more of your feedback. Do leave your thoughts in the proto.in blog

I grew up with a poster in my room saying “The size of your world is as big as your dreams”. It was always there when you woke up to remind you to think beyond the box. It still hangs there in my room at my parents place. It’s the thought that came into my mind when I was browsing through the net, listening to some of the folk’s interpretation of Entrepreneurship.

It seems  to me as if there are a couple of theories floating around these past few weeks.

a) Entrepreneurship is overrated. Entrepreneurship is romanticized, and the often tweeted and retweeted phrase seems to be “My son is without a job, ah! he is an entrepreneur”. Well, That’s probably pushing it far, and yep, perhaps we are breaking the elitism that was once associated with being an “entrepreneur”, but isn’t this what we wanted with all the publicizing that we did and urging one another to chase their dreams? I do see that this could dampen the ones that pride in elitism, but as far as things go, there will always be a gulf between those who can dream, ideate and implement, and those who just wear the badge and do nothing. And really, the more the merrier in this party.

b) There is also this other camp, that seems to think that, Entrepreneurship is too Web 2.0-ised. I can emphatize with this camp.  I dont think entrepreneurship in India is equated with a venture in the web 2.0 world, but most of us derive our first impression from the media that we consume and web 2.0 is essentially Media and new age consumption of those content. You get hit by it in the face over and over again, till you find something interesting. That doesn’t mean that there arent other sort of ventures going on out there. Manufacturing is still one of our strongest sectors and there are plenty of neat things cooking up in that camp. So for those of you freaking out with the thought of drowning in Web 2.0 Gyaan, take heeed, there is a bigger world out there – you just need to step out more.

c) There is a third theory out there that there are a lot of NRIs returning home. And Rajiv Gandhi is rightly quoted that whatever happened a few decades ago was not brain drain, but brain banking. Along with those returning is returning a renewed sense of nationalism, pride, and a whole lot of global interaction practices, that really help us get our quality of work a notch higher to match global capabilities. The complaint is that, along with them comes the baggage to convert the cities of India, into New York and Boston, or London. They do have a point. But sooner or later as these fresh entrepreneurs hit the Registrar of Companies to get their incorporation work done, they will know that things work slightly in a different order in this country.

So, really gentlemen (and ladies), there is not much to fret. You can relax and enjoy the process as our landscape changes before our eyes.

We Really Don’t Dream Big Enough.

What I want to talk about really is not the concerns, but my own concern as to how we aren’t dreaming big Read the rest of this entry »

My mentor oft used to say that everyone had something to teach us. It was all a matter of either what you should do, or what you should never do. If you look back at everyone in your life, that’d probably quite nicely fit the bill.

If you are at all interested in Startups, or are an entrepreneur, its quite hard to not notice whats happening in the Silicon Valley from time to time. And right about this time, it seems to be the humorous series of incidents – or some might call “planned coups” – that are going on in the valley amongst DEMO and Techcrunch, all in the name of “giving startups a platform”. There are 50 techcrunch companies, and close to 70+ DEMO companies going head on today, and amongst all the angry voice of one group accusing, and the other group defending, and then silly bystanders calling all the startups stupid to be sucky, they have all seemed to have forgotten the one reason for their existence – startups. Seems like in an attempt to settle the feuds amongst them, the startups are essentially the ones taking the beating by the supporters of both sides who are trying to discredit the both equally reputed conferences. Both are equally great conferences, which cost equally high amounts of money to pull through and lets not kid ourselves from the fact that both of them have equally made enough money through all this.

I have no interest in all these silly disputes. But it goes to say how even the “valley” can get distracted from whom their customer is. The startups.

We will, and trust me, we will soon come to that point as well – and I doubt that it will be too early when there are going to be a gazillion new startup showcases going on. If its a good thing, people are going to swarm and imitate, and there is absolutely no harm in that – just as long as they remember what the whole ordeal is all for.

I think India is doing amazingly well. Compared to most of the companies that are taking the stage, I am real proud of the kind of companies this country is churning out. We probably still dont have the reach or the spotlight, but there are equally amazing ideas, teams, talents and companies out here – probably better in some cases. I’m lately coming across a host of companies, some in the design space – making of intelligent home appliances, and a company that does design services – and is designing the torch for the commonwealth games (and its said to be quite sophisticated), companies in biotechnology, energy etc etc, that I have no doubts that in a few years, we will be more than what we ever dream, or dreamt to be.

This is also a time when the lack of support for an entrepreneur is probably the least pronounced issue. From capital to mentors, if you are knocking on the right doors, the right support is available and with local support peers such as Open Coffee Clubs and Startup Saturdays, I am really happy at the way we are strengthening this community.

As I am watching the companies at DEMO and TC, there is just one yearning in my soul. If we make better companies, and if we are darn better in hard work, and are more than well aided in terms of talent and capacity, whats it going to take us to the global spotlight. I think its going to take the support of the community as a whole to make that happen. This December as the fifth edition of Proto.in comes together in Bangalore, we’ll definitely take a shot at that – but not without your support. How do we make that happen? Now thats something I want you to help us, nah, ourselves with.

May the startups always win. For a long, long time to come.

There are only a whole total of 14 tasks that need to be done before the event,and given the capable team that we have this time, and the sheer level of enthusiasm flowing, I dont see that to be a problem. The core team from Chennai, Bangalore, and other places are starting to fly in into Delhi starting tomorrow – Our flight leaves in exactly another four hours. The team is busy getting their laptops on datacards so that we can still remain effective, even on the go. We are prepped, geared and all ready for it.

What did didn’t expect is the sheer push of some magical moment that has happened within the community to attend the event. we are nearing 400 attendees for the event, and that’s a “significant” jump from the 250 that we had last time – and trust me when I say that I am genuinely surprised. I always thought that the southern states were more entrepreneur-centric. I suppose it takes a good shot to really prove and debunk theories and myths as well.

In the following two days I am going to be writing to you to prep you to help set some expectations and in terms of some of the activities that we are planning at the event. The Innovation brainjam on the second day is something I am personally looking forward to. The credit goes to Amit Somani of Google, who threw open this open-ended way of brainstorming that they practice at google and as we pondered over the possibility of doing that in a conference. It should be loads of fun.

If you are a blogger by any means are a little rusty, this is the time to sharpen your skills. It’s going to be a liveblogging marathon this time, and we even have a surprise for the best live-blogged summary of the event. If you are the logical, knowledgeable one, well take heed. The quizzes are there to die for. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed the quizzes on the blog, and you’ll see more of it live in action, and as random teams come together to compete.

We are still looking for folks to take up various activities (If you are a good photographer, do let us know). So if you would like to help volunteer, the mailing list for the same is the first place to start, Have fun, keep your heads up high, and as we get together, let the voice that we always echo, echo once more – may the startups win!

PS: We’ll mostly be lurking around the venue starting tommorrow. Feel free to drop by and say hello. We do take encouragement in terms of homemade cookies too 😛 – Just kidding.

So this is how the evolution of services have been. First there were services which could not be expanded all over the place because the cost of rolling them out was huge. Take the case of banking services, telecom etc – it was not a simple task. Only the elite, socially rich could afford them because the prices were pretty much affordable only for those classes.

Then came software, commoditization of software and hardware and technology radically paved way for mass distribution of services everywhere and anywhere at a fraction of a cost.

The current stance is essentially is personalization. Not only is one demanding that they be serviced, but is also demanding that be serviced in a manner that suits them. Its the trend of the season and its gonna be here for a little while – bringing along with it, its own set of problems solutions and cause for change.

The timing that has been coincided with the proliferation of individual voices such as blogging, twittering etc have given this “personal me” a tremendous voice and power than ever before. It was said not too long ago, that the amount of noise that was created when AT&T blacked out a few years ago, is equivalent to the noise that is created when Robert Scoble or someone makes a comment on twitter these days. I am not surprised.

So what does this all mean? Two things. You have to ensure that you not only personalize and tailor make service for everyone, but you also have to keep them happy.

I am a little worried about our Indian companies in this space though. For one, lets take the example of the Telecom Giant Airtel. They have essentially become the 800 pound gorilla in the telecom space after they beat BSNL and just about everyone else in the way they’ve handled their branding, kept their market presence and with their customer support. But I’ve noticed something – a minor detail. I am on a prepaid Airtel account. I got a plan when some really strange offer was going on and i’ve kinda stuck to it – partly cause I see my colleagues struggling to keep up with running to the Airtel office every month to pay their bills. I really wish Airtel would do something along the lines of send a person to collect bills, atleast for those under a corporate banner. It would be a showstealer initiative. But coming back to the topic, I am on a prepaid account since its easier to recharge wherever you are, and my account doesn’t get disconnected on the note of not paying the bills in time. The occassional times that my credit does run low, I get this Interactive voice response unit which mentions that my account balance is low, and while it tries to fetch the balance remaining, it plays a tune saying “The feature is currently not functioning and is undergoing maintenance. We kindly request you to call after 6am tomorrow morning”. I heard that same note a year to six months ago. And I also have been hearing the same message from other users as well.

So, case in point. Airtel can’t manage the details. Perhaps its right that they don’t bid to go buy out south african companies yet. Not that reliance is any better. It’s also sad cause ever since Vodafone stepped in, Hutch which was the underdog, has become the bulldog of the turf and a few days ago there was a news that a fair bit of the top airtel executives were exiting. It’s a bit of sad news for an Indian company actually to get beaten up by Vodafone like this.

It doesn’t stop with them. I do have an account with Standard chartered and you wouldn’t believe some of the things they do, and expect people to walk away not noticing 🙂 They are one the slowest banks in terms of any service and charge for just about everything. But the state of all banks are as such here in India as of now. There is not much to say in comparison to anything better. Maybe HSBC and ICICI are fairly okay in that perspective. There is a company named Vyasa which was featured in proto.in which was exactly working towards this goal in the banking sector – to enable large banks to still mine data and provide customer friendly service.

This is where startups could thrive. Personalization and personal services are key to winning the heart of a customer. It’s crucial, nay a survival strategy for startups to understand and represent that attitude.

So lets say a startup does understand and embrace it, and grows to become fairly large. How does one still ensure that they keep that personal touch? I oft keep repeating that there is so much to learn from other sectors. In this case, the answer is very simple. Look into the case study of Mariott Hotels. The entire hotel was based on the ideology of offering a home away from home. They’ve scaled and expanded and yet kept that philosophy alive. Kingfisher in many aspects also embraces the same philosophy and it has become part of its branding. When you merge your core vision of setting your priorities as part of the branding of your organization, it becomes something much powerful than you can imagine.

Try it.

Create. Collaborate. Contribute. I think that’s pretty much the Mantra for the next step of Technology innovation for this country. Whoever came up with those three words must have been a genius 😛

All Jokes aside, those three words actually do sum up everything that we need in this place to build something that lasts and climbs up the ladder in terms of positioning in the global space.

Let me get to the concrete stuff. The Create, Collaborate and Contribute aspects first of all represent the Entrepreneurs, Industry and Investor Community and the Talent Pool. You could call them the three main facets of the innovation ecosystem – Idea. Money/Support. Talent. You have this in place – which is the bare essential – and the rest becomes fairly easier to manage.

There is also a second level of interaction in all this: The Collaborate bit. More than what I could ever say, Atul’s Talk at Proto.in on what it takes to be a technology leader summed it up. If we want to even dream about getting to a point where we can dare take down some of the assumed leaders, we are gonna have to make a leapfrog in terms of how we think, evolve, develop and innovate. The crucial aspect in achieving that leapfrog will come from collaborating.

To Quote Atul on This:

If a country has to be seen as a technology leader, it would mean that its not in the sum, or the various companies like Infosys or Wipro who do well, and hence decide whether India is seen as a technology leader, but its more than that. It is essentially how various companies interact, how they leverage the resources of each other, rather than each company reinvent the wheel. If you have a strength in a particular area, and someone else in another – rather than sitting in corners and reinventing the wheel, collaborate. The minute you start doing that, you become bigger than the sum of your parts. If you start doing this in a national level, thats when people start to sit up and take notice of a leader.

I think engaging with the Startups, and the need for Proto.in to bring them all under a common umbrella extends beyond just having the thrill of seeing the energy flow in the corridors of such meets. This is the first time in our history, after a long time, that we are in a position to set standards. This is the first time in a really long time that we are focused on building products and solutions, understanding the needs of the market. And as an entire community of “product centric” companies, it is this generation of startups that will define the next W3C, or GSM equivalent here in India to set the standards. Today we are mere consumers in the underlying technologies that power us. We build, but we build on top of what has already been defined by other markets. In a conversation with Veerchand Bothra, the man behind the MoMo movement in India, I was telling him the exact same words : “No longer do we have to say that we do not have the talent. No longer can we say that we dont have the subscriber base – we are one of the largest subscriber base for the mobile market and growing in the internet space. If we want to define something as to our whim, desire and convenience, we should be able to”.

If we really want to enable regional language SMS, embed regional fonts so that we can natively send them over air – rather than encoding on end devices like how its done – and we do come to this realization that we will need to define an SMS standard with 150 characters instead of the 140 that the world follows, just tell me… who stops us from doing it?

Collaborate, goes a little more than just companies collaborating. It goes to a systematic way of developing on top of what our peers are working on, building on our niches and strengths to deliver a unified platform that is extensible and available for all to use. If you need to think in terms of something which is already out there in the world, think of how the YUI came into place. Think of how the Ruby on Rails framework came into place. Someone developed it, someone else extended it, and a whole lot of people use it. Think about it from the Mobile, internet, and a much larger platform, and you’ll understand that the sum can truly be more than the greater than the parts. We’ve barely gotten there and when we do, there is much more fascinating things that we can expect.

Notes:
There is a Telecom Professionals Group that is already in place which brings together some extremely talented folks in the telecom space to collaborate, share and build on that. Building standards is part of their agenda.

Navjot Pawera was spearheading an Internet Standards Team, and it had quite a bit of response. Will update soon with more details on that.
Update: The name is Gurugeeks. More Info here.

Rajiv Poddar started this group named Voice of VoIP right after the barcamp bangalore sessions with some of the hurdles in the VoIP Space. That’s quite an active group as of now. You can join the group here.

Any other Standards and Technology Collaboration Development teams that you are aware of?