Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Archive for the ‘The Knowledge Foundation’ 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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Update: This post was made on April 7th, much before the recently concluded Barcamp Bangalore 6. Keep that in mind.

Barcamps, they are happening everywhere now. There are debates and raging discussions on as to whether we “interpreted” the format right, but whether or not, its still going on. Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Kerala, Hyderabad and maybe even more have joined that league of extraordinary unconference hosts. Here’s a random and crazy idea to mull over, debate and discuss. I can already sense half my readers getting ready with pitchforks and flame throwers, but as long as it leads to something beneficial, I am all for it. Here goes:

I know that everybody is thinking this but let me say it out loud: I think someone in India got the barcamp format totally wrong. Barcamps, as we do it in India are not conversational. They are very, and very speaker-centric. We kinda figured this out when the team in Chennai started out on this audacious project to write a book on Unconferences. The project, I believe is abandoned – or perhaps just a little dorcile, but we did learn quite a bit of stuff while we were at it, since the project brought together quite a bit of people from across the globe, including a fair bit of heavy weights. So I guess, I could say that I did hear from the source as to where we got the definitions wrong.

Contrary to Popular belief, Unconferences aren’t anything new. They are quite old actually – as old as 1970 actually. Unconferences just went by a different name – “Open Space Conferences”. It essentially meant that all the participants came together to run the conference. Hmm.. sounds quite close to the definition we use for barcamps and its sister camps I would say, wouldn’t you?

It was almost during the time when we realized that barcamps were too speaker centric, and getting diluted in content that the Chennai Team, under the Banner of TKF, decided to run with more focused verticals to drive deep into a topic. Hence, Blogcamp, Wikicamp, Podworks and the likes were born. The credit goes to Kiruba for putting the brains behind the inceptions, and the enormous energy of the team that makes it all happen.

Now that the pleasantries are over, lets get back to the topic.

Siddharth, a fellow blogger/unconference lover/startup entrepreneur and I had a discussion over our trip to Mumbai to attend the barcamp there. Its during that trip that he was discussing how he had attended a workshop on Agile Methodologies in Hyderabad which totally blew his brains out as to how “barcamps are conversational”. I must say that I agree with him. We are not doing something right.

A couple of things we could do to improve things:

1. Get rid of the Projector and the PPT. Stick with whiteboards, and even better, limit the audience of each session to 20 – 30 people max. Smaller groups are more conversational. Larger groups tend to sit back and act “audience”.

2. Small is beautiful. We need to let go of the obcession to get people signed up in the hundreds. The pain to organize an event in such a scale, is simply not worth it. In most cases I see the organizers burnt out before the morning sessions of the first day get over.

3. Focus. Focus. Focus. Pick a theme, topic and go deep into it. Don’t run topics which are as wide as “Politics. Technology. Startups”. One wouldnt know what to do with it. You arent really dealing with an uber smart audience. Most folks are spectators and the rest are there hoping to learn a thing or two.

4. Have some solid deliverables. Ten people in a room, all knowing how to count to three, cannot magically learn how to count to ten just cause they were debating, arguing and in the same room. You need to ensure that there is a mix of people who are willing to share, and people willing to learn, and even better if the sharing types are more. Lately I am getting nothing out of barcamps, apart from meeting people. And I am quite positive that I am not that all-knowing… Yet! 🙂 There is definitely more to learn, with the pace at which platforms and technologies are evolving, and it would be great if that was looked into.

5. Keep everyone within the same room if possible. The law of two feet only works here, otherwise you might need cars and golf carts to carry you around 🙂

6. Keep it simple. Dont complicate it by having it in 17 rooms and three more “outdoorsy” spots included to that. Goes back to point 2.

I am not sure if anyone is listening, but if you are It’d be great to have all, or atleast some of these taken care of in future plannings.

As for the title, a few of us are mulling over a very radical different idea of a barcamp. It is going to incorporate most of the above mentioned points, and most of all will require the least amount of logistical nightmares. In a day when softwares could automate, and processes could be simplified, months of prep work for “barcamps” simply cant be justified. We are hoping to make things simpler, effective, with oodles of new learning, all done in a fun environment. Now, that’s a guarantee!

The Mint, of Hindustan times has an article on Proto.in – quite a nice piece with a good coverage of where Proto has come from and where it is aiming to grow to.

The Excerpt reads:

Proto.in, the start-up showcase event that debuted this January, is going national. Chennai, the city that seeded the event, will play host one last time next month before the somewhat unique showcase event begins its rotation across other start-up hubs in the country. The two editions of the event held so far in Chennai have connected 52 start-ups with venture capitalists (VC) and industry experts.

“We’ve had a great response (to the concept), so we want to standardize the format and move it to different cities. It might be a couple of years before it comes to Chennai again,” says Vijay Anand, chief organizer of Proto. The venue for the January edition moves for the first time beyond the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras campus—Proto’s birthplace.

Over the next few years, Proto could potentially emerge as the signature start-up event in India. In less than 12 months, the forum has seen participation by close to 200 start-ups and garnered the support of several investors and industry bodies such as the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). Twenty-four VCs participated at the event in July this year, including Helion Venture Partners, Nexus India Capital, Matrix Partners India and Clearstone Venture Partners.

The Registrations for the upcoming edition of Proto is open and filling up fast, so do book your seats if you are curious to know what we are planning for one of the biggest editions of Proto.in that Chennai has to see in 2008.

Proto Logo

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The finally awaited moment is here – well, atleast the first of it. The nominations are open for companies that do want to submit their products for evaluation, out of which 20 companies will present before an esteemed audience – the creme de la crop, the movers and the shakers of the IT industry from and around India on the dates of January 18th and 19th 2008 in Chennai, India.

If you are a company that wants to make a nomination, head to the website at http://www.proto.in and click on the nominate link, on the right hand side, enter the details and hit submit. A copy of the nomination form will be mailed to you. But should you require a copy, in case, do write to me and someone from the Proto.in team will be sure to respond to you at the earliest.

As always, there is an entry fee attached to this. But you wont have to make a payment till you are confirmed to one of the 20 finalists who will be taking on the stage.That said, we also do request you to kindly make an evaluation of the product yourself, and with your peers and only submit products that are complete and ready for demonstration so as to not take the time of the organizers or have any disappointments. There is nothing that i would hate to see than for your team and company not being able to make an impact because of an unpolished demo or product which isnt able to convey the solution that you have built with such commitment.

If you do have any queries on this regard, do let me know and in the meantime, I strongly encourage you to take a visit to the site, and cruise around so that you get a good understanding of what Proto.in is about and what we are hoping that you will benefit from.

I would also, at this time, like to clarify that entering into Proto, and showcasing your product as one of the 20 might not be the only criteria for funding, as much as that is one of the activities that happens around the stage. Investor firms might decide to sit back and watch as you evolve from that snapshot on the stage to a few months before they decide to make a deal, depending on the growth that you are showing. I wanted to make sure that expectations are set right in terms of those who would be nominating.

Of the crowd that attends Proto.in, there are segments of people from the VC and Angel Investment Community, Heads of Mergers and Acquisitions, Our Friends from the Media (Print and broadcast), Executives from Large corporates and SMEs who are exploring partnerships, Professionals who are looking for prospective companies to be a part of, and pool of bloggers looking to get a glimpse of the next big thing to happen out of this region. We can assure you that it is the liveliest gathering of all your well-wishers from the ecosystem, if you are to be an entrepeneur.

There are a few other invited guests from the Industry who are to visit us this edition, from abroad and the names are yet to be revealed. We will disclose them as the days close in, so that the excitement still remains.

Thanks again for your attention and time, and I look forward to seeing you at the event. Good luck and Be in touch.

As part of the Knowledge Foundation, I’ve been involved in the organization of the team behind a fair bit of events – all the way from Barcamp, Blogcamp, Podworks, etc etc. One of the commonality – and some might say toughest part – is the sponsorship support that you need to raise for such initiatives. There are enough well-intended companies and people out there who would definitely help you out, and hats off to them for the support of such corporates and well wishers, but there are also companies which would commit to sponsorship and later on after the event is over, all communications would simply cease. That’s not good.

Most of the time, the blame seems to be on attritions as well, since the middle manager who was the “champion within” and got this sanctioned isn’t around anymore and you need to establish contact with a new manager and explain to him, and its almost a new pitch all over – and they might or might not be impressed. That is not a position to want to be in.

During my conversations with some of the barcamp and similar-themed conference organizers (including Shaastra, IIT’s biggest tech event), the problem always is in following up with the commitments of the sponsors. The success rate of retrieving committed sponsorships, seem to be quite low. The team in IIT has evolved to tackle this issue, and so have others. Here are the tips.

Better than Cure.
1. Sign and MoU, and make it binding. Along with the design of your sponsorship kit, do ask the representative to sign an MoU. Either pay the money in advance or sign a binding MoU, or its technically a no-game. Keep it simple as that.

When You need to Cure.
2. Use a little bit of leverage. At the end of the day, these sponsors did decide to sponsor the event, because they wanted to reach out to a specific community. Well, tell them that they are never going to be able to do that anymore, if they cant keep their promises. There are incidents where teams have sent a subtle message of blogging about this incident in the blogosphere – but I would suggest handling such things in peaceful means as much as possible.

I would strongly go with the first point. It is simple, and while both the parties are eager to participate and the event is still on planning mode, it is quite easy to get these matters in place, rather than later.

*sigh* Back to writing an email on handling a similar situation with TKF.

There are about 33 VC firms in India and more than 70 Angels who are focused on technology and technology-based companies here in India. From the way things are heading, I can almost count about ten new funds that will possibly start here in India. The average fund size of a VC firm is somewhere between 200 – 800 million dollars. All of this is the usual numbers that people throw at you. Just because the presence is there doesn’t mean a rash decision to invest in every company that comes their way.

If you are a technology startup, or any company for that matter and wouldn’t classify yourself to be in the “growth” stage, I would strongly urge you to stay away from Venture capital.

Let me give you my reasons:

1. Timing: The minute you take money from a VC, the inherent statement you have just made is that you have sold your company. No VC is interested in a company that doesn’t have a clear-cut exit. If there isnt one, there are some firms who would create one. They call it liquidation. It’s better not to get into that position.

The right time to look for Venture capital is when you have already built a company, it is revenue-generating and even maybe profitable and you want to expand.

2. Liability: Until you’ve seen a term sheet and have read through all the clauses and understood them, you will not realize how loaded VC money really is. It’s not even in the slightest manner something that should be taken lightly. I would urge you to go find a sample term sheet, go through all the clauses, find their meanings and come back to agree with me on this.

3. Pressure: A seat on the board is great. An experienced board member will bring along with himself tremendrous experience, value and networks to tap into along with him. He will also keep you and your team focused – that said, you also lose a little bit of freedom to do what you want to do or to do radical strategy changes. You’ve already sold the company, remember?

4.Acceleration: I don’t think I could explain this without borrowing/stealing my mentors words on this. “Venture capital is very much like Nitro. It really makes you car go vroom. But you also want to be very careful about which vehicle is receiving this, because if the internal structure of the car isnt ready to handle the extra speed, everything could crumble in half a meter into the road.”

Build your core team first. Build your product. Identify and clearly focus on your market segment. Be profitable and when there is no other option but to grow and you are 100% sure about it, drop a note to a VC. That’s the best time to have that coffee discussion.

June 9th and 10th, set in Tidel park Chennai, Podworks is set to roll. If you are interested in a workshop that can teach you everything from the basics to the advanced, of how to podcast, then this is a workshop that you shouldn’t miss.

For more details, visit www.podworks.in