UnPluggd 2014

Ninth edition of the UnPluggd by NextBigWhat was held in May 2014. Like the previous editions this too was insightful. My first ‘Hi’ was to Suresh Sambandam, who was there to deliver a talk on the art of scale. It was a surprise to hear that Suresh haven’t had a formal technical education, studied commerce through distance education, still got hired by HP and later went on to start OrangeScape, a global top 10 Platform as a Service company. All I can understand from the pep talk was, he was passionate about computers and he had put in so much of hard work and dedication. Here is what he spoke about:
5 screw ups
  • Misjudging ramp up of new geography.
  • Engaging experts doesn’t always help.
  • Health equity is more important. Exercise and stay healthy.
  • Putting all the eggs in the startup basket. Have a backup so as to avoid frustration.
  • Telling bad news early.
5 learnings
  • Sales is intuitive.
  • Platforms need an application facade.
  • Money comes in different shades of green.
  • Networking doesn’t help beyond a point.
  • Mentors > Advisors > Board of Directors. Less vested, more value.
5 right things
  • First learn and then delegate. Make them successful.
  • Keeping cool at all times. Live the present.
  • Rolling up the sleeves. Growth changes only the task.
  • Hiring good talent.
  • Having a healthy and happy personal life.
How Suresh classified lead generation,
  • Seeds – blogs, articles, being in the news.
  • Net – programs and road shows.
  • Spear – sharp shooting based on customer profile research.
Insights on scaling up – the common floor story by Vikash Malpani. Humble beginnings. Pivoting. Building a strong team. Building quality. Measure. Learn. Stay frugal. Vikash stressed on the importance of a strong foundation and staying focused. Quoted AAP on how premature scaling can be more dangerous.
Amarpreet of Frrole spoke on cracking traction, the team, Plan B, conviction and stubborn persistence and Ankit from Unicommerce said there is no perfect time to start. So start now. He also advised to build a strong support team before ramping up sales. Success is 1% idea 99% execution.
Ashish, Mukesh and Sachin, discussing the story of Flipkart's Myntra acquisition

Ashish, Mukesh and Sachin, discussing the story of Flipkart’s Myntra acquisition

The product management workshop quoted a few experiments like why people choose pay now option on a travel portal rather than pay at hotel, because travellers felt that paying online while booking, made them feel secured/assured. It is important that we listen to end users to fine tune the product, but in this case when the users were given incentives and called for testing and to study their behaviour, they came prepared and thus were not behaving as natural users. The panel on Cracking the Consumer Code enlightened on how consumers are mysterious and the need to constantly experiment.
The brave talk on failures was an opportunity to learn from others mistakes. What went wrong and what can we learn?
  • Fell in love with the solution and not the problem.
  • Zero business model.
  • Times changed, we didn’t.
  • Too much importance on design. Ship the product quick and fine tune.
  • Market is important.
  • Too involved in daily activities.
  • Hire slow fire fast.
  • Emotional roller coaster drains you drastically.
  • Need to have a very supporting partner.
  • Do research: test to fail, build a user persona, meet real people, loathe researcher’s bias, alternatives research.
  • Fail fast: learn to do a bit of programming (res: code academy, treehouse )
  • Write, Analyse.
Dilemma of an entrepreneur:  onlookers wonder "Wow! a courageous man is riding a lion"; the person on the lion (entrepreneur) wonders "How the hell did I get on top of it!" and is in a dilemma to get down or not!

Dilemma of an entrepreneur: onlookers wonder “Wow! Someone courageous is riding a lion”; the person on the lion (entrepreneur) wonders “How the hell did I get on top of it!” and is in a dilemma to get down or not!

While sharing his lessons on failure, Kingsley of TripThirsty quoted “Schadenfreude” – the enjoyment obtained from someone else’s misery. Yes there are some people waiting to take pleasure if an entrepreneur fails and we should learn to survive the aftermath. Bravo! for boldly coming on stage and sharing the lessons from failure.

Construkt Fest – Convergence of the Creators!

In Mar 2013, I was excited to be at the Startup Festival, celebrating the rise of Bangalore as the startup capital of India. The insights I gained and the fun I had, made me wait eagerly for the 2014 edition. It did come, however with more creative stuffs and re-branded as the Construkt Festival, to celebrate the convergence of Creators: Artists, Activists, Change Makers, Designers, Entrepreneurs, Engineers, Social Innovators, Restaurateurs, Chefs, Brewmasters, Hackers, Makers and Muscians. 
 
Spread over 4 days, the first 2 days were the Crawls, where we get to visit various startups in tech, social, design and culinary, listening to the founders, seeing their offices, studios, restaurants and brewery and taking insights from their journey as a creator/entrepreneur. The last 2 days marked the actual festival, held at Jayamahal Palace, Bangalore. With multiple stages, studios, flee market, eateries, and a lots of fun, I got to gain a lots of wisdom, meet various creators and make a few friends. In toto, its was an Awesome four days of Crawl! Learning! Creativity! Networking & Great Fun! Pictures would convey the message better.
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Sanjay Anandaram, speaking on the Entrepreneurial Mindset

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Construkt Collision, an induced networking orchestrated by Jessica Tangelder

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Colliding randomly and networking

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The crawl at The Egg Factory

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The Crawl at Something’s Cooking, where we get to bond over cooking & I learnt to prepare pizza!

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Eagerly listening to the journey of Little Eye Labs, which recently got acquired by the Facebook

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Rubanomics. Transforming rural lives. They live by their name Head Held High

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Cocktail workshop at The Humming Tree

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Vishwas Mudagal autographing his book ‘Loosing my religion’. One more added to my collection of books signed by the authors!

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Became a fan of these two vibrant, amazing ladies, Shilo Shiv Suleman and Alica Souza

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Thanks to Mr. Kappansky 🙂

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Jamming with Montry Manuel

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Thanks to The Humming Tree, F16’s & Thaalavattam for the musical night

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The F16’s

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Avril Stromy Unger!

UnPluggd – Winter Edition 2013

NextBigWhat came up with the winter edition of the startup conference, Unpluggd. In the last edition, Vishal Gondal’s talk lit the fire in me and this time it was Paras Chopra, Founder & CEO of Wingify, who caught my heart.
Vijay Ram Kumar, Founder of Hoverr @ UnPluggd

Here is the bootstrapped story of Wingify, an A/B testing company built by Paras, who learnt programming early in his life, but chose to major in biotechnology because he wanted to learn something new. Wow! that’s a cool attitude. He got inspired by Paul Graham’s essays, listed all his interests on a piece of paper, picked the top one and went on to startup. 

Having done a few failed college projects similar to start ups and starting up Kroomsa, a platform for independent bands/artists, Paras was in his own fantasy world dreaming of Kroomsa’s massive hit. He wanted the world to notice though nobody noticed, he said. He later realised that he was not marketing well and wanted to hone those skills, went on to share the subsequent products with Hacker news took the feedback and was heart broken. In his words, “I wanted to die. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Paras said, making a comprehensive kichdi confuses users, whose attention span is less and nobody goes through help section. Usability and user on boarding is very important. Focus matters and he focused on just one feature after dumping so many other efforts he had put in. He advised on involving potential user from day one, focusing on customer feedback, being close to them and rapidly iterating on the feedback. Competition can copy the product but not the culture  and customer service. Getting covered on tech crunch, writing in lots of places, blogs, case studies, twitter, reviews and through inbound content marketing, Wingify positioned themselves as thought leader in their area. 
There were established players like Google Website Optimizer and Omniture who were competitors of Wingify, but he had priced the product substantially low because his initial humble goal was a simple revenue of Rs. 50,000, which was the salary he was getting that time. Fortunately they got a first month revenue of $4000 and touched one million dollar revenue in 18 months. That’s a quite nice money and Wingify now has 3300 customers across 70 countries. VCs eventually started contacting, but Paras believes that funding is not a milestone. That is a misconception. Funding is like home loan. You don’t celebrate when you take home loan. It can make sense when you have a precise plan. Also realise that investors are not friends but partners. They have some legal clauses that can thwart your way of running a company.
On stressing the importance of a co-founder, Paras said we can’t rely on employees for everything and need someone with whom we can share stuff with and for that matter, a great co-founder is good. We need to figure out someone with whom we share a good relationship with and not sure how people are confident posting something like ‘looking for a co-founder’ on job sites. And before closing, he reiterated that India can build great product companies and Wingify wishes to be one.
Other speakers also left us with some wonderful insights. Manav Garg, who didn’t have a background in the software industry and was a commodities trader took the road not taken and built Eka, a software provider for global commodity market. Here are the insights from his talk:
  • Focus on prototyping instead of pitching.
  • Sales is a serious business and it should be sales, sales and sales in the first year.
  • The first sales person is really important and one simple way to hire him is by looking at his past performance.
  • Talk to potential customers. Persuade. People are always ready for a cup of coffee. 
  • Investors are not always right.
  • Focus. You are in the drivers seat and can’t take your eyes off the road ever. There is no room for distractions.
  • Laying emphasis on being very frugal, Manav reflected Warren Buffet’s quote “If you buy things you don’t need, soon you will have to sell things you need.”
  • Your company is only as good as your writing. Take risks.
  • Focus on cash flow. Bring in paying customers without delay. 
  • Create a team who can run as fast as you.
  • Scale the product along with continuous improvement.
  • Put all the money back into the product initially. Invest in R&D.
  • Outperform on the promises. Delighted customer is a multi million dollar marketing campaign.
  • Hiring across continent is a biggest leap of faith for an entrepreneur. Get the top notch sales people.
  • You might not win every battle, you ll have to find the perfect fit.

Sanjay Swamy, Managing Partner at AngelPrime while talking on doing business with large companies, said:

  • Research your customer well. Associate with someone who wants to be no. 1.
  • Offer something that the customer can’t get anywhere else.
  • Test the market early. Do not keep the idea an ultra secret. That will not help.
  • One way of approaching a probable partner is to find a rising star in a large company who is ready to take risk to prove himself and proceeding through him.
  • Very soon go for paid pilots, build relationships and establish processes.
  • Sign an NDA as early as possible and be serious about each other.
  • Have a good cop and a bad cop to tackle issues with customers.
  • Maintain the exclusivity and advantage over pricing.

Aprameya said TaxiForSure was a serendipity and I later found that they have even named their company as Serendipity Infolabs. Being hands on has helped them develop the back-end system and he stressed on the importance of being frugal so as to achieve more with less. On being asked on how he had changed to suit the needs of the business, he said he learnt to speak the language of operators, with whom they collaborate with.

Nikil, Co-founder of Tint talked on lessons learnt in making Tint profitable. Here are his pointers:
  • Be a hustler.
  • “When I’m old and dying, I plan to look back on my life and say “wow, that was an adventure,” not “wow, I sure felt safe.” Tom Preston-Werner.
  • Be opportunistic.
  • Be tenacious.
  • “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” – Steve Jobs.
  • Be open to partnerships.
  • Charge your customers. Charge you customers higher.
  • Focus on inbound marketing & organic growth. People, Product, Culture.
4 people, 11 months, 40,000 brands, 3000 paying customers and 1+ million dollars revenue. Besides all these, he was humbled by the fact that Sachin & AR Rahman are using his product. What else?

Unpluggd was a platform for Pickle.io, CloudEngine, ZapStitch, Senseforth, DigiCollect, Hoverr.me and MagnetWorks to pitch their offerings and with MagnetWorks, I saw how the Internet of Things is going to evolve. 
The final discussion by BK Birla and Kunal Shah was on whether founders would be the best CEOs. They stressed the importance of finding a mentor who is harsh with you, who is not a cynic but who gives genuine feedback. It was a day well spent for me. Thanks to NextBigWhat 🙂

UnPluggd 2013

Every time I attend workshops or conferences at TiE or Yourstory, I think of doing a write-up  summarizing the insights I have gained, but for some lazy reasons, I never came up with one. Last week I attended UnPluggd 2013, which attracted entrepreneurs, geeks, investors and angels and was also a launchpad for a few startups and it was this talk by Vishal Gondal, the founder of Indiagames, that instilled me to write this time. Vishal didn’t rely on powerpoint and instead conveyed his messages as stories, which were quite cool and here are his 10 commandments for entrepreneurs:
 
  1. Thou shall have balls and not business-plans
  2. Thou shall develop relationships and not transactions
  3. Thou shall focus on real pain-points
  4. Thou shall be number 1 or 2
  5. Thou shall focus on 20%
  6. Thou shall avoid MBAs and spreadsheet-makers
  7. Thou shall celebrate failures and enjoy your journey
  8. Thou shall not want to sell
  9. Thou shall stay fit
  10. Thou shall win with … passion.
Vishal also said that an entrepreneur shouldn’t get intimidated by the bullies, should learn how to achieve speed while riding on empty tank and also learn to  keep the team motivated.
 
Kailash Katkar, cofounder and chairman of Quick Heal narrated his inspirational journey from repairing calculators and radios to encouraging his brother who was studying computer science, to come up with a solution to clean the viruses from computers that came to him for servicing, to eventually starting up Quick Heal Technologies, the renowned Indian software security solutions company, which has presence in close to 50 countries around the world with an expected turnover of Rs.240 crores this year.
 
It was a very humble yet courageous talk by Radhakrishna, founder of iStream, an online video service provider, which they had to shutdown recently. Radha spoke about their problem with raising funds and the reasons like piracy and low level of acceptance for subscription based models in India but was still confident on the potential for online content/video services, the support from his team and his determination to bounce back.
 
Sachin Bansal, cofounder of Flipkart said if he were to start another company, it would definitely be on internet and in India and explained the reason for Flyte MP3 shutdown in simple math. i.e Flipkart’s music CD section gets 1/6th of users but 3x more revenue than it’s Flyte MP3 downloads which means, revenue from sale of physical CDs is 18x that of Flyte MP3. Moreover, he said, their experiment to attract customers by giving limited period of free downloads was not fruitful because customers who purchase music by means of online download do not feel that they own it as much as when they buy CDs. Then, we also have the problem of piracy, very rampant here.
 
The final inspiration came from Lalit Patel, Co-Founder, BASH Gaming, who after 18 failed experiments, zoomed from $0 to $55mn in revenue through his most successful game Bingo Bash. His message: Passion and Persistence.
 
Appreciate the bunch of entrepreneurs who launched their products and for the effort they have put in creating something wonderful. However, most of them lacked the enthusiasm while being on stage. They might have faced some hurdles backstage but as Muhammad Ali once said, “To be a great champion, you have to believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.”
 
“The perfect pitch must be powerful, potent, polished, and most importantly, practiced!” -Anonymous