Over the weekend of Feb 20 – 22nd 2015, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Udaipur’s Entrepreneurship Cell “Saksham” organized a 32 hour startup challenge event (Prarambh). This was the 2nd time an event like this was organized (and I’m extremely lucky to be a part of both events) and having attended both of these events (you can read my blog post on the 1st event here), I can say that this event was much bigger and better than the previous one. We had more participants coming up for the event and the ideas that were presented this time were much-much better than the previous one. In this blog post I will try to summarize the event and my learnings from the event. To spice things up, I’ll try to write this post as if it were a movie :).
The plot (or premise) of the event remained the same as that of the previous event: potential/current entrepreneurs would pitch their ideas (they get about 90 seconds for that). These ideas will get voted by all participants which include them as well as other business/technology enthusiasts who registered for the event and top 8 ideas would move to the next round. Idea pitchers from these top 8 teams would then pick up their team from the participants and then start working on building a “Minimum Viable Product (MVP)” in the next 32 hours. During the course of those 32 hours, they will be helped by a number of mentors to refine and fine-tune their idea and MVP. At the end of the 32 hours, they will have to present their idea in front of judges who will then pick up a winner and a runner up.
As I said in my previous post about this event, having to form team on the fly and work on the idea really fostered team building, flexibility and openness.
The actors were the 8 teams who made it to the next round. Each team comprised of 5-6 team members. The teams were:
Ping Bits is a smart messaging app which would understand the context of your conversations. I think it tries to overcome a major shortfall in today’s messaging apps and that is the conversations are really one dimensional. To explain it further, let’s say I am chatting with a friend of mine and my friend says – “Let’s meet tomorrow at 10:00 AM”. Now what I would need to do is move out of the app, go to my calendar and then see if I am available or not. Ping Bits tries to solve this problem by understanding the context of the conversation, which in this case is that somebody wants to meet me. It will automatically search my calendar and tell me inside the Ping Bits app if or not I am available. Pretty neat, Huh!!! It is not restricted to just meetings only. It can search for movies and restaurants in the nearby area based on the context of the conversation.
This is yet another interesting app. When I first heard the idea during the pitch (and they got only 90 seconds to pitch the idea), I thought “what’s the big deal”? We do have calendars and anybody can send the request to block my calendar to set a reminder and calendar app in my mobile will pop a message 15 minutes before the event. It’s only after I interacted with the team I realized how neat the idea is!!! Basically the problem with traditional reminder system is that it only has date and time dimension. It is not aware of my current location. For example, consider this reminder “Be sure to pick up grocery after you leave the office”. Very valid reminder, don’t you think? In current reminder systems this would fail simply because 1) the system does not which location is “office” and 2) there was no predefined time; I could leave office at 4:00 PM, 5:00 PM or 6:00 PM. Remind me tried to solve this problem. Another interesting implementation of this idea could be in the healthcare sector when a wearable device is constantly communicating various health related data points to the mobile device of the patient and somebody close to patient can receive alerts if any data points show some anomalies.
Thank You Buddy
This idea is from my good friend Dinesh. Before I talk about this idea, let me talk a bit more about him. Dinesh attended last year’s event also and he came this year as well. Not only he came, he came with an entourage :). He brought his team and some fellow entrepreneurs from Surat. If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”, he is the one you would call a “Connector”, a “Maven” and a “Salesman” (Chapter 2 – The Law of the Few)
Now coming to his idea! When he pitched the idea I thought it is a slam dunk idea!!! Basically his idea was very simple – We know that there are certain things which are not available in my country and we would get them cheap if we were to get them from abroad. For example, an iPhone costs almost double in India than in the US. Personally I can completely relate to his idea as I am constantly bugging my friends settled abroad to get me stuff when they are coming to India. His idea is to connect travelers and product seekers. Product seeker would put a request for a product and a traveler travelling soon would buy the the product for them. Simple, yet so practical.
Yet another interesting idea which included smart apps and Internet of Things (IoT). Basically the idea is simple – instead of looking for deals in a mall, let the deals come directly to you as you walk around in a mall. The idea is that you walk with this app installed on your mobile device and as soon as you walk past a store (or approaching a participating store), they would push the deals happening in the store on your mobile device. Reminded me of “Minority Report”
Recently I sold a piece of land and came to experience the hassles of selling first hand!!! Bharat Broker guys are trying to make this process as enjoyable and frictionless as possible through infusion of technology in the process wherever needed. What I really liked about the team is that they had “domain knowledge”. They came from families who are in this business and as the saying goes “they live and breathe this stuff day-in-day-out”. They knew the exact pain points they were trying to solve (more on this below).
In short what this team tried to build is a smart menu system by taking the conventional paper-based menu and digitizing it in form of an app. Targeted for high-end restaurants, they want to take their menus and making it smart by providing recommendations (e.g. which wine would go with this food), nutritional contents (e.g. calories, ingredients etc.), and possibility of personalization (e.g. last time you ordered this dish, what’s popular, restaurant specialty etc.).
It’s a different story that they may get potentially sued by “you know who” for using the letter “i” in front of their product name :), I thought it was a really interesting concept. Basically the idea was to make smart jars and bins for home and restaurant kitchens which can track the consumption of items and predicting when you may run out of stock. A neat idea for IoT, I must say!!!
Of all the teams, this one is closest to my heart for 2 reasons – 1) This was the only team with a girl in lead (not to sound sexist or anything) and 2) They were this year’s “Help Me Help U” (one of the last year’s Prarambh team). They pivoted and pivoted and pivoted but the great thing about this team was that they did not give up.
Basically their idea was to enable local mom-and-pop grocery stores by digitizing their inventory management process (which mostly happens on papers today) by making use of ubiquitous and cheap smart phones.
The financiers were the companies and institutes who sponsored this event. This time Prarambh saw a wide variety of sponsors and partners including some really big names and local establishments who believed in the idea of entrepreneurship. Sponsors included TiE Rajasthan Chapter, Quikr, State Bank of India, Microsoft Ventures, Applied Info Sciences Private Limited, Allahabad Bank, Advaiya Labs (Technology Mentor), Hotel Manwar (Dinner Partner), Hotel Ambience (Hospitality Partner), Blisstasy (Merchandise Partner), Egg Station (Food Partner), NEN (Networking partner), Choudhary Printers (Print Sponsors).
The critics were the mentors and judges for the event and I feel privileged and honored (yet again :)) to be a part of this elite group as a mentor. Our job as mentor was to help the teams in accomplishing their goals.
The mentors included Dilip Kumar (Co-Founder & CEO –Inolyst), Tathagat Varma (Founder, Thought Leadership), Rajiv Agarwal (Co-Founder, Intelli Organics), Ramesh Loganathan (VP (Products) & Center Head, Progress Software), and Ashish Bhatnagar (Founder at Croissance Consulting Pvt Ltd.).
The judges included Shailesh Vikram Singh (Investment manager with SeedFund), Rajnessh Bhandari (Director, Cosmo Infrasolutions, President TiE Rajasthan, Executive Committee– Rajasthan Angel Investors Network (RAIN)) and Pranay Chulet (Founder and CEO of Quikr India Private Limited).
The Production Team
Now that would be team Saksham – Entrepreneurship Cell of IIM Udaipur. They were kind enough to involve me right from the beginning thus giving me a great learning opportunity to see how they planned for this event and executed it. Trust me when I say this, it was not an easy thing to do but these guys pulled it off with great panache and executed this event flawlessly. It was completely organized by the students of IIM Udaipur and they tool care of everything – arranging sponsorships, fostering partnerships, finding out mentors and making sure that they had a great time while they were at the event, managing registrations, and playing perfect hosts to the participants!
While it was a team effort and everybody in the team played an important part, there are two people I want to mention specifically – Vaibhav Arora and Riya Aggarwal. They are the students of passing out batch (graduating in next few weeks actually) and were involved heavily in the first edition of Prarambh. This year most of their other batch mates either opted out of the Saksham team or did not visibly contribute to the event, these guys stood there like a pillar of strength. What they did is a prime example of “Leading By Example”. They could either have opted out like their other batch mates or played a passive or managerial role (by telling the 1st year students as to what needs to be done) but they did not. No sir, they absolutely did not!!! They were involved in the process completely and made sure that no stone is unturned. It was an amazing experience seeing their leadership qualities in action! What’s more surprising is that both of them opted for corporate job (why they did it is another story) but still these guys believed in what Prarambh & Sasksham Club stood for and I admire them for that.
And The Oscar Goes To ..
The winner of the event was Ping Bits team. There were two runners up – Remind Me and Thank You Buddy.
TiE Rajasthan Chapter (title sponsor of the event) promised the winning team seed funding for their venture. Microsoft Ventures also promised the winning teams mentorship on how to get into their accelerator program.
My Learnings & Observations
I went to this event with the hope to learn and this post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t share what I learned and observed. So here it goes (in no particular order):
- Don’t Sell Features, Sell Benefits – This was a quote from my friend Dinesh and I totally agree with him. When you’re building a product, you’re trying to solve a problem for somebody. Sell that!!!
- Focus is important – This is something I observed when I interacted with the teams (and I am a culprit of this as well). What I noticed is that they were trying to do too many things! It’s actually quite natural to have a breadth in your offering but at the same time it has been proven that doing just one thing (but doing it absolutely great) matters more than doing a lot of things.
- Somewhere, domain knowledge helps – This is something I learned from Bharat Broker team. They had the domain knowledge and they know the business they are in inside out. Having this kind of knowledge is certainly helpful because you know what you’re talking about.
- Best way to learn running a business is by actually running a business – This was a quote from my friend Pranay and I couldn’t agree with him more! It’s just that you can’t learn playing guitar by watching videos and never playing the instrument ever. You need to get calluses :).
- Folks will have a lot of advice but most of the time they don’t know what they are talking about – This was again a quote from Pranay. When you go down the entrepreneurial route, you will get boat loads of advice. Hear that without prejudice but do what your gut tells you do because ultimately the success and failure of your startup depend on the decisions you took. You can’t really blame anybody for that.
- Get your priorities straight – This was my observation. Essentially what I observed is that some of the teams wanted to implement really high-end technical solution like fetching data in real time and stuff for the MVP they were trying to build. What they would need to understand is that while it is all great, they were constrained by time and in context of the event nobody really cared how elegant their solution is from technology perspective (you get 10 minutes for the presentation so judges don’t really care if your solution is running on node.js/mongo DB and making use of NLP or you’re fetching the website data in real time using CURL). Understand what the context is and set your priorities accordingly.
All in all I think the event was a great success! We got more participation than last year. We also got great ideas as well as teams. Let’s hope this trend continues and I get to be a part of this great event!