NASSCOM Product Conclave

Over the past few years, startup culture started finally taking shape in Pune. Many startup related events keep happening. Accordingly to one estimate, there are about 400 startups in Pune and the new debate has started occurring whether Pune is new Bengaluru. With startup culture, the product culture also is on the rise. We have been having  Pune Connect events, particularly, promoting this product culture. I had attended there 2012 edition. NASSCOM also has been having Product Conclave sessions, in Pune, since last four years. I finally managed to attend this time. Here is a blog on what I experienced.

The venue was The Westin hotel on east side of Pune. Conferences like these typically have many sessions, and many of them run parallel. So one needs to really decide on what one wants to attend to get most of out of it. These days apps and websites such as sched.com come handy. I also had my schedule chalked out before hand using this app. I reached venue just before 9 am, that is when first keynote was to begin. We had Dr Ganesh Natrajan speak to begin with.  He is pleasure to listen to always. He walked us through NASSCOM’s journey into startups and products and how it has recently launched Startup Warehouse initiative. He also, obviously, touched upon his favorite topic-smart city initiatives for Pune. After him, Ashok Soota spoke on business strategies. This is the first time I heard him. He is a founder famous IT services company MindTree. And now, at age of 69, he has started new company called Happiest Minds. He also spoke about his book Entrepreneurship Simplified. Then followed a session on success stories of entrepreneurs from non-Metro cities of Maharashtra such as Jalgaon, Satara, Kolhapur etc. I was particularly impressed by Aurangabad’s Prashant Deshpande’s company Expert Global Solutions, with its growth despite operating from tier 2 city.

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After this, many sessions happened in parallel. You can find details on those here. I will describe what I attended.

I skipped many of those sessions related to, usual buzzwords such as, IoT, analytics, blockchain etc. First I walked into a session titled “User Research: Transforming your startup idea into viable product”. This was about, needless to say, user research aspects while designing a product. This is pertains to UX or user experience.Typically, it is confused with market research which is different. User research focuses on how users will use the product, their needs, behavioral patterns directly supplying inputs to UX design. I also attended partially, a session titled “Cyber Security: Mitigating DDoS” which was related to getting under the hood of one of the significant threats called Distributed Denial of Service(DDoS). It provided interesting insights into grey world of hackers causing these attacks and also some tools and techniques on mitigating them.

At lunch, took a walk around product showcase isle. There I met my old time classmate Sandeep Tidke who is running a company called LabJump. It was interesting business idea, which is working due to proliferation of virtual training lab requirements. It is pretty evident as Google recently acquired Qwiklabs recently, which was doing similar stuff. I also bumped on another acquaintance of mine named Abhijit Joshi, whose company WhiteHedge is engaged into providing Docker as a Service by partnering with Docker in India.

Later in the day, I walked into a session around design thinking. It was titled Future-proofing Product Innovation using Design Thinking. This was by Manoj Kothari of Turian Labs. Despite being a post lunch session, it kept me glued to the seat for 2 hours in this session. He also stressed on aspect of showing empathy towards your users to understand more about their pain-points. I walked out with thought of applying some of the design thinking principles in what we do at work. I am big fan of innovation and ideation. And design thinking helps to break the conventional thought. Then I went to a session what turned out to be a treat to ears. This was by Anshoo Gaur(an investor himself with his own VC firm Pravegaa) and it was titled How to judge the performance / potential of your startup. He began asking very fundamental question and drew attention to the fact that there are enough problems in the country to go after, versus, what current startup fraternity is busy with. He also cautioned on “Me-too” mentality of entrepreneurs, instead asked to focus on adding value to ecosystem. He also emphasized profitability before achieving scale and did not want scale for profitability. He touched upon metrics to track within a startup by drawing analogy of machine with an organization. 

As a last session for the day, I had decided to attend ANTIGyan which was much hyped in the morning as one session not be missed. And it turned out to real entertainer. This was by Ajeet Khurana, an investor himself, threw open issues with startup ecosystem, gaps in a lighter vein, by breaking conventional thoughts and hence causing anti-gyan(similar to anti-pattern). Sighting the buzz around products since last few years, which is a welcome shift from IT services for India, his wisdom pitch was that, ultimately, businesses are funded, not product.

The event saw more than 600 participants and was full of buzz. Organizations such as NASSCOM, TiE have succeeded in acting catalysts to growing melting pot of startups which is so nice to experience.

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Startup to IPO Course

The essence of mankind is problem solving. Man has progressed because of his ability to identify and solve problems. This is innovation and that brings in entrepreneurship. The Indus Entrepreneurs(TiE) is an organization promoting entrepreneurship. I have written about their other events/programs in the past here. TiE recently announced a 8
week program called Startup to IPO course, with weekly 3 hours. Plus this program is being offered by Northeastern University. The facilitator for this course is Raj Jaswa. I decided to take up this. I had been entrepreneur myself in the past, though a failed one, which forced me to take up a job. But that essence of innovation still continues and I try to nurture that through various channels and forums, at my job.

In this blog series, I will be writing about my experience with this course as I take it week by week. This blog is just an introduction to the course. I am already 4 week in the course now. So I  have a catch up to do on the blogs side.

The chief facilitator Raj Jaswa is a successful early age silicon valley based serial entrepreneur with companies like OPTi, Selectica and Dyyno under his name. This course is online course where in participants from all over the world are attending remotely. Most of the participants are from TiE chapters all across India’s depth and breadth. The online medium of the course with Raj Jaswa talking and presenting, along with other guest speakers from remote location is creating an immersive learning experience. The course portal by North Eastern University is also creating that experience with course outlines, progress indicator, group chats and discussions, ability to download course materials, upload exercises etc.

It seems that the university offers another program titled Idea to Business Plan again facilitated by Raj Jaswa. This one seems to be a logical precursor for new entrepreneurs, specifically college students or fresh graduates.

In India, the startup scenario is dramatically changing since last few years, it really got a big boost also with new government which came up with a programs called Startup India and other campaigns such Digital India, Standup India, Make in India etc. I plan to write about that sometime, specifically about Startup India program. Anyways, just another day, I got another email talking of a program for startup entrepreneurs. This one is called Startup Leadership Program(SLP). This one is rather long and seems comprehensive.

Anyways, it seems that the change is in the air and around us. Better be part of it and make it happen! Let me leave you with a video of a session at recent OpenStack conference which talks of an entrepreneur who made journey from identifying a problem, to innovating to solve it and later to realize it in an enterprise. It is motivating.

Entreprenuer in Exile

The other day I happened to attend The Indus Entrepreneurs(TIE) event titled ‘Entrepreneurs In Exile”. I was little surprised by the theme of the event. I must congratulate the organizers taking up this topic. In our society failure is not accepted easily. With a bit of research on this topic, I got to know that India is also changing on this mind-set, and people are talking about failures. Look at following articles.

5 ways to cope if your first venture fails – Economic Times
Startup Funerals

In rest of this blog I, being an entrepreneur-in-exile myself, am trying to capture my entrepreneur attempts. My enterprising mind-set came of out the need to support myself in the hardship of our family at the age of 16, by way of preparing paper packs to be used for packing grocery items in the shops. I, not only made them, but also sold them to nearby shops. I obviously did not continue doing it, as I had to focus more on my studies, and things were looking now better. This neither did succeed nor did it fail, but I aborted it after the main goal was met.

My next venture of supporting myself was teaching BASIC language to bunch of middle aged engineering managers in nearby auto-industry.  This was in 1988. The computers was a buzzword then. When I look back, I dived into unknown territory without know what does it mean to teach and teach BASIC. I did not know BASIC then(neither do I remember it now), as I had learnt only C language by then. It went on for few months, teaching sessions for few hours a week. My parents forced me to halt it after I met with an road accident cycling to and fro to the site where I was teaching.

When I was 24, had some work experience, me and bunch of my friends got an itch of doing on our own, and we started with training again, this time C and Assembly languages. I remember fighting over with my “co-founder” friends on how our training pamphlets should look like. But this attempt did not take-off as our advertising did not pay us off, as not a single student turned out. Later on we moved into IT services space. Now all of us became salesmen on the bicycles once again, we would be off for a day long visit to various factories in nearby industrial area selling our capabilities. We did manage to get one owner of cooking-gas agency for office automation project, spent time studying his manual process and submitting the proposal, but some other vendor stole the deal. And thereafter, our priorities changed slowly as “co-founder” friends started finding better prospects in their jobs and this attempt also was put on “hold”

My latest stint as entrepreneur came much later in the life, at the age of 40, after I ran out of my job when our development center was closed. The idea of starting again took seed while I was consulting. And this attempt, I would say, was very serious, compared to earlier attempts. We formed a company called QuinarySoft. My stint there lasted for 3 years, after which I exited to let my other co-founder take it further. We did variety of things in IT services, played with our own ideas, in different domains, on solving problems using technology, burnt our money. After spending 3 longs years, I decided to came out of it, due to changing landscape in the IT services and it becoming commercialized so much that it we were loosing as a differentiator in the market(and there are many other reasons, which is a topic for another blog :-))

While all this was happening, I also ventured into something called “social entrepreneurship”, by getting associated with NGO in the field of mental health, by attempting to raise findings and helping the NGO in various aspects.
Hope you liked the story so far. As they say “once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur”. Let’s see what comes by next on that journey!

Nurturing entrepreneurship

This is an account of event organized by TIE(The Indus Entrepreneurs) which I attended recently in Pune. I thought of sharing it here on the blog.

This event, conducted in MCCIA Tower(ICC Tower), was a graduating program of first batch of entrepreneurs participating in first ever Nurture program. TIE Nurture program started in Feb 2012. This is first of its kind started by Pune chapter for nurturing and mentoring entrepreneurs. For the first batch, it received about 50 applications from different companies, and they shortlisted 8 companies. As it was pointed out the selection criteria was such that only those companies who knew where they were and where they want to go in next 1-2 years, to be selected for mentoring.

During past six months, mentors from TIE and mentee companies had formal, informal interactions, on specific problems, revenue and operations problems, problems which might occur in future, etc. Also their presentation skills were also worked upon.

There were seven presentations from companies such as Bizproto, Crucible Labs, ePravesh, Mapyn, RushHrs, neural space, Intouchid etc. Most of them did talk about their offering, competition, growth plans etc. But very few talked about real revenues, projected revenues, what is in there for investors, entry and exist routes for investors etc.

This gave a window to kind of problems entrepreneurs are trying to solve through entrepreneurship. ePravesh is trying to simplifying school/colleges admission process, crucible labs is trying to exploit the power of social media marketing and create value for media industry by providing valuable insights into viewer’s preferences, which media companies can use along side TRP. Company like Intouchid has created “Dropbox” like solution for contact management problem. Company like Bizproto were trying to create another Alibaba(online traders exchange, B2B) solution.

The event was sponsored by British govt trade and industries dept who has offices in India to facilitate business in and out of UK. Their deputy director was present for the event. During his speech he appealed Indian entrepreneurs to setup businesses in UK. It was really amazing and different feeling to hear such a thing from British, who rules India for more than 150 years. It was one more testimonial of the fact that world order has changed. He also sighted examples of companies who have setup companies in UK such as Tata, also UK companies setup in India such as JCB. He also gave comparison of various countries from the investor friendly aspects, where he mentioned Singapore is the first on the list, with distinction of being the most investor friendly nation.

The star attraction of the event was speech of Ashok Rao, current chairman of TIE Global. He provided valuable insights on entrepreneurship and innovation and his own one liner tid-bits called “Ashokism’. His thoughts on venture capital were also interesting.

Function concluded after his speech ended and everyone proceeded towards party room on the top floor with their favorite “Ashokism”. Here is my favorite which I picked up: Don’t delegate success.