Author Archive for Vijay Anand

Launching an Experiment to Spot Problems Worth Solving

It is a little over ten years now, since I started working with the Startup Ecosystem here. Much has changed – and I’d say for the better. Funding has improved. Startups are mainstream. And Entrepreneurs are celebrated. Yet, when I look at some of the companies and startups that we showcased at Proto.in ( Between 2004 – 08), it seems some of them were quite out of the world, compared to the me-too startups we see.

Chennai, a tier-2 city by most metrics, has 52 food delivery startups (that we know of). In a conversation with a group of students in IIT and when I prodded them asking why they aren’t going after some of the bigger problems, their answer was simple; “Sir, we read that some of these companies have raised 10s of millions. We look at their venture and it seems so simple and we believe we can do it better”. While the audacity is to be applauded, It also makes me wonder if the best and brightest need to be going after ventures that are essentially time-bound courier service ventures.

As part of The Startup Centre, we’ve been running In50hrs (a prototyping event) for four years now. We’ve been active in 8 cities across the country – organizing close to 14 events a year. I personally love it – seeing entrepreneurs from each of these hubs, and their ideas. But it seems that most of them are drinking out of the same watering hole for their inspirations.

I strongly believe that the ecosystem will sustain as long as we are solving real problems. Inflation and frothy valuations only kick in when there is excess of capital but not enough opportunities to chase. Capital being available is a good thing; I wish if we could direct it to a better purpose.

A few months ago I started talking to a few people to collate problem statements (alok was kind enough to send a few of his own). We are trying to see if we can seed these problem statements – not ideas, but problems – so that the ecosystem can benefit out of.

We put all of them in a Google spreadsheet and shared. I have an inbox full of requests to show that people were indeed interested (or perhaps just curious). But there wasnt a way for folks to interact, and build on it. I opened up the access priviledges and it only took a few minutes before it got vandalised.

Building from the learnings, a week ago we launched Ideaspace. We are building a community around problem solvers – the same community that came together for In50hrs, but this time centred around problem statements – both seeded by us, and those that the community throws up. We’ve a little over 400 users on the platform right now. If you’d like to participate, do let me know. You can signup via http://ideaspace.in50hrs.com. If you are simply curious and just want to have a glimpse of the problem statements then you can do so via http://ideaspace.in50hrs.com/problems

I’d love to have your feedback – and thoughts on the same.

 

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Introducing In50hrs Healthcare Edition

Chennai is the Healthcare Capital of India; That’s a fact. Healthcare and Education are also the two areas that stand to be disrupted in the hands of an entrepreneur in this country and Globally. Yet, time and time again, We witness entrepreneurs building solutions that have no relevance to any of the pressing needs of those in the healthcare ecosystem  - be it hospitals, clinics, doctors, physicians, administrators or those who perform the operational tasks of these institutions.

We decided to turn this on its head, and bring the two stakeholders together, give those interested to disrupt the space, with a chance to “Live-in” with these stakeholders for a week, understand their world and find opportunities to make things better. We believe that anything you can do to make the lives of these stakeholders better, improve efficiencies, tap new opportunities, visualize data, will all significantly enhance the care that the patients enjoy.

We asked many entrepreneurs who are working in the healthcare space, what their biggest constraint has been, and most often than not, we heard the phrases “access to hospitals” mumbled somewhere in between. We decided to do something about that.

In50hrs Healthcare Edition (June 2nd – 8th), unlike the typical In50hrs, will run a tad bit over 50 hours. The first five days are an immersive experience to be in a hospital, and understand the world of hospitals (and few other healthcare partners), and for you to witness what goes on in their day to day professional life.

Over the five days, Physicians, head of units – be it labs, operating theatres, general practitioners, nutritionists, along with the CIOs and several experienced entrepreneurs will both share some of their pain points that you can solve, or will be there for you, to answer any questions you might have.

The Weekend that follows that, follows the general template of In50hrs as we do it – and explained at www.in50hrs.com#agenda - a bootcamp, followed by pitch sessions, forming teams, building the prototype – except that here, in the end the jury are going to be the head of units and CIOs of hospitals. Should your prototype seem to show promise, you will be granted an extended six months, and access to deploy your solution at the hospital and a guarantee (on success) to be your first referral customer.

if you know of aspiring entrepreneurs in the space, do let them know.

More details and registration at www.in50hrs.com/healthcare

Ideas Pitched / Prototyped at In50hrs Pune 5

1. InstaMe
Digital Business cards that are easy to share via Mobile – aimed at freelance professionals who want to build a following, the less tech-savvy way. They prototyped a way to build and share a passbook file that you can keep on your phone and share.

The app even lets you track how many people have your contact on their phones – and you can update/send a message if you are doing a new dance class batch etc.

2. LetsshareRide
A mobile app that allows anyone – with a car or motorbike to become a carpooler, on the go. Turn on “Carpool mode” and commuters can coordinate with you for a pickup and share a ride.

3. Slambook
Nostalgic about the slambook era where friends wrote about their fond memories of you? Well, now its online in Digital form.

4. Pracly
Pracly allows entrepreneurs, product managers and anyone who is creating value to find the right support they require, by connecting them to mentors and experts. You book a time, pay for it, and you get a fixed timeslot with a mentor/expert to get personal advice for a specific issue. Live at www.pracly.in

5. OfferBol
Allows you to find deals of local stores nearby.

6. Obhiyo
Been in a situation where a friend sold his used book. And you went and bought the same book for new and didnt know someone in your own network had it for sale? Well, Obhiyo aims to solve that.

7. Hackreward
Hackreward is solving the problem of recruitment and talent search by leveraging the github repository, setup by companies, aiding applicants to collaboratively build “systems”, not write modular code or solve mathematical algorithms and use the community to spot the best talent. Live at www.hackreward.com (the final codebase yet to be uploaded)

8. Narad
A Hardware based prototype that is like a portable NAS (Network Attached Storage) that you can use to move files between SD Cards, USB drives, Camera , Mobile Etc. What do they solve – well those times when your camera is running full and you need to dump it into a storage device, but cant do it without a PC nearby.

Next Event – in Chennai on Sept 27th (www.in50hrs.com/chennai)

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The Three Ideas that didn’t move to the Prototype Stage.

1. A Solution for screening Fraudulent Resumes
2. A peer to peer rental platform
3. A Local platform for buyers/sellers

The teams will be announcing when the prototypes go live, via the In50hrs Facebook Group – you can join, if you’d like to be kept updated and want to give feedback to the teams.

The Risk-Averse Indian Entrepreneur

Indian Entrepreneurs are one of the most risk-averse in the world. Well not all, there are truly some fantastic exceptions, but most of the demographic is risk averse. Let me explain:

In the business plan of an entrepreneur they do the math, calculate “their” salaries in, the prototyping costs, marketing costs and will assume that “no revenue” is made, and ask for the entire amount from an investor, who has nothing more than an idea and a team (which still demands a salary) that she supposedly has to back. The best pitch for an investor remains the same, Get on the boat, start rowing, and tell them to come onboard or miss the chance.

A lot of the new breed of Indian entrepreneurs have no clue about cash flow management. Its another symptom of the “Bangalore Flu” (that we have caught from the valley). Here’s an example of cash flow management. Air Deccan was started with 5 Crores (1Mn) in the bank. The cost of a Plane is about 60Mn$. The company went on to build the biggest fleet of low cost carriers in the country.

The Present day entrepreneur wants to plan for a fleet of 500, and the cash for it, upfront, at the best valuation, in the bank, funded by VCs. NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN.

Want to see who is driving the risk averseness in the market that Indians dont make bold bets? Look at the mirror. It starts with (most of) you.

Collating Problems Worth Solving

In my experience working with Entrepreneurs for the past 9 odd years and possibly have seen a few thousand startups, there is one key attribute that instantly sets apart the startups that just might make it, to the ones that would struggle – the clarity on the problem they are trying to solve.

While we have made it a mandate in events like In50hrs that explaining the problem is crucial, we have realized that as a culture we havent yet learnt the art of observing the issues that around us – especially the ones that present opportunities along with it.

In an effort to help out, we have started collating interesting Problem Statements from entrepreneurs all around. Quite a few have contributed and we are starting to list them at the In50hrs site, as Problems Worth Solving (with due credits).

As a recent article said, Focus on Talking about the Problems, and not the solutions, its evident that the key to building a thriving ecosystem is by building the capability to spot the problems, but for now, we are giving entrepreneurs a headstart and hopefully a sense of what to look for.

PS: If you want to prototype a solution to any of these problems, do sign up for an In50hrs Near you.

PPS: Want to Contribute a Problem Statement? You can too.

Tech Startups: We are on our own.

Fraction

I remember this TED talk by Hans Rosling as he echoed the sentiments that I’ve heard working closely with Market Research firms:

Even with quantitative data, you have to be careful because as much as they are hard numbers, they usually are averages of two extremes – and the markets are full of extremities.

Truth is, if you follow (just) the numbers and build a product, you might end up with something that half convinces one group and slightly lures the other but never raging fans - in short, you build a product that is average.

Which means, that in order to improve a system, its not necessarily the most effective way to measure the system has a whole, you have to look at the individual parts of it and see which part of it is inefficient and work on that as a unit, rather than the whole system.

Organizations, love to club “Entrepreneurship” as one big whole chunk of gooey and that is very misleading.

I came to realize this working for a few years with IIT Madras, and interacting with the government and realized two things – their priorities were on cutting edge technology (patentable, and hence hard core sciences – some of which were a few layers away from direct commercialization) and the other was employment. If you think about it, it fundamentally comes down to the two priorities any government would have – security (economic and physical) and job creation, which are the key elements to a society, everything else is incidental.

How does technology entrepreneurship play into all this? If you are not building patentable technology (but an application – Yo! to the dudes and dudettes building Twitter 2.0) and if you do not have an intent to hire the masses to come work for you, you really don’t factor in anywhere at all.

That’s why when I read articles and the entire social media sphere going abuzz about the government plans t0 create 10,000 startups, and trying to force fit technology startups into that equation, I cringe, because thats like tryin to get a rhino into a bride’s wedding dress.

“According to a recent planning commission study, India needs to support nearly 10,000 scalable start-ups by 2022 to provide some level of sustainable job creation to the 140 million potential job seekers entering the workforce over the same period”

Some rough estimates say that there are close to 24 – 32 million (I know its vague but vague is all we have, because nobody has actual data) small and medium enterprises. Most of them are spread in the 1200+ Industrial clusters in India. When the government says “Startups” that is the ideal target they have in mind. It is none of the 350 odd brilliant, fraction of the whole equation demographic at all. The image in the mind of the government and policy makers when they say “startups” is someone who can be part of that 140 million job creation scheme of things – which means its the labour industries first, followed by manufacturing, followed by vocational skillset based organizations, followed by service companies (IT and Hospitality), followed by Research and development. You and I, don’t factor in at all.

The Key is to recognize that, before writing a post saying that things are sweet and sour. Truth is that the Tech Startup Ecosystem is on its own. And it survives on its own. It is nascent, very nascent and things are as crazy as the wild wild west. Not all entrepreneurs know what it takes to be in India and be building a business here, most of them complain that they are born in the wrong country, and most others just whine that this is not the valley. Some others are fooling themselves into believing that we are somehow there.

So steps to take:

1. Organizations like TiE have seriously lost their focus, gearing further and further into general entrepreneurship (so is CII, and FICCI and etc), rather than having a focus – when they are positioned best to help, but are just wiling away.

2. Understand that there is no such thing as an ecosystem yet, there is a landscape and like cattle there are some startups and enablers around. When my CA knows why a tech startup which has no “machinery” is valued at a crore, and all he sees is four guys and their laptops, then we have made the first step in building an “ecosystem”, not yet.

3. Building the Tech Startup Ecosystem, will take a concerted effort, by not the govt, or by one or two people, but by many who share this vision and are willing to play a non-zero sum game. Think beyond what you get (right now).

4. Our early successes will come from companies that will move out of India, go to the valley and succeed. Hopefully some of them will find a reason to come back and become that corridor. So don’t grumble when some of them leave, if they come back we should involve them. Israel’s ecosystem was built that way. There are ways to accelerate it, but that goes back to point (3) about a concerted effort. Investors will have to think beyond just deal flows, technology companies have to think beyond getting startups on their platform, and entrepreneurs have to think beyond just getting funded as their agenda.

5. Stop thinking small, and incorporating in India because of Patriotic reasons. Be global, incorporate where needed and keep your options open. Leverage all the exposure you can get. You are not competing with that startup down the road, you are competing with your counterpart globally.

6. If you are a startup, stop wasting your time in ecosystem stuff, there are enough of us around who have made it our mandate, if you really really really want to help, succeed amazingly well. There is very little replacement for what a success like FlipkartMobmeWebengageFreshdeskFusionChartsVisual Website OptimizerTenmilesOrangescape or a like can do.

Suceess breeds inspiration, while all the enablers can lay the roads, its entrepreneurs succeeding that really lights up the runway.

So don’t crib. Leverage India for what its worth. You can build amazing businesses here, but it will require getting your hands dirty. In short, be resourceful and make the most out of it. We are on our own.

 

IN50HRS BANGALORE 1ST EDITION WAS A BLAST!

 

 

The hotcake idea of the event was Design A-Board.

Design A-Board – An Interior Designer Palette on the Web. We all go through different interior designs magazines and dream about the picture perfect house while talking to an interior designer but when it comes to reality, we realize that as there is a huge communication gap between the designer and you as the mediums used are broken and there is not a simple solution for a designer to just showcase the best picks for the house like the type of flooring, the shades of paint and the subtle things for the decor. So came the Idea “Design A-Board” from an Interior Designer, Taru and the Hacker, Shubanshu.

We had around 38 Participants with 8 Mentors and 7 Jurors at the Venue, ThoughtWorks and went house full during the Demo Evening.

List of Prototypes that got demoed -

  • Hunger Free India: A Portal to give away excess food cooked. India is a country where population needs no mention. Everyday, we hear about hunger-stricken stories and at the same time, amount of food wastage that’s done in several restaurants, malls and such. Hunger Free India aims at solving the problem by connecting Food Donors to Takers to achieve a Hunger Free India.
  • SocioG:  A Kickstarter for High Impactful Social Causes. Every time we come come across a newspaper article that talks about something cool, something innovative, something that could be a social game changer, we have a slight rush of blood in the head to help such causes solve big problems. SocioG helps you discover such projects and lets you be a part of it.
  • G-Track: Realtime Tracking of Heavy Vehicles. It’s a tremendous pain for a logistic chain to keep a track of all the shipments in real time and there is no cost effective solution in the market that could be viable to any. G-Track aims at solving the problem in a very simple fashion. Adding to that, they wanted to bring in on-the-fly fuel and engine check system on board
  • Get Driving: A Portal to find the best driving schools. Finding a nearby driving school from peers is fairly easy but when the point comes to finding good ones, women friendly, there is no way out. Get Driving is the perfect pitstop for that.
  • Speechly: A “Voice” based Social Network for Mobiles. In the current age of Open Social Networks, text has been ‘the’ only primary means of communications limiting interactions. Speechly aims at taking this a step further by enabling users to leave a voice message for people to interact. Aiming at Non-English speaking Countries and the Rural population set.
  • Source-it: Tech Enabling the Mom-and-Pop Shop. Every Time you wish to get something from a nearby ‘Kirana’ shop, you’d be like, “What’s the number?”, “Would they have it?” and so on. Source-it aims at solving the problem.
  • Real Estate GIS: Precise Real Estate data on a Map. Most site these days talk about ‘availability’ of places to buy, places to rent and so on. When it comes to the point of tapering to your needs, you are lost in oblivion. Real Estate GIS lets you find every tiniest detail of information you need in a very intuitive format, on a map.
  • 50focal: Video Production and Publisher for Corporates. A lot of events happen in a company and most that happen, are internal. The video capture quality of most look as though they’ve come out of a blind alley as most are not really professional and even if they are, they are just put up on a hard disk and be long forgotten. 50focal aims at solving the problem also enabling the corporates to manage their video lot in a much better format.
  • My Share Plex: A portal to exchange unwanted goods. In this electronic era, we tend to buy just too many unwanted products and this, of late has become an ongoing phenomena. My Share Plex makes it easy for someone to put up their product on the website and the site automatically figures out the credibility of it, making it easy for anyone to buy it with ease.
  • One Bucket List: Bucket Listing Made Easy. Everybody dreams. Places, Cars, Exotic Food and what not. One Bucket List is exactly something one could crave for. Add all things awesome on mind that you wish to do and make sure things happen soon. The app is live at http://onebucketlist.com
  • Keysome: Hotkeys for Everyone. “Too many browser tabs”, “Isn’t that Tab already open?” is pretty much a common thing you hear from your peers. Keysome, a Chrome browser plugin that helps you shift between tabs with just hot keys and predefined hotkeys that are shortcuts that would let you open frequently opened websites hassle-free. The website is live at http://keysome.in

 

A Big Thank You to all the Mentors and Jury who helped shape Ideas to Interesting Prototypes with their valuable Inputs and Feedbacks.

Mentors - Vasudha Chandak from Practo, Hari Shankaran from HackerRank, Vaidhy from Apigee, Ravi Padakifrom Pravi Solutions, Freeman Murray from Startup School, Venkat Mangudi from Venkat Mangudi Consulting,Prayank Swaroop from Accel Partners & Kiran Jonnalagadda from HasGeek.

Jurors - Shashank ND from Practo, Phanindra Sama from RedBus, Sanjay Anandaraman from SeedFund,Pallav Nadhani from Fusion Charts, Ketan Hajarnavis from ThoughtWorks, Sanjeev Gadre, Rohit Singhalfrom SourceBits.

Some great words about the event:

“Seeing ideas come to life and the infectious enthusiasm” – Venkat Mangudi

“Energy – Ideas – Enthusiasm – Hope – Fire in the Belly” – Ketan Hajarnavis

 

Facebook Photo Album of the event -> https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.513376592029199.119880.427343437299182&type=1&l=000e20a1a3

 

 

 

Registrations for In50hrs  Pune are now OPEN.

 

 

The Tech Startup Ecosystem in India : Mapped

Building Tech Startups – Valley Style vs India.

Its been a post about Demo Days and how they are a disaster. But Put together an Image to roughly show the process of Building a Startup in India. Bottomline: Its a slower, steadier climb. Which explains why you dont get Investors rushing to invest in you either. But if we do another chart, matching startup building cost vs Time, India would win hands down. The balance is somewhere between the two benefits.

In Either Case, What do you think?

Process of Building a Tech Startup in India

Comparative Chart from the US, by Paul Graham

You can replace the term TechCrunch of Initiation, with Whatever gives visibility and Early Adopters.

If you are interested in the conversation about Demo Days though, the article is here.

Picking the Right Accelerator -Side by Side Comparison (Part 1)

If you have been wondering if there are a lot of accelerators popping up as of late, you are assuming right. But you will realize if you start putting them side by side, that not all are equal. After the nth time that someone asked if the difference between this and that, this happened. And with the Nudge of friends, making it public – it seems to be useful to some, maybe will be to you as well.