Startup Weekend: Learn To Unlearn

If you follow me on Twitter then you must be knowing that I attended ‘Startup Weekend‘ powered by ‘Google for Entrepreneurs‘ recently. It was organized at ISB Hyderabad. If you missed the stills through my tweets, no problem. Catch the action in motion in this show-reel I made –

ISB (Indian School of Business) is one of the premier B-Schools in India and that was pretty much apparent from the facilities we got there. The campus was huge & green, throwing away a lovely scenic beauty. The inside infrastructure was none less than a 5-star hotel. We took our chances to roam around the campus whenever we got time out of our brainstorming sessions.

Startup Weekend‘ was much more than just an entrepreneurial event. It was a huge learning experience for me in terms of problem identification, devising solutions, team dynamics, market research, presentation, networking and it all happened in just 3 days.

Format – How it happens?

The format of the event was pretty much like hackathons where you go at the venue, come up with problem statement (either pre-defined or decided on spot), form team, devise solutions and present your prototype in the end. But it goes one step further in terms that not only you have to think from the tech perspective but rather you’ve to discuss about the market feasibility of your product as well. In short, you’ve your startup at the end of the weekend.

Now here’s the problem for engineers. Being a hard-core techie, we always tend to think from the solution perspective. Integrate a bunch of sensors, build an app to aggregate data, perform analytics and that’s it. That’s where it taught us a hard but well-learnt entrepreneurial lesson.

Look at the judging criteria and it would give you a fair idea on what all aspects to incorporate in the multi-dimensional discussions –

judging_criteria

The judging panel consisted of some eminent names from the startup ecosystem and they looked thoroughly into the whole idea. They exactly know what it needs for a product to reach the target audience successfully.

I went there with my CHE co-fellows and we had some idea about what we were going build. Few days back we were given a capstone project from our ‘Center for Healthcare Entrepreneurship‘ to build a digital stethoscope and integrate it with ECG. Now here was the catch. Though we knew what we have to build, we were totally clueless about why exactly are we building this. Who are our target customers? How do we wish to enter the market? What’s our unique selling proposition (USP) as compared to the other competitors?

Featured in The IndianTalks – seriously, what am I thinking?

Furthermore we had to pitch our idea on the first day in order to get selected. Only then we could’ve gone ahead and build our prototype. Many ideas were plainly scraped during the initial voting phase. What and whomever remained teamed up and there the hackathon began.

Somehow we had two more teammates on board after the pitch. Let’s talk about them later and how it affected our entire plan.

One wonderful thing about our team was its diversity. We had people from all three categories – Hacker, Designer & the Hustler. So building the solution was not at all the problem for us. We were able to build our entire prototype within 2-3 hours on the last day. But what happened on the first 2 days was the absolute nightmare and probably the biggest learning I got about the startups.

The biggest challenge for us was to clearly define the problem statement.

If you can’t describe why you’re building whatever you’re building then you’re in deep trouble. Any good engineer can make a fascinating technical stuff  but then almost none of the projects we build in college go to the product phase. So where’s the difference? What lies in between that is so largely unknown?

Read this wonderful Yourstory article on what you shouldn’t just rush for it.

There’s a gigantic ocean between a crude prototype and a finished product.

Confused and annoyed, we kept on brainstorming to clearly understand the need. Multiple phone calls, field trips, Internet searches, market research, product validation – we did it all. And this was the result of all our efforts –

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Finally we sat silently, discussed and made this at 1 o’clock in night.

We discussed on each and every point of the judging criteria, refined our solutions, gave freedom to everyone in the team to think and give their inputs. Also we were provided with few mentoring sessions from the management side itself and that cleared a lot of our doubts.

mentoring

It’s good to get the feedback from the domain experts

But beware! Sometimes mentoring sessions could be confusing as well. Not everyone could clarify your doubts if you’re not able to convey it properly. Also mentors might try to impose their own though process which could further complicate things.

Team Dynamics

This is probably the most crucial things I learnt. First of all, it is very important to maintain your calmness throughout the event. If you or any of your teammate is unstable, you would keep on jumping on multiple boats and never land on a single island. It would hamper the entire team and consolidating the idea would be much more difficult.

Our main intention behind going for the event was to understand our own CHE team. We were just acquaintances to each other so far. Having 2 extra on-spot teammates was something that made us question our decision.

Not only having a big team was a hindrance in effective communication but it was equally difficult to get everyone on the same page.

You never know a person completely until you’ve worked seriously with him/her.

CHE-TEAM

Team CHE-IITH

Speaker sessions & Informals

The event wasn’t all about ourselves. We had fun informal sessions to break the ice. Its great to meet new people and work with them instantly. This is something I’ve found in almost all such events I’ve been to. These minuscule events are great accelerators to set the things in motion. The real fun is it all happens within minutes.

Also we had some big shots to share their life long experiences and motivate the participants. You can’t hide your excitement much longer when you see people, whom you regard as inspirations, speaking in front of you.

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Padma Shri Arunachalam Muruganantham – one among 100 most influential people in the world by TIME in 2014

What we built? – The final touchdown.

We ultimately narrowed down our effort to develop a recommendation based personalized healthcare system to monitor elderly population. I won’t go much into the technical detail here but we built a hardware aggregator than collects various health-related data from the patient, send it to an app for visualization and the doctor for recommendation. Also in case of emergency, it triggers a call to the concerned person.

The final prototype looked like this –

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Lots of wires! And mind you that electrode isn’t easy to peel off 😛

That is me wearing that wacky thing. The final form factor we suggested looks something like this –

https://sketchfab.com/models/2096c47ab25a457389f29d17861e1055/embed

It’s in the form of a watch without the strip. Here’s a sketch I made to understand the morphology & the presentation that followed –

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The Aftermath Analysis –

4 hours!

Yeah that’s the duration for which we discussed our whole performance post event. Each of us learnt something valuable that would help us further. It was rather important to analyze so as not to repeat our mistakes further.

There would be many more events like this in future but what remains constant is the team. Our bonding is essential for smooth working and that I think is our biggest takeaway form the event.

The conclusion is simple and now it sits in front of my working desk –

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For your product to be successful, it should satisfy these 3 criteria. Don’t directly go for the solution, think clearly about the problem first. Then only you can devise something useful. This is ‘design innovation thinking‘.

So if you’re thinking your idea sitting in some cubicle or college dorm, stop for a moment and question to yourself – why before jumping to what.

After all the serious talks, we did joked around for another hour about what else we did during the event (it’s understood, after all we are humans :P).

Wrap Up – 

The food was quite good during the event. Though I don’t have any photo to show. And of-course t-shirt can’t be forgotten 🙂

 

There’s a whole another story that went in parallel and my next blog post would be on that. Here is a photo prompt to fuel your anticipation –

Image result for friends fun

Till then sit back, relax and enjoy! Hope you had an interesting read 🙂

Case Convincing : You’ve Got To Explain Your Idea!

Before I pour upon my readers with the series of well-researched blog posts lined up, there is one important thing I needed to write about. Many a times it happens that you’re on your way of doing one thing but something else comes in the way that you can’t help thinking about.

One similar case was mine when I found myself struggling with the proper words to convince a person on the receiving end.

Scenario – As a product designer, I’m working on a cinematography equipment for smartphones. There is this guy, junior to me, who is equally interested in entreprenuership and startups. He has got experience of various hackathons & wants to work on novel ideas himself.

He is also my fellow co-intern. So one day while coming back from the work, we got into talking about new exciting products we could work on. I told him about this idea as I was already working on it. But somewhere he didn’t seem to agree much and I wanted to convince him to believe in the market value of my product.

How I got the idea and what stage is it in?

As a cinematography enthusiast, I am always looking for the ways to capture moments around me in beautiful ways – ones like you see in movies. From different angles, different exposure timing, lighting, perspective, etc. and weave them later into so-called videos.

Here is the one for start, showing our prototype building phase (just the workshop activities! :P) –

The entire movie is shot on my Redmi 2 Prime and uses a bit of YouTube video stabilization mechanism weaved together with Google Photos ‘Auto Awesome Videos‘ algorithm.

When I don’t have a DSLR camera with me (most of the time, I don’t), which I usually borrow from the Photography Club, I primarily use my smartphone to capture the scenes instead of suppressing my will to not shoot altogether.

I would be writing detailed technical descriptions of my prototype (yeah I’ve a crude one) in my techblog soon but for the reference, that’s where I realized I needed a smartphone mounting device which would bring steadiness to the videos and also I could shoot in whatever way I want.

Before I started working on this, I had done some market research regarding available products and the professional movies that has been shot on iPhone. I realized that this concept has started gaining momentum in recent years itself and companies are working to develop a range of such equipments.

It was nothing statistical in my research and I was only being supported through qualitative arguments. I didn’t have consolidated data in chunks of number or beautiful graphs either.

Nonetheless I believe the communicator should have the power to convince whose major part lies in his/her words.

I noted down few points in my notebook as they keep striking me which I would write here –

  • Convincing about idea – It’s your idea and you only know how much you’ve worked on it, before even pitching it even to your closest friend. You’re passionate about it and ready to work tirelessly to bring it to reality – that’s great!

But don’t get overly attached to it. Don’t develop the obsessiveness, for it would hamper your rational thinkingThe person whom you are convincing may or may not be as enthusiastic as you at first. You need to understand that and form your words not to weigh much on just motivation.

  • The art of persuasion – A cliché point but indeed useful. Do I have something fresh to add? Let’s see. For satisfactory convincing, you need to transfer the vision you have to other person. The visualization of something that still dwells in your mind like Elon Musk talks about in this video –

If we don’t do this, we’re in grave problem. That’s why I have to do this!

That’s what we do in writing as well. We infuse our perception over the readers and persuade them to thing about the contents analytically. To make them understand that whatever is written are not mere random ramblings but realized through personal experiences.

  • Keeping it within your domain – If you’re a science student, don’t go about giving example of economic crisis and how your revolutionary idea could ultimately turn that around – surely not in the beginning itself! You don’t have the required knowledge for it. Reading few articles of what the reasons are and where did experts go wrong, won’t render you expert about the nitty-gritties of the situation.

Having knowledge about diverse things is good and they may find their place to consolidate your arguments but the real power resides in field examples which the conversation deals with and this leads to my next point.

  • Domain expertise – I remember the conversation I once had with my junior from Computer Science Dept. Being a startup enthusiast, he was working on an E-Commerce product.  The idea didn’t seem to be apparent to a novice like selling commodities online or doing big data analytics but rather pertained to in-depth knowledge of marketing.

I asked –  “how did you get the idea for this, not having dealt with such problem at individual level yourself”?

Then he told me about the concept of ‘domain expertise‘ and how he has a marketing guy & other networks on board. Though I have realized it earlier myself but now I had a keyword. Also it was more about ‘domain knowledge‘ than being ‘domain expert‘ to conceive an idea.

convincing.PNG

Instill your craziness in the crowd

  • Show me the stats – This would probably be the only technical point I’m mentioning and that I think holds critical to the subject of my post. One of the very first things that my junior asked for (irrespective of whatever I tell him otherwise) was to show him the data –
    • What % of people are likely to be interested in cinematography?
    • Among them, how many are likely to consider our product?
    • Why wouldn’t a professional cinematographer go for DSLR or other expensive yet better equipments?
    • Why wouldn’t SMEs (Small & Medium Scale Enterprises) or common people hire a professional to do their job in much better and sophisticated way rather than handling it themselves?
    • How likely is your product to perform good in the market where professional companies have already realized its need and started working for it?

There could be tens and hundreds of such questions. So what’s the fool-proof way to dodge them? Have numbers with you. Do some statistical market research, perform surveys, take opinions over small sample space, perform the magic of excel functions to extract information from raw data.

Also ping mostly into the interested community to gain better perspective (like a film school or college’s cinematography club in my case).

  • Keep the groundwork at your disposal – Lets take it with a pinch of salt. With thousands of ideas floating around and numerous others which no one is ready to perceive in fear of being outdated, your groundwork is the firm base for convincing job.

It also shows how much you believe in your own idea and how far you’re ready to go for it. When you’ve sustained the initial building phase on your own, people would be willing to join in your effort.

I’m very fond of Elon Musk in such matter as well. I remember when he released the Tesla Powerwall, I was gripped for the whole keynote session. Prior to that I had not heard much about his idea. He came open to the public with a disruptive product in hand. He didn’t just flaunted with futuristic possibility of his idea but rather demonstrated it then and there.

  • Your confidence and belief – Every intended action of suggestion has a bottom line and so does this blog post. Also it’s customary to say ‘last but not the least‘, this is the one that rules them all. Have confidence in whatever you intend to do. Let the people call you crazy for they don’t have the vision you posses.

Also have belief in your methods. Learn from other’s experience and of course your own, read about things and improvise upon your techniques until its sufficiently efficient. Have belief in the team you work with. In fact, build your team in such way.

I know I’m not a proven entrepreneur yet but these are the lessons I’m learning on the path of becoming one. There are numerous thing that could branch out of this post and have their own illustrations but I wanted to focus on convincing part in this one and I hope I did it to a reasonable extent.

I’ve provided the embedded links wherever I thought was necessary for further reading. If you have ever found yourself in similar situation, I hope this post resonates with your experience and you get a better perspective on your moves through the contents of this post. Keep innovating! 🙂

Update – Apart from offline surveys, I think my readers could be of much help by providing their feedback. So if you found this post worthy, kindly take out 30 seconds of your time to complete the following survey –

Startup Schools! Let’s Talk About Incubators & Accelerators

Disclaimer : The following blog post represents my personal point of view. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I have been to various entrepreneurship events, yet my acquaintance with the startup world is limited. I am still exploring and learning.

This is just for general introduction to some startup jargon you hear these days and what they actually are. If at any point, the information seems to be vague, do point it out in the comments and definitely search about them for clarifications.

There couldn’t have been a better time to do startups than today!

This might be the most commonly heard opening line in any entrepreneurship events these days. For the innovators bitten by entrepreneurial bug, its not unusual to think constantly about their journey ahead. You’ve an idea and you know how to technically approach towards a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – good! Then read on.

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General execution, marketing, reaching out to the target audience, scaling the potential business, team members (who would be as excited as you), angel funding, venture capital – these things would bug you more often than not. (unless you’re a serial entrepreneur with many successful companies on your portfolio!)

On 3rd March (Thursday), we had an event here in college organized by E-Cell. Having a general lecture given by senior students is not a new thing. But this lecture cum workshop was held in association with Commence Mint – a budding startup school based in Bangalore.

An Incubator – yes, that’s how they identify themselves. It’s basically a Venture Capital (VC) firm driven by general philosophy that even if the startup gets big, majority of its share should remain with its founders instead of the investors.

According to them, it is generally the other way round these days. Their current model seems to be more promising for both the parties, in terms of return. They had a really nice presentation – not much text & lots of info-graphics. I think its better for the interest of general audience when they’re not sure about the contents.

The mentors who came for the talk were  middle-aged experience fellows. They already had worked in startups and have ventures of their own. I got to know some significant things about venture capitalist for that matter. I would write them in points for the readers to have an general idea –

  • A VC is a corporation or an individual who invest in startups at their early age. They are like Private Equity (PE) firms providing office space, taking care of general stuffs like food, personal mentoring as well. Though most of these describes more of an incubator.
  • One invests in founders not idea. Yeah, that’s goes against the general notion but it’s true. Ideas keep changing but people don’t. And its much harder to recover in case of loss on the later part.
  • A disruptive model with global potential is what lures them. They expect not 10 or 100 but atleast 1000% return on their investment. This might not be the case always but just think, even if one startup makes it big out of 10 startups in their portfolio, their failure is recovered beyond the expectations.

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  • VCs don’t sign the non-disclosure agreement generally. It’s important to understand for the aspiring entrepreneurs. If two parties come to them with very similar idea, they don’t take any guarantee on whom they would prefer to fund.
  • They’re smart enough to sniff your dedication for the proposed idea. Be single minded – either job or this startup because it’s not for 1-2 days but probably for the rest of your life.
  • What’s important? The 4Ps formulae – Problem, Proof, Passion, Partners.

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My QuestionHow probable is it for a VC to suggest two different teams with similar ideas to merge and get the fund as a unit? Will they prefer solving the problem first?

That’s the general doubt I had based on the non-disclosure point above.

Their answer – Chances are likely but that doesn’t generally work. There are many factors that comes into picture than just similar ideas. Their compatibility, their willingness, their priority (startup or solving the problems?) – all these things matter.

Although, it’s not totally out of the scenario. Citing on the example – Flipkart snapping up Myntra, TaxiForSure (an Ahmedabad based startup) was acquired by Ola. They have much larger valuation after merging. 

Talking about the current startup scenario in India, about 98% of the startups was sold to big corporations last year owning to the founder’s will to dissolve. They couldn’t even get listed on the stock exchange. 

Extra lessons –

  • In between the talk they discussed on  character vs. venture building. For the accelerators who work is to match the mentors (expertise) with startup founders (ideators), it is very hard to get the whole thing working. While this match would certainly be beneficial in character development from the ideator’s perspective, ensuring venture development is essential as well.
  • Friendship built around business is more appreciated (an likely to be successful) than the other way round.

Where does the CampusMint (or any such incubators) come in?

You have an idea? – Very Well!

You’re young, confused and vulnerable? – Great!

You’re passionate about your startup & want to pursue it for the rest of your life?- Hmm…you might like to consider it then.

Though I can’t reproduce their whole presentation here, nonetheless I would try to summarize from whatever I noted down-

  • They provide you with one year of office space for two (founder + 1 co-founder), in Bangalore currently.
  • Summing up all the cost that they put in around 40,00,000 INR for a year (they had a detailed cost breakdown but I couldn’t note it down in the process). All these things to ensure that you’ve successful running startup at the end.
  • 3 tracks philosophy for proper incubation –
    • Founder Development
    • Business 101
    • Venture Development
  • They take 20% equity in your startup.

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  • They have several strategic partners on board . You can check them on their website.
  • Once a Co-Minter, always a Co-Minter‘ – after passing out from this startup school, you would be a registered alumni. They would be happy to have you there for mentoring other budding startups. Though they may not provide the facilities like before (while you were there ; if you’re still struggling with your business model).
  • Starting from July 2016 in Bangalore, their plan is to take 20 ventures (40 Entrepreneurs) and incubate them.

My take on the whole event-

Don’t step into something until you’re totally sure about it. At the end of the session, they were distributing forms to get the general idea about you & your startup. Next day, one has to appear for the personal interview where they would check your credibility for the program.

Specially when you’re talking in thousands & millions of dollars, you have to be careful. Explore other options as well, introspect your execution planning and safely entertain your chances.

As an Entrepreneur, significant part of your life would be invested in raising money and exciting customers. This was the closing remark of the event and I think somewhere its true!

Bonus –

If you’re in your early 20s (average age of startup founders in India is around 28, so in that respect you’re fairly young) and serious about your entrepreneurial journey, do checkout this Mashable article that talk about hardships you might have to face on the way.

Note : This blog, in no way, endorses or is supported by Commence Mint. It’s just an attempt to share first hand experience of attending a startup school event. The details mentioned are true to the best of my knowledge, yet you’re encouraged to check the respective website of any such incubators for clarification. The opinions presented are of my own. Feel free to comment your take on this, down below. Ciao!