Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Startup Saturday, Mumbai

Back in Mumbai J After a short hiatus in Bangalore with ‘ze job life’, I’m back home. It’s been about two weeks, and I’ve begun to get antsy. Need to go out meet some new people. I had read about Startup Saturday a couple of months back, and it seemed interesting, but I had never got the chance to check it out. It occurs every second Saturday of the month, and I was just in time for their next event, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The rationale behind a Startup Saturday is to provide a monthly platform where local entrepreneurs, professionals and students can get together around engaging talks from veterans in the startup industry. Each event has a loose theme and relevant speakers from the chosen theme. The audience plays an active role in shaping the discussions and brain storming is to be found aplenty. (*)

The event was held at SP Jain institute of Managerial Research, Andheri. I entered what seemed to be one of their lecture halls, with around ten to fifteen people of different age groups waiting for registrations. My first thought was – “Okayyyy. What am I doing here again?” They all seemed to be pretty experienced – or MBAs, the very least. A couple of them were working away on some sort of presentation on their laptops, some were browsing through personal notes in diaries, and I was feeling thoroughly out of place. Nevertheless, I took a seat. I was beginning to wonder if I’d be the only college graduate there. But people started pouring in slowly; and I was about to realize how wrong I was in making that assumption, as you will soon find out. J

The first speaker was Dinesh Tejwani, a CA with a keen interest in I.T, managing director of Fast Facts(*), a paid tax software. FastFacts business was recently acquired by Thomson Reuters. Mr Tejwani's session went in depth about software distribution and sales. 

The next speaker was Gaurav Bhardwaj, Regional Manager, Mumbai, from CMO Axis, which he introduced as an ‘MPO’. Wait. What? I’d heard of KPO and BPO. Clearly, this was something new. CMO Axis(*) is the first in its kind- a Marketing Process Outsourcing company. They handle everything from sales analytics, marketing campaigns, positioning and targeting of product, channel creation, sales operations, and so on. His argument was that outsourcing one’s marketing process to an expert is a good option for someone who is new in the business. He gave an example of a case study where a client from the IT domain came to them, saying that they wanted CMO Axis to help plan and manage a music event in various colleges in their area, sponsored by them, to help increase visibility among students. CMO Axis turned it around, and instead, gave them a more interesting option of sponsoring a coffee table book to the principal’s offices, whose contents covered the stories of young achievers in their area. A visually aesthetic product, a relevant item in an office setting, emotion in the right place, and right in front of the principal’s table- what more visibility do you need? Brilliant, I’d say. But a lot of the attendees were not convinced about how cost effective outsourcing their marketing processes would be, especially for someone starting a new business. Also, Outsourcing v/s having an in-house team to do the process for you - most people believed the latter was a less risky option.

Following this was a small tea break-cum-networking session. I met people with varied business interests- from ‘Meter down’, (*)a company that does branding for auto rickshaws, to venture capitalists looking for new ideas, people who had worked for four-five years in multinational companies, looking for interesting start-ups to work with, people who had established their companies and were looking for help in specific areas, some who had an idea, and were looking for mentorship to help them implement it.

After the break, there was a small rendezvous of sorts, between entrepreneurs looking for people they want to work with them, and people looking for jobs in start-ups. Each party was made to give a 1 minute introduction, stating who they were as a company and what they were looking for. It was a good way to break the ice, and also to let some of the attendees achieve their purpose of coming to the event.

After this, was a talk by Kunal Shah, CEO of*), an online mobile recharge portal. Until now, most of the talks had been very cut and dried, focussing largely on the core business point of view, making it slightly difficult for newcomers to fully appreciate the content. Right at the beginning of the event, Kunal had introduced himself, and asked everyone to write down their specific questions on a piece of paper and pass it to him, just so that he gets a feel of which areas of concern need to be talked about in his session. He introduced his talk by bringing in the infamous ‘we are like this only’ charade that we Indians are oh-so-familiar with. He talked about the USP of his business- the reason his company was such a big success- the word ‘free’. 50 % off, buy 1 get 1 free, one bucket free with every 5 kg pack of Surf Excel that we don’t really need - sad to say, but that’s who we are. And this is why, the concept of coupons, giving discount on everything under the sun- from McDonalds to Crossword, Shoppers Stop to Jet Airways, free, of course with every recharge, worked brilliantly. He talked about how one needs to understand the nuances of a culture to sell it things, and how copying business models from abroad and trying to implement them here may not always work, as our entire setup works in a completely different way. What I liked was how he knew he was right, and completely unapologetic about it. He said that as a nation, we are afraid of taking risks- from education, to marriage, switching homes or jobs- and that holds us back from taking the plunge. His talk was more generalised, and generated good discussions. He addressed all the questions, from ‘when is the right time to start’ (which he replied with a curt-‘just go for it’), questions on SEO, market, competition, and so on. All in all, it was a great talk.

I was kind of surprised to see the next speaker. This was an electronics graduate from Sardar Patel College of engineering, Mumbai, Directors of Deltecs(*), talking about his first client- Wipro. Theirs was a mobile platform (called Drona) , which could be used for corporate communication, training, sales and HR. He gave a short but engaging presentation on ‘what to do and what not to do’, when giving a sales pitch to a client. About what they say, and what they really mean. There were some good tips there, (like if the client says ‘drop me a mail, I’ll get back to you’, it simply means ‘SPAM ALERT!’  J)

Following this was a couple of Lightning Pitches, which is basically a short presentation by aspiring entrepreneurs about their upcoming ventures – to attract VCs, get the crowd engaged about their product, generate discussion about it and so on. There was one on a new social network, and one on a new idea that is trying to increase CSR in big firms.

So there was a good mix of people there. What I mostly felt was that a lot of people had great business acumen, but not the necessary technical skills to implement them. Some of them had probably worked for several years in a sector, and had everything else they needed to start their own companies, but the technical knowhow was a drawback. Which is why a lot of people there were looking for CTO (chief technical officers), java developers, computer grads, the works. Some people felt that the discussion had become too IT oriented this time, but with internet visibility becoming a huge factor for brand value, one needs to step up in this sector to grow. So a session on marketing without bringing in IT was not quite possible.  

Also, there was something for everyone – from Kunal’s inspiring speech, to a young graduate’s (Divyesh) venture and his journey, marketing knowledge for those seeking professional help, it was great. Everyone present, especially the volunteers, were open to feedback and having healthy discussions on what can be changed, how the event can be improved, open to offering mentorship and/or volunteering opportunities to those interested.

This was something new for me, and I felt exhilarated by the experience. I recommend you to attend the next chapter of Startup Saturday(9th June, SPJIMR, 2:30 PM) . Looking forward to the next event!