Interesting ideas from the #prarambh #IIMUdaipur hackathon

I am in the beautiful city of Udaipur for the weekend to participate in the IIM Udaipur Prarambh hackathon. The IIM itself is only 3 years old and is located within the campus of MLS university in the city.

There were about 70-80 participants from various cities and towns near Rajasthan and a few from outside the state as well. 26 ideas were presented on Friday and of them 6 ideas and teams were formed (ones with the most votes). The city of Udaipur itself was a major draw and it is a delight to be here. The lakes, palaces, food and colors are amazing. The city slows you down with its colors and diversity and that is a great thing.

I was both a mentor and a participant. Here are the final 6 ideas that got the most votes. To see photos from my trip, check out my facebook newsfeed.

1. Anhad: This team was trying to solve the problem of helping students in the the 8th to 12th grade think beyond Engineering and Medicine. In India, thanks to lack of mentors and successful role models, many young students are forced to choose these two fields to study after high school. Ahnad is developing a website which will feature role models from 1000′s of alternative careers and professions. The idea is to expose students to find local role models who they can get inspiration from. E.g. A student in Bangalore wants to become a Radio Jockey, then Anhad will bring a local RJ to the school and have all students who want to be RJ’s attend the session and ask questions, interact and learn from the artist.

2. FindGuru.in Focusing on hobbies, this team wants to help you find a “guru” who can teach you to play the guitar, or tennis in you neighborhood. There are many competing services that do the same, so they want to focus on building a comprehensive profile for each “teacher”. The ideas is that everyone has some innate knowledge or skill, with which they can team someone else, so finding and connecting them is what FindGuru is trying to do.

3. WedWay. This is a pretty cool idea. High end weddings are elaborate affairs in India, with some costing upwards of $250K. Coordinating all the guests pickup, ceremonies, events, sharing photos and the like are currently done by the Wedding planner using WhatsApp. They plan to provide a mobile app to help wedding planners coordinate better. The app will be available to guests as well, to upload each of their photos, checkin to locations, explore local sights, share images from their camera so the entire wedding can be viewed through multiple lenses. There are a lot of other features planned to make sure the right people are picked up at the hotel at the right time, guests can interact and get to know each other, etc.

As an aside I have a perspective on “Use and throw apps” that are a growing category, which I will write more about later.

4. BuzzCaptor. The idea is to capture trends on twitter and facebook to categorize them into streams that are easier to consume. Aimed at PR professionals, the product will help them find influencers and key publications to target by category. E.g. You are Reebok and want to launch a few LeBron James shoe, you can with BuzzCaptor identify the top influential folks who talk about shoes, find out which color and patterns are trending on social media, etc. Another idea that has many competitors existing already.

5. Artin: This is an idea that pivoted from providing art & sculpture as a service to helping high net worth individuals find curated artists who can deliver on commissioned art pieces. Initially their idea was similar to ArtFlute, but since high-end “art as a service” has fairly limited demand they have pivoted to providing a marketplace that helps artists connect with art connoisseurs who want custom art at their home or office every month / quarter / year.

6. HelpmeHelpU. This started as a generic “Find real time answers for your questions” when you need them service to something that’s still evolving. The problem they are trying to solve is when after searching for 20 min and reading Quora, Stack Overflow and other websites you still dont have the answer to your question and need to find an “expert” immediately and get some real time help. They planned to make money by charging a commission to help connect you to the right expert. They were evolving into a book rental marketplace and finally a real time second opinion app.

The eCell at IIM Udaipur won the NEN award for “Entrepreneurship cell of the year” in North India. The event was extremely well organized, they have a encouraging coordinator in Joel Xavier and some very enthusiastic students who were all thrilled to host their first hackathon.

If you get a chance to visit Udaipur either on business or pleasure, dont miss the awesome local food – Pyaajz ki Kachori, Mirchi Bada, Jalebis and other delights. There are several local eateries but we went to the Jayesh Mithai Bhandar, which is a disarming roadside, hole-in-the-wall store which is a local favorite.

5 very interesting #startups at the NASSCOM Product Conclave in #Pune

The super hospitable people at Pune invited me again to their wonderful city to participate in the NASSCOM Product conclave #NPC #Pune event. Having been there at least 10 times in the last 2 years, I have a very soft corner for Pune and its really wonderful entrepreneurs. We have 5 companies (out of 31) at the Microsoft Accelerator which are from Pune. That’s the largest representation outside Bangalore.

The NPC event itself was a 1 day workshop format session (as opposed to the 3 day Oct NPC in Bangalore). Most of the workshops at the NPC13 event were repeated at this event. Over 400 entrepreneurs registered to make this the largest attended startup event in Pune.

I flew in early with the Intuit team who run a great workshop called “Design Awesome”. It is a hands-on, instructor facilitated 2 hour (abridged) session for product entrepreneurs. I had the chance to meet a few startups myself during the event, and there are the top 5 that caught my attention.

1. Sujata from Ascent Informatics provides a SaaS service for monitoring industrial devices in real-time. Think of the multiple devices that are used in a manufacturing setup and how one can monitor them to check for pollution, maintenance, performance and energy.

2. kPoint Tech had Sunil tell us about their cloud-based video creation and sharing platform. The example I thought was the most relevant, was many product marketing folks do 1-2 hour webinars. These are “recorded” for future review. The problem is they are long and are not easy to search, splice and view in pieces. They host and manage your videos with their technology.

3. Qualitia has built a Selenium based test automation platform that does not require scripts. If you have ever written test scripts using products such as WinRunner or LoadRunner, you know how much of a pain they are to maintain. Rahul and team have built a product  to reduce time and maintenance for testing.

4. SaveTime Technologies helps you find the right doctor quickly. They have a fairly large database of doctors and reviews from patients in Pune. Mitesh and team have built a product that is like ZocDoc and others, but up and running already.

5. ANTfarm robotics was a pretty cool product that helps you control the electrical devices at home using your mobile phone. Subhojit has built a pretty cool product that helps you switch on your microwave, fan, lighting etc. even if you are not at home using your mobile device.

After the event, where I had a 2 hour workshop on Sales for startups, (Check out the tweets yo), we went to Bedekars for the world famous Misal Paav.

Intuit Team outside Bedekars - Misal Paav

Intuit Team outside Bedekars – Misal Paav



Some very interesting #startups at the Wharton India Economic Forum #wief14

I am at Philadelphia this weekend, participating at the Wharton India Economic Forum 2014 with Sanjiv Bikchandani, Alok Kejriwal and Rajesh Sawhney. The forum brings together about 100+ students, local entrepreneurs and investors together for a day long session. It is hosted by the the Indian students who study at the Wharton school of business.

This year they hosted 10 startups (5 in the idea stage and 5 with some traction) to pitch to us for both investment and feedback.

It was great to see some very interesting companies from both India and the US. The 5 idea stage companies had 3 women founders as well and some very compelling ideas.

Here is a summary of the companies.

Idea stage companies. This session featured companies founded by Penn or Wharton students.

  1. AmbitionI: Neha and her cofounder are building a product that uses algorithms to help career counselling for young professionals. Imagine you are working at a large company and always wanted to be an Investment banker. It will connect with your Alumni network and LinkedIn to find out who are the folks that have a similar background as you and have already become investment bankers. Then you can learn how they became an investment banker and figure out how to get some advice to make a career change.
  2. Level Counsel: Aditya and his cofounder are targeting Indian and Chinese XI and XII grade students who need advice on which colleges to apply and which major to pursue. These students will be matched with students who are currently studying at the colleges they want to apply to and connect them so they can get mentorship and advice. They are trying to disrupt the existing career counselling services offered who charge a lot of money to help students make choices on college applications.
  3. Travel Gourmand: If you are travelling to a new location and would like to taste local food but don’t know where to eat or if the restaurants are hygienic or not, this app is for you. They pair you with a local “food guide” who will take you on a 1-3 hour “food tour” and take you to some local hot spots and places to eat. Sayeed Banerjee has a team in Delhi who can help you with food tours in Delhi currently. They plan to expand beyond Delhi soon.
  4. Vhelp: If you are looking for some advice from a lawyer, or a doctor but are not able to get a person at the location you are at, then Kushboo and her team can help. VHelp gets you experts at your fingertips. This is a platform that will help you get advice if you are a rural location but don’t have experts available locally.
  5. WishGuise: This app won the Idea stage competition. Tanvi Chopra’s company helps you rent high street fashion and Ethnic Indian wear. Indian women spend a lot of money on ethnic wear, and they end up not using them too frequently. I think they will have a challenge to prevent perception that they are renting used clothes, but if the top designers are willing to sign up and offer their latest, then I can see how this can scale. It is similar to a company called Rent the runway in the US.

Later stage companies. This session featured many companies from India who applied to the program directly.

  1. Qlicklet: Vivek and his team help monetize Wi-Fi Hot spots at various locations in India using advertising. They are currently running at Delhi airport. If you as a consumer want free Wi-Fi and are willing to watch an ad before you get access to free Wi-Fi for 45 minutes, this app is for you.
  2. Targeting Mantra: Saurab’s company provides analytics and tools to eCommerce companies to help them increase their conversions. They currently have 10 eCommerce companies in India including Yehbi using their product to personalize the website for users and increase customer conversions to purchase.
  3. Sammaan: Ifran’s company provides a mobile van that reaches out to remote villages and rural locations which have no hospitals. This mobile van makes money by charging patients Rs. 25 per visit and also makes money by offering discounted prescription drugs and referrals to diagnostics providers. The cost of each mobile van is about $50K and they are currently operating 1 van in Patna.
  4. ZoomCar: David and his cofounder are building the ZipCar for India. They offer self-driven cars for folks that would like to rent a car for a few hours or a day. They currently offer 6 types of cars currently from Reva’s to Scorpios. Operating currently in Bangalore, this company is currently in the Microsoft Accelerator in Bangalore.
  5. Zostel: This company with 7 founders, some of whom are currently studying in IIM Kolkata offers hostels for backpackers. I met the company before in Kolkata and they are currently operating 2 hostels in Jaipur and Udaipur. They offer a very edgy brand and great value for money at Rs. 400 per bed per night. They are currently seeing 60% utilization at their 2 hostels, and are primarily catering to international travelers. They plan to expand to Goa, Mcleod Gunj and other locations. They won the competition for later stage companies.

I absolutely loved meeting with local entrepreneurs and was part of the VC and entrepreneur panel where we talked about the investment scenario in India and the challenges faced by Indian entrepreneurs worldwide. Wharton accepts about 850 students each year for their MBA program and nearly 50 of them are from India, so they have a lot of knowledge about India and problems faced by Indian entrepreneurs.

Why WhatsApp is an absolute steal for Facebook at $19B

I have been the contrarian on the Whatsapp deal with Facebook. I think this is an absolute steal for Facebook. Here is why I think that:

The email address was the unique id to identify anyone over the last 30 years. Turns out that’s only true for about a billion to maybe 2 Billion people. Now, almost everyone that has an email address (or will very soon) has a facebook account.

The mobile phone number is the new unique id. That will be the unique identification for the NEXT 2 Billion people OR more.

By any conservative measure, Whatsapp will be at 2 Billion people in 2 years. They have executed so well so far to get to 450 Million users that it seems very likely they will get there.

There is a small risk they may not, but a risk Zuck’s probably willing to take .

So, if you were Zuck and you got 2 Billion user’s unique id for 1/10th of the price of his company.

Twice the number of users at 1/10 of the price. That’s got SALE written all over it.

Why would you not do that?

FB has 1 + Billion users and is valued at $160 B with a revenue of $6 Billion.

WhatsApp will have 2 Billion users and is valued at $16 Billion and is breaking even / profitable already.

No brainer deal and an absolute steal in my mind.

The future of communication is up for grabs as well. Email is clearly not the preferred medium for my kids and the younger folks.

My kids only use Whatsapp. They also use YouTube as their search engine instead of Google or Bing.

These are the BIG changes being driven by MOBILE.

That’s the future. And Zuck now has gotten relatively cheap insurance against being a small player in mobile.

Why I think mobile apps are going to die in 3-5 years

I was at a panel yesterday talking about the “Appification of India”. This was part of the Social Media Week event.

I made a statement and tried in 2-3 min to clarify what I meant, but did a poor job of it. I thought it is better to detail my thoughts on this blog post.

I believe in 3-5 years mobile “apps” will be dead.

They will be replaced by a set of backend services that will be controlled by the smartphone OS.

As a user the only “UI” you will care about will be your phone UI controlled by the phone or provider. The current set of “apps” will be invoked on demand from the cloud by the OS (or the service layer developed by another 3rd party company).

The current problems with apps are well known. Besides games, which make up the significant part of the downloads, the problems with all other apps are: App discovery and app monetization are a huge problem for developersRemembering which apps to use and managing the apps on your mobile phone are huge pain for users.

I believe Apps get in the way of what users want to do.

You want a car ride from your restaurant to home. Why do you have to remember that the Uber app is the one to use, then search for it on your phone, bring it up, click a few buttons, etc.

Now imagine if you either spoke to your phone or typed on your phone – get me a car to go home.

The phone has a set of pre-determined services which can all handle the request “get a car”. The OS (or service store) on the phone will negotiate with these services to get you the best service (depending on whether you have previously preferred best price, best car, etc.) and confirm that you will have the car in a few minutes. You dont have to remember that you have to open the Uber app etc.

Now at the back end, it will get more interesting if these “services” will bid (auction style) on fulfilling the request.

Which is why I believe the OS wars are done and finished. Android won.

Now let the service management layer wars will begin.

The rise of student entrepreneurship in India #tatafirstdot and NEN

Today I had the opportunity to hang out with 1000+ student entrepreneurs from over 60+ cities and all states in India at the NEN #tatafirstdot event in RV College of engineering. The twitter buzz gives you an indication of the event’s energy.

NEN has been promoting student entrepreneurship for over a decade now and this was my 3rd event. They do a terrific job of turning the raw energy and talent of students into some great startups. The first dot event had 500+ students applications. Students from Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) to Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) participated and this time they had to present fully formed products / prototypes, not just business plans.

To set some context, in 2008, less than 1% of startups in all ventures were founded by students straight out of college. This year, that number is close to 3%. The number of startups has risen 3-fold during this period. We have over 20 Microsoft Innovation Center’s at various colleges in India that focus their effort on supporting great student entrepreneurs as well. These center’s serve to host hackathons, conduct entrepreneurship classes and encourage students and faculty to pursue building companies instead of “getting a job”.

I had a few questions from NDTV (Bala) at the sidelines of the event. One question stood out as something that needs more explanation and commentary.

“Why is it important for us to have more student entrepreneurs as a startup ecosystem”?

There are 3 main reasons why I am so passionate about student entrepreneurs:

1. Their “lack of experience” is a HUGE advantage. Most folks tend to think that experience is a good thing in entrepreneurship. I am a contrarian. I believe that experience (other than the experience being an entrepreneur) holds you back as an entrepreneur. Older and more experienced entrepreneurs are more in number, they are more successful, but they do not create disruptive companies. (p.s. I dont have data to prove this, just anecdotes) They see a problem, they solve the problem and become successful. Student entrepreneurs see something and are willing to question why? They refuse to look at the “current lay of the land” and find ways to operate within the constraints.

2. Their ability to take risk is much greater. When you are young, single and unattached, your ability to take risk is much larger, than when you have a mortgage, kids, hospital bills etc. The worst thing that happens is that you fail and get acquired by a larger company.

3. Time is on their side. Most mid-career executives wanting to start a company are fighting the lack of time on their side. It is NEVER too late to start a company, but if you measure the number of mistakes per unit time you make, then student entrepreneurs clearly have more chances to fail and finally succeed.

I truly believe that students are going to be the largest part of entrepreneurs in India in a few decades. Until then we have Microsoft Innovation centers and NEN to show us how to get them motivated, excited and focused on building their venture.

Shout out to my friend, advisor, guide and awesome student entrepreneurship champion Sri Krishna of NEN. He is the person to connect with in India for all things student startups related.

#Biotech park in Bangalore

Quick note. I was invited to the Biotech park launch in Bangalore yesterday. This is a 56 acre piece of land to help Biotech startups in Bangalore. There is significant money being spent by both the state and central governments (approx $8 Million) to help startups in Bangalore.

The talent pool from BioGen, NCBS, Instem and others in Bangalore is large enough to support 20-30 startups each year is the thinking in Bangalore.

The space walk through was a 3D video. It was really cool. Loved it. Photos coming soon.