Chennai, a vibrant entrepreneurial city: TiE Unconference adds energy to the entrepreneurial space

Tie ChennaiView from the Sidelines by Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy

In photo: From L to R: Chandu Nair, Ketan, Raghu, JK, and Dorai (with mic)

Over the weekend on Saturday, 18 September, Dorai Thodla, a serial entrepreneur; Siddharth Govindarajan, founder Open Coffee Club, Chennai; and Sathyanarayan, the ThoughtWorks employee quietly cooked up what later turned out to be the most exciting day for entrepreneurs at the ThoughtWorks office in Thiru. Vi. Ka Industrial Estate Guindy. The awesome threesome (Dorai, Sid, and Sathya) organized the TiE Unconference for entrepreneurs. The day started with setting up an agenda for the rest of the day. Starting with product management, product marketing, to forming a core team of people to start a company, bootstrapping or funding, cloud computing, finance for entrepreneurs and a host of other topics were lined up in “left,” “right,” conf wings of the ThoughtWorks office.

ThoughtWorks is a creative office. During a break, I had a brief chat with its general manager Ketan Hajarnavis (Ketan). The glass walls and white boards full of paste-it slips in yellow, pink, green lent a flavor to the vibrancy of the office. To add more fizz, photographs of those involved in that part of the project accompanied the horizontal line of paste-it slips that either talked about an idea, progress, or execution of a project. A white board full of paste-it slips is enough for a manager to know what is happening in a project. All stages are tracked this way. Ketan told me they also have an online tracking through their tool Mingle. Sid (an Agile expert and evangelist) confirmed that Agile workflow is handled this way. I felt grateful to have learnt the art of project management the Agile way.

In this kind of environment with coffee, tea, and soft drinks available on call, the entrepreneurs used the opportunity to freely discuss what was their real problems. This characteristic of relevance of topics and discussions was visible throughout the day. In one discussion on Growing Up pains moderated by Senthil Nayagam of Rails Factory, participants actively proposed their problems like Santhosh of Bambaram, an online toy library, sharing the tough time he has finding delivery boys that prompted at least four suggestions from others.  The other one on startups was equally engaging with ideas freely flowing from all participants.

Tie ChennaiThe postlunch session was lively with a panel discussion on Growing Up. The panel consisted of charter members of TiE — Chandu Nair of Scope (a KPO and not the Stanchart backoffice), J. Krishnan (JK) of Netlinks (also vice-president of TiE Chennai), Sudeep Jain (IAS and chairman of MSME Institute, a government body), Ketan of ThoughtWorks, and Raghu Rajagopal (a software entrepreneur). The panelists initially narrated a story on how they became entrepreneurs and the companies they founded. Then a series of questions were answered. Chandu Nair built a company so that he need not be an independent consultant, J. Krishnan started a company based on the knowledge he possessed, Raghu came on his own sensing huge opportunities, and Ketan’s journey was full of ups and downs. Sudeep Jain was frank enough to admit that funds availability is a problem as they is no clear credit rating mechanism in India. Chandu Nair also narrated his trials and tribulations to get the first SBI loan. Chandu Nair joked that he too bit the entrepreneurial bug and is suffering from the entrepreneurial disease. J. Krishnan narrated a story of a king. A practice in a kingdom allowed anybody to become a king. But after five years, the king has to go to a dense jungle full of wild beasts to live the rest of his life. So no one dared to become one. Even if they did, they were very sad at the end of five years. But one man took up the challenge and was happily waving to people as he left the kingdom after completing five years. People thought he was crazy and the boatman who ferried him to the jungle asked him why was he so happy whereas he had only seen sad kings on his boat. The king replied that he had converted the forest into a mini kingdom by sending hunters, town planners, administrators, and architects in four successive years and he is now going to be the king in the new kingdom. The moral of the story: don’t be unfazed by problems but find solutions. This probably summed up the entrepreneurial journey that is at times challenging and the only way to face it is through finding innovative and intuitive solutions.

Later there were sessions on solar energy and social media marketing. The feedback from the unconference was that it was most useful and energy flowed like water.