Time Travel: Techsparks 2012!

In just a few months, YourStory will be launching its flagship annual Techsparks event. Let us first share with you the excitement of the previous two events to make sure you attend this year’s edition! The TechSparks 2012 conference and product showcase kicked off on September 8 in Bangalore with founder/CEO Shradha Sharma proudly announcing that 6,000 startups were profiled on the YourStory site (that figure has more than doubled now!).

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“Over 52% of the startups we profile have received business leads and deals,” said Sharma. Techsparks started off as a one-city event in 2010, two cities in 2011, and six cities in 2012. The TECH30 Report 2012 was released, with profiles of the top 30 product startups in India.

The hall was packed with hundreds of attendees, and the lobby was lined with stalls and booths from dozens of startups. I will never forget the awesome energy of the event – this was the day I joined YourStory, how auspicious! Within an hour the event’s hashtag was trending worldwide.

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Shailendra Singh, MD of Sequoia Capital India, delivered the opening keynote address. “I have been involved with 25 investments in India,” he said, in categories such as Internet, Big Data and payments. Winning teams need a balance of talent, energy, skills, and experience, he advised. He cited Druva, Mu Sigma and JustDial as portfolio case studies.

Common mistakes startups make are hiring under time pressure, an inadequate ESOP pool, trading off cash for equity, having employees with only big company experience, and low motivation levels, he cautioned.

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“Our current favourite product in our portfolio is DropBox,” Singh said, describing key attributes investors look for in starutp teams: integrity, ambition, passion, sacrifice, frugality, conviction, understanding of market and articulation.

Panelists from Citrix, Sequoia, Intel, Google, Amazon, Philips and the Karnataka government addressed how startups should scale up. Infrastructure has scaled up now, and makes it easier for startups to launch and grow via cloud computing and SaaS models. Governments can also play an enabling role by improving infrastructure.

“There are more opportunities today for startups in India than anywhere else in the world,” said Gautam Gandhi, Head of New Business Development and Emerging Markets, Google.

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Companies such as inMobi have shown that startups from India can go global; other startups can follow suit, and need to understand how to design a Web presence which is global and create an international culture in the organisation. Startups should look at stickiness of product, use-case scenarios and engagement metrics.

In a session on cloud computing, Pieter Kemps, Principal, Business Development & Venture Capital, Asia, Amazon AWS, shared how cloud solutions helped Instagram get 14 million users within a year; it had just three engineers on board then. DropBox, AirBnB, Pinterest, Druva, RedBus and IndiaGames (acquired by Disney) also used AWS.

Anuj Roy, Partner, LongHouse Consulting, provided some advice on human capital challenges for startups, such as choice of CEO, alignment with investors, structure v/s skills, and risk v/s reward structures. “Should structure follow people, or people follow structure?” he provocatively asked.

Two winners from the previous year’s edition, Techsparks 2011, came to stage to share their progress. United Mobile Apps (founded 2009)  has developed the Kepplr solution for synchronising cloud data. “With Kepplr you can work Fastr and organise your life beyond a Foldr,” joked founder Sriram V. Iyer.

This was followed by Heckyl Technologies, which provides realtime financial information, news and analytics. “We have been selected to present at Finovate 2012 in Singapore,” proudly said Mukund Mudras, Managing Director of Heckyl.

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Krishnakumar Natarajan, CEO of Mindtree, delivered the second keynote, on scaling a startup. Long  term success factors include clear value proposition, collective articulation, treating people as part owners, willingness to learn from others, mutual respect, and seeing every problem as an opportunity, he advised. “Startups fail when they don’t see their own blind spots. Some don’t know when to let go. They should have plans for continuous learning,” he added.

Next, Intel presented awards to its App4India winners : MetroPhoto, GoLive, Tvparty, RemoteControl My Phone, and PollingWizard.

Then came the much awaited presentations from the TechSparks 2012 finalists! The featured startups had to comply with tight presentation schedules, and took questions from the jury as well.

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(i) Little Eye Labs (acquired by Facebook in 2013!) – power profiling tools for app developers

(ii) Treetle – location-specific interest networks

(iii) JusPay  - creating simple and secure payments

(iv) Diabeto  - monitoring glucose readings, managing eating and lifestyle

(v) Gamooz  - mobile AR apps, enterprise services

(vi) Impact Index  - statistical analysis tool for cricket

(vii) Harness HandiTouch  – collaborative learning

(viii) Colimetrics  – email management solutions

(ix) Radiowalla  – streaming Internet radio channels

(x) Praxify  - cloud based practice management solution for doctors

(xi) JustUnFollow  – to unfollow people on Twitter

(xii) MilkOrWater  - stock ideas to long term retail investors

(xiii) DataWeave  – open data services, intelligence

(xiv) CollateBox – collecting and cleansing data

(xv) Mango Reader  – animating books

(xvi) Teach A Class  – cloud-based classroom education.

After a suspense-filled nail-biting break, the jurors announced the winners of Techsparks 2012! Third place was shared by DataWeave and Diabeto; second prize was won by HarnessTouch, and the winner was JustUnFollow.

“It is humbling to see startups here today doing so much. This will affect India’s future development,” said Shailendra Singh of Sequoia, and the entire YourStory team took the stage for a standing ovation from the audience.

In the next article, we will bring to you the highlights of TechSparks 2013. But you have to come in person to feel the energy of TechSparks 2014!

Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao is research director at YourStory Media and editor of five book series (http://amzn.to/NpHAoE). His interests include creativity, innovation, knowledge management, and digital media. Madan is also a DJ and writer on world music and jazz. He can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao