YourStory.in exclusive coverage of 8th edition of Proto.in, Chennai
Proto.in could take the first-mover slot. The Proto.in event for startups is purely volunteer driven and has a very promising advisory team.The 8th edition of Proto.in, lived up to its startup event billing. At the Great Lakes Institute campus, nearly a 90-minute drive from Chennai, more than 350 members of the audience went back in the evening, with their minds stuffed with some real on-the-ground lessons on startups and entrepreneurship. The Proto.in showcase, the highlight of the event since its inception, won the honours of the day. Proto has so far showcased 120 startups like this.
Keynotes: Investor’s prescriptions to startups as lessons and the InMobi story
Mohit Bhatnagar of Sequoia Capital set the tone for the day with his keynote that touched upon the essentials of startup entrepreneurship. Taking a cue for his experiences as an investor, he pronounced lessons to be learnt from such experiences. Naveen Tewari came in next with his story. InMobi, founded by Naveen, went through three iterations before hitting the right product. Mobile internet advertising, in which it prides itself as the second largest player after Google, didn’t happen just like that. Its SMS search mKhoj didn’t take off as expected and SMS advertising wasn’t exciting either. Naveen could count himself lucky on many counts: Mumbai Angels which invested $50,000 on mKhoj did not press for its return when Naveen abandoned search and went to advertising; when all investors in India turned their back on Naveen, he found a real angel in Ram Shriram who pumped in $7 million as InMobi’s cash reserves were fast drying; and Naveen hit the sweet spot with mobile internet advertising. Fortune favored Naveen, the brave, as he went from one experiment to another, with a whole bunch of naysayers willing to write off his idea. But he stood his ground and today takes pride in crafting one of the fastest growing companies in the world, perhaps.
The Proto.in showcase: Internet, software, outliers, mobile and social enterprise
In the five categories, 15 startups presented their product pitch. I2V, the video security software and video security management systems, in the outlier category, was the pick of the presentations for its innovative approach using videos to troubleshoot and secure any area, be it office or public space. TechnoPurple, a Mumbai-based startup, showcased their products, which helps companies track their movable assets using GPS technology and data analytics. Sagar Bedmutha’s smsBlocker from his startup Optinno Mobitech could have won the popular choice award as attendees who downloaded the smsBlocker on their phones found it working and great. Membrane filters from Purioin, presented by its founded Subash Devi, provides pure water to villages. Using a membrane purification system, a 500-liter water container, mounted on a three-wheeler, uses the vehicle motor to run the membrane filtration system. Water is supplied to users at their homes in this mobile vehicle. Artoo, founded by a very young entrepreneur Sameer Segal, provides paperless documentation solutions to microfinance institutions and rural healthcare. Its pilot with Ujjivan Financial Services saved the company two days on turnaround time on loans, increased productivity by 35%, and resulted in cost savings of Rs. 74.4 crore, ten times its profit. Deepak Punwani found an innovative solution to charge the low-energy devices that includes LED-based lights and mobile phones. Nuru Energy’s patent-pending pedal generator helps charge Nuru’s product, the LED light, in villages and remote locations that have no access to grid electricity.
Discussions on SME Exchange, Early-Stage Funding, Product 101, Scaling Up
The Bombay Stock Exchange is launching an SME Exchange in September 2011. The discussion on SME Exchange centred around how SMEs can benefit from the exchange.
The Product 101 discussion moderated by Gopal Srinivasan, MD of TVS Capital, could be voted the best discussion of the day. The master craftsman that Gopal Srinivasan is at with his imitable presentation, quick to get an insight and ask the right questions had to finally say that the entrepreneurs in the panel were “hackers, designers and the hustlers.” The corporate member in the panel, Director of Times Internet, Gautam Sinha, also had crafted a master entrepreneurial strategy to livestream IPL4 in 18 days after BCCI gave permission to indiatimes.com, 18 days prior to recently concluded IPL4. Rohit Singhal, founder of SourceBits, an apps company, perhaps captured the imagination of the audience. This is Rohit’s first IT conference as a speaker and only last month he went to US to listen to Steve Jobs, his inspiration. Rohit, a radiologist by profession, has built apps on iPhone that sell like hot cakes. He even has a brick-and-mortar app store in Bangalore. If daring is an entrepreneurial trait, Manav Garg had it in plenty. His EKA software, which provides commodity exchange software, had to go through several testing phases and Manav relied on his instincts to win customer trust by staying on in London. Mukul Kumar of Pubmatic was equally daring in his venture that all the three showcased entrepreneurs have shown that India is capable of developing world-class products, in Gopal Srinivasan’s words.
The early stage funding discussion was moderated by Arun Natarajan of Venture Intelligence, who started off by saying that Rs. 600 crore has been pumped in through 30 transactions every quarter on early-stage ventures. Sandeep Singhal, MD of Nexus Venture Partners, gave an insight into their funding of MakeMyTrip. Deep Kalra, founder of MakeMyTrip, gave an assurance to Sandeep that he or six senior members of the company wouldn’t take salaries till MakeMyTrip turned cash flow positive when the Internet meltdown of 2001 was really hard on dotcoms. That took till 2004 to stabilize the operations and when MakeMyTrip finally made it big last year through stellar listing on NASDAQ, it has lot to do with the conviction of the entrepreneur, in Sandeep’s opinion. Rahul Khanna of Canaan Partners showed how deal sizes increased by the volume and quantum of funding. In comparing 15 months from present vs the 30 months before that, the quantum of funding has increased from Rs. 64 crore to Rs. 102 crore. Anand Lunia, MD, Seed Fund, asked entrepreneurs to choose between funding their own ventures to keep the ownership with them or seek VC funding and exit the business at some stage. Sasha Mirchandani recounted his experiences with Mumbai Angels and Ashwin Raghuraman of Nasscom India Innovation Fund wanted product entrepreneurs to engage customers as potential partners early on in the venture. Sushanto Mitra of SINE listed various initiatives of IIT-Bombay to encourage innovation.
The scaling up panel consisted of Satya Prabhakar of Sulekha.com and Naveen Tewari of InMobi. Contrasting are the ways in which Sulekha and InMobi have been built and Satya and Naveen listed key challenges when the company is scaling and how they adopted to change in people management and culture.
An innovation jam to identify potential solutions for disaster management was organized by T-Labs, an early stage investor from Times Internet. It was presented by Kiruba Shankar, CEO of Business Blogging. Sequoia Capital offered mentoring help to startup entrepreneurs identified earlier by Proto.in team. Amit Grover of Nurture Talent Academy conducted a workshop on financial fundamentals.
The takeaways from Proto.in should have been plenty for entrepreneurs and the program mix was definitely well designed to address many issues a startup product entrepreneur faces. Kudos to Sudhir Syal, who was the front man and the public face, who put it together and all those invisible volunteer team, including the unassuming Syed, at The Knowledge Foundation that perhaps sweated it out to take the event to a grand finish.
—Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist
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