As Friday gives way to Saturday, and a long winding week goes by in expectation of an imminent weekend to sit back and relax a bit. On Saturday, the 15th of October, Dorai Thodla, who heads the Special Interest Group (SIG) on Startups in TiE Chennai, brought in entrepreneurial community to sit and not relax but debate, discuss and listen. The Startup Super Day in an unconference format suits attendees the best. They come with an open mind and decide on the topic to discuss. To get the boredom away of a discussion always, a panel discussion and focused debates on startup valuation and customer development were weaved into the agenda. Parallel tracks in the morning debated on PR for startups and business strategies.Women power on display
At noon, three women entrepreneurs who won TiE Shakthi Awards for women entrepreneurship recently engaged in a panel discussion to narrate their journeys and explain their challenges. These three women run different businesses. Saundarya Rajesh of Avtaar Career Creators is in the business of finding work options for women, Sree Vidhya runs Ravindra Services Pvt. Ltd, a security agency (a traditionally male bastion), and Saloni Malhotra is the founder of a rural BPO, Desicrew. Contrasting in their personality, style of functioning and outlook, these three women answered a range of questions from an amused audience on issues ranging from what it means for a woman to be in business. Saundarya explained her woes in getting an overdraft from bank, Sree Vidhya narrated her late night inspection drive-through the city (with chilli powder for self-protection) to keep an eye on her staff and Saloni found it difficult to reconcile rural associated with poverty and deprivation and BPO, a new-age work culture of late night work and computers, and how she had to explain what it meant. Saloni was an odd person in a social enterprise business that usually had grey-hair men. But she fought it all through in convincing potential employees to work profitably in villages. Sree Vidhya is gutsy in managing men to secure workplaces, and without compromises or underhand favours, she runs her business straight. Saundarya perhaps brought that soft feminine touch, in empowering women to find suitable ways to profitably engage themselves. Sree Vidhya put the contrast of being a businessperson and a mother so beautifully when she said how she had to listen to the lament of her daughter and be kind to her and face issues at office sternly when it comes to erring staff.
Sree Vidhya also told the audience about an interesting business of Shweta Tiwari. Shweta helps put a smile on spouse’s face when there are arguments, quarrels, and all those married matter issues at home. Sree Vidhya felt it was an awesome idea and nobody thought about it before Shweta did.
Valuation of your startup and customer development
Vivek Naidu, Vice President at Barclays, engaged the audience on valuation of a startup. Without history, startup valuations are based on math and largely judgement, explained Vivek. He said perception of profits is one of the criteria for valuation. Strategic investors, who are usually domain experts, tend to invest more in a startup rather than financial investors who look for returns. “Don’t give away more than 26%,” pointed out Vivek, as statutory norms would make it difficult for you if you give away more. Another piece of advice was not to keep investment open-ended, on how much to give and how much investment to take. It’s better to be firm and keep the paperwork ready. This discussion evoked interesting questions and seemed to extend for ever, at which point it was forcibly ended so that the other sessions could take place.
Vijay Anand, founder of The Startup Centre, started an animated discussion on customer development. Theories and experiences flowed through the discussions and is customer acquisition customer development or is customer development misunderstood were starting point of the discussion. Customer development is proposing a compelling idea to acquire, retain and excite customers. One consensus was Apple has no comparison and customer expectations have to be built into the product. Pricing is also crucial, felt the participants. Siddharth Govindarajan of Silverstripe explained how acquiring customer trust helped him win three pre-release orders of a new product, without the customers knowing how the new product worked. Vijay said customer insight is more important in building an idea. He explained what a pivot is. Pivot means slightly tweaking your business model to win or expand customer base. Another entrepreneur Lakshminarayanan explained how it took long years for them to design their offering based on customer insights. They met more than 50 customers to design their offering to succeed. As they say, the initial business plan is just a starting point. But it gets iterated a lot until a business plan gets modified. This discussion did not seem to stop and went on and on and on and on.
The level of involvement of participants was high. It was a forum for entrepreneurs to engage in lively discussions. Otherwise participants are forced to listen and not speak, maybe speak only during Q&A. More of these events are welcome as it provides an avenue for entrepreneurs to discuss, debate and find solutions. TiE Chennai has always been at the forefront of many initiatives directly impacting upon the entrepreneurs in programmes such as Lightning Talk.
Photo caption: L to R: Saundarya, Sree Vidhya, Saloni, Dorai and executive director of TiE Chennai Vishy in the panel discussion
–Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist