On March 2, as Chennai was feeling a transition from the passing winter into incoming summer, the heat was being felt inside the auditorium in IIT-M Research Park. The occasion was fourth edition of Startup Super Day of TiE Chennai and at the Pitch Fest 10 startups pitched to Sramana Mitra, founder of 1M/1M, who listened to them from Silicon Valley through videoconferencing.
Most pitches seemed intent on solving problems. While some were very ambitious in scope (connecting SMEs to automobile giants), some were novel (surrogate advertising on windmills) and some tried to change the status quo (crowdsourced content for online learning). The Pitch Fest’s winners will walk away with a cool 1M/1M program membership worth $1000 per annum. Three winners were to be finalized from the 10 pitches. The scholarships are sponsored by TiE Chennai charter members.
Chennai on top of technology
“I am impressed with the pitches,” Sramana told the audience from the Valley. Then she listed the biggest trends in the technology space today and Chennai being very part of it. Some companies like Avaaz and OrangeScape are at the forefront of this innovation. Mobile apps like Avaaz, a technology product that helps autistic children communicate, has developed apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and in the process of developing one for Windows 8. Similarly OrangeScape, which has developed KISSFlow, a workflow tool to help enterprises through PaaS and Fresh Desk, which has leveraged SaaS to develop a suite of CRM applications, are leading the way in this technology. Big data is another area of expertise that not many are comfortable with but big corporations are increasingly focused on it to make informed, data-driven decisions. Data mining is no longer in fashion but data analytics is a fast catching up trend. Latent View Analytics from Chennai is serving a global audience through its big data analytics. Niche e-commerce is a fast developing trend and Carrot Lane from Chennai is selling diamonds online in partnership with an American company, Blue Nile, based on contract arbitrage. Through this, diamonds worth $16 million are being sold online.
Failure as a stepping stone to success
TiE Chennai Charter Member Raghu Rajagopal, a serial entrepreneur, investor, and startup mentor, gave choicest lessons on failing. Quoting various entrepreneurs from his interviews, he listed the entrepreneurs’ mistakes and lessons they learned from their experience. Most entrepreneurs find finance troubling and do not know how to channelize funds appropriately early on. While entrepreneurship is a learning curve necessarily, a heads-up advice like Raghu’s helps avoid many mistakes that startup entrepreneurs are prone to. The key mistakes were mostly in areas of thinking and functioning, customers and customer intelligence, matters internal to the organization, and finance. “Staying on your core is important,” stressed Raghu. “Don’t compare yourself to other entrepreneurs. Focus and attention to detail, how to be in play, and knowing success is relative are of immense help. It’s a marathon,” warned Raghu, adding those who are there for a quick buck and quick exit cannot make it. The stories were rich and provided good take-aways for entrepreneurs in a practical sense.
Prof. J.K. Iyer, strategy head at Consim, that owns Bharat Matrimony.com, enlivened the audience with his interactive marketing “seminar.” After understanding customer needs, it’s imperative to segment, target and position your product, he emphasized. Segmentation and positioning is important, as, in his words, “your product cannot satisfy everyone’s needs.” Sometimes the product might find another use apart from what it is intended for. Quoting a light-hearted marketing folklore, he said entrepreneurs should be open to understanding this. When a survey was done to find out why washing powder Surf wasn’t selling as quickly as the washing machines in Punjab, it was found that washing machines were employed for making lassi. Describing customer need as very crucial to a successful marketing campaign, he said HDFC has a product that serves only 119 customers out of its customer base of 3 million. Such micromarketing efforts contribute to success, he said. Increasingly understanding customer behaviour and developing products around it is emerging as a latest trend in marketing. This is called psychographic segmentation. Fixing value is arbitrary, he said, quoting an experiment where MBA students were asked to suggest price of two shirts, one branded and another of the same brand but with labels removed. The students tend to put higher value for the branded shirt. That plays a big part in us attaching value to a product, he said. Packaging also enhances value, he added. One important part of marketing is understanding what it entails. To illustrate a myth, he quoted another folklore where it is said a marketing person should be able to sell a comb to a bald-headed customer. “Maybe he can convince a few customers but there will not be repeat business,” he joked, and if the product is not used for what it is intended, repeat sales will not happen, he explained.