Barely a week has passed since the world’s largest mobile industry gathering, the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – and ambitious startups are already planning on how to improve their MWC experience for next year.
This year, I came across a range of mobile startups from India exhibiting at or attending MWC – Remo Software, Winjit Technologies, KeyPoint, IndusNet and F5Mobi. There were also more established mobile specialists from India such as Vserv.mobi and InMobi, and the usual ICT giants like Tata Communications.
I asked them how their MWC 2014 experience was, what such a global trade show does to promote startups from India, and whether collective measures like an India pavilion would work for them as it does for other countries. Their responses are highly useful for other startups eyeing participation at MWC 2015. It also means they should start planning right now to maximise their experience.
For Winjit Technologies, the main agenda for participating at MWC 2014 was the global launch of App Adda, a platform for users to download digital content such as apps, games and music without internet access. “App Adda enables connecting to the next billion without internet. It has a built-in coupon mechanism which supports offline monetisation as well,” said Abhijit Junagade, co-founder of Winjit Technologies.
One startup founder from Bangalore, a finalist from YourStory’s TechSparks 2012 showcase, was Omer Faiyaz, founder of REMO Software. The company’s offerings include a home mobile device management (MDM) toolkit called MORE.
“We had set up meetings in advance with prospective partners like resellers, telcos and mobile manufacturers, as well as several VCs. We also briefed members of the international press about our product,” said Faiyaz.
Another startup, IndusNet Technologies, launched an app called SocialFire at MWC 2014. “SocialFire is like a WhatsApp (and more!) for business,” said Abhishek Rungta, CEO at IndusNet.
KeyPoint Technologies has regularly participated in MWC for the past couple of years. “Our big showcase this year was the Adaptxt 3.0 update which was the main audience puller for us. It offers a smart and intelligent keyboard for smart device users, and provides location and application based suggestions,” said Sumit Goswami, CEO, KeyPoint Technologies.
Mobile ad network InMobi exhibited at MWC for the third time. “Our involvement and expectation from the show is only increasing. At the 2014 event, we exhibited and created our largest booth in the history of the company, at 180 square metres total,” said Shrikant Latkar, VP of global marketing at InMobi.
InMobi also launched their book Apponomics, a guide to help developers build successful app businesses. “We also launched two products -- InMobi Episodic Learning Platform, an offering for brand advertisers that refines the process of consumer targeting and therefore increases the efficacy of ad spends, and InMobi for Commerce, a new segment of business for us and a new retail channel for brands and retailers to leverage,” explained Latkar.
He added, “We also had great meetings with our brand and developer customers and ecosystem partners. We use MWC as a venue to meet potential hires for roles like this. Finally, we maintained the InMobi tradition of throwing our annual, big, crazy party on the sidelines of the event!”
Successes at MWC
From leads to inspiration, Indian startups had a good experience at MWC. “We had a decent number of visitors. Our objective was to create awareness about our new product and generate leads for the same. We managed to create around 40+ leads for the same. We are satisfied from the response, says Abhishek Rungta, CEO at IndusNet.
“The most important achievement was exposure – we came back confident, we got a shot in the arm feeling that our thinking matches the market’s needs and moods. We were reassured of the roadmap we had set for ourselves. We had close to 500 visitors to our booth, more than 10 VC meetings, a dozen media interviews and 30+ prospective deals,” said REMO Software’s Omer Faiyaz.
At MWC, App Adda received an overwhelming response. “We got a chance to meet a range of excited content providers and distributors from around the world who wanted to connect to the next billion without relying on internet. Our focus was on the developing world and emerging economies where the product mix we have fits well. There are a good number of leads and business deals we have generated from the event,” said Winjit’s Abhijit Junagade.
“Our product Adaptxt 3.0 was liked and encouraged by a majority of tech enthusiasts. The booth saw industry colleagues and visitors on all four days of the event. A demo was shown to over 100 visitors. We also generated some positive business queries which are currently under deliberation,” said KeyPoint Technologies’ Sumit Goswami.
“MWC is more about meeting old friends and forging new connections. Our booth saw hundreds of visitors each day and we are still compiling a list of all the business enquiries our sales team received,” said InMobi’s Srikant Latkar.
“We attended MWC though we did not have a booth. We met with close to 100 different organisations related to our business line. We got about 10-15 new leads, and there have been numerous inquiries post MWC,” said Ateev and Neha Aggarwal of F5-Mobi.
The MWC advantage
The world’s leading gathering spot for mobile enthusiasts has a number of advantages beyond just scale. “MWC is a great watering hole to meet everyone who is somewhere connected to the mobile economy. The pace of change in the mobility space is so fast; being at MWC offers ample opportunity to see and understand what is trending,” said InMobi’s Srikant Latkar. MWC happens almost at the start of the year and so sets the tone for the remaining 10 months in terms of deals, product rollouts and partnership fructifications.
MWC is a great platform in getting together all the technology lovers from all over the world under one roof. “It gave us an idea how dynamically our new product App Adda can be used in various sectors. MWC helped us to strategise App Adda in the international market as it specially interested people from emerging countries where internet is expensive and not readily available,” said Winjit’s Abhijit Junagade.
MWC is a well-organised event with a regular annual rhythm. “We knew what we had to do -- of the people we met almost 50% meetings were planned before the show started. The MWC app was really helpful,” observed REMO Software’s Omer Faiyaz. Participants get to know of the latest developments, testing techniques and marketing tools.
The networking is outstanding, adds Faiyaz -- every company in the mobile space from startup to blue chips are under one roof during the show, with all relevant people from their respective teams.
MWC’s global reach provides a significant global platform to showcase products and technologies. “Meeting industry colleagues from across the globe opens vistas of opportunities for critical business growth and expansion. We can also exchange notes with our global competitors who rarely attend events in India. And of course, we get important feedback from consumers from all across the globe,” KeyPoint Technologies’ Sumit Goswami.
MWC is an amazing technology showcase. The energy is terrific and the networking is great, agrees Abhishek Rungta, CEO at IndusNet.
And Spain is also a beautiful country, added Ateev and Neha Aggarwal of F5-Mobi, who spent the weekend after MWC in Barcelona.
Challenges at MWC
However, there are the proverbial challenges at MWC, also connected to scale and cost. In the mammoth tradeshow, getting a booth in the right hall to showcase the products is a challenge. “Press coverage is limited and controlled by the organisers. The show is getting more and more expensive every year,” cautioned Winjit’s Abhijit Junagade.
Time management can also be a challenge – especially squeezing in meetings which are not planned in advance but inevitably arise. Cost is another major factor. “A small booth like ours would need a minimum of four personnel, one who can man the booth and other three going around for meetings. So you will need to fly in your colleagues and staying in a European city is very expensive,” cautioned REMO Software’s Faiyaz.
“A major challenge that we faced at MWC this year was the time constraint. On all the four event days, our booth was busy with visitors looking for product information and other details. Attending to each and every business query proved to be difficult, given the short time span on each day,” added KeyPoint Technologies’ Sumit Goswami.
“It is very noisy! Like all trade shows, MWC sees swarms of over 70,000 attendees which makes it hard to separate the news from the noise,” admitted InMobi’s Srikant Latkar. MWC tends to become more about the B2C players since the media and attending delegations are more curious to hear about the next big phone, tablet or wearable technology being launched, and less about B2B deals.
“Barcelona itself needs to up its infrastructure to handle such a big event. We had issues with internet connectivity, transport – basic stuff that can cause a lot of stress,” said Latkar.
Non-availability of Indian food can also be another challenge though the event is supposed to be global, says IndusNet’s Abhishek Rungta.
MWC 2015: the planning begins
All the companies featured in this article plan to come back next year for MWC. “We would showcase our technology in a better booth, have a few devices for do-it-yourself demos for visitors, plan our meetings better, do a good marketing campaign before the event, and launch something new during the event itself,” reels off REMO Software’s Omer Faiyaz.
“In the next edition we aspire being more proactive and reach out to potential clients for meetings and discussions. We will offer a more focused demo of our products to prospective customers and investors. We would also like to have a greater participation in the event in terms of speakership initiatives,” said KeyPoint Technologies’ Sumit Goswami.
“We will definitely go with some more new products next year! And we will organise some quality B2B meetings in advance,” says IndusNet’s Abhishek Rungta.
“We have consistently upped our participation at MWC and look forward to doing the same next year. Watch our booth next year for more action,” promised InMobi’s Srikant Latkar.
“We will get a bigger booth next year to channelise on more targeted audiences,” agrees Winjit’s Abhijit Junagade.
An India pavilion at MWC?
MWC 2014 featured a number of country and state pavilions, such as Spain, South Korea and Catalonia. Would it make sense to have an Indian pavilion also at MWC 2014, either organised by the government or an industry association?
The cost to setup a booth at MWC and cost for pre-event and during-event marketing to get traction to booths is very high for a startup. “So the idea of having an Indian pavilion can really help an Indian pool of startups to showcase their solutions. These startups can be incentivised and shortlisted through events like YourStory’s MobiSparks,” suggested REMO Software’s Omer Faiyaz.
“We are proudly headquartered out of India but our business has global appeal. We are present in over 165 countries and believe that we are as relevant to an East European developer as to an Asian consumer and to a Western brand. The concept of an India-only pavilion seems a little limiting since the mobile economy is actually one of the few stories that is playing out on a global stage,” explains InMobi’s Srikant Latkar.
However, having an India pavilion would be a good way to bring attention to smaller startups from India who might not yet have the resources for a more significant presence, observes Latkar.
“An India pavilion may work for some startups from India. But we prefer to stand alone as we find Indian companies to be too loud at times and work on a copy-paste model. It hurts the originals,” cautions IndusNet’s Abhishek Rungta.
MWC 2015: advice for startups
Ultimately, participating in MWC is all about creating a splash innovatively, says InMobi’s Srikant Latkar. “Planning for MWC starts almost a year in advance for us. I would recommend the same to any company wanting to make a material dent at the event. For example, speaker opportunities are a great way to up-level your participation at such shows. Submitting for those is a good idea,” advises Latkar.
“You do not need to have a booth at MWC if you are too small a startup and low on budget. But MWC is the best place for doing meaningful business discussions and meeting people from across the globe sharing similar mindset,” according to Ateev and Neha Aggarwal of F5-Mobi.
Since MWC is such a massive event, it is important for startups to have a good sense of what kind of audience they want to target. “While exhibiting, make sure your booth is situated at the right place. Know your audience while targeting at such tech events,” advises Winjit’s Abhijit Junagade.
“Keep an open mind as you will learn a lot. Learn how to strike conversations and subtly pitch yourself. Keep your product handy,” advises IndusNet’s Abhishek Rungta.
It is important to plan in advance, especially with respect to the event itinerary and list of participants. “Create a precise list of people that one wishes to connect with, and be concise in your communication. Keep time for unscheduled meetings and networking, there are plenty of get-togethers happening post the event,” said KeyPoint Technologies’ Sumit Goswami.
“If you are in the mobile space and have a good app or solution, don't miss this event! To have a booth, plan at least six months early, book your booth, look for startup-specific halls or the App Planet,” advises REMO Software’s Omer Faiyaz.
“Book hotels or apartments around six months in advance. Make sure they are close to the metro station for easy access to the conference centre,” adds Faiyaz. It is also important to plan booth layout well, schedule meetings in advance, use the GSMA event app, and do good PR in advance so as to drive well-qualified meetings during the event.