[This article is part of the YourStory series Startup Hatch, about incubators, accelerators and makerspaces in the startup ecosystem. See earlier profiles of initiatives at IIT Bombay, IIM Bangalore, BITS Pilani, NCL, Tata Elxsi, Axilor, NID, IIIT-Bangalore, IIIT-Hyderabad, Vellore Institute of Technology, PSG Coimbatore, Workbench Projects and Makers Asylum.]
Mobile app solutions provider Appiness has won a range of design awards including the Indian Digital Media Awards 2013. It offers business consulting and brand building on mobile to clients in India and overseas, including Cricket Gateway, Metrozone, Dhruva, Sakra Hospitals, and Templetree. Appiness has also launched Appy Hours, an accelerator designed as a collaborative, product-oriented, partnership programme for promising startups in the domains of web, mobile and wearables.
Visakh Viswambharan is the Founder and CEO of Appiness, and has participated in a number of educational and entrepreneurial events on startups and business growth. His specialities range from UX to talent management. Visakh joins us in this interview on the opportunities and roadmap ahead for mobile startups and the support they can receive from the accelerator, Appy Hours.
YS: What was the founding vision of your accelerator Appy Hours, and how is it supported?
VV: In the past four years of Appiness, we have worked with the whole startup ecosystem at various levels. Our clients include both funded and non-funded startups, accelerators and VCs. And a lot many times we have seen great ideas not seeing the light of the day because they ran short of money. We personally believe that money shouldn’t be a reason for passion to fail. We wanted to help because there is nothing as emotionally satisfying as working with a startup, hand-holding them till they grow, and watching them prosper.
That's when we came up with the idea of Appy Hours. We had awesome people as mentors, we made great friends, and we grew along with the startup ecosystem in Bengaluru. This is our way of giving back to the platform that gave so much to us. Our vision is to support startup founders with great ideas and endless energy and passion.
For the startups selected for our accelerator, we do the same great work we do for all our clients - but at a steep discount. And we take a small equity, usually in the lower single digits. So we cover our most basic costs, and we have our skin in the game.
YS: What would you say are the top three opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs?
YS: What are the key challenges faced by startups in India, and how can you help bridge the gap?
VV: There are a number of challenges that can kill a startup even before it hits the market. They include hiring quality resources (cost and availability), cost of quality vendors, lack of experience in building products, slow execution due to bottlenecks and lack of focus, low quality resources (leading to low-impact product), low focus on key product due to operational necessities, limited availability of funds till the next round of funding, and marketing taking a backseat due to cost of product development, which hampers traction.
Through Appy Hours we are taking away the above headaches and we will let the founders concentrate on their business and manage the above hassles.
YS: What are the selection criteria for startups in your incubator?
VV: We make our decisions based on personal interviews with the founders. This process is honed by years of experience in working with startups in the tech sector. We prefer straight-forward pitches. We don’t believe in big fat business plans and projections. We want the idea and founding team to be interesting. We look for endless energy and limitless passion.
If we feel that the founders have it in them to make the next big thing, and money is the only reason stopping them from going for it, then we step in and help them to make their dream a reality.
YS: What support and services do startups receive in your accelerator?
VV: Appy Hours is much more than just a startup accelerator or a business incubator programme. We are not here to provide startup advice or mentorship or co-working space alone. We actually help develop the product and help in go-to-market. We also take deep interest in the partnering startups, providing them with launch, scaling-up, marketing and analytics support (post launch) to ensure that they succeed. After all, it is our need for them to succeed as well.
YS: What would you define as success for your incubator?
VV: We have five startups on board now, we are planning to roll out at least 100 by 2020. Our success would be making these startups successful. We don’t want money to be the barrier for any passionate founder to make their dream into reality. We want to stay approachable and help as many startups as possible.
Working with these founders gives us the real happiness. Our Northstar metric of success is happiness, we will be successful if we can keep these startup founders and their end users happy along with our awesome team.
YS: How do you compare and contrast India’s incubators and accelerators with that of other countries like US and China?
VV: India is still an emerging market, our ecosystem is yet to mature. There is a long way to go. We don’t have many big success stories out of any Indian incubator so far; the model itself is yet to be proven in India.
When it’s outside India there are many success stories out of the accelerators; classic example are the startups from YCombinator and Techstars. We are nowhere close to comparison and the contrast is too stark.
YS: Which startups have graduated from your accelerator so far?
VV: We rolled this out on Jan 2016, we already have five kick ass startups on board. Our idea is to roll out a minimum of 20 startups this year. When accelerators are struggling to get good startups on board, we are having an influx of enquiries. The five startups which are on board are founded by bright people from IIMs, ISBs and NITs.
Trizzio (Bengaluru) offers multi-category, multi-user quizzes for consumers with active engagement and real prizes. They have roped in major marketers already in with a paid advertising model. Happystry (Bengaluru) is another mobile startup in the consumer sector, currently under development.
ScholFin (Nasik) operates in the education sector and provides services for multiple scholarship providers, including J.N. Tata Foundation. YoRide (Bengaluru) is an app for transportation services in cities. Fleet Market (USA) connects taxi drivers with taxi owners in New York.
We don’t have a fixed cohort model, we work with every startup throughout their early days. The idea is to support them until they get institutional funding, and can afford to create a world-class internal team. Out of the five startups we are working with, three have raised seed funding and the other two are still bootstrapping. The idea is to help them build and get some traction before they go for external funding.
In the current scenario where there are many ideas and a lot of startupreneurs, it’s very important to have a working prototype with some good traction for any investor to listen to an entrepreneur. We help the startups to roll out a world-class MLP (Minimum Loveable Product) before they meet any external investor.
YS: What are your recommendations for Indian policymakers to make business easier for startups in India?
VV: I think the government is thinking in the right direction. There is a lot happening around startups. They are encouraging new ideas and young minds. That’s exactly what is required now. Even if they don’t allocate much funding they can create awareness about the idea of innovation and startups. This, in turn, will make a lot of difference in young minds and their parents will start supporting their kids to step out of the ordinary.
YS: What are your recommendations to the startups and entrepreneurs in our audience?
VV: Do something purposeful. Even if it creates a difference in a single person’s life in a positive way you will feel satisfied. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted, always be prepared to face the worst. It’s not a sprint; starting a business is like an ultra-marathon. If you are looking at making money in a short time then entrepreneurship is not for you. There are very few stories like Instagram and WhatsApp. You’ve got only three choices in life: give up, give in, or give it all you’ve got.
One last thing I want to tell every entrepreneur is please take care of your health and focus on fitness; it’s not just your family but your team and their families who are depending on you. And you yourself will be surprised how much of a difference health can create in your productivity. And being a startup founder, your productivity is what matters, not just the hours you put in.
And stay happy! Happiness is the new rich. Once our basic needs are met, it’s far more important to pass happiness down the generations rather than accumulating property and stocks as inheritance.