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[TechSparks 2020] Day 1 highlights: Sridhar Vembu, Anu Hariharan, Pieter Kemps, Anup Jain, and more

A vivifying conversation with Zoho’s Sridhar Vembu flagged off TechSparks 2020, followed by WhiteHat Jr’s Karan Bajaj and Y Combinator’s Anu Hariharan.

Rashi Varshney

Aparajita Saxena

[TechSparks 2020] Day 1 highlights: Sridhar Vembu, Anu Hariharan, Pieter Kemps, Anup Jain, and more

Monday October 26, 2020 , 6 min Read

We couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious beginning to TechSparks 2020 than a conversation with Sridhar Vembu, Founder and CEO of Zoho, who joined us right after a visit to a local temple where he celebrated Vijayadashami — the last day of Navratri.

Garbed in his temple attire, Vembu spoke to Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO of YourStory Media, about the many ways Zoho is helping build a network of engineers based out of rural India. He also spoke about some tenets from his personal life that he practices at work — minimalism, simplicity, and humility. The session zoomed in on Sridhar Vembu as no one had ever done before, especially as he spoke about spirituality in business and his love for his roots and Indian heritage.

TS_TS2020_Vembu Sridhar

Sridhar Vembu has dedicated himself to reviving Indian villages by taking Zoho's software engineers back to their homes. Village-based engineers will collaborate with global teams to build world-class software.

If you didn’t leave Vembu’s masterclass already invigorated, that too on a Monday morning, Y Combinator’s Anu Hariharan and her “entrepreneurship is like getting punched in the face, every day” comment definitely infused a little bit of that weekend happiness-slash-energy back.

As day 1 heads to a close, we can confidently say that lessons in entrepreneurship don’t get better than this. Day 2 will bring deeper conversations on themes such as branding, design, and content — all essential organs of a business.

Here’s a quick recap of Day 1!

Human mind, roots, and technology

At TechSparks 2020, which has gone virtual for its 11th edition, Sridhar touched upon many interesting points. According to him, technology comes out of the human mind, and there has to be an organisational culture to push for that. Starting with a company in an era where product mindset did not even exist, he invented his own playbook.

With a $6 billion valuation, 50 million users, 45+ apps in nearly every major business category, 9,000 employees, and around 11 offices globally, Sridhar Vembu’s playbook is worth referring to. 

“To have a product mindset, you have to embrace uncertainty. You can never plan a perfect product. Rigid ideas do not work. You have to be flexible and agile. This is the one knowhow we have deeply developed in Zoho,” he said.

Besides talking about how to build a global product from scratch, he also revealed how he is building a company for the world by using the best minds in villages around him. He said rather than bringing people to the cities to build tech, entrepreneurs have to take tech to their doorsteps to help them build.

YC’s bet on India

After the poster boy of entrepreneurship charged up the thousands of virtual participants about making in India and for global, just how Zoho is doing it, Anu Hariharan, a partner at Y Combinator’s Continuity Fund, shared insights on powering the next billion-dollar businesses from India.

In this fireside chat with Shradha Sharma at TechSparks 2020, Anu spoke about building a company from India for the world. She touched upon tech, scale, entrepreneurship, building billion-dollar businesses, and more.

Just for some perspective, Anu is someone who helps navigating companies like Convoy and Brex as their board member, and has worked closely with Indian unicorn Razorpay and soonicorn Meesho. Sharing from her rich experiences, she suggests growth-stage startups to find 100 users who love you, and not the one million users who only like you. 

Anu Hariharan

Anu spoke about the importance of entrepreneurs getting their first phase, or what YC refers to as the ‘zero to one phase’. “It’s really about focusing on what is it that you're building: What is your product? What is your unique insight? Do you have at least a 100 users who love you versus a million users who merely like you?” she said.

On the key trends that pointed to India’s startup ecosystem acceleration and its potential to truly take centre stage in the coming decade, Anu said, “Over the next 10 years, India's GDP acceleration will help improve consumer willingness to pay, which in turn helps these companies flourish.”

She added that 10 years from now, “I believe that Silicon Valley, Beijing, and Bengaluru will become the most important components of the (global) tech ecosystem.” 

The investor also discussed YC’s plans on appealing to potential entrepreneurs by going to universities in India and ability of Indian founders to face competition, ability to pick up and keep going on and that she would like to see more confidence, grit, and ambition amongst Indian founders to become a global startup from India.

Fast-track success

Karan Bajaj, the man behind WhiteHat Jr, the edtech platform that BYJU’S recently acquired for $300 million shared how the company found its sweet spot by tapping Indian women’s untapped talent pool. 

“What worked for us is getting the educated and qualified yet underserved population of women on board – who were not actively involved in the workforce due to childcare restrictions, familial responsibility, and safety concerns in bigger cities,” he said. 
Karan Bajaj

Karan Bajaj, Founder and CEO, WhiteHat Jr. speaks on harnessing the power of coding, online education, and women workforce at TechSparks 2020

The startup leveraged this talent pool to conduct one-on-one virtual lessons. The model garnered success in the startup’s global expansion to the US, the UK, and Australia, and hopes to replicate the same as it ventures into other subjects like mathematics.

Star charm

No TechSparks is complete without human connections. Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, model, author, and a woman who confronts challenges with humour, joined us to discuss her upcoming book, The 12 Commandments of a Woman

Tahira Kashyap

Tahira Kashyap

The author told us how the many issues she is vocal about found their way into the book with a dash (or two) of humour. 

Channelise your own experiences, she said.

We also had a host of masterclasses imparting valuable insights and wisdom from some of the most influential stakeholders in the Indian startup ecosystem and abroad for entrepreneurs, innovators, developers, and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Saurabh Jain, Vice President of Paytm, gave us the down-low on building a tech startup in India, the challenges, opportunities, and steps needed to scale. On the other hand, Postman Founder & CEO Abhinav Asthana discussed how we can build a global product from India.

Pieter Kemps, Principal, Sequoia Capital India taught us how to craft the perfect pitch deck, while Anup Jain, Managing Partner, Orios Venture Partners, revealed what investors actually look for in a startup pitch. 

Aseem Ahmed, Senior Security Product Manager, Akamai APJ helped viewers understand how to minimise risk and maximise returns while pursuing a vision of Digital India. 

Bringing in a global perspective, Yulia Aslamova, CEO & Co-founder, MakeSucces, shared key lessons on how SaaS companies can boost their brand visibility. Last but not least, Nidhi Mishra, Solution Engineering, APAC Cloudflare, discussed how companies can stay agile and cost-effective while delivering superior service. 

For more information on TechSparks 2020, check out our TechSparks 2020 website. Sign up here to join the event.

TechSparks - YourStory's annual flagship event - has been India's largest and most important technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship summit for over a decade, bringing together entrepreneurs, policymakers, technologists, investors, mentors, and business leaders for stories, conversations, collaborations, and connections that matter. As TechSparks 2020 goes all virtual and global in its 11th edition, we want to thank you for the tremendous support we've received from all of you throughout our journey and give a huge shoutout to our sponsors of TechSparks 2020.

Techsparks 2020

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta