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The Weekend: Proto.in

Where was I this weekend? I was on an awesome ride with Srini (my friend from Trilogy) enjoying the early morning weather of Chennai and riding at 90kmph :). But it got really humid and hot over the day even in this winter. Thankfully I was more absorbed in some live action of some new emerging products /services coming out of Indian startups. I was at Proto.in
umang was supposed to accompany me and dropped off due to inevitable reasons (hehe). Oh my! what was I to do alone there. Should I go ? I did and I was lucky to meet Yashwant and Srikanth TS from my college, who were a great company. More, Pravin, a colleague and ex-Trilogian was also there with his IIT gang. I also met swaroop, the python guy from college :) and his friends. So I definitely had a crowd as against my fear of being left alone :)



About the event:

Proto.in is a great start in India. There were 250-300 people present there yesterday. The arrangements were good and presentations were quite organised too. It was many others opinion too that they could have done better with lot more publicity and getting more people to participate.

The event as such was focused more on providing a forum for the companies, VCs and others to peep into the innovations and trigger interest. There were around 30 companies that presented their product yesterday out of only 115 registrations that had happened. There were a few VCs and a couple of angel investors too.

Each team got 8 minutes to present, No Q&A session following that (sigh!) and frequent breaks to network. Areas were: Telecom, Infrastructure & Development Platforms, Internet & Web 2.0, Consumer Electronics, Business & Productivity & Mobile.

More Details
There were few ideas or pilots that interest me.
- DesiCrew [New]: Rural BPO - a distributed model of outsourcing operations in Rural India (I think this is great and I believe there is lot of locked potential in Rural India. It is definitely tough to execute and maintain)
- NetPC[Relatively New]: A low cost connectivity solution. live and running for quite some time. Internet to the masses is their pitch. I believe this can act as a solution for the basic problem of reaching more people in India and for many ideas revolving around online <anything>
- ValueFirst [Old]: quickly pluggable mobile enabled services. They are old and have a huge user base already. They can grow big with more features and add ons with the setup and user base they already have.
- SpotEasy [New]: product search and recommendation engine (lacked business focus or ideas of expansion but might be a good technology acquisition if they are really good at search and recommendation as a service) [cannot find their website and I doubt if they own spoteasy.com. I have requested for a private alpha invite]
- StoreGrid [Relative New]: A higly configurable and convenient data backup manager, easily affordable and good features and service.
- Picsquare [Relative New]: Targeted at NRIs wanting to share photographs with folks back home. They have a model where you can upload photographs, share and also order to deliver paper prints, cds, calendars, greeting cards to a postal address. They are already operational and I believe are running profitably. However, Yash told me that Indian Postal Service already has a similar service and definitely has low costs on operation with its wide base. They are probably lacking marketting.

The list of VC's who were present :Mr. Vardha representing iLabs, Canon partners and couple of angel investors Asif & Arif from Vakil group, NS Raghavan of Nathur holdings. I believe there were at least 15 of them in all (but no big names I think) . Only a few were available on sunday and we ofcourse could interact with a much lesser portion of the ones available.

DISCLAIMER: There were more companies and would post more in detail in a followup entry.

<Update> If you are looking for more details -
A very crisp and comprehensive coverage by Swaroop
An exhaustive Live blogging by Gokul
</Update>


Opinions: [A little long, did not spend time to condense, so read on if you can bear with it :) ]

Not representative: I personally felt that there are a lot many companies based in India (targetting Indian market too) doing lot more interesting stuff and with strong bases which were not present at proto.in yesterday. I definitely had expected to see a lot more @ proto.in with all the buzz we hear.

India is not there yet :
From above proto did not represent the action in India.
Even otherwise I have started to think may be India really lacks enough action or business focus at this point. There probably could have been lot ideas in domains like travel & transport, telecommunication, finance & insurance, network & connectivity which already have a base infrastructure, need and reach.
Do you also think that India is low on action, planning, execution and just about the real action beneath the buzz around startups ?

Orientation: Most companies focused on their demo and I can hardly remember any team that covered the market state, competition, positioning, revenue model or barrier to entry as they see. Few lacked to bring out their key distinguishing features too. A lot of them are in private alpha or earlier stages and hence cannot really play around with their products. I could still meet some of the people working on them and dig deeper during the break hours. But astonishingly found that very few break their heads thinking whether the idea will survive, sustain, and make money!!

Where is it happening: Was chennai the wrong place for proto.in ? Most of the companies who came there were based out chennai. But we all know there are so many more startups blooming one every week almost in Bangalore. I personally think that Bangalore and even Gurgaon is much happening place and many would have restrained due to the time and place factors. If the reach (I mean people) doesn't improve I don;t think I will travel all the way to chennai for proto.in next year.

Commitment or so they see: People do expect you to put in full time to buy your idea or believe it. You have to even believe in what you are doing :( so much that you give it full time taking all risks or uncertainties. Quit your job seems the motto for young entrepreneurs. Even if you think or say you are competent of doing 2 things (say regular job and a not-a-hobby project) at the same time the impressions vary with a person putting fulltime and balancing two things.

Will you rise funding: There is huge inclination for funding and support for startups in India. VC's all over the world are looking to invest in India. So this I see contracdicts my view on Indian startups today. Anyway, do you have an idea ? You need to know your business and If you need funding pitch it with confidence and ofcourse as said below: Quit your job before that and focus ;) .With a very high probability you will rise sufficient funds.

The big event: Thanks to the proto team for giving a peek into the whole stuff. I spoke to one of the key organisers: Vijay Anand. They have definitely put a lof of effort in making it happen. I am sure they will be doing a great job in the following years. However I think proto has to focus on two things:
First, Defining what they want proto to represent. From what Vijay explained about the selection process and what they wanted teams to present at the event: This years focus was more on the providing a forum for companies from dedicated teams (refer full-time commitment above) which have not any significant funding. Making it representative of the happenings around would be lot more interesting and valuable for varied groups of people. It is also good to position each product/service and evaluate relatively.
Second, Proto needs a lot of Publicity and Marketing (nothing wrong). The publicity and targetted pitches would automatically attract more companies, more VC's and angel investors, more attendee registrations which would make it more popular and hence more valuable. Its a cycle.

Should I stop :) :
There are lot more things that ran through my mind sitting in ICSR auditorium yesterday, I have jotted down few things and more observations post that. Were you also there at proto.in ? If yes, why don't you tell me about your thoughts on the event and things to follow. If No, tell me if you like to hear about any specific company, product or anything more about proto.in.

By the way I am thinking about DesiCrew pretty seriously. It has a lot of potential. But any distributed model is tough to collabrate and make it a success.

Comments

(Anonymous)

DesiCrew

Am curious to know your "pretty serious" thoughts on DesiCrew :)

Saloni

Re: DesiCrew

Hey Saloni, that was fast. How did you stumble upon my blog :)?

Mail me if you still have my card or leave me a contact id. I will try and contact you.

Regarding DesiCrew, as I said I am thinking of outsourcing it to my mom :) or someone with similar competancies. But I think remote management needs a strong plan and strict processes. Seamless expansion is also a challenge. I hope to join hands with you.

(Anonymous)

Re: DesiCrew

Something very similar is happening in my home town Tumkur. They are successfully running the business for last 2 years I think, they expanding it too.. You remember Santosh? He is the one leading it.

-Viji
(vijay.r.shankar@...)

Re: DesiCrew

Wow thats amazing.
Who santhosh? There are too many i can think of :D
How big are they and what clients any idea ? Mail me.

(Anonymous)

glad you liked our idea - its www.spoteazy.com (we were not going to bid for a domain the sake of spelling). drop us a line at support@spoteazy.com and we will give you an early peek.

a couple of clarifications:
- we are here to deliver a product that lots of people can use - while we would like to partner, or people to invest in us, acquisition would be a joke
- our primary business model idea revolves around a subscription based merchant programme - we believe that this does not necessarily mean an online checkout system - in india people are yet to establish ecommerce models - we are here to experiment
- we have expansion plans gal :), we arent that shortsighted about our own technology - we are delivering this service by mid 2007 across a majority of consumer durables categories

from what i understand proto.in is modelled after demo - the focus is the product which is what i guess most people did.

lakshmi

Re: SpotEasy

Hey lakshmi,
Nice to hear from you and more for the clarity you provided on spoteasy. Sorry for misinterpreting about the talk I had with you yesterday.
Few more questions if you can answer those for me:
- As I understood (please correct me) product search and recommendations are the key focus. Then why the restriction on India or rather why target India and India alone?
My question is not about supporting more countries. I understand that once the product picks up and has a good framework expansion comes naturally following that. Its more on why did you choose India? Where people are not so net-savvy and it is past the phase of being an early player too.

I would love to check out your recommendation and search over mobile phones. Infact this was something that crippled most of us yesterday with products still under private alpha or pilot states. I shall request for one as you mentioned. Thanks for the offer. :)

Regarding focus in proto.in: I felt that most of the times restricting it to product oriented presentation featuring just the technology or the features doesn't get the point across: be it be for VC's, other entrepreneurs, business folks or techies. With limited time, it would have been great if companies gave a quick view not leaving the audience wonder for the following:
- Why are we in this particular business?
- Who else is in this business or how different is the business being run today?
- What makes us special?
- How do we plan to make money? (Revenue models can change: a initial vague idea, as you said an affliate model for spoteasy)
- What is the barrier for entry ?
- Why do we think or how can we sustain and survive?

(Anonymous)

Re: SpotEasy

:) yeah lots of people have asked us the same question

i have a very simple reasoning. i use the net, my friends use the net, my toddler cousins use the net - we cant imagine a world without it. but when we go online - we find that much of the information we need is often unstructured or not available or simply lack a good search interface to discover it. therefore i start my serving my needs first. our primary motivation is a passion to build products that can serve our markets and build an eco system here

next year perhaps we will have a set of uniform protocols for the demo or perhaps presentation

(Anonymous)

pretty exhaustive post jyothi..nice work .. i was actually searching for some good round up about proto and i guess currently your post tops that
- nishant
Thanks Nishanth.
I did not mention but Drishti-soft presented. I have known them existing for more than 2 years now. Also they are quite established now (I would not know how stable) with 60+ people and hence did not mention in this post. Sachin Bhatia (Co-founder and VP of sales) presented DACX and intention as they mentioned was attracting attention feom like-minded people to work for them and for partnership.

I would love to hear from you on what is happening in Gurgaon as there were hardly any companies that were based in North.

Live Blog of proto.in by Gokul

You can find lot of details here

(Anonymous)

Time constraint

"I can hardly remember any team that covered the market state, competition, positioning, revenue model or barrier to entry as they see. Few lacked to bring out their key distinguishing features too."

To do all that would need more than 8 minutes. :)

http://Startups.in/India
(Nag.B)

Re: Time constraint

Yes 8 minutes is really packed. Also I learnt that the focus was really meant to be on the product. Its more a question of what did the audience gain? May be an elevator pitch with few of the above answered would have left more people wanting for more.
Also as Vijay notes below, I definitely agree that many would not want to let out the valuable market reasearch and plans of execution out in the air. But you have let the idea or technology out.. so its a bit unreasonable.

(Anonymous)

And we meet again.

I agree in terms of the publicity and getting the word out, but well, it takes time for people to even take things seriously when an event is happening for the first time. We already have more than a bag full of media folks and VCs lining up for the next event and I think we are going to open up nominations for the next edition very soon. So that should take care of things in terms of the limited-time excuse.

I agree that there are tons of things we could do to improve this. For one, in the next edition (still am pondering if we should do one six months from now) we are definitely raising the standards. Everybody knows what is expected, so thats the way it should go.

Market segment and all that. Well, that's the part which doesnt seem to interest professionals. The other aspect is that, most of these guys aren't willing to open up that easily cause displaying their focus segment out in the open would mean possible competition rising right out of the audience. And plus, for something like that, you need a lot more time than 8 mins.

I know everybody wants Q&As, but its too hard to facilitate that in-between sessions. I doubt we would have wrapped up by 5, if there were Q&As included. We did ask people to go out and network and we even had a room which was set apart for that.. but i guess the comfy seats and presentations didn't help :)

Vijay

Re: And we meet again.

Thanks Vijay for a detailed response. They are very clear and convincing.
I interacted with few people after coming back from proto.(mostly to-be-entrepreneurs, folks in startups, angel investors, and media folks. I work out of e4e incubation centre.. so you can imagine). From their opinions:
- Bangalore as a center might attract more investors, participants, active technologists and media too.
- 6 months is probably more opt given the frequency at which we are seeing startups in India. However it should not make the event dry though :)
- I sort of heard not so positive comments from a reporter of a popular magazine which covers startups and new technologies regarding unwelcome responses from proto team. I have been made to believe media influenzes a lot and everyone has to be careful and focused with PR.

(Anonymous)

StoreGrid

Glad to know we caught your interest!
Hopefully, you'll try our Free Edition to back up your own files :-)
Feel free to email me if you need anything on Vembu StoreGrid.

My email ID is lux AT vembu REPLACE_THIS_WITH_A_DOT com
Lux (Lakshmanan Narayan)

Nice review

That was a nice piece. Couldn't make it to Proto but looks like haven't missed much.

Allow me to share some of my findings from quite a few startup/VC interfaces that I've been to..

a) Some of the founders are not even organized for serious business. Most of them are a bunch of pals / teams / partnerships. It's alright so long as they are doing it for fun. But in case if they get serious about VC funding, they have to form a Private Limited Company since investors do not invest in sole proprietors / partnership firms.

b) Founding teams wax eloquently on technology & say nothing on how they intend to make money, their marketing strategy etc. I often wonder why do they leave investors to articulate the proof of their value. The founders should do it themselves.

c) They come too early to pitch - before they even have the first customer. This is just not done. Investors don't like to fund the salary of the first salesman that founders want to appoint. VCs are followers, they expect founders to lead.

d) Most of the startups don't think through their idea. They just stop at building the product. It's uncomfortable for them to commit to a market because they don't know their end user.

I would rather expect founders to ---

- tell a compelling story that shows (i) how you understand who your customer is ; (ii) how you intend to go after and get them (iii) why they will buy / use your product / service.

- persuade the customer by convincing how the beachhead is attainable and interesting. Their brief on technology should be restricted to just how it seeks to solve a market need. That's where it should end.

- tell us how they make a business out of technology and not vice versa ;

Thanks for allowing me to share my views. I found your post topical and hence I used it to my advantage ( a bit ashamed ! ).

Krish






(Anonymous)

Re: Proto.in, desicrew and GramIT

Wonderful overview about Proto.in, and I had similar views in respect to what Proto.in represented and many aspects that it can improve upon. But 200% to Proto.in for its brave ACTION step. It setup a platform to share, network and learn from each other.

Since you are interested in Desicrew, I thought you might be interested in this news story, about GramIT with similar inspiration.
http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/jan2007/gb20070111_826128.htm?chan=search
(More about the foundation http://www.byrrajufoundation.org/gramit.htm)

Murali
http://blogs.inspions.net

(Anonymous)

ValueFirst’s CEO, Mr. Vishwadeep Bajaj

Read Interview of ValueFirst’s CEO, Mr. Vishwadeep Bajaj
http://www.mobility4enterprise.org/archives/140