Sunday, June 21, 2015

Unpluggd Conference: Experiences

NextBigWhat is a meetup to gather together geeks, entrepreneurs (aspiring ones too!), angels and investors.  I am pretty sure that's not an exhaustive list but in general its a conference centred around tech startups aiming to get all the concerned parties together on one platform. You find IBMs and Microsofts shouting that they are all for helping startups grow and find their feet, you find some kickass stalls showing demos of their first product, you come across their business counterparts trying hard to just kick-start a conversation with you, you even come across investors looking for people ready to pitch their ideas in their fields of interest and trust me I did find one saying on stage- if there is someone who execute a certain idea he was sitting ready to fund it. Now you can't have a better invitation in your life!

Moving on to the conference, it was a two day event- productgeeks and unpluggd being the theme of the two days respectively. I regret missing the first day because it was a Friday and I really didn't have a lot of leaves left. That brings me to the dilemma:

Should two day conferences be held on Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday?

I will be happy to know where you stand there but for now lets stick to the topic at hand today. As I didnt attend the productgeeks conference I will only leave you with the agenda and speakers frm that part. I will make a point to break into this next time.

Moving to the second day- Unpluggd! I reached the reception and found a identity card for myself. I had pre-booked for the conference. You could also book your ticket on the spot. I grabbed my ticket and moved ahead with five minutes in hand to have a quick look at the stalls. The first to grab my eyeballs was a product called Twist. In a nutshell Twist provides the same fun that gets you hooked to your android phone on the bigger screen of your TV. I did play Temple Run and it was real fun! Instead of the remote that you would generally use you can use your smartphone to play on your TV. Doesn't that sound cool? They also promise to provide innovative controls and everything at a lower cost compared to their competitors. Well I am not sure If I can buy into that but there is only one way to know that- to try it! 

Next, I hopped around to find http://www.businesssetup.in/. I grabbed their business card and was trying to escape quickly when a girl requested me to share the idea and signup etc. I signed up wit them and quickly browsed across the other stalls to end up in the auditorium in time. The presentations were to begin at 9:30, the first being "Building Freecharge: Lessons learned" by the Freecharge (now part of Snapdeal) founder and ex-CEO Kunal Shah . Kunal could unfortunately not be there in time and hence the day started with the second item on the list- Startup Launch and Demo.

This session consisted of 10 startups. All of them in their infancy presenting an account of themselves. They came up with the demos, presentations, stories etc. The next post in this series introduces each one of them.  We then had a networking session over tea and breakfast which lasted half an hour. The following session was possibly the most high profile one. There was Rahul Yadav (founer & CEO Housing.com) being interviewed by Akash from the NextBigWhat team. Rahul was greeted very cheerfully by the crowd. But contrary to the celebrity status the news publishing media has attached to him, he came across as someone who is so down to earth. Rahul, though he looks like the guy next door and has no qualms about his tremendous success, came across as an inspiring person to me. He just seems to know what he wants and is amazingly clear in his responses. He came across, to me, as someone, who is very intelligent, querky and frank, yet very sorted. There was zero percent pretension, personality and all. After the interview, the floor was open for the audience to ask questions to him directly and there was an ocean of questions awaiting him. There were so many people just wanting to talk to him somehow. A couple of striking takeaways from this session from me were again clarity of thought, innovation vs problem solving (the obvious problems too), the importance of execution, his unique way of building the team etc. 

Next was a small talk by Nilkanth Iyer, Country leader cloud ecosystem India- South Asia and he went on to make a point about IBM's commitment to supporting startups. Next there was some good food waiting for us. It was a nice one hour session allowing people to network with whoever they wanted to. Following this was a session from Yes Bank COO. This session like it was scheduled after the lunch break was quite sleep inducing to me. Ok let me admit I did manage a 5-7 minute sleep in this period actually. But as far as I understood (very little though!) he seemed to claim that Yes Bank is different, it believes in eliminating problems and not only help as a banker. Navigating through the problems, the entrepreneurs or any customer Yes Bank feels to arrive at the root cause and eliminating it, their support for the startup ecosystem in India etc. 

Next was one of my favorite sessions- a panel discussion titled "Is there an appetite for More FoodTech Funding in India". The guests in the panel were Sanjay Swami (from AngelPrime), Mast Kalandar CEO Gaurav Jain and the SpoonJoy co-founder Manish Jethani. The moderator started the discussion essaying that we are a very populous country and we love our food! We have 3-4 meals per day to say the least and thence this clearly is a big market, yet still untapped leaving a lot of scope for the aspiring entrepreneurs. Gaurav and Manish portrayed their stories and went on to list the problems they faced and lessons learnt. Sanjay encouraged the audience to explore this field and even went to the extent to say that if someone can show him a way to subscribe so they could completely take care of his diets, taste and variety etc at the same time promising him a weight loss of 5-10 kg he was absolutely ready to fund it. The discussions went on to essay the difficulties Gaurav and Manish faced to what they think are some things one should take care of when trying out a startup in this field.

Following the next and last tea session, there were the sessions I was mostly looking forward to involving Abhay Singh (from InMobi), Aparmeya (the guy behind TaxiforSure) and Kunal (freecharge co-founder). Very insightful, frank and masterful advises. Take this quote for an example from Kunal - 

Make a kickass product with a smartass team for a bigass market!

More insights from this session in the next blog post. See you there!

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