Startup Weekend Bangalore – March 11-13, 2011

Posted on March 14, 2011


This was a fun event to be at and I am really glad I went. The event was billed as 54 hours of no-talk-all-action opportunity to flesh out your business idea, network with other wannabe entrepreneurs & perhaps recruit your co-founders, hack together a prototype and gain useful feedback from your peers and some experienced industry folks. I was invited to be part of the mentor panel and I had a rather interesting job. I got to engage with various teams, hear their ideas, help them find solutions to the problems they were grappling with and generally get infected by their excitement and enthusiasm. 

The event started on Friday with a couple of hours of networking so participants could get to know each other. It was followed by two talks/presentations: one by Bharat Goenka and the other by Sharad Sharma. In his presentation, Bharat observed that a number of companies are built around solutions satisfying the demand of a narrow target segment. While these companies certainly are successful in that they are profitable and make money, in Bharat’s opinion (and I agree) they can’t and don’t count as a success (success as in Microsoft, Google, Adobe). Bharat therefore encouraged participants to think how their ideas can be designed to serve large markets. Sharad’s talk focussed on the hacker’s attitude that is a crucial ingredient of an entrepreneur’s makeup. A hacker is someone who is constantly striving to find solutions to everyday problems. A hacker wants to find a solution for the joyof solving a problem and he doesn’t worry about if and how his solution may be monetized. Sharad’s call-to-arms to hackers certainly resonated with the predominantly software developer, designer participant community.

These talks out of the way, the event began in true earnest. Every participant, that wanted to, had 60 seconds to pitch their idea. In addition to pitching their idea, participants could also solicit team members with specific skills – developer, designer, salesperson, etc. It was fun as participants scrambled to make a meaningful 60 sec. pitch. I think to many it was their introduction to delivering an elevator pitch. The room was full of about 100 young, eager wanna be entrepreneurs. There was great energy all round and there were probably 50 odd pitches made. There were some that queued up to pitch a second idea. By this time it was getting to past 9:30 in the evening and I decided to call it a day. However, participants continued with the process. The participants then voted to select the best 15 of all the ideas that were pitched. Once the ideas were selected, then the participants formed teams to work on these ideas. They now had until Sunday evening 5:00 p.m. to come up with a fleshed out business plans and working prototype of their solution. I was told that there were teams working well past 1:00 a.m. Saturday morning.

I was back at the venue on Saturday at about 11:00 a.m. Pankaj, the event’s majordomo, introduced me and promptly I was claimed by one of the teams to hear their idea/business plan and help with thinking through some of the challenges. I went from one team to another for the next 6 hours. I heard so many interesting ideas and was most impressed by the enthusiasm of the participants and their willingness to listen to me and answer my questions. I think I managed to steer most folks in directions that would help them answer the questions they were dealing with. When I finally left at 5:00 p.m., I realized how exhausted I was but also realized that participants had now been at it non stop for 24 hours and were going to continue for another 24 hours. The young and the restless do indeed have unbound energy. I was told the next day that a few teams worked through Saturday night in a mad dash to finish their prototypes and demos.

Sunday evening 5:00 p.m. was the hour of reckoning. 15 teams lined up to make a 10 minutes presentation to a jury panel followed by Q&A. All teams did an admirable job of standing up and presenting/defending their ideas. After over 3 hours of presentations, the jury announced the winners and the event came to a close. I had had the chance to engage with the teams that came in first and second and I can say that they came to the weekend with a good idea but more importantly made remarkable progress in fleshing out their ideas over the weekend.

I loved the format of the event. It really allowed, participants who came in with a bare-bones idea to put some significant meat on those bones. Even if at the end of the weekend a participant realized that his idea was not really all that great, I think he took away a lot of learning on how to develop a business idea, how to work with strangers to fructify the idea and how to pitch the idea to potential investors.

A couple of observations: one, women wanna be entrepreneurs were conspicuous by their absence. I counted only 3 women and I am absolutely certain that the teams would have gained tremendously by the presence of more women in the room. Secondly, I was struck with the number of ideas that aimed to build businesses by leveraging community participation or social-graph, as it is now called. This was probably a reflection of the participants’ backgrounds and the time we live in. That said, most participants had not idea on how they were going to precipitate community participation. Most thought that all they needed to do was stick an app or a website and the community would simply follow; if only life was that simple. But I carp.

Overall the event was a great success. Pankaj Jain, Chidambar Kulkarni and Amit Singh did a fantastic job putting together the event and I hope there will be other such events later this year.


Posted in: On Startups