Reportage from the Valley – Day 1 at NASSCOM Innotrek, an Opportunity Beckons

The opening day of any global event is always filled with excitement and anticipation. That’s nothing new. What is unique, is the sheer palpability of the said range of emotions that inextricably accompanies its wake. Huge excitement paired with dollops of anticipation, which continue to soar like helium filled balloons. It was no different at Innotrek today, a NASSCOM 10K driven initiative which saw the best of minds in the tech entrepreneurial space congregate at the valley. Incidentally, this was the second edition of an event which in all likelihood will achieve an iconic status soon, given its intense fan following and popularity. It was to be the perfect stage for startups to connect with those who have achieved a significant degree of success, and are in a position to share insights.

After the spirited “Kickoff Briefing” very early in the morning by Ravi Gururaj, the NASSCOM Chair, Product Council and Rajat Tandon, Vice President NASSCOM 10K, the stage was set. Naeem Zafar, who introduces himself as “a citizen of the world” and is also the Founder CEO of an IoT company based in the Valley, had much to share which he encapsulated in his address, “Seven Steps to a Successful Startup.”

Startups vs Large Businesses

It was succinctly captured by the phrase “Search vs executing.” Typically characterized, startups are often in a search mode or rather should be in a search mode. Making assumptions too early that one knows, is really falling into the complacency trap. When do ideas happen? A pertinent enough ask at this juncture, which may best be addressed as: the point of intersection of the right trends with deep customer knowledge and being equipped with the right team /resources to be able to spot the shifts and changes in the industry, renders the search mode an evolutionary process.

Shifts, breakthroughs, crisis, inventions create opportunities for entrepreneurs, and that is where they are likely to score heavily because of agility and nimbleness. Large companies when in comparison, are too deeply entrenched in the job of execution. Having said that, corporate America is replete with examples when the elephant has been taught how to dance like the nimble-footed Fred Astaire.

The Business Plan

Founders are often tasked with the puzzling question, “what one does, what problem is being specifically addressed, and exactly how many people face this kind of problem?” Admittedly not in a single go, but nevertheless equally daunting if it were. Business Plan, put simply, is clarity of the mind that comes after extensive market research and talking to customers. The price paid, sacrifices made to startup are often immense, which make it imperative to remove all doubts to the niggling and recurrent question, “is this the right thing I want to do?”

The Process of Starting Up

It’s good to be constantly plagued by self-doubts, such as: Is it a great idea? Is it unique? If not, how does one work towards creating a niche? Look anywhere and me-too brands are all so prosaic, jostling for a wee bit of elbow room and bloodying the ocean in process. It is wiser to move away into the blue ocean and draw on competitive advantage.

The Portrait of an Entrepreneur    

Frequently repeated and it has now come to pass, but always worth the repeat till it gets firmly etched in the minds of entrepreneurs: Strong convictions but must be flexible in execution; ability to work in a fog, typically a VUCA environment; equipped with strong networking skills, ability to communicate and sell; and perhaps most importantly, the choice of (“life”) partner is crucial.

Find a crack in the market and see why the need is unmet

Unarguably, this really is the starting point and the depth in understanding this, will determine everything else.

Market Size – defined by number of people who can buy

Brilliant people come up with great solutions but it is important to take a step back and reflect in an unbiased manner, how many people are truly impacted by it.

Positioning – How you appear to people with respect to price and service

Price elasticity is a very important criteria that should be ably supported through unique service offerings to remain competitive. Price alone may sustain the business in the short run, but often it has been observed that in such cases entry barriers are remarkably low. For future standing, it is often the services offering that will prove to be the key differentiator.

Alfredo Coppola – CEO, US Market Access

He leads an accelerator, and has already assisted 9 companies based out of India. In his opinion, entrepreneurs world over, do have access to the resources they need – capital, training, people, mentoring, early adopters and markets. To put things in proper perspective: 504 companies have been through the USMAC program and $367m worth of capital was raised by 69 people out of USMAC’s alumni network. He also spoke passionately, why Silicon Valley is the first choice, and often remains unparalleled. To the first-timers in US, he had an important piece of advice: base it on learning; building networks; and gathering data for gaining entry into the US market and device a strategy in accordance.

Geoff Baum talks about how to make a perfect pitch

  • Looking at the problem and putting it right upfront, and the solution thereafter. There ought to be no unnecessary time-lag.
  • Key – What’s the proprietary thing/ technology that brings in the niche element, and drives competitive advantage for the startup?
  • You don’t want to acquire customers at ANY COST. You DO want to acquire customers at LOW COST
  • Create a story and make customer the HERO. Yet again, the collaborative mind-set was highlighted.

Captured very briefly, these were some of the nuggets from Day 1. Watch this space for regular updates.

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