iSPIRT: Big ideas on little napkins. #iSPIRTturnstwo

You’ve heard of famous napkin sketches such as the Southwest airlines route map or Robert Metcalfe’s Ethernet diagrams. But did you know that iSPIRT also started out as a series of such sketches?

It was a late wintersun afternoon in December 2012. I was sitting in Bangalore’s Karnataka Golf Association across Sharad Sharma and Avinash Raghava. It was the day after a marathon few weeks of us “volunteers” putting together India’s largest startup event that year. I’d done my small bit building out the Program Guide, helping with the scheduling tetris and hosting a UX workshop for startups.

Now when Sharad or Avinash call, you can be sure of one thing: you’ll walk out of that conversation buzzing. The KGA meeting was one such chat. It was when I first heard about the “sketches” behind iSPIRT – an acronym for the Indian Software Product Industry Round Table. One of their big ideas was founding the entire iSPIRT as a platform anchored on volunteers’ energies and selfless service, as a platform that represented Indian startups. There in the middle of beer and coffee mugs I remember reams of paper on our table. These papers had ideas and boxes and arrows and circles. There was Industry. And government, and academia. We discussed a million questions:

is this a Think Tank? A Content Platform? An Enabler? Logistically, a Round Table? How do these pieces connect?

I offered to build on some ideas in early 2013. We made concepts and threw most of them away, in the true spirit of prototyping. After all iSPIRT was a startup too! It needed multiple experiments running!


2013 started with much momentum for iSPIRT and Product Nation. The identities seamlessly blended into one visual identity and website. The product round tables continued to be a huge success. As iSPIRT picked up momentum, my own life took a few different turns. I left for Stanford Business School for the Sloan Fellows program and traded a corporate job and Bangalore life for a dorm room and back-to-school lifestyle in Palo Alto. I was with iSPIRT in spirit, and I saw it from 14000 KM away, taking shape as early stage startups do. The Product Roundtables. The Product Technology Ratings. InTech50. #PNCamp.

2014 of course was an even bigger year for iSPIRT. The engagement with the new government, the policy papers, and the acceleration of startup investment activity were palpable. Midway during my Stanford year, I had the opportunity to introduce iSPIRT to my GSB Professor and now friend Sharique Hasan, one of the best researchers out there in Organizational Analysis. Sharique like many others in the Valley had heard rumblings around Indian startups. When he finally met the iSPIRT team, it kick-started new initiatives within the M&A Connect program.

2015 promises to be even bigger. I hope to contribute more, volunteer more. But even as I imagine the largeness of things to come, I will never forget those sketches at KGA, that bright winter afternoon, and those ideas that seemed distant, like a dream you can almost touch.

Today when iSPIRT turns 2, I am reminded of the power of big ideas sketched on little napkins. I am reminded of that famous line:

you cannot stop an idea whose time has come.