Innofest to Innonation

Evolving from a festival of innovation to a platform helping innovators to succeed…

Over the past 3 years, while volunteering for Innofest – the platform for hardware entrepreneurs – I realized two things:

  • Doing a hardware product in India is much tougher ….
  • … but there are several resources available across the country that can make it easier for hardware companies to succeed

What was needed is a way to connect those who need the assistance and advice to those who can help and are willing to help.

The goal of this group of 10-12 individuals who selflessly give their time in organising various initiatives and events under the Innofest umbrella is to make it easier for first-time entrepreneurs and to assist them in their journey. We deliberately chose to focus on startups and individuals who were using hardware and technology to solve meaningful problems. Because that is the most underserved section of the entrepreneurial eco-system.

The initial 2 years were invested in reaching out to hardware entrepreneurs and enablers who can assist them – maker spaces, companies, mentors, investors, etc., and bringing them together to interact with each other. As with many other sectors, in hardware led innovation too, resources were concentrated in 3-4 cities, while innovators were spread across the country. These innovators usually worked on their own, often spending time and energy and money on aspects that had already been solved by someone else. Getting together problem solvers and innovation enablers was a critical first step. And the community responded enthusiastically. Over 1800 innovators turned up at the inaugural in Bangalore. Since then we have taken the initiative to Hyderabad, Jaipur, Nagpur and other cities. In fact, Prathibha Sastry, the key volunteer driving Innofest took two ‘yatras’ – once driving from Bangalore to Delhi and once Bangalore to Assam – to find innovators in small towns and tier 2 cities across India.

What she unearthed was awe-inspiring – folks who were solving local problems with their frugal innovations. However, many of these enterprising folks did not consider themselves as entrepreneurs. For them, they were just using their ingenuity and creativity in addressing a problem that they or someone in their family or community faced. They were solving for Bharat. And that we feel is the real opportunity. To encourage these inspired, enterprising and creative problem solvers to get their innovations to solve problems at a much larger scale than they have currently envisaged. To help spread their innovations to places that can benefit from these innovations. I.e. find innovators and help them in their entrepreneurial journey.

To do that, it was important that we shift gears. And at Innofest, we have.

We now have extended the goals to not just curate and connect innovators and enablers, but to also undertake programs and initiatives that will increase the chances of success of these innovations. These include providing better access to resources like maker spaces, working with large corporates in helping drive their innovation programs, creating better access to capital and markets, creating a pool of mentors, etc.

Indeed, from being a festival or celebration of innovation, Innofest is now a platform for innovators to succeed in solving problems and making our country a better place. And hence, we have also taken the bold step to change our name from Innofest to Innonation, which means using innovation to improve the nation.

Whether you are an innovator, or want to volunteer, or a company that wants to support innovation or a co-working space or maker space, do connect with us at Innonation. We need a lot more people in making this volunteer-driven platform successful.

To get a ringside view of the innovation happening across India, join us at the flagship event in Bangalore on 26th August. If you are into solving a problem for Bharat, check the agenda to see what workshops and events are most relevant for you.

See you at Innonation. The country needs you to be there.

Prajakt Raut

Founder –  Applyifi




UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) India and iSPIRT announce the winners of the Great Tech Rocketships Initiative 2016 (GTRS)

The 6 winners are:

  1. Wigzo – A machine learning engine that understands user attributes, and allows marketeers to personalise and engage each user 1:1 onsite, and on communications
  2. Tydy – Employee Onboarding & Engagement Software. With automated & paperless data collection, a process built on best practices, customized workflows based on teams, groups or locations and a complete feedback management system – tydy makes onboarding a really seamless part of building a successful organization
  3. Silver Push – A platform which measures true ROI of TV ads, by mapping TV ad spots with digital performance, backed by 15 patents (pending) and real-time TV ad tracking technology
  4. SayPay – Provides voice biometric authentication solution that eliminates hardware tokens/OTPs used by financial institutions for wealth management & corporate clients.
  5. Project Mudra – Technology for Braille-based education for visually impaired people and innovative solutions for non-visual data delivery to meet the growing accessibility needs of smart urban spaces.
  6. FT Cash– A mobile app that allows micro-merchants to come on-board in less than 5 minutes and allows customers to make payments electronically through credit/debit cards, mobile wallets and PayPal.

In its second year, and part of the India-UK Tech Bridge initiative, the Great Tech Rocketships awards connect India’s high-potential technology companies to the business and entrepreneurship ecosystem in the UK. This ambitious initiative was launched in 2014 and this year applications opened on January 14, with a call for submissions from the most impressive emerging Tech companies in India. The competition offers the opportunity to fast-track their international growth through access to the UKs leading tech clusters.

 Kumar Iyer, Director General of UKTI in India said: “We are really excited to see the high growth potential among young Indian entrepreneurs. The competition was tough but it shows that “Start-up India” is alive and kicking, and through these awards the winners will not only be national winners but hopefully internationally successful too. We hope this is the beginning of a fantastic journey for them where UKTI is here to help and introduce them to international networks, mentors and new ideas, starting with their upcoming visit to the UK. There really are some GREAT companies here!”

The UK is an excellent platform for Indian companies to gain access to the right exposure and resources to assist them to go global. It is the number one destination for FDI in Europe, having attracted a record number of FDI projects, bringing in the largest financial value and associated jobs over the past year. Around 50% of that figure is in Tech. The UK has a vast pool of experienced industry leaders, veterans, venture capitalists and mentors that can provide the right direction to startups to establish a firm footing abroad. One of the greatest barriers new companies face in their journey is access to capital, and this is an area where the UK can help significantly.

This year’s winners get a week long fully paid trip to UK that includes:

  • Bespoke interaction with world class investors, incubation hubs and science tech parks
  • A guided tour of Tech City, Europe’s most vibrant innovation hub
  • Networking sessions with like-minded entrepreneurs, start-ups, research scholars and pioneering companies

Through this trip to the UK, the winners will get an opportunity to interact with the local technology ecosystems; meet other entrepreneurs; identify funding options and build product propositions to fit those markets.

Sharad Sharma, Co-Founder and Governing Council Member iSPIRT said: “A number of technology startups in India are now well-prepared for global markets. Through this initiative we provide high-potential companies with assistance and access to the UK market as a first step for them to go global.”

 The nationwide initiative saw 285 applications from across India. Applyifi, the program partner for this initiative curated 40 for a jury across 4 Indian cities (Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and New Delhi). 11 startups were shortlisted in the regional rounds and were reviewed by an international jury comprising Julie Lake (Co-Founder The FinTech50 and Director FinTechCity), Sharad Sharma (Co-founder iSPIRT), Baz Saidieh (CEO TrueStart), Ian Fordham (CEO of Edtech UK), Satyam Bansal (Director, Strategic Alliances and Gift Cards), Alpesh Patel (UK Government Dealmaker, Private Equity Fund Manager, Fintech Entrepreneur) and Prajakt Raut (Co-founder Applyifi).

Further Information: 

  • UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) is the Government Department that helps UK-based companies succeed in the global economy. UKTI works with UK based businesses to ensure their success in international markets through exports. We encourage and support overseas companies to look at the UK as the best place to set up or expand their business.In India we do that through a network of diplomats and local specialists spanning the entire country.  Our trade and investment experts are based in the British High Commission in New Delhi and in our Deputy High Commissions in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Pune and Ahmedabad. Our sector expertise covers mass transport, financial services, infrastructure, life sciences, creative industries, energy, business and consumer services, education and skills, defence and security, healthcare, advanced engineering, aerospace, agri-tech, chemicals, automotive, smart cities and ICT.
  • GREAT for Collaboration is an ambitious and exciting new campaign showcasing India-UK business collaboration. The campaign, launched by Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Cameron, will inspire new partnerships and encourage greater awareness of the scale of the UK’s commitment to India. The overall objective is to increase business between the two countries across a range of sectors, such as energy, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, financial services and infrastructure. GREAT for Collaboration video link:
  • iSPIRT Foundation connects and guides software product entrepreneurs and catalyzes business growth. It’s an enabler of a stronger ecosystem. We encourage buyers to improve performance by leveraging software products effectively. We advise policy makers on interventions that can set the industry on a higher growth trajectory. We are a not-for-profit industry think-tank founded by key participants and proponents of the Indian software product industry
  • About Applyifi – Applyifi is an online pitch deck & assessment report platform for startups. Applyifi guides startups in creating a comprehensive pitch deck, and provides startups and investors a 36-point scorecard and assessment report on the startup’s investment-worthiness.


Tech Startups: Here Is A Chance To Take Your Rocketships To The UK

The Great Tech Rocketships Initiative (GTRS) 2016 is back again – only bigger and better. It is all set to introduce high-potential tech companies from India to the best in the UK.

The initiative was started last year with the intent to provide a platform to startups with innovative and disruptive ideas that have the potential to scale up globally.

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If you think you have the potential to grow overseas, or are looking to expand globally, the GTRS initiative may just be the platform to help you explore global markets.

RocketShips to the UK – an initiative by UK-India Tech Bridge, with UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), and iSPIRT – is tailor made for startups with impressive and unique ideas that can be transformed into fast-moving and hyper-growth ‘rocketships’ globally.

UK is an excellent platform for Indian companies to get access to the right exposure and a wide gamut of resources that can assist them to go global. It is the number one destination for FDI in Europe, having attracted a record number of FDI projects, bringing in the largest financial value and associated jobs over the past year. It has a vast pool of experienced industry leaders, veterans, venture capitalists and mentors that can provide the right direction to startups to establish a firm footing abroad.

Networking plays a pivotal role in fast-tracking the growth of a startup. Platforms like GTRS can provide startups global connections that are otherwise not easy to develop. Good mentoring and access to vital resources can be a great help for early-growth stage companies, and this is exactly what the GTRS initiative aims to help accomplish.

The winners of this program will get a fully paid (flights + accommodation) week-long trip to UK where they will get a chance to interact with world class investors, local entrepreneurs, policy makers, accelerators and incubators. There will be a guided tour of Tech City, Europe’s most vibrant innovation hub and science tech-park, where they can network with like-minded entrepreneurs, start-ups, research scholars and pioneering companies, explore the local entrepreneurship eco-system in the country and identify opportunities to scale up their business in the global level.

All participants shortlisted in round two will get a detailed feedback and assessment report from Applyifi. Moreover, the Top 10 finalists will be invited to join a mentoring program, where they will get advice and inputs from experienced entrepreneurs and investors.

Last year, close to 300 startups had sent their nominations for this coveted Program, of which 61 ideas were shortlisted after thorough screening by our prestigious jury, and 5 of them were declared the winners after a round of presentations at Demo Nights held across 5 Indian cities, viz., Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai. The winners (Agrima Infotech, Congruent, Frilp, ToneTag and Talview) spanned diverse sectors and got a chance to visit UK to explore expansion opportunities.

If you think you have it in you to make it to the coveted list of startups that’ll head to UK, fill up our application form and explain why you think your company is ready for the UK global adventure. The shortlisted applicants will be invited to pitch to a panel of experts at various locations – Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, and Gurgaon.

The last date for applications is JANUARY 31st 2016.

For more follow us on UKTI_India on twitter and Linked In; #GREAT4Collaboration; #ifnotnowthenwhen




iSPIRT announces the launch of InnoFest 2015


      A ‘first of its kind’ marquee event to kick-start the next innovation wave in India, where

     Bengaluru takes the lead in showcasing Public-Private Partnership.


With iSPIRT, we are happy to announce the launch of InnoFest – a day long Innovation festival jointly organized and sponsored by Public and Private Enterprise. The event, to be held at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore on August 22nd 2015 is significant – in a daring break from a ’traditional event’ format, InnoFest shall be run as a festival celebrating Innovation…

Here is why…

India needs this movement; not only for Indians, but for the aspiring and emerging worlds’ 5 Billion people, as compared to innovations focused on the one billion in the first world, who are already well served. This is the only way India can avoid the middle income trap, as we grow at 7-8%. The vibrancy of grass root innovation cannot be experienced through speeches and panel discussions within enclosed halls; its energy and exuberance has to be felt and unleashed.

The Patrons of this event are Mr. Jayant Sinha, Minister of State for Finance, Government of India; Mr. Nandan Nilekani, Former Chairman of Infosys and Former Chairman of UIDAI; Mrs. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon and Mr. Mohandas Pai, Chairman of the Board, Manipal Global Education.

Speaking at the launch, Mr. Pai said, “The idea of InnoFest is absolutely aligned with the Government’s thinking. If we are going to increase productivity, employment and opportunity for everyone in this country then we need a grassroots movement that will bring the best ideas to the table. Our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has great vision in developing 100 smart cities across the country as well as a digital India and a leading science and technology program; innovation will certainly be a key driver for all these initiatives.”

Why Innovation, you may ask…

Simply because we have an ‘innovation’ deficit in the country today! We are no doubt an enterprising nation, but we still have a long way to go when we look at being an ‘innovative’ nation. However, please note that there is no shortage of imagination and creativity in India. We need to build our skills where this imagination and creativity is applied to generate unique solutions to local problems. InnoFest is the platform to tackle this challenge.

We strongly believe that to reduce the innovation deficit in India, we need to operate at two levels: the individual and the policy. InnoFest uniquely brings these two elements together:

  • The Young Ignited Minds: will sharpen their innovation skills in a fun and experiential setting
  • The Government of India: will activate thoughtful policies that will help fulfill the innovation potential of India

InnoFest will have various programs like MakerSpace, Product Zone, Hall of Fame, Young Innovators Zone, Townhall and eminent speakers across a galaxy of disciplines including Naveen Tiwari (InMobi), Rohan Shravanan (Notion Inc), K Ganesh (CEO, Portea Medical), Arundhati Nag (Film Personality), Vijay Chandru (Strand Life Sciences), Bhavish Aggarwal (CEO, Ola Cabs) and Phanindra Sama (RedBus).

According to Sharad Sharma, Co-Founder of iSPIRT and Co-Convenor of InnoFest, “If companies can innovate and transform their functioning and performance radically, why can’t countries? The idea of InnoFest is to distil the best ideas in enterprise and inspire individuals, corporates and Government organizations to take innovation to the common man. We are delighted that the Government has stepped in in a big way to enable this transformation and this cooperation between public bodies and private enterprises will lay the foundation for radical transformation in the country.”

InnoFest has been conceived as a day-long festival of ideas and inspiration that will exponentially multiply innovation across the country and make India into a Product Nation. iSPIRT strongly believes that a robust software product ecosystem is the key to rapid growth across the country. More than 1,000 professionals are expected to participate, pan India.

So, if you want to change the world AND put your own dent in the universe; make sure you are at InnoFest !!

Further details of the event are available on the Innofest website & FAQ’s can be accessed here.

The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Estimating Market Size For It’s Startup

Note: Before I begin, I would like to clarify the difference between market potential and revenue estimate. I have often seen entrepreneurs use the two terms interchangeably.

Market Potential

Market Potential is about estimating the size of the overall market opportunity. It is a sum total of the potential revenues of all players who are addressing that opportunity, if all the potential customers were to buy. I.e. If you were selling ‘affordable’ golf kits for first-time golfers, then you could estimate market potential as follows (all numbers are indicative for illustration and do not represent actual market) :

  • There are about 20 millon golfers across the top 10 golfing markets in the world. Additionally, about 100,000 new people take up golf every year across the top 10 golfing markets in the world.
  • About 25% of these find the cost of golf kits expensive. If you take this as the addressable market at USD 400 a kit for 5 million buyers, we are addressing a USD 2 bn market opportunity, even if you look at only those who find the price of current golf kits too high.
  • Additionally, the ‘high-quality at lower price’ value proposition is likely to attract regular and casual golfers too i.e. 20 million golfers. This opens up a USD 8 billion market among existing golfers. And that’s a market growing at 15% pa.
  • However, given that most people who want to play golf do not take it up because the current kits cost upwards of USD 1500, we believe that a USD 400 kit will explode the market and we would be able to encourage 10 times the number of people to start playing golf. I.e. by redefining the price-point, we can create an additional market potential worth over USD 500 mn.
  • i.e. with an ‘affordable and high-quality golf kit’, we will be playing into a market that’s roughly USD 8 – 10 billion in the top 10 golfing markets of the world.

Revenue Estimate

Revenue estimate is about how much of this market potential do you plan to target. Here’s how you could think about it:

  • We intend to launch this product in Japan, the world’s largest and fastest-growing golfing market. There are 3 million active golfers in Japan and over 50,000 new golfers are added every year.
  • We believe that with an affordable golf kit, we could double the size of the golf market in Japan.
  • In year one, we intend to attract 5000 customers, going to 20,000 customers in year 2 and selling to 100,000 new and existing golfers in year 3. These will be in the top 5 golfing markets in Japan. In year 4, we intend to take the concept to US and Europe, with a target to sell over 500,000 kits in year 4, across all markets we are present in.
  • Thus, our revenue estimate (at current prices) is USD 2 mn in year 1, USD 8 mn in year 2, USD 40 mn in year 3 and USD 200mn in year 4. (In comparison, the leading golf kits brand is doing USD 2 bn in revenues currently)

Estimating the size of the market, and then predicting how much revenue the startup can achieve and at what growth rate is indeed a tricky exercise. But going wrong on this could either kill your company, or if in a rare case you have underestimated your revenues, you may end up raising more capital than necessary and thus diluting more equity at an early stage of the venture.

It is therefore very, very critical that entrepreneurs focus on working and reworking on the market size and revenue potential based on sound assumptions and with minute detailing.

Many startups make the mistake of taking broad brush reports from large consulting or research firms, and estimate the size of their market on the basis of those reports. Often we hear entrepreneurs mention “According to Gartner, healthcare is a $80Bn industry with a 23% growth rate”. Now, while this could be broadly true, for an investor, and even for the startup, these figures have little relevance. Here’s why…

In most market segments, the investors would be broadly aware of the scale potential. At a startup stage, investors will most likely invite a startup for a meeting only after they have assessed that the concept does address a large market. Hence, stating the obvious, especially in segments that are very obviously large does not add any value. E.g. For a startup in the education sector, highlighting in minute details the number of schools, number of students and growth rate in India is wasting precious time in the first meeting with investors. Assume that investors who are meeting a startup in the education space know the potential of the opportunities in the domain.

Investors don’t get any comfort from market estimated from industry research data. They want entrepreneurs to build up their estimates based on their insights and conviction – on how their concept will alter the dynamics of the market they wish to operate in.

How then do you estimate the market potential? Simply by being specific about your segment and making some assumptions on the specific segments and the revenues per customer/consumer. E.g. If your concept is about premium home tuition, instead of saying education in India is a $18 Bn market, it will be prudent to state “With over 250,000 students in the top 10 cities in schools with fees above INR 10,000 a month, at INR 2500 per student, the market potential is roughly over INR.500INR.600Cr per annum. At an all-India level, the same translates to a market potential of well over INR.1000 Cr.”

Some Points To Consider When Estimating Market Potential

  • Clearly define what problem you are solving… and for whom – this will give you a good idea of the number of customers with that problem in the geographies that you plan to be available in.
  • Estimate the practical reach e.g. while there may be a 100,000 people in your target audience spread across 50 cities, you may want to take the top 5 or top 10 cities and see how many people you have within your target audience. This of course gives you the total market potential, if 100% of potential customers were to buy.
  • Now, apply some filters i.e. ability to pay, ability to reach via media, etc. E.g. while there may be 60,000 potential customers in the top 10 cities you identified, and you may be planning to use a combination of media, if the total reach of these media vehicles is 50%, the total potential of the market is really 30,000 customers.

You could also apply some price filters to test the elasticity of the demand in comparison to price. I.e. work up alternate scenarios to reflect the increase / decrease in demand in case the price were to be moved up or down; and then evaluate which scenario makes a better business case. [Note: For different situations you may have very different parameters for a good business case. In some cases, rapidly acquiring customers, even if margins are lower, would be a key criteria (often relevant in categories; it is important to achieve scale to be relevant – e.g. e-commerce – lock in potential customers on whom profitability can be increased later)].

Now, if the product is of a repeat purchase nature, you would need to make some assumptions on the number of times the customers would buy the product / service in a year. In doing this, it is critical to map the reality or in case of new product categories, to do some qualitative and/or qualitative research to validate your assumptions on the number of repeat purchases within a year.

All the above will need to be worked and reworked at different levels of assumptions often to arrive at what seems like a practical market estimation.

Great Tech Rocketships (GTRS) to the UK – a UKTI, Tech Hub UK and iSPIRT initiative

Great Tech Rocketships to the UK is an initiative by UKTI to assist companies from India that would like to do business in, with or from the UK.

(UKTI, or UK Trade & Investment, is a UK Government department whose mandate is to assist UK based businesses in their overseas expansion, and also encourage the best overseas companies to look to the UK as their global partner of choice.)

UKTI chose TechHub, a London & Bangalore based co-working facility, and iSPIRT as their key partners to implement this program on the ground.

iSPIRT saw this as an ideal platform to encourage and assist Indian software product companies go global. According to Sharad Sharma, “The Rocketships initiative is another significant step forward in the journey to create a product nation here in India. It was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with TechHub and UKTI to provide a platform for high-potential companies in India to explore global markets.”

GTRS is intended to be a long-term initiative for creating a platform, to assist high-potential companies from India, explore UK as a destination to do business, in, with or from.

The initiative launched was an interesting competition wherein 5 high-potential startups were selected from nearly 300 applicants, and are now on their way for a one-week sponsored tour of the innovation hubs in UK.

The program was launched at a packed event at Tech Hub’s Bangalore centre on the 3rd of Feb. Our call for entries was an application form, with a one-minute video pitch. We connected with a lot of companies – through social media, emails, and even personal phone calls. The response we got was overwhelming. In the last four weeks that we launched and called for entries, we received nearly 300 entries from companies across India. What was most satisfying was that 55 of these companies scored 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 5, and 25 companies scored 3, indicating an overall high quality of software product companies across India.

A jury comprising of Sharad Sharma, Mohandas Pai, Stewart Noakes, Dr. Vicky Pope, and Dr. Chris Moore, selected the winners from a list drawn from among the 61 companies that were shortlisted to present at Demo Nights held across 5 cities – Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai and Delhi.

With rigorous effort and comprehensive screening, we are proud to showcase the following 5 companies as the finalists of the first leg of the Great Tech Rocketships to the UK initiative –

  • Frilp – The quickest way to access the local knowledge of your friends and our experts.
  • Agrima Infotech – Development. Design. Online Marketing.
  • Talview – Talview is a pioneer and leader in video based assessments. It has more than 1000 clients across the globe from startups to Fortune 100 and have completed more than a million video responses across 102 countries.
  • Tonetag – ToneTag allows easy, frictionless & secure proximity payments using soundwaves (Tone) or NFC (Tag) and enables Contactless experience on any device
  • Congruent Technologies – Multi-national IT-solutions Corporation, with deep domain expertise in the financial services, healthcare, education and e-retail verticals


The winners gets –

  • A week-long trip to UK, that includes flights, accommodation
  • Deep-dived interaction with world class investors, incubation hubs and science tech parks
  • Guided tour of Tech City, Europe’s most vibrant innovation hub
  • Network with like-minded entrepreneurs, start-ups, research scholars and pioneering companies

Also, the Founders of each of the shortlisted companies will be further empowered in their endeavor, by way of a year’s membership (Flex) from TechHub, which will enable them to leverage the global network and support system, thereby fast-tracking their journey of going global.

Long-term impact

While these 5 companies were shortlisted as the winners, iSPIRT is committed to guide companies that have the potential & desire to go global, and UKTI is committed to assist in anyway they can in the company’s journey to the UK.

iSPIRT is glad to have developed a strong working relationship with UKTI, Tech Hub, and through them we are now better connected with the entrepreneurial eco-system in UK.

There are several programs and incentives that are available from the UK Government, and UKTI not only can provide you information about these programs but can also assist companies in accessing programs that may be relevant to them.

As iSPIRT, we would love to see Indian software product companies go global. Great Tech Rocketships to the UK is one significant initiative which will help iSPIRT provide deserving companies a facilitated access to UK, thus paving a path for their European and global expansion.

Should you be interested in knowing about opportunities in the UK, or if you are keen on exploring what the opportunities in UK are, drop us a line at gtrs(at) Wherever relevant, we will be happy to connect you with our contacts at UKTI and Tech Hub.

“Be Prepared to Move Very Fast” Mukund Mudras, CEO & Co-Founder of Heckyl #IfNotNowThenWhen

In conversation with Mukund Mudras – CEO and Co-Founder of Heckyl – winners of the UKTI ‘India’s Most Innovative Companies To Work With The Best of UK’ 2013. 

A brief about the company –

Heckyl is a real time data analytics company that brings news, price and fundamental analytics through a single platform called FIND (Financial in News and Data).

FIND can be used by a researcher, trader and an analyst for actionable insight from the universe of data.The platform brings real-time news, information and market data from companies, businesses and global markets along with brokers and analysts recommendations from around the world.

Founded in December 2010, Heckyl recognizes that mining information from Social Media and Open Data sources presents great insight and opportunity for investors, traders, researchers and analysts.

FIND is engineered in connecting these dots with its revolutionary technology in sentiment-tagging, news-clustering and discovery engine that present ready-to-use, actionable intelligence in a fast-moving market.


Why did you decide to set up base in the UK?

Heckyl was planning to grow its customer base to the higher end of the user spectrum, such as hedge funds and PE funds, whose presence in UK and the European markets is very high.

It was a strategic decision to establish an office in UK – the most sought after financial hub of the world.

What are your experiences in setting up the UK operations?

Setting up in UK was a good experience for us. We had won the coveted title of the “UKTI Calling India’s Most Innovative Companies To Work With The Best of UK” contest

– a competition organised by the UKTI, in association with British Airways and Yourstory.

The win provided us with the privilege of being backed by the UKTI, London. Under that, we were guided for registration and legal affairs of setting up business. We received a privileged office space at the famous Level 39, in the tech city of UK.

How has your business benefitted from setting up base in the UK? 

UK, being the financial hub of the world, opened up the doors of opportunity – whether it was networking with mentors, incubators and accelerators who have seen-it-all, or the proximity earned, to the financial sectors such as banks, brokerage houses or the hedge funds /PE funds – there is a lot to cater to in this market.

The UK proves to be a good fit for our business , as there is a lot of demand for smart analytics around open data and social media, in the financial domain such as ours, and that businesses in these parts are open to exploring something new. As such, we have recently won the responsibility of being the news and information analytics provider, for a leading data management company popular in the European markets.

The validation received from the UK business eco-system becomes a success story to share for potential markets in the rest of the world.

What assistance did you get from UKTI, and what advice would you give to companies considering a move to UK?

They guided us and helped hasten the process of registration, something which every entrepreneur knows can be a hurdle. We got an office space in Canary Wharf at Level 39. The address is a prestigious one, as most of the well renowned start-ups and accelerators are known to set up base there.

In the days of setting-up, we were shown around and introduced to the well-established mentors who showed us the way businesses are built in the UK. We were able to network with top investors and incubators of the region.

Our Advise to companies moving to UK would be to “Be Prepared to Move Very Fast”

What are some of the challenges that companies from India should keep in mind while considering a move to another country?

Connect with the accelerators and incubators who would be able to support and guide your way around setting up abroad.

Stay in touch for funding wherever possible. There could be resources from start-up platforms and communities that maybe used – such as legal contacts, office space co-ordinators etc.

Challenges are mostly common to any business and are not restricted to India. The critical points are – understanding the tax structure and registration rules and liabilities of the foreign country, decide accordingly where to register the business. An added point is of learning how to manage expenses and save money as much as possible.

Invest in a suitable and feasible human resources agency/platform to build a local team. You may choose to invest in learning the language of the city you are headed to. Network with mentors and peers in the industry, as much as you can.

A startup going global has to be stronger, better, faster than others – Bhanu Chopra #ifnotnowthenwhen

Cue in to what Bhanu Chopra, Founder & CEO at RateGain, has to say about going global…

Why do you encourage Indian companies to go global?

Since the evolution of modern trade, commercial activities between countries and across the seas have been an integral part of our society. While earlier, it was all about access to spices, cotton and precious minerals, today it is primarily about getting a larger share of the pie.

India’s domestic market with a population of over 1.2 billion is huge and it draws many from outside the country to look for operations here. However, it is obvious that a large majority of the Indian population still continues to live on the fringes and the numbers can be misleading. Another way to look at it is that the world population, at about 7 billion, is any day a much larger market to operate in.


Being global also changes a company’s perspective. By being global you are exposed to the best in the business and often face stiff challenge from your competitors. Standards and quality controls in western countries are specific and stringent and by going global, Indian companies have to adhere to them. This in turn improves quality, ensures better controls and also translates to the adoption of best practices.

I would also encourage Indian companies to go global because it builds brand – both for the company and the country. Barring the Tata’s, there are a very few global brands that one can talk of from India. We have some great companies within the country that have the potential to operate in any part of the world. A company that can operate on a global scale and is successful at it, creates a lot of goodwill and brand name.

What kind of companies should think global?

There is no set criterion on what works globally and what does not. If the company solves a real pain point, the chances of it working across the globe are very high. A company on the other hand that provides a service or product in a significantly better way, also has a chance of doing well globally. To click on a better stage a company has to be stronger, better, faster than others.

India has a unique set of problems that need Indian solutions. Generally solutions and services from the western countries do not work here and this has led to a whole new generation of startups – especially in the sector of social enterprise and companies catering to the Bottom of Pyramid. Many problems that India face is similar and common to what many countries in the African continent and other developing countries face. There is now a steady stream of companies that look to tap these markets with their offerings. Going global does not mean only looking at the west – it can be countries in Africa, the Middle East or even South East Asia.

Does it help to relocate your operations to the UK or US?

Relocating your operation to the UK and the US can make sense as the ease of doing business is comparatively better in these countries. The US and the UK have also fared better when it comes to physical infrastructure and facilities. Other benefits that have arisen are primarily on account of the startup or angel tax in India. Startups, of late, have changed their domicile to offshore countries to ensure that they are not under the ambit of section 56(2)(viib) that was introduced in the year 2012. The other reason why startups would want to relocate to the US or UK is when they feel that the product or the service, especially in the technology domain, will be appreciated more outside India. Yet another reason some may want to relocate to the UK or the US is when these countries are the primary market.

Having said that, India still continues to be the land of opportunities. India may not fare well in ease of doing business, but its huge market is ready to reward any entrepreneur that has the grit and passion to carry on. India continues to have some of the best talent, especially in the technology segment, and an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is maturing fast.

What should startups and early-stage companies do to plan a global play?

The first step to being a global player is to have the right mindset. The entrepreneur should have a mindset that wants to go out and conquer the world. Other steps would include a careful diligence of the targeted market, finding the right team, getting to know the prevailing laws and capital required to go global.

Today, it is easier than ever before to go global primarily because of the support system that is available for startups. Accelerators, incubators, startup associations, angel investors, VCs, PEs, all contribute immensely to the support system. Over the past decade, the ecosystem has matured to nurture companies with global ambitions. For a startup, it helps to be an active part of this ecosystem. There are great mentors and professionals who already have the experience of operating in a global space and now devote a lot of time and effort in helping young companies with global ambitions. Associations like iSpirit, Nasscom and TiE have also contributed immensely in making a real difference. These associations provide intelligence, mentoring and have made vital connections to help startups operate globally. Initiatives like the Great Tech Rocketship, that looks to catapult a startup to the global stage, is yet another stellar effort from the ecosystem and the entrepreneurial community to push deserving startups into the global scene.

What are some of the watch-outs for companies going global?

One of the biggest watch-outs for a company going global is to do their homework well. It is never easy operating on foreign soils and one must be very sure of the laws and rules of the land. Often getting a good consultant, a great legal firm and a savvy banker on board irons out the process. One must also set aside adequate capital to fund the expansion. Operating in a new market and getting a foothold is almost equivalent to starting from scratch and often takes a considerable amount of capex. It always helps to get local talent on board so that the company has a better understanding of the intricacies involved.

Even a great product takes time to make a mark and penetrate a global market. An entrepreneur needs patience and must be prepared for the long haul. The most important aspect of a company aspiring to go global is to find its first customer. If you can locate your customer before you make the journey across borders, it would go a long way to instill confidence. Whenever I have expanded to a new country, I have always enjoyed the experience. It is a lot of hard work no doubt, but in the end, it’s all about getting to visit a new place, getting to know a new culture and a new way of life. Going global has the potential to make you rich – both economically and experientially.

Fingerprint entry into cars? Read what this venture is doing…

Great Tech Rocketships to the UK is a unique initiative to fast-track India’s most promising tech companies and talent to global success. Read more.

United Linkers

Tell us about your venture – what problem are you solving, and why do you think it is an important problem to be solved?

Identisafe is a biometric company and our product, Identisafe-09 helps to start and secure your car with your fingerprint. We are attempting to solve global problem of car theft that occurs in every country.

The company was established in Pune in Dec 2003 with an investment of 800$ and was a part of Plug & Play Tech Centre in Silicon Valley, California in 2007. The company is bootstrapped and profitable, till date.

How did you think of this solution? And how are you going to get this into the market?

It all started in Singapore, where I had a television set in a car, which would go off because of a loose connection. I would then have to tap the set to get it started. It suddenly struck me during one such occasion that I could use biometrics to eliminate car keys completely!

God has given us a unique identity in the form of fingerprints. So why do we need car keys, I asked myself and so the product development started.

The product has been selling on our website via the E-commerce model. Our first order came from USA in 2004 and since then we have
been exporting it in Europe, Middle East and Asia. (We also get lot of inquiries for product dealership from car dealers and also to establish franchise network that we are seriously considering).

Our current model is Business-to-Customers and we may explore the Business-to-Business model soon.

What is your plan for taking this solution global? What suggestions would you give to startups that are thinking about going global?

We plan to license the technology to car manufacturers in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, India, Brazil and China and establish a business relationship as OEMs – Original Equipment Manufacturers. I also feel that we are now established enough to connect with car accessory dealers worldwide and have at least one major distributor of our product in every country.

I am not as successful as Sabeer Bhatia (founder Hotmail), Scott McNealy (founder of Sun Microsystems – Java) or Omid Kordestani from Google. However, I met them personally in Silicon Valley and am only passing down the advice them gave me. Stay focused and keep shipping – the world is not enough – even the planet mars and moon may be the future market.

What assistance do you seek from UKTI in exploring UK as a business destination?

I made a huge mistake in Silicon Valley – I did not raise capital for the company, which I felt was a critical factor in helping it grow globally.

I feel UK may serve as a good opportunity to connect with Venture Capitalists and get the company funded. Moreover, UK may serve as a central global destination to interact with automobile manufacturing companies and establish dealership networks, thereby helping us to export the product globally. (Our major customers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Oman find it easy to do business in UK).

The patent box may serve as an additional tax benefit since I have a UK patent pending for the latest technology, which I filed while studying at University of Cambridge.

Tell us in brief about yourself and your team.

Swapnil Kale – Founder –I am a Stanford Management Programme and Cambridge University graduate. I am a Hardware and Networking Engineer with massive experience in Embedded Electronics design.

Technical Team:

Manfred Bosnawald – He has worked earlier with Siemens,
Austria in the Biometrics division for last 6 yrs.

Marketing Team:

Sushma and Gurmeher Bhatia (worked for 17 years in Intel, California). They look after technology marketing and licensing in Silicon Valley,

Web Development ManagerShailesh Amonkar – He has 10 years experience in deploying web-based products. Specialized skills in Java and Embedded technology. Cloud-computing specialist.

Human resource– Renuka Tandon- She has been an independent HR person for TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) and Amdocs. She has 15 yrs of experience & recruits embedded engineers and the marketing team.

Are you an Indian Tech company, looking to go global? Apply now for our Great Tech Rocketships initiative.

“Great Tech Rocketships to the UK” is a unique initiative to fast-track India’s most promising Tech Companies.

GreatTechRocketshipsWinners of this competition will  receive a one-week guided UK experience tour, including advice & mentoring from specialists, interactions with investors, accelerators, and incubators.

The initiative will also take the shortlisted companies to Tech City – the most vibrant innovation hub in UK.

If you are an innovative technology company with the view to going global, here’s your chance to embark on the most exciting mission of 2015 – ‘Great Tech Rocketships to the UK’, a unique program to springboard India’s most promising and fastest growing technology companies.

The ‘Great Tech Rocketships to the UK’ Competition is a collaboration of TechHub and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), supported by iSPIRT. The initiative aims to identify  and catapult impressive nascent companies and ideas that have the potential to transform into fast-moving and hyper-growth ‘Rocketships’.

The visit will be a unique opportunity for the winners to interact with community stakeholders – mentors, entrepreneurs, investors, accelerators & incubators, policymakers and media in these countries.

How to apply

The tech companies we’re looking for are required to submit a 60-second video presenting their company and apply here. [Feel free to add any other information that you may want to add in the video, but do keep it to within 60 seconds]. The last date is 2nd Feb 2015. You can also tweet to us @TechHubBlr with the #ifnotnowthenwhen

Invitations are open for the following areas:

  • Retail Technology
  • Finance Technology
  • Data Analysis and Visualization
  • Nascent Ideas

Here’s what promising startups can win

  • One-week fully-paid tour of UKs entrepreneurship eco-system, including 3 days in London
  • Meetings with investors, accelerators and incubators
  • Visit to Tech City – UK’s most vibrant innovation hub

The founders of each of the shortlisted companies will be further empowered in their endeavour by way of a year’s membership (Flex) from TechHub, which will enable them to leverage the global network and support system and fast-track their journey of going global.

In addition, the visit will enable the winning companies to understand the local ecosystem, interact with other entrepreneurs, receive advice and mentoring from specialists, and interact with potential investors. The visit will help the winners with potential, to address European markets suitable business propositions and models to fit these markets.

In summary, the ‘Great Tech Rocketships to the UK’ competition will propel these companies to start thinking globally. We will facilitate a common platform for them to get access to all the information and resources they need to get there and evolve at a whole new level at an accelerated pace.

If you are an Indian Tech Rocketship, submit your 60-second video, via YouTube and tweet the link to #ifnotnowthenwhen by 2nd Feb 2015!

Why entrepreneurs should watch MasterChef Australia

This article is not about cooking or opportunities in the F&B sector. Instead, it is about the importance of design, presentation quality, and visual appeal. And the impact it can have on your business, including your ability to attract employees, mentors/advisors, suppliers, and investors.

MasterChef Australia to me is an excellent reminder that producing a great product is not enough. Presenting it well enhances the appeal, and value, of the product manifold.

Likewise with startups, producing a great product or service is not enough. Even if the product or service addresses a strong consumer need, the adoption rates will be lower if the product is not designed well. In India recently, Indigo Airlines and Paper Boat (Aamras, Jal Jeera and juices) are great examples of how a brand can be built on design and aesthetics. It goes without saying that the product is very good. But the design, look & feel makes you pick it up from the shelf instantly.

But it is not just about making your product look beautiful. To really delight your customer, it is critically important that you design the overall experience around the product or service. Everything that you do can be presented well. Your company website, marketing material, signage in the office, power-point presentations (Oh God… how many times do we sit through ppts that are awfully designed), word documents, PDFs, etc. More often than not, we see excellent content get diluted in impact because of poor formatting of the word document or PDF.

Even excel sheets can be done beautifully. Yes, ‘beautifully’. With the startups that I advice/mentor, I insist that they spend some time, effort and energy to design their excel sheets. And it does make a huge difference. Just redoing the line spacing and alignments well makes documents much better than factory settings. Try formatting your excel sheets – indenting, making the rows slightly bigger than the content so that it looks well spaced out, coloring the different headers etc. – and see how pleasing it looks to read. It takes less than 30 seconds to move from a -10 to a +5 on an excel sheet look & feel by just doing indenting and spacing. Try it.

If you invest time in making your product and everything that you put out to the world – website, documents, excel sheets and presentations – look beautiful, the overall impact on your business can be surprisingly significant. Not only will your consumer/customer perceive higher value in your product, a company that has a culture of design aesthetics also finds it easier to attract employees, vendors, advisors/mentors, and investors.

Why product startups need to pay serious attention to brand name and logo design

A logo is one of the most visible faces of your brand. In other words, the logo is most likely to be your most frequent and most visible brand representative.

Ideally, a logo should clearly state the following:

  • Who you are
  • What you do

How the logo is designed and how well the messaging is in the tag line will create the first impressions about the brand’s personality.

Right from the time you exchange business cards, or when you release an ad – in print, TV or online, or when someoen sees your logo on the app store or when someone visits your site, it is often the name of the company, represented by the logo + tag line  that will be noticed for the first time, and that is what starts creating the story about your brand in the users mind. While a badly designed logo may not necessarily send the wrong impression, a well-designed logo will most certainly create a favorable impression.

If your logo and UI is not good, and therefore if the assumptions about you start off on an incorrect note, it is usually very, very hard (and certainly very expensive) to change that perception.

For startups, it is critical that the logo and the tag line be designed well. This is because when you are new, most people would not know what you do and who you are. Hence, when they interact with your brand for the first time, it is usually the logo unit that will set the first impressions about what you do.

Similarly, with tag lines. Tag lines should be used to communicate clearly what you do. E.g. “Online fashion store” or “Analytics for SMEs”.

Often entrepreneurs make the mistake of using a tag line which is nothing but a smart set of words with no reference to what you do. This is of little use in brand management. E.g. for a healthcare brand, if the tagline said ‘We care for you”, it really means nothing to anyone and does not establish what the brand does. Instead, if the tagline were to be specific saying “Your neighborhood childcare clinic’, there is specificity in communicating what the promise is.

It will be ideal if your tag line can also communicate your value proposition. E.g. “Affordable cardiac care.”

Likewise for brand names too. Decide on the name for your startup very, very thoughtfully. Give it as much importance as a parent would give to naming a child. YOU will have to live with that name for life… even if the startup fails and shuts down.

Ideally, a name should give your intended users/customers a clear idea of what you do. e.g. Make My Trip or It should be easy to pronounce for all people across geographies and it should, as best as you can research, mean the right thing in all languages.


Ideally, it should be short, and should sound nice.

More importantly, the domain should be available. If not, trying to create a ‘compromise url’ (e.g. is not very useful.

The sound should be relevant to your audience. E.g. if it is an enterprise solution, it should sound very professional and solid. If it is a fun thing for teenagers, it should sound fun.

Likewise, the logo design for that name should also reflect the personality that is relevant for the intended audience.

All this is expecially more relevant for product companies, as unlike services companies who often have the opportunity to sit in front of the customer to help create the first-impressions and communicate the value proposition, product companies depend only on the customer’s self-analysis of who you are based on what your touch points look like. And logo and brand name are often the first touch points. After all, marketing is the art of managing stakeholder perceptions.


M&A: Why small exits matter? The big value of small exits (#iSPIRT-OEQ)

iSPIRT Open Ecosystem Questions(OEQ) Series.  The conversation around this exciting session was lead by Sanat Rao (iSPIRT) and the speakers were Jay Pullur (Pramati Technologies), Sanjay Shah (Invensys Skelta), Pari Natarajan (Zinnov), Karthik Reddy (Blume Ventures) & Vijay Anand (The Startup Centre).

Sanat initiated the conversation with an observation that it was only the bigger exits that are picked up by the media. Smaller exits do not get any media attention at all. , We all hear about the big bang “home runs”:   WhatsApp sold for 19 billion USD to Facebook, Google acquires Nest for 3.2 billion USD, etc.     However, studies show that 65% of VC funded companies in the US return 0-1x to their investors.    Even among the remaining 35%, the exit valuations are relatively small:   since 2010, the average M&A deal size in the US/Israel is 100 million USD.  Only a small 0.1% of VC-funded companies are home runs (50X returns).  And not just in India. In Israel too, from 2010-14, out of the 88 exits, two deals on Viber and Waze accounted for a whopping 25% of the total M & A value.

Given these statistics, why do we promote the myth of a multi-billon $$ exit?  Why don’t we recognize the value of these smaller exits?   Should we not be promoting and helping product startups to find an exit at an earlier point in their lifecycle, rather than treating these exits as a worst case scenario?

Jay Pullur, Founder of Pramati Technologies added that startups must understand and provide an exit plan to investors. Given the risks involved in investing in startups, it is natural for investors to expect lucrative returns. There is no point in them investing in startups, which are riskier investments, if the returns are as much as they would get from a bank Fixed Deposit. Given the fact that only a handful of companies can go public, M&A is an alternative to providing liquidity and exit to investors. M&A also allows employees with ESOPs to monetize their stock.

Karthik Reddy, Managing Partner at Blume Ventures, pointed out that there is a consistency in all top-performing funds. However, the bizarre statistic is that only 4-5-6 companies deliver majority of the returns even in high-performing funds. “There is a classic conundrum that plays here – can you systematically look at reasonable sized exits or go for the homerun. The curse of the VC system is to play for the homerun”.

He added, “At Blume, we look at things differently. For the right deals, we do consider smaller mergers and acquisitions. Though they do not move the needle significantly, it brings much needed cash back into play which we can either invest in other ventures or use that to provide follow-on capital to better performing ventures. Also, the talent gets absorbed in a big company or some of your own portfolio companies.” Karthik’s view is that as an investor, helping under-performing or weak companies find exits and placing the founders and teams with other companies creates a bond and relationship. I.e. when a strong team whose current company doesn’t do well and starts up again, they should consider the fund to invest in their new venture too. In an environment where good teams are hard to find, relationships built even during challenging circumstances can be a big asset.

Karthik’s observation is that Indian buyers/acquirers are stingy and skeptical in buying assets.

The panel also mentioned Paul Graham’s (of Y-combinator) view that for every big exit there are a multiple smaller exits. The smaller exits feed the bigger one.

Smaller exits have a multiplying effect on the entrepreneurial ecosystem

Sanjay Shah explained that he has had three exits – one was a small exit but it was a good exit since they have not raise external funds; the second one was a good exit but as they had raised a lot of money it was not very meaningful for the investors. However, the third one was very fulfilling. A rather small round of money was raised, and with very few members of the team they were able to create wealth for everyone, including the employees because of the value of the ESOP’s. Interestingly, three other companies were created with their old business, which revalidated the culture of entrepreneurship. Therefore, smaller exits are important as they have a multiplying effect. Sanjay mentioned that he himself is starting up again.

Jay was asked the tricky question – when do we know when to exit? His reply was very simple – the entrepreneur and the investor – who are involved deepest, know it. They know that they are not in an airplane but a rocket J. You know when you are zooming; the market is opening up and you need more fuel in terms of capital… Or you know that it’s time for an exit. It becomes obvious.

But, he also cautioned that sometimes this could go dangerously wrong. Just because you want to exit, doesn’t mean that you will get one! There may not be any current buyers, the market may have changed, there is competition etc  – any of these can make an exit difficult.

Pari Natarajan mentioned that acquirers want the key people to stay. All of the key people in a company, that gets acquired, are usually interviewed and then the decision of buying the company is taken. It is a wonderful thing for the ecosystem, as the team that gets acquired, gets the advantage of money and the experience of a larger organization. Therefore, they could scale faster than otherwise. Therefore, smaller exits are very important. When your basic needs are taken care of (like a house, car and education for your kids) you can aspire for bigger goals.

Vijay Anand, of The Startup Center – raised an interesting point – India, unusually focuses on US acquires. There seems to be a pedigree attached to being acquired by a US company, even though the valuation maybe lower.

He pointed out that the downside of being acquired by a US company is that we are shipping the IP and talent abroad. This was an area of concern not from a patriotic point of view, but for the long-term ecosystem-building perspective.

Sanjay suggested that one of the ways Indian companies can look at buying smaller startups is by having a business relationship with them. Networking within the ecosystem is important.

However, the panel unanimously agreed that companies should not be created for exits, but for value addition to the customer. However, exits are important – both for the entrepreneur and employees. 

Some key points

  • A good exit builds risk capital in the ecosystem.
  • A successful exit creates passion and drives entrepreneurship
  • The money generated goes back into the ecosystem – i.e. to fund new ventures or to provide follow-on capital to better-performing companies of the investor’s portfolio
  • A good value of ESOP’s and Bonuses help in employee drive and passion

Bootstrapping – Boon or Bane for Product Startups #BootUpINDIA

On August 14th, 2014 iSPIRT, the industry enabler that is creating a vibrant eco-system for promoting, encouraging, supporting and enabling product companies out of India, organized a very useful online discussion on the concept of bootstrapping. Titled ‘Bootstrapping – Boon or Bane’, the discussion explored various facets of bootstrapping, including its relevance, benefits, limitations, and challenges.

Sharad Sharma, founder of iSPIRT kicked off the conversation with a very incisive observation that the startup community, largely driven by the media, tends to celebrate and showcase startups only when they receive angel or institutional funding. How true is that!!! There are a number of very successful and modestly successful startups, many of who are deserving of the praise and showcase, but they get reported about only when they close an investment round. (I am not sure if the media is to blame entirely. I suspect companies too reach out to media only after they have received an investment round, perhaps because they believe that funding makes the ‘story saleable’ for the media.).

Avinash Raghava, startup eco-system builder and the driving force behind iSpirit shared that over 65 of the 140+ companies they have profiled, were indeed bootstrapped. Of course, some of them may have tried to seek VC money and started to bootstrap if they were not successful in raising capital. However, that they have succeeded in being showcase-worthy by iSPIRT, is indeed commendable.

The panel explored whether bootstrapping & angel/VC funding are either-or strategies or is there merit in a hybrid model. While the panel agreed that building a business with customer’s money is nicer than building a business with VC money, Bhanu Chopra, founder of Rategain(who has built a globally successful company that was bootstrapped) and Sharad Sharma suggested that there are no set rules, and companies should evaluate their strategies depending on the merits of the options available. (It is relatively easier to bootstrap for companies that address enterprise customers than B2B companies.).

Ramesh Loganathan of Progress Software added that while startups have to evaluate what’s the right way for them to fund their venture, it’s not just about the money, but the mentoring and advisory that comes along with that money, that is more valuable at the early stages. First-time entrepreneurs who have no experience of building a business, or even a full product, can benefit enormously from the perspectives and learnings of more experienced individuals. Now, whether this advice is available with or without money is immaterial.

Bootstrapping is not equally relevant or appropriate for all concepts/products/services: In some cases, it maybe possible to build the foundation or a company through bootstrapping, but you may need external capital to grow. In some cases, it may be possible to grow at a healthy rate through bootstrapping, and internal accruals may enable the company to even grow at a healthy rate. However, Bhanu elaborated that at some stage, the company may need to explore inorganic growth and may have to seek external capital.

Shekhar Kirani of Accel Partners, who has a unique perspective as a member of two hugely successful bootstrapped ventures, and is now a part of the investor community, was of the view that since all ventures need capital, the entrepreneur has to make an assessment on whether the idea needs VC money or are the idea & market conditions more suitable for bootstrapping.

He further explained that companies like Facebook, Twitter, Quora, etc. could not have been built without VC money as these businesses needed to invest a lot to build scale so that monetization opportunities arise. He added the once there are others in the market offering similar benefits, it is almost always difficult to leapfrog without adequate capital, and in such situations, bootstrapping may not be the right approach.

VCs have a lot of respect for companies that are bootstrapped. Bootstrapping demonstrates the entrepreneur’s commitment and conviction, both critical parameters for investors. In fact, Shekhar shared that even in the US, Accel invests in a number of companies that have built a reasonably sized business through bootstrapping, and Accel was the first institutional investor for scaling up.

Bootstrapping forces you to focus on building a strong ‘business’: For, Ahimanikya of DocEngage, one of the benefits of bootstrapping is that you are forced to think of revenues from day one. He added that it has become fashionable for entrepreneurs to seek VC money to pay for their lifestyle or for their own salaries, and felt that this approach, which does not have an element of risk-taking by the entrepreneurs was damaging for the startup community.

Bhanu mentioned that bootstrapping allowed them to focus on building a fundamentally strong product with a strong customer value proposition. It also instilled very strong fiscal discipline within the company.

All panelists agreed that for bootstrapping to be successful, it was important for an entrepreneur to be adequately prepared to multi-task and to be a multi-skilled. Else it becomes very difficult to sustain a bootstrapped venture. Panelists also agreed that at some stage, if the company needs to change gears to scale up using VC funding, they need to be prepared for a fundamentally different way of growing the business. If they are not prepared, they may miss out on some large opportunities.

To summarize: It was, as Sharad Sharma put it, a very thoughtful discussion, do watch the video for mode details.

Ship Version 1.0 soon!!!!

Finishing the design and development of a product or a service is often challenging for entrepreneurs. That’s because they are so passionate about the product or service that they want to perfect it! Every feature that they think of, appears really really important to them and they want to incorporate it in the on-going development phase. This is even more pronounced among entrepreneurs in India whose product and service design and development never seems to end.

However, product and service designers (founders) need to discipline themselves on working on a roadmap. I.e. A plan for features to be added to a product and launched in a planned and phased manner.

The way to do it is to list down all the features that may be possible in the product. Then categorize them under two heads

(a) Must-have and

(b) Nice-to-have features

(Be careful, don’t go by your own judgment else everything will appear to be a must-have feature… check with others, particularly users/customers).

Once this is done, identify what needs to go into version 1.0, then what will be added to version 1.1, and then what will be added to version 1.2 and so on… When there is a major change from the original version, call it version 2.0.

But, have a road map. And stick to it.

And defining a road map does not mean that you cannot adjust /alter it and add/delete some features. But once a plan is defined and communicated to the team, if anything new is to be added, you should have the discipline of debating and deliberating it and taking a very well thought decision to add something in, and only if it MUST be added.

It is good to have an external review committee (may be a few other entrepreneur friends, a few friends who are potential customers, etc.) to discuss these things with… and perhaps share and test the product periodically.

If you do not have the discipline of a roadmap, you will constantly lumber in development stage. It will appear to be progress, and it will be, there will be no sense of achievement, which comes from SHIPPING A PRODUCT OR LAUNCHING A SERVICE. (A wise senior from TiE describes this as ‘MAFA’ – Mistaking Activity For Achievement’).

Also, if you launch and test with a base set of features, you get a chance to test various things on a smaller scale. Apart from the product or service, you can test the value proposition; communication; brand personality and some other assumptions underlying your business plan (e.g. how many visits does it take to close a sale), etc.

Ask other entrepreneurs who have launched a product. The joy of shipping something is comparable perhaps only to (ok, may be a shade lower than) bringing a baby into the world. It changes the mood in the team. It automatically brings a different level of maturity to the startup. It brings in a sense of responsibility and pride. It multiplies the passion and commitment. Shipping a product or launching a service fundamentally changes the organization. It is a joy that you cannot imagine, until you experience it. And that is very valuable in building the foundation of a strong, scalable company.

(Well, some people have asked me “so, what if we ship and it bombs, it could kill the enthusiasm in the team”. Well, surely it will. But better to hear bad news earlier than later. Also, not for one moment am I suggesting you ship an inferior-quality or incomplete product or a product with fewer features than the consumer/user needs. But don’t over engineer the product, which most founders tend to do.)

So, go ahead. Define your product roadmap. And ship that version 1.0 as fast as you can.

If you have stories of your product or service launch experience, we would love to hear from you. Any learnings and insights you have from your experiences will be valuable for other budding entrepreneurs.

If you have stories of your product or service launch experience, we would love to hear from you. Any learnings and insights you have from your experiences will be valuable for other budding entrepreneurs.