With consistent effort and with an amazing team of self-driven individuals, no goal is impossible to achieve. Team Headstart proved this fact, more than anything else, having grown steadily and widely over the years. It was a moment of joy for the entire Headstart family as we gathered at IBM, EGL on May 14th, 2016 for the Centennial Startup Saturday Bangalore. In addition to the volunteer team in Bangalore, some of the former Headstart volunteers and current volunteers from other cities joined us in the celebration.

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The event started with a talk by Amit Singh (Founder at Wow Labz, Co-Founder and Director at Headstart), on the incredible journey of Headstart over the last 8 years. The co-founders of Headstart, when they met at a barcamp in early 2007, got talking about how the startups around them were dying, owing to lack of support and mentorship, and how the entrepreneurial minds in the city could be benefited from having a startup ecosystem and community around them. From conversations about changing the world, and a google group to connect the community of entrepreneurs, the idea evolved into the monthly ‘Startup Saturday’ in 2008. Driven by its team of passionate volunteers, Headstart has been consistently hosting SS Bangalore every month. From hiring its first full-time employee in the year 2012 to bolster the effort of the volunteers; to launching additional initiatives such as Headstart Higher, Headstart Co-founder Search, WE, Inturn and many more, to solve the specific challenges faced by the startups;  the organization has been growing rapidly and working towards its vision of ‘identifying problems and solving them through businesses’. Now, in the years to come, Headstart is aiming towards the establishment of an active ecosystem and nurturing startups in Tier II and Tier III cities of India.  The spirit of collaboration has strengthened Headstart and our partners – IBM, SAP, Yourstory, 91 Springboard, T Labs, Techhub, Bhive, Rodinhoods, iSpirt, IIMB, Wow Labz and others have played a key role in helping us realize this dream.

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Following Amit’s talk on the history of Headstart, was the first session of the day – the Fireside Chat with Punit Soni(ex –CPO, Flipkart) hosted by Ujjwal  Trivedi(Sr. Product Manager, CouponDunia, Bangalore City Lead, Headstart). Punit talked about his professional journey – his experience working at Google, Motorola and Flipkart. When asked about his career choices, he stated, that every project that he worked on was evaluated on the basis of whether or not it was fun and interesting. The focus was always on ‘learning’ as opposed to ‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’. Below are some other key insights from his session:

  • Take risks with your career. Do things that make you genuinely happy
  • It’s important for startups to be focused on their ultimate users, and not get too distracted by technology
  • A smart entrepreneur is better off during downtime. With less competition, he/she has more opportunities to stand out. Those who survive the tide emerge as winners.
  • Indian Startup ecosystem, in comparison with Silicon Valley: The Indian startup ecosystem is more vibrant and diverse, comprising of both students and executives working for big corporations. The one thing that seems lacking in India though is the culture of mentorship and role models. One way to deal with the challenge is to create groups like Headstart where people can openly exchange ideas, and find mentors
  • On Hiring Product Managers for Startups: In startups, the founder plays the role of the product manager. Only when the founder is unable to focus on the product should a PM be hired.
  • On managing a team: Be stringent on the outcome and not the means. Weekly reviews are a waste of time. You should trust your team more and let them drive the agenda of the meetings.

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The next session of the day was the Panel Discussion on ‘Funding’, moderated by Rohith Veerajappa(Co-founder at Wow Labz, Volunteer at Headstart) and featuring panelists: Gautam Mago(MD, Sequoia), Bala Srinivasa(Partner, Kalaari), Sanjay Anandaram(Partner, Seedfund), and Manish Singhal(Angel Investor). Below are some key insights from the session:

  • The funding scene right now: There is competition no doubt. But, it’s tough especially for those looking to raise huge sums.
  • Why there’s little investment in tech companies: Investors are investing in tech companies. But, due to the inevitable market push, ecommerce is gaining more traction.
  • Funding of Biotech firms: Globally the investment in biotech firms is picking up. It’s an interesting space for startups, provided they have the deep scientific knowledge and expertise to make it big in this field.
  • Startup India Initiative’s contribution to the entrepreneurial ecosystem: It has introduced the term ‘startup’ in the govt lexicon, and made entrepreneurs feel good about the work they are doing.
  • Do VCs invest at idea stage: Occasionally yes. But, it’s not the norm
  • How do you evaluate if the company is scalable: The startup must have unique insights and must have a product that uses these insights.

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The panel was followed by an insightful talk by Vaitheeswaran(Founder, Indiaplaza and Fabmall). Comparing the growth of Headstart with Virat Kohli’s ‘Hitting a Century’ in the IPL, he expressed his appreciation for the team of volunteers who have managed to put forth a great performance, one Startup Saturday at a time, with their consistent, incremental efforts. He stressed upon the role of humility in the lives of entrepreneurs. “Irrespective of how your business ends, you must remain humble. Out of all those running their businesses, very few become successful entrepreneurs. Remain where you started. Continue to answer your phone calls and be available for those who need your help. Stay like Team Headstart.” He further shared his wisdom on the role failures play in entrepreneurial success. “Our failures teach us more than our successes. Be prepared to fail greatly, especially in the beginning of your career.” The main takeaway from his talk was his point on personal integrity. “Treat your investor’s money like you would treat your own money. Don’t fly business class, if your company isn’t doing great business. Always, measure yourself against the highest standard of integrity.”

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The fourth session of the day was the Fireside Chat with Shradha Sharma(Founder, Yourstory), hosted by Shalini Nautiyal(Head of Product at Frogo, Volunteer at Headstart).  Shradha has been part of Headstart’s journey since its very beginning, and we were lucky to have her on stage and to share with her this special moment. She enthralled everyone in the audience with her positivity, persistence and her honest account of life as an entrepreneur running Yourstory for over 8 years. Below are some insights from the chat:

  • How have you transformed over the past 8 years from the time you started up: It’s been a mad rush. I’ve not had much time to introspect.
  • If given a chance, would you have done something different: The entrepreneurial life is hard. But, it’s also fun. So, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.
  • How do we know whether we should stick around or move on: I had no Plan B. I am competitive. When people say that it’s not going to work out, I am driven to make it happen. After funding, people started taking me more seriously. But, funding does bring with it a set of new challenges.
  • Advice for the entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs out there: Gaining clarity on your business takes time. More the lows, the higher would be the highs. You need to just believe in yourself and hang in there.
  • A book you recommend: Take my Advice by James L Harmon

Following the fireside chat, we disbursed for the lunch break.  The startups that had their stalls at the venue were: Breakout, Denture Capital, Resonate Systems, Fleep, Bode Animations, Xobin, TestYourWings.com, Allonzy, TedX Bangalore, VRfirst, BDC Bangalore, Carista, TaxMantra, Career Confidence, Frogo and Textlocal.

The event then proceeded with the Panel discussion on ‘Corporate- Startup Engagement’, moderated by Sivaguru(Partner at PM Power Consulting, Volunteer at Headstart) and featuring Karthik Padmanabhan(Head, IBM Asia Pacific), Venkat Raju(MD, Kyron), Som Chaudhary(MD, Analog Devices) and Ganapathy Venugopal(CEO, Axilor Ventures) as panelists. Below are some insights from the session:

Q: Does IoT pose any special challenges for a startup, especially in the ideation or self-funded stage in terms of initial funds required – for hardware, manufacturing, support etc? [Som]

A: IoT is capital intensive. But there are companies that provide startups with support in various forms.

 Q: In your experience of matching entrepreneurs and corporates, what should entrepreneurs consider in making the partnership more balanced? [Venkat]

A: They must first be clear as to why they need a corporate to achieve whatever they set out to do.

Q: Advice for entrepreneurs working in sectors such as healthcare or energy to not lose steam and keep one’s cool, considering the gestation time for launching a product in those sectors is much longer. [ Ganapathy]

A: Entrepreneurs must ensure that they have a good understanding of the problem. Their passion would take them ahead and enable them to make a significant contribution.

Q: From a corporate perspective, what are some of the cultural enablers to have a startup culture within the corporate structure – that would help attract more startups?[Venkat]

A: Cultural issues are critical and corporates need to be sensitized about them.

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Following the panel we had the first workshop of the day by Alok Patnia(Founder, TaxMantra) on ‘How to get ready for Funding’. [We also had the Startup Pitching event ‘KICKSTART’ happening simultaneously in a different room at the venue] Alok spoke about the role of Term sheet, the agreement document that outlines the terms and conditions under which the investment will happen. Talking about Business Plans, he stated that, “Startups must incorporate big market risks and the means of overcoming them in their plans.” When asked about how startups can get ready for investment, he suggested that they do the necessary research before choosing an investor, and resolve the internal conflicts, if there are any between the founders, before reaching out for the investment.

This was followed by another workshop by Ravi Shankar(Founder, Aim High Consulting) on ‘PR for Startups’.  Ravi brought a fun twist to the session and had a fireside chat with his ‘wiser self’ as he went about answering the most frequently asked questions about startups and PR. Below are some insights from the session:

Q: How is the PR Environment in the world changing?

 A: It’s very difficult to understand the pace at which the PR environment is changing. We are no longer abiding by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs(Ravi illustrated this point with the example of Chennai floods, and how power banks were more in demand,  when compared to food and water, at the time of the crisis). He advised startups to understand the needs and priorities of the consumers, while communicating to them.

Q: What is PR exactly?

A: PR involves sharing news with a neutral perspective. It is mostly unpaid, unless it’s done by companies offering PR services.

Q: What is the right time for startups to begin PR?

A: The stage where your company won’t morph into something unrecognizable, few months or years down the line.

Q: Should PR be part of the short-term or a long-term strategy?

A: Well meaning businesses will make PR a long-term goal. A media firm will write about you only when they see a tangible, lasting benefit to their audience by writing about you.

Q: Should startups do PR for marketing?

A: You can use PR only as an image building tool, and not as a tool to market your product.

Q: Can PR be used for crisis management?

A: In the world that we live now, crisis breaks out in 140 characters. You must not use PR for resolving crisis. Always strive be seen as an honest and transparent source of information.

The last session of the day was a workshop by Prasanna Krishnamoorthy(CTO, Microsoft Ventures) on the topic ‘Growth and How to Build Businesses Effectually’. Giving the example of kids and their ease with asking other for things, he stressed upon the idea that startups and entrepreneurs should be less hesitant in asking for help. “If you do things right, nothing ever goes bad,” he added. He introduced the innovative strategy of ‘Co-Creation’, that startups could consider employing, especially when there is no clear existing market for their idea. We may not always know what the customers want. To use the co-creative marketing, he advised, we must first try selling our product to a small group of 2-3 people, analyze where their needs come from, then think of adding another segment that enables us to sell it to a bigger, and slightly similar set of customers. Startups can co-create with not just customers, but also with advisors, competitors, and other entrepreneurs.

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The 100th Startup Saturday Bangalore ended with the announcement of the winners of ‘KICKSTART’. Congratulations Appaie, Tapplr, Codemojo and Portuspine :). A big thank you to all those who attended the event, and helped us in making it a grand success. We look forward to having you around in many more Startup Saturdays in the years to come.

 Written by: Swati Ramnath