Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dinner for ten

On April 13, 23 year-old Manoj Surya (heartening to see youths trying to get the entrepreneurship needle moving) held a MeetUp event in Hyderabad to talk about a Startup Fest to be held in Hyderabad i.e. to get some ideas and views on what such a Festival should be.

The venue was again in the open space, partially shaded by a tree, near the back gate of LaMakaan in Hyderabad. Possibly due to my disruptive questions (How do you define a start-up?) we got into an hour long discussion on what a Startup Fest ought to be (finale of a series of events? providing what to whom? and so on and so forth). Manoj then asserted himself - at which point I finally got the message: the Startup Fest was to be a big event along the lines of those conducted elsewhere, that will highlight and promote entrepreneurship - as opposed to an event that would celebrate the growth of entrepreneurship based on "building block" events.

I could see the sense in that - so long as some key actors in the system got together and made a good story about "why Hyderabad" or if an intellectually interesting but fun and engaging event was held to simply bring entrepreneurs together in the hope that network nodes directed traffic to the right endpoints. I cannot see a huge let-a-thousand-of-us-pitch-our-(often half-baked)-story-to-investors-in-the-hope-that-one-bites event being successful. Why on earth would  one want to broadcast a (often easily duplicated) potentially profitable idea to the masses? Would it not be easier to construct case studies whereby fake companies (each company at a different stage of evolution from concept to post revenue) had relevant issues that were discussed and solved with the help of experts? You still get to hear pertinent information without "opening your kimono".

In any event, I told the group that a Startup Festival (oops, believe the hip version is "Fest" - showing my age) had its place but that I would get a small group together that would discuss complementary (to the Startup Fest) events that would be sustainable and come back to the larger group with a "straw man" proposal for them to consider. So far so good.

On April 18th, some 10 of us met at my place for dinner and drinks to come up with the "straw man". After 5 hours of discussion, and a strong desire (by at least some in the group) to act as opposed to talk, the group decided (I was playing host and facilitator/moderator as I wanted the entrepreneur's - budding or otherwise - to claim ownership) that we should have a domain specific (I.T.,  given most in the group were techies) event. Beyond that there was no consensus except that it would help if one could pitch their ideas to experts and get good feedback. I suggested that rather than re-create the wheel I would check to see if some organizations were providing such events (truth be told, there is always some organization providing some version of the type of event needed), found that there are, and they were, and wrote to the group on April 19th with my findings and asked them to come up with a list of events that were not already being covered.

To date, one member of the group came back with more examples of start up services and a list of incubators and a presentation on Entrepreneurship in India.
This same person also developed a draft version of a presentation on Entrepreneurship in Hyderabad (i.e. a statement of some views on what is needed).


My view (shared with the group) is that there is something for everyone somewhere out there. It may not be delivered locally or the quality may be poor, but much exists out there.

It is also my view that all the entrepreneurship services out there, regardless of quality are but expressions of attempts to satisfy perceived needs. There are of course those needs that are not yet perceived, poorly perceived, or daunting to undertake, but just making a list of every entrepreneurial service currently provided would at least highlight  the better perceived needs of entrepreneurs and would be a good starting point in considering how they may be linked to leverage their benefit (incubators and colleges for example).

The keys are in my opinion, that:
1) we need to get the meta-issues (behavior and attitude) into the mix as opposed to just functional (marketing, logistics) or product issues. 
2) we need to connect the dots be it actors or be it factors - for example can you get the best of various entrepreneur service providers together in one location, or bring them in a coherent way, but singly or in smaller groups to (in this example) IT folks in Hyderabad.

I believe that once the group gets to that point they will be better able to:
a) figure out what events to conduct
b) how those events should made available (how/what/when/to whom etc.).

I do hope the group succeeds. Their success will only help with my larger objective which is to "move the needle significantly" on Entrepreneurship.

While I think that many of the folks at dinner at my place were quite smart, I would venture to state that I would be most surprised to actually see a "connected" cohesive plan emerge.

My pessimism is based on the fact that despite likening (for more than a year now) the various parts of what I call the Complex Adaptive System (CAS) - a phrase that means ecosystem but conveys much more meaning I feel - to be discs spinning on their own, without any cogs that will turn them into gears and cause the entire system to move for the benefit of the whole, there have been no takers to help me put "cogs on the discs".

Perhaps I need to work on my "pitch" and/or find the right people. I will keep plugging away for now and hope that the discs (actors and factors in the CAS) will get cogs, become gears, and that the gears will start meshing.

Stay true, Vishnu.