Monday, October 17, 2011

Startup Saturday - Hyderabad

The saturday before last, I was invited to give a small informal talk at Startup Saturday (SS). SS is organized by the Headstart Network Foundation - a non-profit organization focused on creation of a startup ecosystem in India. The following video gives a clear idea about what Startup Saturday is all about.

This meeting was held at LaMakaan and there was a very interesting mix of attendees. There were a few students but a lot of attendees were from either those interested in starting up or those having just started up. There were also a couple of reporters of startup related websites. There were some members from angel investor organizations or incubation centers like the IIIT Incubation Center.

The theme of the session was registration, compliance & finance for early stage startups. Every month there is a theme and experts are invited to talk about that theme. It started off with each of the attendees giving a short introduction and then there were a couple of sessions given by a Chartered Accountant and a Company Secretary about the theme. The format is quite informal and interactive and there are a lot of questions from the participants.

After this some startups were invited to talk about their ventures and their experiences in starting up. The startups who spoke were
  • Inforica - Founder- Sudeep D'Souza
  • Luminart- Founder- Prabhu
  • Acuvate- Founder, Amitesh Anand
  • CoFounder, Kalyan
Again the discussion was lively and interesting with a lot of real world examples and experiences.

After this it was all about networking and exchanging business cards to continue networking beyond the event. I was asked how the startup environment now is different from how it was 6 years ago and the answer is that it is events like this that make it so much easier to startup now with information so easily available so readily.

I would advise anyone who is planning to startup or has just started up to attend this event. I hope more companies that provide services also attend so that startups are aware that there are experts out there to hep them quickly startup.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Startup Weekend - Hyderabad

It all started on Thursday when I saw a post on one of the blogs announcing that there was going to be a Startup Weekend being hosted at ISB in Hyderabad. Something in that article triggered my imagination that it would be a fun event to attend to understand and feel the start-up ecosystem. With a lot of encouragement from the home front I was all game to go. I went ahead and bought 5 tickets to the event and then started to ask all my friends and colleagues asking them who would like to come for the event and the 5 tickets disappeared fairly quickly.

To tell you a bit about Startup Weekend, I copied a paragraph from Annkur's post, one of the organizers about startup weekend

"Startup Weekend is this 54 hours madness that brings together business folks, developers, designers and jack of all trades like me to build a startup over a weekend. Ones with an idea pitch it, voting follows and teams are formed organically. These teams have to come back with a product / prototype / demo / whatever by Sunday evening and present to the judging panel. In march, Startup Weekend, which has as of today done over 100 cities and 250 action packed weekends, came to India."
Day 1: The first 14 hours - Product Concept, Team Formation, Branding and Technology Identification

On Friday afternoon about 2 hours before we were to leave we had no idea what we were going to pitch. So we called everyone we knew into a room to help us brainstorm and come up with ideas to pitch at the event. After about an hour we settled on 5 ideas and then used the next hour to narrow down the ideas to 3. We all then jumped into the car and started our 30 min drive to ISB. It was here that we finally gave shape to our ideas and wrote a pitch for each one of them.

On completion of our registration we had pizzas and a lot of coke to set the right mood and then it was onto the pitches. While having our pizzas we got talking to other participants there and this kind of got us in touch with other participants that can become team members. It is important to take this networking session very seriously and meet as many participants as you can. It is during this period that you can introduce your self to everyone present there and also get to know about them as this can influence the team formation as there is not much time later on if your idea is shortlisted.

We all stood in a line and started to make our pitches one after another in fairly quick succession and it was down to the voting.  The results were announced and since there were some ties we had 15 ideas that were selected and out of the 3 ideas that we pitched 2 got selected, Park-e-mon and Feriwala. We quickly formed into our teams and the Park-e-mon team consisted of 4 members Krishnamraju (Developer), Jeevan (Developer), Shahnawaz (Sales and Marketing) and Sudeep (Team Lead).

Soon after forming the team it was all work from then on. We had to decide on the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) i.e. the least amount of functionality that can be coded on a weekend and that will show the functionality of the application being built. At the same time we had to fill up a brief description of the product and also submit other paper work like the team details and stuff. We closed the day at about 2:00 AM with a clear idea of what was our product and the division of tasks for the next day. We had  a mobile component and also a web component so each developer took one, the other two of us came up with a product validation strategy and branding which we had to complete before 11:00 AM the next morning, this included coming up with a survey, presentation demonstrating our product, name of the product, logo and buying of the website URLs and shortlisting one or two potential clients to meet and check the viability of the product in the market.

Day 2: Hours 15 to 40 - Market survey and Development

The next morning while the developers were hard at coding the product, we spoke to a couple of mentors that gave us very valuable feedback about the product. There were altogether 5 mentors that were present the whole day but we had time to talk to only 2 of them. After this the business development team went out to meet some potential customers. We met the owner of a construction company that builds commercial spaces, an architect and the parking administrator of a large mall. After having met them the idea fine tuned itself into a truly promising product that can be taken into the market. The business development team touch based with the developers who promised to have the product completed which finally happened at about 5:00 AM in the morning.

Day 3: The final 14 hours - Presentation, Fine Tuning and Pitches

After a few hours of sleep it was the start of Day 3. We all headed back to ISB, while the development team was fixing all the final issues in the product the business team worked on the presentation and the video that was going to demonstrate the usage of the product. We were done by about 4:00 PM and the pitches were to start at 5:00 PM. A few practice runs and it was time to make our pitch which went well. The pitches were all well managed. You were given 2 min to setup while the previous team was answering questions and then your 5 minutes started as soon as the previous team was done. On completion of the 5 minutes, there is 2 minutes of questions where the judges and audience were free to ask any thing. How to ensure that you make the best of the pitches
  1. Ensure you are ready for any eventuality,  during our pitch the internet was very slow and so we could not show a live demo but our video bailed us out. So have a back up plan to show the demo.
  2. Practice your pitch and ensure that it does not cross 4:30 min. It will finally end up being 5:00 min.
  3. Check out all the connections before hand and do not let the members of the team doing the pitch operate the laptop, unless there is no other option.

Once all the pitches were completed it was time to announce the results and our team the Park-e-mon team came first. It was a nice surprise as there were some very nice product ideas that were very well presented. On the whole the learning experience was amazing and also the opportunity to interact with so many different people in an environment where you are all thrown together and forced to work on an idea and this brings out the best in everyone.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Deccan Trails - Outdoor adventure fun

Here are offers of Deccan Trails that you may be interested to avail.

As part of the office picnic we went to this outdoor adventure fun place that is about 75 km outside Hyderabad near Vikarabad called Deccan Trails. Its a camp site that is situated on the edge of a forest and it's about 40 acres of fun and activity. We reached there at about 4 in the afternoon after driving through the heaviest rain that I have seen all season so far. The road was good and the drive there very nice.

We were welcomed with some mint flavoured lime juice and some hot pakoras that tasted very good. The rest of the evening was spent monkeying around on the rope ladders and the nets and swinging on the numerous swings there until we finally started a game of football in the light drizzle. The evening was spent enjoying the serene calm fresh air until it was time for dinner that consisted of a very homely meal. There was a bon fire started to add to the lovely evening. Music is not allowed as it is close to the jungle and it disturbs the peace of the place.

The sleeping arrangements consists of tents that are setup quite wonderfully. There are 2 community tents that consist of 15 beds each and there are some 2bed and 3bed tents that have an attached toilet and bath. There are cots and mattresses in the tents with lights and fans. After a restful night the morning started early with some hot tea and a long 5 km trek through the jungle. This trek set us up perfectly for the breakfast that was simple and nutritious.

After breakfast it was off to try out all the adventure games such as walking the burma bridge, balancing planks, tight rope, rock climbing and zip lining. All fun games that can tire both your hands and legs fairly quickly. There are other games such as archery and table tennis. The setup again basic and rustic but fun at the same time.

After some nutritious lunch where the meat is given out in measured portions it is time to say bye and leave the place so wanting to never go back into the hustle and bustle of the city that is just a few minutes away.

The good things about the place is the games, the setup of the tents and the general conduct of the activities there. The not so good things of the place is the toilets, they can do with some improvement. The mattresses and pillows are hard - so those not used to sleeping on hard pillows may be advised to carry their own. The kitchen and dinning area can do with some improvements - there are a lot of flies and ants around and those not used to the outdoors will find it a bit uncomfortable.

On the whole a great place to go - I will surely be going back there soon.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chowmahalla Palace

About a week ago I was going around the old city when I chanced upon the Chowmahalla Palace just next to the Charminar. The entrance to the palace is very unassuming and boring but once inside the world is so different. Lovely gardens, beautiful buildings and well done up interiors when just outside the palace is the hustle and bustle of Charminar. The palace belongs to the Nizam's of Hyderabad and gives you a very upclose and personal view of their lifestyle and their history. There is a lot to see here and you can get all the details of what there is to see on this wikipedia web page.

I would advise everyone who is visiting Hyderabad to visit the Chowmahalla Palace. It should be a must visit even before one goes to Charminar, Salarjung Museum, Qutub Shahi Tombs or Golkonda Fort. That is how highly I rate the visit here. The history of Hyderabad through a lot of old photographs is captured on the walls of the palace. There are very few people that visit this palace and that adds to the whole unhurried charm of the place.

Below are some photographs that I took during my visit to the palace.

Dialogues in the dark

A few days ago I went to have dinner in the new themed restaurant "Dialogues in the dark" which is located at Inorbit Mall, Madhapur, Hyderabad. Having read about the restaurant at the website and a few reviews in the WOW Hyderabad magazine I was quite excited. So gave them a call to make a reservation and was told that I can choose either a non vegetarian meal or vegetarian meal.

We arrived there at about 8:00 PM and paid for our meals which needs to be done in advance and it costs Rs. 750 per person all inclusive. Any cold drinks (no liquor is served) purchased in the restaurant were to be paid for after the meal. We were then asked to deposit our mobile phones and any other bags we were carrying in the locker there. We were then escorted to the door and then handed over to a visually impaired person who guided us into a pitch dark place. It is incredibly eerie when you walk in first as you cannot see anything not even your finger if it is a centimeter from your eyes. You are guided to your seat and the table is already set when you get there.

You are then served a 4 course meal starting with soup, a starter, a main course and a dessert. The meals are served slowly and there is a lot of time for one to munch on their food and wait. The meal itself wasn't much of a surprise, to put it simply there was tomato soup; chicken nuggets for starters; biryani, romali roti, dalh, chicken curry and some stuff i never even found on my plate; a custard kind of a dish for dessert. The food is eaten completely by touch and feel. There is cutlery to be used but again one has to feel for it. After a while you get a comfort in where everything is and then it becomes quite easy. The water is served in bottles and one can order from a variety of soft drinks to be had with the food.

Since the restaurant is completely dark you do not know how many others are there in the restaurant or how far apart they are. The two tables next to us seemed to be quite close to us as we could hear all the conversations quite clearly.

The experience was interesting for just the one visit. The food was not exciting - with the first taste we knew what was on the plate. The food was not very tasty. The chairs were quite uncomfortable. One interesting thing is that there is an verbal interaction going on between the people as no one knows who is there and how many people are there. The noise levels are quite high - conversation is quite loud and animated.

What in my view will make the experience more exciting? All the food should only be bite sized helpings - they should feel the same but when you put it in the mouth each bite tastes different. There should be a surprise element in every bite. Serving regular food does not really enhance the experience. The chairs should be super comfortable so that when you sit in them it should feel like you never want to get out of it. The music at times was a bit loud - the music should be very faint in the background.

On the whole an interesting experience for that one time and its worth going there to understand what happens when one of the senses is taken away.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ooty once again

Having visited Ooty the last time in the rainy season with a lot of the activities not operational we decided to go back to Ooty this time in the summer. The weather was great - bright sunshine with a cool breeze blowing. We had a couple of showers in the evenings but that did not dampen any of the fun, in fact it added to the whole experience of being at a hill station. The only downside of this trip was that it was quite crowded as against the last time we went there. But again as long as we spent most of our time in a secluded resort we did not experience much of the crowds except when we went into Ooty town.

We wanted to travel by the Nilgiri mountain railway train from Mettupalayum to Ooty but this was all booked up well in advance and we tried almost 2 months before our travel date for tickets on this train. So plan well in advance if you want to experience this train ride.

We spent about an evening in Ooty town doing shopping this time and there are quite a few good things to be bought in Ooty. Top of the line is chocolates, spices and oils. There are a lot of shops selling chocolates but the most famous among them are Modern Bakery near the Botanical Gardens. There is a good selection of leather goods such as wallets, jackets, shoes and handbags available. Warm clothes are not too expensive too.

We got to do a lot of adventure sports this time such as trekking, rock climbing, horse riding, zip lining and rappelling. We did all these at the farm stay Destiny.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

India finally wins the world cup

And I was there right through it. Through all its ups and downs.

And my advise to all those leaders out there is take a leaf out of Dhoni's notebook and start leading your teams from the front by stepping into the firing line. We need a lot more leaders like him.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mantra of successful apps - Simple yet engaging

I have been downloading and playing quite a few games lately and I started to wonder what is it that makes these games so addictive where as there are a million other games that just come and go. What I realised is that the key to the successful games such as angry birds, ninjump and so on is to keep it very simple so that it is easy to learn and start playing yet keeping it just hard enough to keep you engaged to try again and again as you always feel that you are just there.

I tried to extend this same idea to some of the applications that I use and I found that there is a similar trend. The applications are very easy to learn and become useful in a very short span of time yet they are feature rich to make you want to come back and use them every time.

Its the same for the android and apple devices - they are so easy to use they do not even need a user manual but there is so much available on the market place/app store that there is never a boring moment as you can go there and find something new to keep you engaged.

For all the app designers out there the idea is to keep the entry barrier so low that the user feels interested to try it out but then it is important to subtly introduce features to the user that will keep the user engaged and interested.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Motivation at the workplace

IT companies have a reputation of paying very well but they still suffer from very high attrition. Why is that so? I was watching some videos on youtube and came across the one below that validates my thoughts. Motivating employees is not just about paying them well...

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Changing Education Paradigms

Deciding on the type of education for your child is a hard question. During my days of schooling there was only one type of education and that was focused on rote learning and the cane. But now the life and times are so different. The world has changed; the times are different; the different ways we are exposed to information is mind boggling.

Do we change with the times and give our children something different from what we had. During my school days there was nothing else to do other than go to school. There was no TV till I was in the 9th class. There were no computers till I was in college and there was not much activity to do as I was brought up in a small town – there were no malls, no activity centers, no zoos, no museums and frankly no parks worth going to. We went to school, did what we were told, learnt by heart what we were thought, wrote our exams, got caned if we did badly and the circle continued year after year. But in the end we all turned out fine leading comfortable lives due to the education we got.

But if we fast forward to now – I ask myself is it enough if I put my child in this same kind of education system so that she has a secure future because this system worked for me. But will it be enough? The needs in the future may be different. The tools available may be different. The skills required may be different. Following the same kind of education I had might not be enough to help her cope with the future. But the question is what kind of education will help her cope?

The video below talks about a similar problem with the current education system and is very interesting to understand the roots of the existing education system and why the author thinks that the current system will not work in preparing our kids.

You do what you are

In the 2001 movie Along came a spider, there is an interesting quote by Morgan Freeman where he says "You do what you are" and the...