1M/1M Roundtable For Entrepreneurs: Rendezvous In Bangalore
On April 3rd, I spent an entire day with entrepreneurs in Bangalore, and we did three roundtables with 15 entrepreneur pitches. These roundtables were held at the Citrix Executive Briefing Center, hosted by Ravi Gururaj, Vice President of Products for the Cloud Platforms Group at Citrix and also head of the Citrix Startup Accelerator in India.
Citrix, by the way, is soliciting applications for its $100k award by early April. Also, the Citrix accelerator in Santa Clara offers $250k convertible note financing for its 18-month program based in Silicon Valley. For more information, you can contact Ravi [email@example.com].
So let’s review the entrepreneur pitches from the roundtables.
First, Ajit Narayan, a 1M/1M premium entrepreneur, pitched Avaz. Avaz is in the process of launching an iPad app for helping children with autism communicate and learn. Ajit has made excellent progress within our program, and this discussion was about refining some of his strategy elements like pricing model, target segments (therapists vs. parents), immediate priorities, etc.
We have very high hopes for Avaz, and look forward to seeing Ajit make his mark on the domain of learning and communication for people with disabilities.
Next, Cohan Sujay Carlos pitched Aiaioo Labs – a text analytics company that is trying to figure out a go-to-market strategy.
His options are to go with an OEM strategy and plug into various products like social media analytics, CRM, etc., or to go with an end-user product. My hunch is that an OEM strategy may be better given their core competency and the current state of the market.
Then, Janakiram Ganesan pitched MineWhat, a technology for mapping personalities to products to increase the effectiveness of recommendations and conversion rates for e-commerce sites, especially in domains such as fashion.
This is a hard problem to solve, with significant competitors like Baynote already in the game in the higher end of the spectrum, and needs precise positioning as well as detailed understanding of exactly what customers need and are willing to pay for. Janakiram belongs to the Ginserv incubator in Bangalore.
Next, Hari Babu pitched Cafe Shuttle, a free, ad-supported ISP for vehicles like corporate shuttle buses, cabs, etc. We had a comprehensive audience engagement on this business, and almost everyone questioned the financial / business model viability of the idea.
Hari needs to analyze, in granular detail, who is likely to pay for such a service (corporations, perhaps?) and examine the viability of the ad-supported model.
Then, Subir Saha pitched Stewot, a digital menu application on tablets for restaurants that takes out the errors and miscommunications in the ordering process. So, instead of a waiter, customers are offered a tablet menu through which to order what they wish to eat and drink.
The concept, while interesting, raises questions of business model viability. Tablets are not cheap, especially based on the feedback that restaurants are interested in iPads, not some generic, inexpensive tablet. Subir also says that restaurants are interested in the product to address the inefficiencies they face in the ordering process.
The first presenter during the second roundtable was Pranav Tej who pitched DataSisar, a SMB-focused IT services solution leveraging the best of cloud applications. Pranav has 17 customers and has validated his business.
His primary need is to develop a scalable, repeatable go-to-market strategy. He needs to implement the Sales 2.0 methodology that we teach in 1M/1M.
Next, Suresh Kodoor pitched eVidya, a comprehensive ERP solution for schools and colleges. The business is validated with five paying customers supporting over 10,000 users. Suresh is looking for ways to develop a full-fledged go-to-market strategy as well. This business, also, needs to implement our 1M/1M Sales 2.0 methodology.
Then, Varun Khona and Suren Sultania pitched TourBox, a vertical portal for local tours for travelers. They are trying to decide on some critical strategy points: (a) target customers (b) geographical focus of the tour data. My observation is that for Europe and America, such information is more readily available.
Next, Arjuman Amjad pitched Utopia, a social shopping concept for Indian e-commerce shoppers. The idea draws from various analogs including Pinterest, and banks on an advertising business model.
My discomfort with advertising business models persists due to excess unmonetized inventory and declining CPM rates. My advice was to frame this as an e-commerce business. Pinterest, by the way, has been monetizing by using an affiliate marketing business model, which is certainly an interesting option. However, traffic needs to be super high for that strategy to be viable, and it is not easy to get to those numbers.
Finally, Kirankumar R, Varadarjan S, and Bahubali Shete pitched My Fun Doo Club – a membership-based club for kids to engage in science and math related games and activities. This is a brick-and-mortar business, for which, validations efforts so far are showing negative interest from customers.
My observation, however, is that the segmentation of the business is imprecise, and the validation exercise may actually be yielding false negatives. This is something we cover quite comprehensively in the 1M/1M Customer Validation methodology and recommend that the team refine its segmentation and addresses the false positive / false negative issues.
The first presenter for the third roundtable was Ullas Bhide, who pitched ChipseWork, a rural BPO solution. As readers know, I am a huge fan of rural BPO and similar efforts. Ullas and his cofounder presented data entry work as their core competency. They talked about a range of possibilities, but not much has been fleshed out yet by way of positioning. I suggested that Ullas looks up the Maya Ray project in Vision India 2020.
Next, Amarnath Bhat presented RapidSOLID, a software for converting legacy 2D CAD drawings to 3D formats. I happen to know a fair bit about the 2D-3D CAD problem from my days of marketing think3. Yes, there is a very large portfolio of 2D designs out there. Not all of those need to be converted. In addition, CAD tools from think3, Autodesk, Solidworks already offer some level of conversion facilities within their products. So, the question is, how big is the real opportunity for RapidSOLID? Yes, there is a business here for sure. But how big is the market opportunity, and is it large enough to be a fundable scenario?
Then, TS Murthy presented ShiftEasy, an online exchange for packers and movers and customers looking for such services in India. The business model is lead generation and commission on business generated. The exchange will need to provide arbitration as a core value proposition, since moving projects are often poorly estimated. Customer acquisition may be best handled by going through HR organizations of companies that actively relocate people.
Next, Suresh Kaukuntly pitched Knolbee, a ‘feed store’ similar to an app store, which, supposedly, will cater to needs such as stock advice feeds, inspirational quotes, horoscopes, etc. The business needs serious repurposing to be viable and recast as, for example, a financial feed store – something customers may pay for. No one pays for inspirational quotes.
Finally, Mahendra Baid pitched vProcure, an online procurement exchange for SMB buyers and sellers for India. As is often the case, the entrepreneurs are already looking for funding on just a concept. And as I have said repeatedly, this ain’t going to happen. You need to get to a validated business before any professional investor will fund you. Until then, it is FFF – Friends, Family and Fools!
Sramana Mitra is the founder of the One Million by One Million (1M/1M) initiative, an educational, business development and incubation program that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, she writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series and Vision India 2020.
From 2008 to 2010, Mitra was a columnist for Forbes. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.