BBB on Are startups hyped in BITS?

Day before yesterday Akash hosted a BBB(BITS Big Bout) on “Are startups hyped?”. Though I felt it wasn’t a very appropriate topic(explained further down the post), I was pretty excited about the whole the event cause 1. The format for the forum being tried was completely new and more participative 2. The topic had the word ‘startups’ πŸ™‚ .

Previous BBBs were modeled on the NDTV’s ‘We, the People’ style. It worked well for topics which directly resounded with students like ‘R&D in India’, ‘Open Source’, etc. But turned into a monotone for topics like ‘Global warming’, etc. What was going wrong was that, the passionate people who were working on Global warming were already on the panel and there were very few people from the audience who felt bold and confident enough to question the panel. Slowly the participation dwindled and one of CEL’s most well recieved projects went from having full houses to being a dormant project.

Last semester some of us sat down and thought up a new format which hopefully would elicit more audience participation. The expert panel wouldn’t be high on a stage, but rather sit spread among the audience. The moderator starts off with an introduction of the topic at hand and asks a member from the audience for his views. People who disagree with the speaker or want to add speak thereafter. After a few people have spoken, the moderator then asks the panelists for their view. This repeats for every thread of discussion.

It worked decently well day before yesterday. Lots more people contributed and there was lots of energy in the hall. As per the topic itself, I felt it was a few years too soon for the discussion. Because there are very few startups on campus and what was being referred to as startups in the discussion were really just business plans becoming a fashion. The the truth is even business plans are not that fashionable to the common crowd. I don’t really see that happening. yes, agreed number of BITSian business plan has gone up from 2-3 to 20-30, but thats still really low. And also people who are writing them are extremely passionate and are actually future startup founders. Being in CEL, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with a few of the teams writing the business plans. And I strongly think they are people who would surely startup later in their life, but right now on campus they’re working on their first ideas and teams. The day it’ll turn in to fashion is when people start doing it because it’s cool. Right now that’s happening only in CEL. Some of us talk about startingup and business plan competitions so frequently that it sounds like a cool thing to do to others who’ve never actually had an idea to startup on. When it’s all talk and little work, things turn into fashions and fads. But in the bigger BITS picture, people writing business plans have wings where other things rule and starting up is surely not one of them. Their efforts and ideas are genuine.

The panelists were Kavi, co-founder of Mobile Medics and Manoj, CEO of Source Pilani. They had quite a few great points to make, but others sounded quite naive and contrary to what I’ve read from blogs and articles by successful startup founders in their third or more year of running.

1. Money need not be the biggest motive. I disagree here, while money need not be the only motive, it has to be the biggest one. Else why should anybody startup? I’m not talking about social entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs who sell good services and technology. If employment of more people is a bigger motive than money, then it can be better achieved by expanding existing companies. I really don’t know how strong do some entrepreneurs feel about employment, but I wouldn’t invest or use a company’s products if money is not driving them. Because more money can be created only when better products and better services are provided, whcih is an advantage for me as a customer or an investor.

2. Startup right after college, not during it. I’m guessing since both Kavi and Manoj are in the service sector, where there’s no cost and minimal time involved in product creation, they think so. For a technology startup, there can be no better place. You have free labs, free technical mentors(proffs) and free brains(students). After college doing a technology startup is nearly out of question. Unless you happen to have the monetary capacity to hire labs, hire people to work for a few months without any revenues generated.

3. Working in the industry doesn’t give you much leverage. This could be true if you have an idea, but decide to join a company with similar products, to understand the sector better. Because really, you have little control over what part of the project will you be involved with and probably little chance to network with clients. But if your idea comes while you are working in a company, whose product you realize is shitty and can be done better, then you have a massive advantage. 1. You know what exactly wrong is one of your future competitor’s doing. 2 You know what sort of customers are buying and how much do they value the product.

4. If your startup fails, you are not in too much trouble. Seriously? You wasted two years(most startups fail in the first two years) of your life working on an unknown bankrupt company, creating something which was not worthy of getting sold, burnt through a ton of cash. I’m certain that universities do not look kindly at such performance, maybe corporates will lend a kind ear. But really startups have a million reasons for failure and one could be, because you suck. Unless you’ve strongly proven the contrary in your career previous to your startup, I doubt people would hire you. Also I read someplace, entrepreneurs are not always reliable team players. I’ve seen that a bit at CEL too.

One point which both Kavi and Manoj agreed on was that starting up as early as possible is advisable. The logic behind it being, you have little less to lose. I guess this is true. And also it’s much easier to struggle early in life than later. I’m not sure how many people in their 30’s would like to live as poor as possible to do a startup? Well I would πŸ™‚ , but I’m more than willing to live poor for even 3-4 years and then end with nothing. But after I’m 30, I would expect a lot of cash after the effort. Failure then is just not acceptable.

2 Responses to “BBB on Are startups hyped in BITS?”

  1. 1 amit ranjan
    February 28, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Nice post…. why just BITS, startups might be generally hyped elsewhere as well.

  2. January 11, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case, great info…I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

    I’m Out! πŸ™‚

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