Posted by admin on Sep 16, 2012 in Entrepreneurship
I often remember our good friend James Joseph’s (Director - Executive Engagements, Microsoft) remark of how Kerala is such a beautiful place, blessed with lush greenery & it’s misty mountains, enchanting backwaters & sandy beaches BUT most of its high achievers & big dreamers have to live in polluted cities & spend hours in traffic everyday to work in some random big city outside Kerala & often outside India. We boast of 100% literacy, highest life-expectancy, highest tele-density, highest banking penetration, highest no: of hospital beds per 1000 citizens, lowest population growth, lowest infant mortality rate to every other Human Development Index parameters out there so much so that there is something called Kerala Model and its wikipedia page says statistically Kerala stands out as the Mount Everest of social development! Sadly the same page talks about its highest unemployment rate & very low per-capita income which ultimately pushes the state to run on the remittances from our dear Non-Resident-Keralites, often called NRK’s. Instead of cribbing about this, 2-3 years back we started pushing for ways of how we could create a +ve impact in the society around us.
Many of the major technology/internet companies in the world, be it Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, have all emerged from college dorms or home garages to literally take over the world. I quote the famous Forbes article, “Underdog status is also a common driving force among successful entrepreneurs. A feeling of inferiority due to a lack of family wealth and connections, formal education, and traditional career accomplishments often drives entrepreneurs to work frenetically as a way of compensating for such perceived shortcomings.”
When we started out, we knew we could have a great tech team based out of Kerala but not our Marketing or Sales team, because there was simply no eco-system. We ventured out to Mumbai & Gurgaon & Bangalore where we easily gelled into the eco-system and grew our business, but always remembering in the back of our minds how badly we miss a business eco-system in Kerala. We knew that with our learning curve, we could contribute best to the telecom & internet space & we tried doing just that. My Co-founder Sanjay, was able to convince the Department of Science & Technology (DST) and specifically the National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB) on the importance of a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model in bridging the big gap India has when it comes to successful incubators compared to the rest of the world.
Incubators in India in comparison to that in US & China
India has only around 65 incubators built over the last 28 years out of more than 5000 of them across the globe. US leads with 2000 & China with around 1000, with our kind of population & size, we definitely need at least a 1000 of them. Technopark - Trivandrum, is India’s first IT park & MobME was the 1st students’ incubated company at Technopark. Today Technopark’s incubator boasts of more than 136 startups, 4500 jobs & over 150 crore in revenues. With our experience in being part of the policy making of Technopark - Technology Business Incubator & the firm foundation T-TBI laid in terms of its connect to 162 Engineering Colleges in the State, DST partnered with MobME to create India’s first PPP incubator, christened as Indian Telecom Innovation Hub - Technology Business Incubator (ITIH-TBI) which the outside world today knows as Startup Village.
Startup Village at KINFRA Hi-Tech Park, HMT Road, Kalamassery, Cochin
The first breakthrough for Startup Village was when Kris Gopalakrishnan, Co-Chairman of Infosys, joined Startup Village as it Chief Mentor, giving a shot in the arm to the efforts to create nothing less than a cultural revolution in our State. The first task in hand was to educate the youth on the difference between Product companies & Service companies and the importance of focusing on Products to build globally scalable business models. Steve Jobs & Jack Dorsey became the inspirational figures when Kris conveyed the message to the the youth of the state. Since it launch on April 15th, 2012, Startup Village has received more than 250 applications from product startups from across the country.
The incubator with its initial 5000 sq ft of plug & play facility, ran out of space on day 1, with 8 startups sharing the building & working on their dreams 24×7. KINFRA, the Infrastructure Partner of Startup Village, stepped to commit another 10,000 sq ft space to be completed before the end of the calendar year, construction of which is fast progressing.
Hon’ble Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, an ardent supporter of young entrepreneurs of the state, surprised the country with 2 major announcements during the recent showcase event, Emerging Kerala. The first was to commit 100,000 sq ft of additional space in a time bound manner to Startup Village through KINFRA, 25,000 sq ft of which will be completed & handed over by May 2013. When completed in Jan 2014, Startup Village will be the World’s Largest Telecom Incubator.
Largest Telecom Incubator in the World - Startup Village
The second announcement, rather a visionary approach, was to consider student entrepreneurship at par with NCC & Sports in Universities, and give eligible students 4% marks & 20% attendance. CM has put a challenging target of 30 days to issue this as an order. This statement has a direct impact on 120,000 engineering students in Kerala & even if 1% of these smart youngsters start out, we are talking about big changes. We are sure, we will achieve our target of creating a 1000 quality startups from within Kerala in the next 10 years through these initiatives & at least 1 out of those 1000, would emerge as a Billion Dollar startup. And that day, Kerala would have Emerged from within! Its a success story that can be replicated across the country, in different states, in different domains.
And that day, we will have a 1000 trees in our Entrepreneurs’ Garden! The App Store & Android have made today’s Telecom Industry more democratic than ever & these budding startups could well leverage the fact that today’s smartphone has more computing power than Apollo 11, the spaceship that took the 1st man to moon. The emergence of MobME, Innoz, Dexetra, Waybeo, MindHelix, WowMakers, Foradian, Flytxt are all proving the same point. And its the same vibe that everyone from Sachin Pilot (Hon’ble Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology) to Legendary Angel Investor Esther Dyson to Ms.Sara Wilshaw, Minister (Commercial) Govt of Canada to U.S. Consul General Ms. Jennifer A. McIntyre to Mr Alec Saunders, Vice president, Developer Relations & Ecosystem Development, RIM experienced when they visited Startup Village.
Entrepreneurs' Garden at Startup Village
Steve Jobs Wall @ Startup Village
Instances from Startup VillageInstances from Startup Village
The 30 days to freedom campaign on Facebook
This was originally posted on Pluggd.in, a blog covering Digital Media, on Aug 1st 2008. The intro part is written by Ashish Sinha of Pluggd In & you can find the original copy here.
Here is story of one kickass startup that in the first place sounds very lucky (they have got all the cool partnerships and mentors in place) - But the real story is quite different and is a mix of extremism, courage and of course, fun! - These guys raised 200K USD when they were studying and are kicking everybody’s ass since then!
Well, I am talking about MobMe (profile) - Kerala based startup.
In the past, I have asked Sony and his team to share their story with pluGGd.in readers, but somehow we never got the thing going!
But, Prashant’s earlier post on ‘on ‘Can Indian Society produce Gates/Larry/Zuckerburg?” got an emotional (and quite a lengthy one!) reply from Sony and with his permission, I am sharing the mobme story here (as-is)
Let me start by saying that we’ve had a very different experience altogether! Ashish had asked to write about our journey some time here on pluggd.in but never really got the time to do it. But this post makes me write a bit about it. Consider this as a trailer!
Lack of forward thinking at early age
Prashant explains the lack of computers in educational institutions & opportunities for a teenager to fool around at an IT giant’s place.
I don’t disagree with the first part. You know what we did? We bunked college as much as possible! The entire team was academically above average/brilliant till 12th & after joining Btech realized that you could crack this in the last week of study hols for semester exams. So we had a lot of free time.
We made a lot of money while in 4th sem in college by coming out with a special sim for college students in Kerala in association with the then BPL mobile. It was a pure viral marketing stuff with no advertising but we managed to make close to a million in under 3 months. That gave the much needed kick & a thought in our mind that bunking classes (not exams) is not that bad an idea.
We registered a company, got good tech hands (we were mostly marketing types & couldn’t even think of coding) and then went back to BPL with a zillion ideas and finally put up voice servers in their Kerala circle to do outdiallers & in-diallers. Can you belive that? Bunch of teens hanging around in their data center trying to figure out what is SS7 & PRI and all. We finally cracked it on Asterisks (open source) cos we didn’t have the money to put the proprietary ones! Also we managed to do stuff on the lines of what a hungama & mauj does on content business. Still very much in our teens & before 6th semester we had tie-ups with Onmobile, Hungama, Nazara, Mauj, India Times almost all others in the content business. We had sealed the malayalam movie industry & held rights for ALL the major artists.
While all this happened, we had also registered in Technopark, Trivandrum as Kerala’s first student incubated company & had strong support from IIITM-K, STPI, Kerala Government & most importantly, the education department & our university. So our attendance shortages also stopped giving us bad dreams. Had a tough time with some teachers but pretty much we were extremely lucky nothing nothing tragic happened to our studies. We chose the start-up route & left the idea of getting high marks in college.
Our Aversion toward extremism
Contrary to this, we got some really brilliant tech guys who never wanted to waste their life working for high paying IT jobs but wanted to work with an exciting start-up. Again lucky on this front, but there are lots of people like that. Our lead tech person actually left us for a year to join Uzanto (slideshare.net) & came back after product release with tonnes of experience & excellent exposure. So now you know that extremism is the norm out here.
Our Approach Toward Money
This will drive you crazy. We raised a neat $200,000 while in 6th semester from Angel investors in Kerala. We knew that if wanted to make it big, leftovers of our college earnings wouldn’t help much. If could do this at 19, a lot many people can do much better. And as Ashish had posted once, we took in a second round of funding just after 8th semester - same amount but 10X valuation from more Angels. And trust me, these Angels are really ‘Angels’. They stand with us no matter what. In between we have had small investments for minority stake sell outs from people who saw the passion in us. We are lucky to have a lot of really good mentors/supporters. From hot shot CxO’s in the IT industry to movie superstars to really good finance guys to some amazing bureaucrats to conventional business biggies to silicon valley chiefs to top brass media people.
Our Approach Toward Exploration
We traveled the length & breadth of the country cos we felt that business never happens in India if you haven’t even met the person with whom you are trying to do business. We make it a point to meet everyone atleast once & then technology steps in to take things forward. Just out of college we went to Dubai on an absolute exploratory trip & in two weeks got some good inroads to a lot of business opportunities. Now we interact with them almost on a daily basis over emials/calls but the first trip really helped forge the relation.
Lack of Role Models
All of the people in that list plus a lot more of them are our inspiration. Internet helps a lot to keep track of what’s going on in the industry, especially with many high quality blogs like this in every part of the world. They give you a lot of insights & information & analysis, i feel there is not much lack of role models around. From ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ of Robert Kiyosaki to ‘Screw it, Lets Do it’ by Richard Branson to ‘IT happened in Inda’ by Kishore Biyani, there are so many wonderful inspiring stories around you.
Luck factor - I’m adding this one
I’ve started believing that fortune favors the brave! The BPL we started out with became Hutch & then Vodafone. Now we do stuff nationally cos they know us since ages. Many decisions you make are subject to a lot of luck. We were lucky to avoid all the 5 points (ref. to prashant’s post) above. We got investment at the right time. Met people at the right time. Media people loved us so much that the attention that we got in regional media was amazing. Maybe its because there weren’t much business stuff happening in Kerala after all the ‘hartals’ (strikes)! So much attention that we ended up even meeting the president (Dr Kalam) at his office - a 45 minute chat that inspires you to achieve the unachievable.
Now we personally know/mentor a dozen such start-ups from Kerala who are working hard to do tread the same path. Its such a joy when you receive a call from a new teenage ceo in the middle of the night saying he enrolled with Technopark as a Student start-up. You can feel & see what in his mind & what lies ahead for him. We are happy & thankful to all those people who supported us.
At 22, journey so far has been really exciting. Its been a thriller all the way. Lets wait n watch what more is in the pipe.
BTW: Being a trailer, the most of the ‘most exciting stuff’ have been carefully kept aside for the big one