Too many startups that don’t really start!

A thought struck me just today when I was thinking about a guy who pitched me an interesting idea in the education sector. He was young and was almost finishing up college. He had a team of five guys who were all going to work together to put out a working product in a short time (like six weeks). Then I never heard from the guy and later found out that nothing really happened.

We live in a time where startups are a sexy thing. Now I am not sure if it had always been this way or it’s just more ubiquitous now. Either way I see and hear about too many interesting startups that never even make it past the idea stage. I think larger part of the problem is this perception about starting up. Everyone wants to do it because it is cool to be a entrepreneur or a startup guy. Rarely you see a guy who really wants to solve some specific problem and truly care about the end user having that problem solved.

Startups are hard. Really really hard. Really really really really hard. There are too many times and reasons where giving up seems like the right thing to do. There will be people around you, sometimes your team, sometimes your alter-ego telling you that it’s time to pack up. And then it will happen again the next day. And the day after. To be able to persevere through all that every other day is when you even have the probability of succeeding. To have this sort of perseverance you truly need to be passionate and care about your solution and your customer who needs your solution.

So here’s something to think about. Next time you wanna tell someone that you are doing a startup you better be sure for yourself that you actually are doing it! And that is not because you had an idea, not because you started working on something, not because someone said your idea/product was cool or interesting, not because you got selected to a competition or accelerator, and even not because you launched! It has to be because you had some real validation. Real validation is when someone will put money on the table for your work (customer or investor), not because they are your rich cousin but because they don’t give a flying rats ass about you but they have fallen in love with your work!

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Hikka Hack – Startups in Sri Lanka

Hikka Hack

We had been wanting to do another hackathon for a while now. The Colombo Hackathon last year was evidence that such events are needed and it created the startup culture that is much anticipated by our young entrepreneurs. This time it was initiated by Prajeeth as part of Venture Engine. Sanath, Mafaz and Jeevan were all involved. Myself and Chandika got involved as well in organising and hosting the event. However Jeevan couldn’t make it for the weekend since he was out of town.

It was called the Hikka Hack this time since it was at the exotic Hikkaduwa beaches of Sri Lanka. We managed to get Citrus Leisure onboard and the event accommodated 11 teams at the Citrus Leisure hotel.

Applying

Unlike the Colombo Hackathon this time we got only teams to apply (and not individuals) for the event. The teams who applied had to have an idea of what they were going to work on during the weekend and also had to provide sufficient information about themselves when applying. All this had to be formulated since we were able have only 10 teams of each having 3 members due to limitations in accommodating at the hotel. Of course the teams who were selected were able to enjoy the facilities free of charge.

We also had Your Story working with us on selecting one team from India who was sponsored to be part of Hikka Hack.We had 3 applications from  India and Burma who directly applied to Hikka Hack as well.

The Selection

Selecting only 10 teams out of 45 teams was not a walk in the park specially due to most of the applied teams having valid and interesting ideas/products. So we had a selection round on the 29th of  May at Orion City. During the selections we did short interviews with the teams to select the 10 teams we were going to take. Understanding a team and their idea/business/product in just 5 mins was surely not the best method to filter them, however we were short on time and the teams had to bring their best pitch if they wanted to be a part of exciting and exotic weekend  full of startup energy!

After a full round of interviews and another round of pitching by selected teams we ended up with 10 good teams for Hikka hack. One team that was selected by Your Story from India was also prepped to arrive at Hikka Hack on the weekend.

The Hikka Hack

The event was on the 1st and 2nd June weekend. The teams arrived at Citrus Leisure on 1st of June on a coach that was arranged to take them from Orion City. There began a intense weekend full of energy and awesomeness. I had my doubts as to how many would be actually hacking as opposed to kicking back on the beach sipping martinis. It was great to see all the  participants working away engaging with mentors and other teams to give life to their idea. We had many mentors visit over the weekend while some stayed over and had a good time with us. There were talks conducted by the mentors on topics realting to startups. Quite a few teams came on the 1st of June with one thing on their mind and ended up with something completely different by the end of the event. Ideas have to evolve and pivot if necessary to become a great product. I think this is a great lesson all the teams embraced. Another strong attitude that developed was the importance of revenue in a product. Even-though these startups were at their earliest stage, it was great to see how the importance of revenue was taken seriously by most of them.

At the Beach

The pictures of the event can be seen on the Colombo Hackathon facebook page

The weekend was full of hacking and conceptualising to build products that can kick off and get funded. On Sunday evening the final pitches started and each team had 10 mins to pitch to the panel. The energy and the excitement in the room was invigorating. After 2 hours of pitching it was time to decide. The decision was not difficult since the scoring was done on a rigid structure and we used google forms which calculated and sorted the score. So we had the teams in order with scores running extremely close to each other. It was very tight competition. Following is the summary of the first six teams and their products.

  1. Try b4 Buy – This is a Indian team that built a fully functional mobile application that can visualise 3D models of furniture and home-ware in a room.
  2. Omni Channel – A talented team which can build entertaining video demos to communicate your idea just in 2 mins.
  3. Timely – A crowdsourced social app for tracking trains and managing travel time.
  4. Seedz – A community driven marketplace for gardeners.
  5. U-Grow Organics – A online organic vegetable store that delivers 100% organic vegetables.
  6. Lets Eat! – An on the go food ordering site that will save you the waiting time at take-away restaurants.

The first three teams were awarded with prizes that included entry to Venture Engine, Cash prize for the first two teams by Creately and SLASSCOM, Creately licenses for online and desktop products, Office space for 6 months for the 1st team at Orion City and Web hosting packages by ITC Asian Holdings.

All in all it was another great event for the local Startup community and I am truly honoured to have been part of it. Looking forward for many more such events that will create great startups that concur the world.

Colombo Hackathon – The startup scene in Sri Lanka!

It’s probably a bit too late to write about this because its been more than three weeks since it happend. However something like this cannot skip my blog specially because I was one of the organizers of the event. Since we (I and Chandika) came back from Startup Weekend we have been wanting to do something similar here in Sri Lanka and the first choice was naturally a Startup Weekend. However due to many constraints we weren’t able to pull it off. One of the key reasons being the financial requirement the event had on the participants. We were not sure yet if the local tech/startup community would fancy a expensive ticket to a event of this nature. When Sanath came up with the idea to do a similar event, we all gathered up for a discussion, myself, ChandikaJeevan and Sanath and followed the birth of Colombo Hackathon.

We didn’t have much time till the event and there was much to be done. However thanks for the resourceful team that came together, we were able to get everything organized in time without having to put in much effort. Special thanks to Jeevan for providing the venue and other required arrangements. When we put out the registration form we were taken by surprise to see the number of signups that occurred during the first two days. We had hit the quota of 50 by the second day. We kept the form open and by the second week there were close to 190 registrations. We had to limit the invites to 125 due to resource limitations. On the event we had close to 80 show up and around 75 participate. During the initial pitching session there were 29 ideas that came up. 14 ideas were selected to work on during the two days. 13 ideas continued to work and produce working demos. 4 pitches won and turned home as startups! It was magic to see the kind of energy and enthusiasm that went around in the room. During the initial pitches, even-though they had never planned for it, some walked up to the front to talk about their ideas – driven by the energy in the room. This is exactly what we wanted to see and this is exactly why we did Colombo Hackathon. All in all it was a massive success and we sure plan to do it again soon!

Coming back to that, why did we do this? It’s simply because we are those geeky startup guys. We love to see ideas form and come to life. We’d love to see a startup community form in Sri Lanka and we want to see a (tiny as it may be) silicon valley in this lovely island. For the past few years myself and Chandika and many others have had this discussion. Why are there not many startups in Sri Lanka? Us being a startup that created a world renowned product, we badly needed that here. We wanted to create that here and I am glad we did this! Thanks to the inspiration from Startup Weekend India and also Venture Engine which has greatly supported this. Here is an interesting article about why startups are important.

Amidst all the excitement and energy it was sad to see quite some negativity going around. It was all mostly about the worry of one’s idea being stolen and why would one talk about it in public. There was even a blog post referencing the Winklevoss twins as an example incident of a stolen idea. Taking startup advice from one who’s only startup experience was the movie “Social Network” is like taking parental advice from Britney Spears. I get it, Facebook is what everyone knows and thats what they talk about.  Ok so lets talk about Facebook then? how authentic and unique is the idea? It’s been done a 100 times before, some quite exactly the same as Facebook. But how did Facebook become so big? A startup is not about just an idea. Ideas form every other minute. Startups are about the people! If anyone other than Mark Zuckerburg had done Facebook, it would have never gotten to where it is now and thats the fact. For a startup to be successful it takes a lot… the confidence and motivation to stand up every time you fall, relentless hard work and decisive execution, sticking around with the right people and connections and letting the wrong ones go… and lots more. If you did come to the Colombo Hackathon, you’ll know. I am very happy and excited that we were able to inspire at least eight different teams to continue executing their ideas into real businesses. Until the next Colombo Hackathon… Adios!

Startups Rock!

Colombo Hackathon Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/cmbHack
Colombo Hackathon Twitter – https://twitter.com/#!/cmbhack