On Saturday, April 9, 2011, I arrived in Chennai at 3:00 a.m. after a 24-hour journey from California. At 11:00 a.m., a group of entrepreneurs from TiE Chennai gathered at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) Research Park campus, and we spent the next four hours discussing strategy and tactics of early-stage entrepreneurship.
TiE Chennai organised a Startup Super Day, during which I delivered the keynote address followed by a live strategy roundtable. At the roundtable, five entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to me, and I interacted with them in our usual format, with active participation from the audience.
First up, Girish Mathrubootham from Chennai, India, presented Freshdesk, a SaaS solution for multi-channel customer support including knowledge base and social CRM support. Girish and his team are former Zoho employees and bring to their entrepreneurial efforts the perspective and learnings of Zoho, which has been successful in drastically undercutting high-end competitors in a major market, namely CRM, the office suite, and so on.
I liked this venture very much and see the basic framework of using the Indian cost structure to provide SaaS products that are competitive in terms of performance and functionality at drastically lower prices as a massive opportunity for Indian entrepreneurs to go after. Almost a thousand SaaS/cloud startups have been launched over the past decade, and in each niche there are opportunities for concept arbitrage using this basic formula. I am very glad to see Girish and his team going after one such opportunity. Girish already has a number of clients and is well on his way to building the business. The go-to-market strategy has to be fine-tuned to make it more precise, but the basic premise of the business is validated.
Next, also from Chennai, India, Vivek Ravisankar pitched Interviewstreet.com, a nifty concept for testing programmers’ skill levels in various key languages to bypass the lengthy interviewing that goes into screening candidates in a hiring process. Vivek already has Amazon, Google, and a few other companies using the product and needs to put together a scalable telesales process to be able to sell it to a larger number of customers. The value proposition is well articulated, validated, and very clean.
Then, Satish from Chennai, India, discussed Quantum Arc, a solution for predictive analysis and forecasting of fire breakout hazards by monitoring electrical/power infrastructures in major facilities. The concept, if technically as compelling as it sounds, could become a standard in building safety all over the world. The majority of the discussion was about go-to-market strategy, channels and regulatory issues. It’s a very impressive concept, to say the least!
We also had Ajit Narayanan present AVAZ, designed by Invention Labs, a neat learning and communication product that helps people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation, and speech disorders to communicate. The product has won a national award from the president of India for its empowerment of people with disabilities. However, in my assessment, the bigger opportunity for this business is to go to market as a mobile app.
Finally, Robin Mathew presented ET Interactive Design, a retail concept to address the disconnect between rural artisans and the merchandise they produce, and customers and what they want to buy. While the basic premise is compelling, and I am very interested in entrepreneurship opportunities in this area, the business model is flawed. I advised Robin to review rural and slum development, as well as lifestyle brand projects in Vision India 2020 and decide which one captures his fancy, then come and work with me on executing on it.
Some of these businesses should definitely apply for the Microsoft BizSpark India Startup Challenge grants. I look forward to working with all of them further in 1M/1M.
You can select the business you like best of those discussed through a poll on the 1M/1M Facebook page.
Also, on the evening of April 9, I met with a large group of TiE Chennai charter members to brainstorm about Capitalism 2.0 and entrepreneurship development, which also yielded a very animated discussion.
At the end of the day, we sealed a partnership between 1M/1M and TiE Chennai whereby TiE Chennai members can receive a discount of 25% off the annual membership fee for the 1M/1M premium program until June 16, 2011, and a 15% discount thereafter. The 1M/1M premium program offers entrepreneurs access to on-demand educational, business development and incubation resources and strategy discussions with me for $1,000 per year.
Our usual online roundtable schedule will resume April 21 and focus on the northeastern part of the United States. Recordings of previous online roundtables are all available here. You can register for the upcoming roundtables here.