9 min read


I was fortunate to attend proto.in in Chennai on Sunday. What was it all about? It’s about startups in India. It was the opportunity for an Indian entrepreneur to showcase his/her ideas and business plans, to look for funding, people to work with, partners or simply grab media attention.

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27 companies were showcased and they each had 8 minutes to present their product. Working prototypes and demos were encouraged, ppts discouraged. Companies were asked to focus on questions like ‘who are you’, ‘what are you doing’, ‘what makes you different’ and
‘what are you looking for’.

I had written down some notes during the entire day:

  • opening talk by CTO of rediff (the main sponsor)
    • announcing platform
    • not sure what this was exactly about, but I think it was web services to help other websites use Rediff similar to web services by Yahoo/Google
    • why rediff is interested in proto? because they want to encourage indian entrepreneurship and partner with them
    • an example is how they worked with tachyon to enable indian languages on rediff
    • venki -at- rediffmail.com
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  • (1) unleash networks
    • network analysis for telecom
    • visualization, reconstruction
    • go as deep or as high level as you can imagine
  • (2) valuefirst
    • virtual mobile network operator
    • allow your company product to be sms-enabled (irrespective of service provider)
  • (3) sloka telecom
    • make installation of wimax networks easy
    • easy installation, upgradation
    • small box
    • one-third the price of current market products
    • with more funding and time, they can reduce to one-tenth
  • (4) drishti
    • combine communication with enterprise applications (crm, erp)
    • something like mac os automator to create extensions and plugins
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Infrastructure and Development Platforms

  • (5) vembu platforms
    • storgrid
    • data backup
    • web ui! looks very simple and easy to use
      • surely beats the software my company laptop uses for backup
    • marketing -at- vembu.com
  • (6) i-create software
    • vyasa : open source business intelligence
    • data warehousing on web 2.0 platform
    • uses natural language processing for querying
      • makes finding easy
    • focus on banking industry
    • can type questions like ‘which fund offers are going to close this week’
  • (7) stringbeans portal platform
    • web 2.0 platform software
    • bring your enterprise software to web2.0
    • open source
    • aim to create portals as easy as creating ppts
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Internet and Web 2.0

  • (8) saffronconnect.com
    • social networking around audio and video
    • bands can upload their songs to sell
    • 70% of money goes to artist as opposed to traditional 15%
    • distribution extends to yahoo music, itunes, real, etc.
    • bally sagoo has his latest album here
  • (9) seraja.com
    • content in context
    • the eventweb
    • create a community around an event
    • does everything from event photos to event blog to event wiki
    • seems similar to upcoming.org?
  • (10) spoteazy.com
    • product search
    • aim: fastest way to decide which product to buy
    • currently works only for mobile phones, but will extend to other products
    • gives full amount with all the asterisks removed
    • powerful search – “phone camera bluetooth”
    • uses other recommendation sites to determine ranking of product
    • “k700i vs n70” gives table for feature comparison
    • ranking order can change depending on the features you stress on (in your search query)
  • (11) picsquare.com
    • print photos
    • delivered anywhere in india in 4 days
    • send printed photos to family
    • photo calendar
    • wish they had an option to directly pick the photos from flickr
  • (12) ixigo.com
    • travel search
    • acts as a meta search engine for air tickets from different providers
    • shows full amount
    • good simple ui
    • click to directly buy ticket
    • wonder how ixigo makes money – do they have tie-ups with the providers?
    • travel planning not showcased yet, but looks promising
    • confusing logo, wish they choose a more clearer one
  • (13) taazza
    • news can be more fun to read, more useful, more individualized
    • auto-tagged news items
    • browse news by people or places or quotes
    • interesting, wonder how they recognize a phrase is a person or a place
    • presenters were not clear about usp
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Consumer Electronics

  • (14) novatium
    • three issues hinder pc adoption in emerging markets : affordability, desirability,
    • “computing for the next billion”
    • utility computing
    • you get monitor, keyboard mouse – it’s a dumb terminal
    • all computing and software is in the server run by the local cable-wallah
    • instant on/off, no booting
    • test run in a apartment complex shows promising results, actual paying customers
    • rs.4500 for nova netpc, rs.450 per month for computing, connectivity and applications
    • ~100 million installations by 2010, including home + smb market
    • “computing 2.0”
    • community news and views
    • allows “provisioned” software as a service
    • users can try new software without worrying about installation or any such hassles
    • targeted 1:1 ads on desktop, claim that ads will be more relevant
    • value added services
    • yuvaraj -at- novatium.com
  • (15) smart pundits
    • car drivers will love this
    • automatic changing of headlight from high low beam depending on oncoming vehicles
    • camera in windshield
    • demo of algorithm looked very convincing

Business and Productivity

  • (16) kallos serveit crm
    • for any sales force > 10 employees
    • metadata based app
    • no need to customize code for every new client
    • just simply change the data models
    • more manageable, simpler than changing code as in existing crm/erp products
  • (17) helpdeskpilot.com
    • handle support / talk to customers
    • tenmiles.com
    • 18 countries, 9 languages
  • (18) tracbac.com
    • “collaborate visually”
    • easier and effective collaboration of design
    • put arrows and circle text and jot notes on design (say, a poster) just like you would on
    • integrated with amazon s3
    • ‘tracbac mini’ : desktop version
    • market
      • indian ad/design : $80-100 million
      • artwork outsourcing : $10 billion
    • narain -at- 360in.com
    • 10 people company
    • looking for alliances and funding
  • (19) aumega networks
    • indus live
    • p2p enable your app
    • enterprise computing space
    • provide software-as-a-service by publishing on a network
    • includes sdk (including compiler), network, middleware, runtime
    • all kinds of networks (lan, wifi, etc.)
    • all kinds of devices (pda, tv, pc, mobile)
    • example of p2p-enabling microsoft word by adding a toolbar to share documents, similar to
      google docs or zoho
    • you can use network services (such as web services) even when you are not connected
    • fast direct point-to-point connectivity without server : games, sharing, etc.
    • looking for
      • open source services
      • partner with social networks, photo sites, etc.
      • seed money to do new services : local/topical search engine for mobile phones
  • (20) support magic
    • online products : 60% of customers abort the buying process, want to ask some questions
    • if they don’t get timely answers/replies, they don’t come back at all, even for future
    • knowledge base, troubleshooter, live chat, ticketing
  • (21) desicrew solutions
    • data entry in rural areas for urban people
    • seems similar to amazon’s mechanical turk
    • rural bpos
    • data conversion, audio transcriptions, localization services
    • click management information system to manage the entire process
    • initiative by tenet/iit madras
    • saloni -at- tenet.res.in
    • 60 people as of now, 90 more this quarter
  • (22) deep root linux
    • start.deeproot.in
    • make open source easy
    • easy to deploy
    • deepofix mail server
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  • (23) wizdom.in
    • adaptive learning programs on your mobile
    • improve skills, get instant feedback
    • seems strange to expect students to afford gprs on their phone and expect them to learn on the
  • (24) wirkle.com
    • mobile solutions for the enterprise
    • crm on mobile
    • requires gprs
    • as a friend joked, “join once, work everywhere”
  • (25) thinkways
    • mobisync
    • backup, retrieval, configuration, sharing of data on your mobile phone
    • contacts, calendar, todo lists
    • requires java
    • requires gprs/3g
    • deployed by mobileone in singapore
    • aim to capture 30% of indian market by 2008
    • 12-15 million users by 2010
    • revenue per subscriber at $0.3 per month
    • mobisync -at- thinkways.com
    • they want to global
    • vijay anand says no such business models anywhere, this is real experimentation
  • (26) spinaxys
    • mpathy
    • ads on your mobile
    • follows your likes and dislikes
    • can it do for mobile what google did for search?
    • not clear on how a customer actually uses mpathy
  • (27) ciindia.com
    • company has won 9 national awards, including president’s award
    • “sell quick” product for usage by exhibitors at booths at a product fair
    • 3 month old product, already 500 customers
    • capture customer data using pda/pocketpc
    • send orders immediately to back office
    • keep track of availability of products
    • quickly process each customer
    • avoid losing potential buyers due to crowding
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  • partha (vc, ilabs, chennai)
    • multiple perspectives are most important, talk to people, understand how they perceive the
    • would your parents buy it
    • many ideas were avantgarde, can find no where else
    • start focusing on commercial aspect since day one
    • your business model simply will not change later
    • sify had such problems, ilabs had funded sify
    • earning from day one helps you in bootstrapping and boosts morale
    • feedback is most important, especially non-geek perspective
  • arif vakil (angel investor)
    • famous real estate company wanting to diversify by investing in tech startups
    • two reactions
      • wowed by the presentations of the day
      • how long will this uniqueness stay?
    • business models were not explained during the presentations, only ideas
  • mukul (canaan ventures)
    • funded bharatmatrimony.com
    • day was impressive
    • interested in funding some of the companies showcased today
  • vijay anand (organizer, entrepreneur himself)
    • 45 companies were shortlisted, but only 27 showcased today
    • these other companies also were good ideas
    • profile handbooks will be printed, and sent to people on request
  • atul chitnis (does he even need an intro any more?)
    • when explaining, how are the two modules/features connected? that is unclear to the non-tech
      people who were the actual audience today.
    • the ingenius part of the product is actually that link between the features
    • understand that the audience is not familiar with the product, only you are
    • understand what kind of audience you will be speaking to
    • proto.in should be more popular, blames vijay anand
    • people got to know only through the business world article
    • sad part was many people felt their idea was not good enough to present at proto.in
    • if it fills a need, it is not a stupid idea
    • most successful things are simplest ones
    • clarity of what you think the idea is worth
      • have you done a market study?
      • what is your market?
      • shows your seriousness
    • anecdote of a person complaining about “developing nations” and other person retorts saying
      “at least they are developing”
    • proto.in means our time has come
    • india is growing, take example of airlines not going out of business but actually increasing,
      and railways, and so on
    • this event signifies our time has come and more things are on the horizon
    • proposes that this should be a quarterly event, assuming vijay anand (the organizer) doesn’t
      run away from such a suggestion
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My general observation is that most of these startup ideas were to better existing products and processes in 2 ways : 1. Price 2. Ease of use. The first point forces the entrepreneur to think a lot about business models. The second point points in the direction of making technologies simpler, easier and usable. The good thing was most of the presenters had a clear answer to “What problem are you trying to solve?”

Overall, I think it was a fantastic event, there were very few hiccups and everything the organizers did demonstrated their single-minded focus to do as much as possible to showcase these startup companies. However, there were many things that could have been done better, especially regarding the publicity and the target audience. Srikanth and Jyothirmayee talk about this better than I can.

At the end of the day, I could see many ideas jumping out of peoples heads in conversations between wannabe-entrepreneurs and interested VCs, there were heated conversations between fellow entrepreneurs, especially on how they can collaborate and build on each other. The plain energy and excitement around was great to see.

Indeed, has our time come?

Update : Few videos of the presentations have been uploaded by Gokul who has blogged the whole event live!