The Nepali Inception
Seeding an idea that even 16-year-olds to 69-year-olds can start their own businesses. How crazy is that?
There is some truth to what Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) said in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi blockbuster Inception,—“What is the most resilient parasite?…An idea [that] it’s almost impossible to eradicate…fully formed – fully understood – that sticks.” The idea can be an addiction. And why wouldn’t it be when the idea is lucrative, it constantly puts you on the edge of your seat, has the potential to meet the needs of others, and could come from anyone?
To the noob, the 5th edition of Startup Weekend (SW), held from 12 to 14 September at SAP Falcha, Babarmahal, had simple instructions: make a 60 second pitch, collect votes, put together a team and brainstorm on your Minimum Value Product (MVP).If selected, you get another five minutes to make a presentation. As the clock runs down on the event, three teams are declared first, second and third. All this happens within fifty-four hours.
Hempal Shrestha, one of the organizers for this year’s SW and an independent IT and communication consultant at the social enterprise Foss Solutions, says, “This is the space if you have an idea and zeal to enterprise and experiment with yourself—all under 54 hours regardless of your background.” While Brijendra Rochan Joshi,one of the founders and CEO of Rooster Logic, a core member behind SW Kathmandu, and also a winner of the New Delhi SW, says, “At SW, you come as an individual but leave with a company and a team.”
This year, SW went ahead with a lot of uncertainties. The organizers pulled off the event with only ten days of preparation. There were other issues like last minute rule changes, sponsorship muddiness, ticketing dilemmas and co-ordination confusion.“But this is exactly what entrepreneurs regularly face, and this entrepreneurial spirit is exactly what SW is all about,” explains Joshi. All organizers and judges Restha Jha, Executive Chairman of KFA, Karmath Dangol, VP Engineering of CloudFactory.com, and Niraj Khanal, Director at One to Watch, unanimously agreed that the event exceeded their expectations in terms of both quality and quantity of the participants and mentors.
Kathmandu’s SW, as it turns out, was no different from those organized in other countries. Shrestha, who participated in the Delhi SW, saw in the participants a “similar complimenting mindset which fit like jigsaw puzzles”. The participants were also as reveling and energetic. Claire Naylor, 25, co-founder of Women LEAD Nepal, who had participated in the US SW says, “Both countries had their own beauty filled with brutal battles”, but she appreciated the Nepal SW more stating the fact that executive professionals whether they be judges, sponsors or organizers willingly rolled up their sleeves and gave more time than they needed to intermingle with the participants.
“We saw fresh, innovative presentations, with a wider degree of depth,” says Jha. Dangol acknowledged that 54 hours were definitely not enough to make a sound company, but everyone definitely learned at least something about starting a company. “I can see where I want to invest in,” stated Khanal.
SW started this year with “a pleasant surprise as the venue was not only filled with just crazy good ideas, passion, and participation, but also with people of different ages,” says Shrestha, “and that’s the point—entrepreneurs are not necessarily young or old. They can also be retired veterans who love pottery and meditation.” Moreover, the background of the participants didn’t just begin and end with IT, but also involved business, philanthropy, and even art and design.
On top of the myriad of creative ideas and the range of participants, this year there were more women participants than any other year. Six of the thirty-four pitches were made by women, and four out of five members in the winning team were women.
SW now aims at reaching the magical figure of 100 participants. According to Joshi, SW “has grown more than what we had presumed it would—with increasing number of participants and sponsor confidence.”
Startup Weekend’s 60-second pitch
During an informal meet-up of the mentors, judges, and core members of SW at the Entrance Restaurant, Suman Shakya, CEO of Tangent Waves, and one of the core members in the organizing committee of SW, told the story of a mother who says to her son, “Son, go follow your dreams!” and the son goes back to sleep.
There are staggering levels of naiveté and many misconceptions about entrepreneurship such as: You automatically become rich when you launch a startup or you need an MBA to run a startup, and SW plans to quell them all.
Jacob Adam Wheeler, 24, whose team came in second at SW 2013 adds, “Nepal doesn’t need to seek out the next millionaire or billionaire, but it needs to look for those who care more about people than the rupee.”We also need paradigm shift in our way of thinking. An ecosystem of entrepreneurism, entrepreneurial osmosis, and networking opportunities is what will evolve Nepal into the future.
Shrestha says, “SW teaches the participants three levels of skill sets—execution, managerial skills, and the ability to focus on the bigger picture.”SW also teaches you to create a harmonious package. Joshi adds, “In the real world, no one is going to say your baby is ugly, but mentors are supposed to expose the nasty sides.” It wasn’t that the winners of this year’s SW had the best idea, but “they had a clear vision and a proper business model with sustainability plans and areas of future expansion,” says Ravi Phuyal, Managing Director of Islington College, Chairman/CEO of Third Pole Connects and one of the co-organizers of SWK.
Moreover, SW is the perfect place to test your ideas and receive valuable insights. With 40 mentors and 9 judges, it is filled with like-minded people, as even the judges of this edition of Startup Weekend, Jha and Dangol, had previously participated in the event. The organizers also brought specialized mentors from World Bank to help certain teams struggling with their financial models.
SW, not only provides a platform for “those who dare to break the mold of fear and try,” as put by Wheeler, but also for companies looking for new ideas and areas to investment in, just like judge Dangol who extended the support of CloudFactory to interested entrepreneurs, and judge Khanal whose company was ready to invest upto Rs. 50 lakh.
SW is also the perfect place to boost your confidence, as Kavi Raj Joshi, twenty-three-year-old co-founder of STARTUPSNepal, a participating team at a previous edition of SW, puts it. “SW helps entrepreneurs realize that if you are able to attract eight out of 10 people to use your product, you can do it to make 80k out of 100K.”
It is true, the change might not happen overnight or in 54 hours, but it is certain that unlike Inception, which ends on an ambiguous note, this idea of entrepreneurship is seeded, and now will only germinate.
13 Quick Cheats to Win the Next Startup Weekend
1. Ideas are not all IT
Not all ideas need to focus around IT and coding. Shraddha Kunwar, one of the members of the 2014 winning team says “Since I didn’t have an IT background, I did not think I had the skill-set to be part of a startup. Turns out, I was wrong.” Ninety percent of all ideas during the first SWs were indeed all IT, but startups are now graduating with different perspectives. Moreover, Kafle adds, “Most of the startups are focusing on developing a clone of some international product. Nepal has its own features and problems.”
2. An Idea is just not Enough
Is your idea sustainable, adaptable, and ready for the current market? “90% of all startups fail because of one factor: they are unable to grow,” states Shakya. Judges and potential investors look for ideas that can. “Ideas like Riti Riwaj are indeed interesting, and could scale new heights by transcending national borders, but it sure does require tweaks.”
3. Hit those Soft Skills Hard
All organizers and SW regulars agree that it’s all about networking and relationship management. In a recent study at Stanford University. The survey showed “Content and Soft Skills” as defining traits of successful graduates.
4. The Misconceptions of a Leader
Anyone can pitch their ideas at SW. What matters is the passion, tenacity, and belief in the product. The “we can make it possible” attitude is what’s needed. You also don’t need an MBA degree to start a business.
5. Presentation Skills
Hone your presentation skills. “How to stand? How to look at the audience and speak into the microphone? All of these things add to or take away from your idea,” says Wheeler. These skills are useful even outside the SW arena.
6. Show Me the Demo!
Wheeler brings out another main point, and SW alumni agree that when the judges ask for your demo, request the judges if you can finish your main points, and only then present. With limited time, if you show your demo first, you won’t have the time to finish the main part of your presentation, and risk presenting your demo haphazardly.
7. The Ecosystem has begun
Meet-ups and communities such as Google Developers, Boot camp for Entrepreneurs, Hack for Good, Bhetghat Program at Kings College, Idea Studio Reality Show, SoftDev, Toastmasters, KU Management faculty, Khanal’s One To Watch, and WomenLead Nepal are all unofficial cheerleaders of Nepali entrepreneurs, and have established an ecosystem. Use these platforms to prepare yourself for a shot at the SW title.
8. Your Age doesn’t exist
Startups are not a “millennial” trend. The oldest participant in SW is 42, but mature men and women are mostly hesitant. SW regulars repeatedly state that they would want to see more retirees, professionals, and established businessmen at the SW.
9.The Entrepreneurial Paradox is a Friend
There is a joke that if everyone is an entrepreneur, who will work for said entrepreneurs? “Not everyone can become entrepreneurs,” says Shakya, “Some people give up, but this is also a good skill set.” If you cannot lead, get out of the way and help.
10.Forming an A-Team
It is good to believe in yourself, but you cannot be a master at everything you do. The skills you lack can be provided by someone else in the team. “Always include somebody with a business and number-crunching mindset, and somebody who can communicate well”, advises Joshi. After you get the team, gaining and retaining trust is also important.
11. Right speed
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint” addresses Naylor. “All experts’ advice to start small.” While Joshi adds, “There willalways be a choking point, and that failure is your official beginning. You now know what not to do.”
12.Call them mentors
And the best part is that it doesn’t end at the end of the 54 hours. You continue working on your idea with your team. You can call the mentors and organizers even after the event is over. Not to a stalking degree but if you have thoroughly thought out your idea, you can approach them. They can provide space, networks, facilities and even monetary backing, as Shrestha is currently doing.
13.Everyone is a winner
However as Raj Joshi says, “It was a blessing that we weren’t the winners, or else we would’ve been smug, and not worked as hard as we have.” Shrestha adds, “The winner receives instant recognition, identification, and the prizes, and that is it” but everyone learns the core lessons and goes through the same struggles.