Located far away from the startup hubs – Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai – is Madhya Pradesh, the second-largest state in the country. Nicknamed as the “heart of India” due to its geographical location, Madhya Pradesh is home to 75 Mn energetic, food-loving people with a knack for starting and running successful businesses. Despite inadequate government support and infrastructure, a group of iron-willed entrepreneurs and educational institutions have established incubators, funds and other ecosystem enabling systems for startups in Indore.
To support the startup ecosystem that is slowly emerging in the city of Indore, Inc42 in partnership with Amazon India recently hosted the third instalment of its localised meetup series – BIGShift on October 14 in Indore, MP. The event brought prominent startup founders, influencers, investors, and ecosystem enablers together for an engaging and stimulating discourse about the right time to raise funding, challenges of team building and the much-dreaded fear of burnout.
For the uninitiated, BIGShift is a one-of-a-kind series of localised startup events spread across eight Indian cities, including Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar, Nagpur, Kolkata, Vizag, Kanpur and Indore. Through BIGShift, Amazon India and Inc42 are looking to support the startup ecosystem that is building up in cities beyond Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The aim is to help bridge the gap that currently exists between the ecosystems in tier I and tier II cities by making the essential resources available to fledgeling startups in these geographies.
Amazon India, for its part, has been doing quite a bit to facilitate the growth of the startup ecosystem in non-metro cities. In remote areas where a dearth of proper infrastructure is a crippling problem for startups, firms like AWS (which works on the cloud) are working to assist promising new companies by enhancing access to pay-as-you-go IT and cloud services. Indore-based WittyFeed is one of the many names that have availed these services to scale up rapidly.
So, Why BIGShift In Indore?
According to AngelList, Madhya Pradesh houses over 400+ startups with the majority of startups situated in Indore and Bhopal. Most of these startups are working in the IT products and services category followed by ecommerce. Over the years, the MP government has established a number of funds dedicated to startups.
In October 2014, the government launched a $15.4 Mn (INR 100 Cr) VC fund to incubate and promote startups in the state, with a special focus on IT and MSME sectors. In September last year, the Madhya Pradesh government set aside another $15.4 Mn for budding entrepreneurs as part of the “Global Investors Summit 2016”. Most recently in July this year, it rolled out a new venture fund called Madhya Pradesh Venture Finance Limited (MPVFL) under the Madhya Pradesh MSME Fund Trust. The fund has a corpus of $15.4 Mn.
When it comes to naming some of the most known startups from the state, the list starts with Wittyfeed which is valued at $45 Mn and claims to have an audience reach of more than 1 Bn and gets 80 Mn unique readers and 160 Mn video views every month. Then there is bootstrapped startup Appointy which serve over 100K customers in more than 110 countries is bringing some great limelight to the states’ startups.
Then there are startups like My Child App, InkThemes, Bharat Calling, Ideata Analytics, StyleDotMe, EngineerBabu from Madhya Pradesh who are pretty well-known faces in the Indian startup ecosystem.
Coming to Indore, other than Wittyfeed and EngineerBabu, there are startups like Telerickshaw, Tuktuk and Dhanno. Other startups in the city include online laundry platforms GetIronman and Remphi; fast food delivery services Oye 24 and Bingage; on-demand salon platform Calipso; safety apps Locate and CitizenCop, among others.
That’s one part of the startup ecosystem.
When it comes to key people and organisations driving the startup ecosystem in the state, there are an ample number of mentors/advisors and other organisations boosting Madhya Pradesh startup ecosystem, let’s have quick look at those as well.
Speaking of advisors and mentors, startup founders like Appointy’s Nemesh Singh and Sarang Verma who are pretty much involved in mentoring state’s startups.
Then there is MP Angel Network, founded by Sawan Ladha, which helps startups jump-start their journey by offering them resources, connections and knowledge through a connected network of startups, investors and mentors across the state. The firm typical investment is in the range of INR 50K to 5 Lakh. Few of its portfolio companies include Edu-Net, VertiSystems, Cubedots, Prejour, Shaurya Infravsion and Eatoutadvisor.
There also exists, Swan Angel Network, founded by Abhishek Sanghvi, a group of 35+ HNIs from Indore, Mumbai and the US. It was incorporated in November 2015 and has backed startups like Onspon.com, Maalgadi and Zipi.
Lastly, there exists a couple of communities that are boosting the ecosystem in the state. These include Indore Startup Community which organises a monthly meetup for budding entrepreneurs to network. More than 80 people attend this monthly meetup. The state also has Startup Ignition which organises events and bootcamps for startups; EChai Indore, an offline-online social network of entrepreneurs, it helps fellow entrepreneurs connect with each other with offline events and online co.rise social network; Indore Entrepreneurs Network(IEN), a startup chapter of the early-stage entrepreneur’s & startups from Indore to support startup ecosystem in the city.
Now let’s take a look at the all the action from BIGShift Indore Edition!
Session One: What It Takes To Build The Core Team
For the first session of the day, WittyFeed co-founder and CTO Shashank Vaishnav took the stage to offer his views on the much-debated topic of fundraising and the right time to do it. Founded in September 2014 by Parveen Singhal, Vinay Singhal and Vaishnav, WittyFeed is touted as India’s most viral content marketing site. It claims to have an audience reach of more than 1 Bn and gets 80 Mn unique readers and 160 Mn video views every month.
The site is listed under the Top 40 websites in India on Alexa rankings, while it stands under the Top 300 websites globally.
Following are some of the many laurels that Vaishnav has earned over the years:
- Grew WittyFeed from 0 to 250 Mn pageviews per month in a short span of three years
- Reached revenues of about $7.04 Mn (INR 45 Cr) in this year
- Attained a valuation of $45 Bn within three years of its launch
- Raised an undisclosed amount of Pre Series A funding from a bevvy of angel investors in September 2017
During the BIGShift session, Vaishnav shared his insights about the right time for startups to raise funding as well as the best practices of team building. Today, most early-stage founders are more keen on securing funding from day one than building their core team and attaining product-market fit.
Talking about the challenges he faced when bringing together a team, Vaishnav said, “Our vision from the start was to create a big organisation that could last several decades. When we started hiring, we looked for people with a good heart and a vision to do something big. We were not necessarily looking for IIT/IIM graduates. For people without experience, we trained them.”
According to Vaishnav, the role of a startup founder lies in infusing his/her own vision into the shared vision of the team. He added, “Initially when we acquired talent, we used to tell them to use this place and resources as a playground. We wanted them to believe that it was their own company.”
Elaborating further, he said that the relationship between co-founders is as important as the relationship between the employer and the employees. The founding members should have faith not only in each other’s skills and capabilities but also in their vision. The foremost responsibility of founders when starting up is to create a core team that can be relied upon during emergencies.
“You have to hire very good people in your team. If you interview 100 people, you will come across two to three people who will win your heart. Look at it this way. You are getting the chance to interact with 100 people, motivate them and maybe change their lives. You only need to try and understand where they are coming from, what their goals and aspirations are,” concluded Vaishnav.
BIGShift is coming to Nagpur (11th November) and Vizag (17th November) next! To learn more about BIGShift and what it entails, click here.
Session Two: Overcoming Setbacks And Building A Team Out Of A Tier II City
As part of the second session of BIGShift Indore, Nemesh Singh, founder and CEO of Appointy gave his two cents about the essential pointers when it comes to building a team out of tier II Indian city. Hailed as a ‘bootstrap hero’, Singh’s entrepreneurial journey is akin to a rollercoaster ride full of surprises, challenges and exhilaration.
As the founder of online scheduling software platform Appointy, Nemesh has bounced back from two bankruptcies. Appointy was born in 2007 out of Singh’s struggles to find a job in the aftermath of the 2000 bubble burst.
The platform assists small and medium-sized businesses in growing exponentially by helping them scheduling appointments online and fill their open times by reaching their customers faster. It also helps them to accept pre-payments, send reminder alerts, update social networks and personal calendars, create promotions, and create discount coupons. As of 2016, the company served over 100K customers in more than 110 countries.
Onboarding new talent especially in tier II and tier III cities can be challenging. Singh, however, has a very simple solution: hackathons. He explained, “To scale up, we spent $928.5 (INR 60,000) on hackathons. Through these events, we got two ‘Dhonis’. One of these guys helped us integrate the entire payment system. I would suggest spending money on discovering talent, rather than paying exorbitant salaries.”
Founders often think that they can do a job themselves. However, if a task takes more than 20% of their time, they should ideally be delegating it to employees, consultants or interns. Nemesh added, “First, you need to have a proper talent discovery process in place. Otherwise, you are not going anywhere. However, don’t shy away from people who have failed in the past. Failures help build experience. You get energy from freshers. If you can combine your experience and the passion of freshers, then you are on spot.”
For tech candidates, companies should look at behavioural knowledge. Even when building a team, startup founders should have a direction in mind. Although there are limitations in terms of infrastructure and technical training in tier II and tier III cities, talent is available everywhere. Discovering this talent and honing it to perfection is the responsibility of the founding team.
Session Three: The Startup And The Dreaded Burnout
In the startup world, you will find too many people chasing after money, fame and success. Every now and then, however, you will come across someone who is working to bring positive change in the society. As part of the third session of BIGShift Indore, we got the opportunity to interact directly with one such person, Harsh Songra.
Founder and CEO of MyChildApp, Songra has won many laurels in the last two years, from being lauded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to getting featured in Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30’ list. Deep down, however, he is a young man who is using coding to turn his tragedy into a success story.
Launched in 2015 on Google Play Store, MyChildApp is an AI-based platform that helps parents screen developmental disorders in their children between the ages of one and 24 months in less than 10 seconds. The app also contains information for parents about the different stages of a child’s development. Within months of its inception, MyChild App, raised Seed funding from a clutch of angel investors, including Pankaj Jain of 500 Startups, FusionCharts co-founder Pallav Nadhani and others.
Talking about his struggles as a dyspraxia sufferer, Harsh said, “Growing up, I could never button up my shirt. My parents did not know that I had this disorder. It took them over nine years to figure out and that too with the help of psychologists. When I realised that one out of six people have this disorder, I thought I should do something about it.”
Every entrepreneur, Songra believes, goes through a lot of stress, fallbacks and failures in their journey. What they fail to understand is that stress can take a toll on their mental health. One needs to understand the importance of sound mental health and help each other to figure out how it can be taken care of.
Session Four: Startup Showcase
Moving to the final session of the BIGShift Indore edition, three Indore-based startups were given the opportunity to showcase their ideas and business plans. Among these were Naaniz, Shoppingpost and DrugMegaMart.
Let’s take a look at the problems that these startups are striving to solve!
Founded in 2015 by Anshul Maheshwari, Naaniz is an ecommerce platform that empowers artists, designers, cooks, homemakers and curators to start and grow businesses on their own terms. It is a marketplace that connects buyers and sellers around the country. Via Naaniz, customers can find a range of products from homemade pickles (achar), papad, bakery goods to paint.
Co-founded in 2015 by Manas Usharia, Shoppingpost is a platform where online shoppers can connect with each other to discover what other people are shopping. Touted as a social network for shoppers, the platform allows users to post their purchase and verify their online orders in order to get additional rewards. The startup is based on the belief that research done by one user before making a purchase could help others make informed shopping choices.
Established in 2012, DrugMegaMart was originally created to provide door step delivery convenience for meeting all medical and healthcare needs of people in Indore. Today, the bootstrapped startup delivers products across all the cities as well as most of the small and medium sized towns in the country. The Sahil Makhija co-founded company aims to facilitate better health awareness in the country through the use of more efficient telecommunication technologies as well as express logistics services.
We would like to thank our venue partner Wittyfeed for helping us put together BIGShift Indore seamlessly.
BIGShift is coming to Nagpur (11th November) and Vizag (17th November) next! To learn more about BIGShift and what it entails, click here.
Update 1: 9th November 2017, 12:20 PM
The earlier version of the story had mentioned Indore as the capital of Madhya Pradesh. We have omitted the same.