SI5 – More than 110 people, but…

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All good things hit road-bumps eventually – they just came from angles we didnt expect.

Startup Insiders #5 was started with the same anticipation as the previous events, but with what was promising to be an excellent panel as well. Jawwad, Jehan, FQ, Adnan and even Ali Raza and Mansoor came up from Karachi, and Zia Imran and others drove in from Lahore.

We convened at a fairly decent venue – great lighting, projection and great catering – but then I dont know what happened next. Its easy to write a passionate rant but I’ll choose a tougher path here…

I still dont quite understand why there were so many disconnects at the event; why the entrepreneurs who visited felt disenfranchised; why the SI regular panelists felt insulted; and why there was so much discussion about topics that have no relevance within the spirit and format of SI; why everyone came with such a self-centered agenda; why no one in that room gave a *bleep* about entrepreneurship.

All I know is that 10-minutes into it, I lost interest – I sat in the back and enjoyed the food, wishing I was actually back in the office catching up with work.

In an attempt atleast to be comprehensive if not objective, I want to present my reasons why I consider SI#5 a failure.

1- Expectations Disconnect

I think there were 5 different expectations from people inside the venue. Some of the attendees thought SI was a “Workshop” among IT industry stakeholders, including government, industry and students, to discuss issues about the industry.

There were people expecting all of those 100 were supposed to review Startup pitches.

Some of the panelists had been told expected that the purpose of the event was to put them on a throne and run around them in a circle shouting love chants.

Some of the audience expected a certain message to be presented at the event, and only that message alone.

So many expectations may either represent a confidence in the brand of SI itself (where people want us to solve all the major problems in the industry, cancer and global climate change included), or a failure to clearly communicate expectations to everyone prior to the event.

But the result of multiple expectations is always going to be that you’ll invariably offend or disenfranchise one or more set of stakeholders.

That’s exactly what has happened – the people who probably think the event was wonderful were the people who wanted to use this as a chance to promote themselves, or just discuss about “IT industry issues” among high-level leaders.

They’ll tell you SI5 was a “Great gathering of stakeholders from IT, Telecom, Govt and Education in one place – which has never happened before, and that alone is commendable”. I wouldn’t be surprised if Telenor or others issue a press release along the same lines.

Too bad the people disenfranchised were P@SHA, Green & White, and all the entrepreneurs there.

Ladies and Gentleman – Startup Insiders has one, and ONLY ONE, goal: To help entrepreneurs.

At the end of the session – did entrepreneurs feel helped? No? Then the event was a failure.

Its not our problem that stakeholders between telecom and the govt can never sit and have coffee together to discuss their issues – take it somewhere else. Come here to guide, mentor, pick up and pat scared startup guys on the back and try to take them to the next level.

If you’re not comfortable doing that, and have nothing to say, then stay on your throne – we dont need your gifted presence.

2- Alterior Intents for Participation

I warned about this earlier – I wrote here:

what happens if the only people who participate in these events in general are doing so for pure self-benefit — whether it is to try and show others how active their brands are? Or to try to hire people they meet at the events? Or to forget the bigger picture and only worry about how great *their* contribution is? Or to only participate to try to get new business for their own firm?

… its pretty simple what will happen. We’ll lose the chance to build the one platform we’ve raised in the past year which soberly and seriously aims to truly help entrepreneurs get out of hiding and step up on the limelight

Literally all of those items listed happened at the event.

From feedback from independent audience members and entrepreneurs at the event, it was felt that  as if the sponsors’ primary and only intent was to use the platform for self-publicity.

I dont entirely share that view – I’d say its just more general in that there was a lot of people even from the audience who had no interest in anything other than their immediate interest – it just created an unhealthy environment for objective discourse and all comments started sounding like self-publicity.

Perhaps we should have a pre-session brainwashing session for the panelists, or maybe try to restrict conversations in some ways — e.g. answers can only be given by panelists assigned by the moderator — although I dont know how that would improve this.

3- Conclusion

I’ll cut it short and reserve my thoughts and rants for future posts.

The only part that bothered me the most was an entrepreneur who thought we weren’t talking about what we were talking about.

Both were talking about building products, but it was still was an apples to oranges discussion.

That’s alright – but what still struck me was this understanding the young lad had that his POV about the world was fixed and he didnt have anything to learn from the panel.

All in all, SI5 has left me confused. For people who were there – please add your thoughts in the comments…. why did SI5 fail to help? Was it because our brand has outgrown us faster than we thought and we just want to find channels to formalize all the expectations? Is it because the sponsors hijacked the event? Is it because we didnt moderate the event well enough to keep everyone on focus? Is it because the entrepreneurs just dont want to participate to learn anymore?

Ladies and Gentleman, Startup Insiders is not entertainment – we are here to try and help you become the next Google – and all we want is thanks free food and prayers when you hear we’ve passed on. It doesnt benefit me or my company in any way to try to organize and participate in three events / month. We dont get any financial gains, nor is this a necessary part of our (i.e. CDF Software’s) brand strategy.

We do it to try to get people thinking about becoming future leaders in this economy. We do it for you. If you dont want us to do this anymore, please let me know – it would be good for us to focus on our core business then.

I chose not to attend SI6 in Lahore – honestly I really need a good reason from the entrepreneurs now to care to participate.

If you feel like SI is necessary to help you get from X to Y, email me at osama@greenwhite.org — in fact also email me with your feedback for future events and I’ll forward it to P@SHA and the other organizers.

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20 Comments

  • For me the best thing out of the event was the interaction with the many guys after the event specially the BrightSpyre Team.

  • Okay you are sounding worst than what my conclusion could be :)

    I managed to attend SI 5, felt secluded from rest (probably many shared my feelings) … relating it with missing out previous session.

    What I felt missing from the session was:

    a) a Recap of key queries in minds of many entrepreneurs (or to-be’s) covered in previous sessions. Can be quick.

    b) defining the boundaries of event & session strictly. This one was patchy. (Thanks to us, the audience too)

    c) For me, ideas/experiences coming out from the panelists were conflicting too – strangling my thought process as a result 😐

    I personally enjoyed the few bits Faisal mentioned in the whole session. They were easy on ears and mind :)

  • BTW, I couldn’t get the chance to meet you during tea session but around 5 Islamabad Metrobloggers managed to come too :-)

  • Well I’d agree with what everyone has said and would say over the following posts; reason being that everyone attending a brainstorming/idea sharing event is to do exactly that, share the idea.

    Now the idea may come in the form of a suggestion, a general concept or a product proposal. The intention may be to get connected, to get a funding, to know whats happening, to promote oneself or to influence others for self gains. The stakeholers may be govt., pvt corporattions, entrepreneurs, students, professionals, funding orgs or the academia. Everyone will come with various approaches, level of understanding and expectation of return from their participation; just like the expectation of the SI penalists; help entrepreneurs!

    Now there are ways of helping any new entrepreneur; advice, money, networking platform, idea. Essentially SI is about identifying and building bridges between stakeholders. One party to this networking exercise that SI seemingly is not considering important in contributing to their mission is perhaps the role of structured funding bodies (say ICT R&D) and corporate buyers (say Telenor)in facilitating new entrepreneurs. I agree that the initial stance of such structured and agenda focused (nothing wrong with that – leverage that!) organizations is that they tend to bring structure and thus results (interest based) to anything they engage into. What I felt was needed on behalf of the SI team, that yet did change a lot of minds, was the tact to channelize the interest of the fund org and pvt corporation into opportunities for potential and current entrepreneurs. That did happen in the second half when we all learnt that Telenor was funding a few development projects with GIKI and that ICT R&D fund offered to finance project proposals for any desirous entrepreneurs. Commitments from industry biggies is what required to encourage, support, catalyze and support entrepreneurs. It did not happen in the holliest of ways but the SI session did culminate into that.

    I think that in the democratic city of beaureucratic Isloo this was the first SI event that had representation from the entire economic eco-system. It highlighted the polarization in approach of fund orgs, corporations, entrepreneurs, academia and regulators. It helped everyone to identify each other, know the disconnects and try understanding each other better.

    I think SI must come to isloo again and keep all stakeholders involved. I think a little rework on format in terms of channelizing money (fund orgs) and market (corporations) with talent (entrepreneurs) would deliver more desirable and fruitful results.

    By the way I do protest the attempted proclamation of event sponsorship by the ICTR&D which was swiftly and effectively stopped by Jehan Ara :-)

    Salute and personal regards to all the penalists for SI that flew in from KHI and LHR on their own costs (far greater than the SPONSOR) and mostly respectably with the passion to make a difference for entrepreneurs and for a better, self sustaining Pakistan. Love you guys!

  • Tailing the entrepreneurial wave in Pakistan, Isloo needs such session more than KHI and LHR. The best part about Isloo is also the fact that it is the policy, regulatory and funding hub. Putting effort on these stakeholders will have its own challenges but if done tactfully keeping together the objectivity of the SI forums, the most minor of liberal shifts in these circles will result into huge support for entrepreneurs. I am not advocating reliance but collaboration definitely yes!

  • I still haven’t participated in any SI session part of due to me being lazy. But, what I implied reading the posts about SI on this blog, is that it’s goal is to help “garage” entrepreneurs.

    So, for the time being, impose a strict entry on corporate big guns participation, atleast not those who haven’t bootstrapped any venture themselves.

  • oh, I’m sorry, I mean impose a ban…

  • [Ady]…are you denying the fact that these funds and corps have a big role to play in facilitating and accelerating entrepreneurial growth in any economy?

    Would’nt it be better if both sides of the table found a way to shake hands while fulfilling each other’s objectives?

    Thinking in Silos has never changed or sustained at an economic scale. Why not use that bootstrapping gained determination and aggression to change minds of the not so enlightened. This can be a major contribution to actually help expedite the case and save a lot of entrepreneurial energy from being wasted or sucked back into the corporate deployment vacuum.

    And I saw that bit of change actually happening again as said earlier not in the holliest of ways :-)

  • Asif, I think Ady is saying – and rightly so – that SI is not the place for the industry to get togehter to realize there are disconnects.

    Its not trying to cure cancer and global warming. Its only trying to help to encourage entrepreneurs by answering their questions about the startup process.

    There should be other platforms where big COs and Funds could meet to decide how to fund startups – it such platforms dont exist thats not really our problem.

  • Disconnects is the keyword then!

    I have copied a few lines from the SI5 promo post here:

    …..to answer one of the most important questions in the minds of an entrepreneur: How do I make sure my technology idea is linked with a business need and demand in the market?

    The specific questions we will be bugging the panel with is:

    – Do I really need a killer product or service idea to be an entrepreneur?
    – What is Innovation? Is innovation necessary for building a successful business?
    – How do I think about building my product?
    – How do I innovate in my business?

    Sound exciting? Wait till you hear the rest of the details:

    This event is sponsored by Telenor Pakistan and National ICT R&D Fund – they are so excited they’ve got some secrets planned for everyone attending the event……..

    This communication has different meanings for people with different prespectives on “supporting the entrepreneurial concept”. Now it would not be fare to expect that a certain stakeholder shall share the same perspective that a bootstrapping entrepreneur would. However the matter of fact remains that it is but desired and required, in the best interest of sustainable and accelerated entrepreneurial growth at an economic level, for all the stakeholders to come together and try to work it out.

    Staying and thinking inside own camps is not going to serve the wider purpose of sustainable economic upliftment in the course of which a lot of great talent and entrepreneurial spirit shall simply be wasted.

  • even for me, this event was pretty much a bust! after attended two previously (in isb and khi) i was greatly looking forward to some specifics answered.

    what it became, however, was how telecom operators perceive everything in the world.

    With the dr sahib from ICT RnD throwing everything at telenor (and later to mobilink), and the major discussion revolving around how they think.. i guess it became kind of boring.

    One thing which was answered was the kind of openings in the telecom market (for those who wanted to pick up on it). With peter’s quick 3 points about what they wanted, and the answer to what they’re looking for in a proposal, i guess one major question for entrepruners was answered. “How do you sell to your first customer?”. When you are developing for the telecom market, i believe these giants are your first customers.

    final words.. could’ve been better.. but wasn’t totally useless (if your future plans tend to include the telecom market).

  • I think SI-5 provided a direct exposure to the realities of the market for entrepreneurs to appropriate their expectations and thus prepare intelligently. And as Mansoor puts it, Knowing how do you sell to your first customer!

  • Asif, you are 100% right. But the realities of the market for corporate are different than the realities for the garage startups.

    Even a garage start-up guy can’t understand the lingo of a corporate one.

    You have to understand, SI is addressing abit different problem.

    It’s about how to “get started” when u don’t have big finances to support you.

  • Osama,

    can you please please assure that the next startup insiders islamabad event is like the first one?

    :(

  • SI5 was the first session I attended. A few suggestions I’d like to share:

    1. There was no introduction which left the 1st-comers a bit lost. It’d help if the objective of the sessions is defined clearly at the beginning, also asking participants (new or aspiring entrepreneurs) about their expectations from the session.

    2. The discourse remained mostly between the panelists and esteemed guests, leaving little time for the real audience to speak up. They should be engaged more actively by bringing up topics/questions they can relate to.

    3. The discussion got detracked hugely from the main theme of the event. There should be insistence on maintaining the focus.

    4. There should be feedback forms that can be distributed to the participants; these will help tremendously in improving future sessions.

    5. And lastly but most importantly, everyone should leave their egos at home :-) The purpose of such sessions is to discuss and share ideas and learn from each other. We can’t do that if we have a closed mind.

  • ady: as per my understanding, it was about how to develop and innovate your product, which follows from how do you know your customer and how do you sell to them.

    I may be going off track here to include, that selling to your first corporate client (if u are in the b2b space) is a real challenge, and that having bigwigs there answer this was an important step?

    but getting started is a major theme and you are right that it should be stuck to, however, the organizers thought that the sessions were to be built on top of each other (the previous si3) but should realize now (as munir) commented, that a little feedback on what has already been achieved should also be included.

  • appologies: as munira* commented

  • @ Asma: What?! Five Metrobloggers!? Mujhey nahee bataya 😡 :_(

    (Well, I was one of those who attended the first one, so, nyakh nyakh!)

    BTW, I am really sorry to hear it went so bad. I hear this from ‘a lot’ of people! Even though the panel was awesome, I wonder why it couldn’t capture the imagination of those attending.

    @ Munira: Chalo jee?! App bhi pohanchi howee theen :(? Looks Like I am the only one who missed out.

    Suggestions:
    1. Everyone had ulterior motives, I felt that in the first session. Everyone naturally will have them. I think it’s the big name companies that need to communicate bigger problems to a thousand smaller solvers so that they know that if they solve even a tiny piece of that puzzle on their own, there is a good chance of ‘success.’ The margin of failure for a big name company is much lesser, as compared to a few startup individuals, since they have funds and experience.

    2. Take their imagination there! People like me are plain dumb when creating, visualizing or imagining products, services and potential. Given to our reclusive, introverted and highly cautious cultural upbringing, companies and people who have been there and done that should guide people’s thinking in ‘thinking entrepreneurship.’ The first session had a good bit of it with the Telefun, Facebook Apps and Laddo sabun examples. But those were only examples that exemplified ‘money making.’ I know this is not a ‘workshop’, but at this point local entrepreneurs are only thinking of making a YouTube or a Facebook.

    3. Don’t concentrate on a school class like Q/A session discussing advertisements, marketing and branding when we have people who don’t even know what they have studies in the bachelors. It’s alright to follow a theme but sticking strictly to it would naturally disenfranchise people who know nothing about that field.

    4. I missed the beginning of the first session, and I don’t know if it happened this time round, but what I would like to suggest is to have a introduction session of people are wanting to become entrepreneurs. A small intro about themselves, their fields, their aspirations would set the tone of what and how to proceed. Why talk marketing jargons to a bunch of technical people who won’t understand and assimilate the information?

    All in all, the efforts are commendable. There are always a few road bumps along the way, but now you know how to avoid them. Hope the suggestions help.

    AH.

  • Hi,

    As a first time attendee a few observations:

    For ppl who preach “great ideas”, I would hope Insiders did a little bit of thinking themselves before they let-out their event to the sponsors.

    To be a successful Entrepreneurs (the very topic Insiders was supposed to help with) you need:
    1) To be clear in your communication – Are you kidding me, the moderators seemed to be talking all at the same time, dissing each other, arguing with each other! Hello! Im the audience how about motivating me to ask questions or forget motivating, how about providing the opportunity!
    2) To understand the need – not the insiders perception of my need, not the sponsors idea of its customers need, but my need!
    3) lay out your expectations on the table – seems insiders got the sponsors dough but forgot to share expectations. It was a cute little show of two little boys fighting over their neighbors apple! Something that isn’t theirs to begin with. Ahem Ahem…. I said ‘my need’!
    4) Have a well thought out plan – hey at least the food was good and I did love Peters accent.
    5) Sell your product well – Sell (done), Product (Hann??)

    Regards

    Outsider

  • ThankYou SI for the event, it was my first attendance to the event and i do not count it a waste.

    All said by people above, nevertheless it had some stuff which benefitted us in one way or the other.

    I am an aspiring entrepreneur, what i really felt needed being there, was:

    -> We have had quite a bit of our tech edu teachers already in our studies, we need to hear more of people who dared to leave out their jobs and went on to do what they are doing at this point, ‘Entrprenurship’. The ‘Decisions’ they had to make with all the ‘Whys’.

    -> These Big Individuals (representatives of corporate giant or funding bodies) inherently very non entrepreneurs should only be sitting out and listening, And may be at the end of program may get to talk to or engage with the original people. May be not exactly this but just orienatation of the program is to be changed.

    The other thing not related to event just wanted to mention out here is no pakistan tech market blog/site that gives fact abt the market(just scattered unverified info on diff blogs), which might help people make better decisions for their ventures like ‘How many of paki 70 million mobiles users are unique and how many of the cell phoones being used are smart phone or java enabled or GPRs enabled and stuff like that’.

    You guys at the end also talked abt that your questions can be answered on our online Blogs nd Stuff. Plz state few details on that as well.

    Thanks again SI nd GreenWhite, It was a reasonable effort, Though some of us eXpected a little more.

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