SI8 – Done Differently, Done Well

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Editors’ Note – To balance this and add more perspective for our foreign readers, I’ll add some thoughts on why this event went better… it has very little to do with organization or planning – Osama.

This time’s SI session in Islamabad was done quite differently from all its predecessors. For one, it was held at NIIT’s university campus with a majority of the participants being students from the campus. Quite a few ladies and gentlemen from the industry also showed up to provide advice and encouragement, which is afterall, the hallmark of the SI events.

This time, the focus was on the students, and basically it was a vetting of idea’s. I learned two things at this event.

1. Students are much more open to sharing their new ideas as compared to struggling entrepreneurs
2. NIIT is producing an amazing batch of students!

By the time i reached there, the event had gone into the phase of each student getting up on stage and explaining their idea, then facing a battering of questions from the panel of industry minds. If such an event had happened when i was at university, my life would probably have taken a very different turn.

The general theme of questions asked from these students were pertaining to value proposition, unique differentiation and production/scaling strategies. However, it wasn’t only the questions which made these presentations useful. It was the ideas and suggestions by the panel themselves. Whenever one idea was shot down by one panelist, another one would pique up and offer a variation (whether it be in the form of product differentiation, market targeting or offering what feature/functionality the students should focus more upon) which made the whole experience worthwhile. It kind of gave the feeling of a startup weekend type of an event (finally) which we keep reading up.

The presence of Mr. Vickram Chishna, CEO of Radiophony was also a welcome addition, as his demeanor and style was enough to put even the most stage-shy person at ease. And ofcourse, who can discount Jehanara’s contribution as anchor and moderator, a role she’s quite proficient in.

All in all, a very positive step in the SI series, and a very good come back from the disaster which was SI5. Kudo’s to Jehanara and the PASHA team.

Editors Addendums – Read more for my analysis – Osama

Firstly, the pitches were not by students, except for 3. The rest were industry guys I believe.

Here are my thoughts – this wasnt exactly a result of good careful planning that resulted in the event being more fun. The environment was healthier for other reasons:

It became an extension of Green & White in the physical world

A student mentioned two lines about the idea, and immediately the 8-10 CEOs started into intense discussions amongst themselves. Some figured out the technical side, some figured out how to sell it, others talked about legal and regulatory affairs.

They disagreed, they debated between themselves, they conversed, but all respectfully, actively and smartly. There wasn’t any hyperbole and any statement throughout the event like “Well I’ve been doing this 5 years more than you, so let me tell you that….”

Everyone respected each other

It was a completely flat area – students were comfortable enough to disagree and argue with the panelists and back. There wasn’t any distinction between “the bachhayy” and the “people calling the shots”… no one was a “regular panelists” so everyone were open to sharing more…. not that regular panelists are bad but that distinction polarizes space. There werent a disction between “teachers” and “learners”. There wasn’t someone who “had” to answer every time, nor did anyone came there because they “had” to listen to one particular person (the celebrity effect if you wil).

No one was there to emphasize how smart his thinking was. No one was there just to recruit people for their firm. No one was there to give absolutist statements.

The CEOs took the time to learn from the students and vice-virsa. The students and other participants were all respected for their unique insight in certain fields.

I think this was the first time this happened at SI.

The messages didnt reiterate that the young guys didnt know anything

A theme that was missing in this event that has been present in previous one was “Look… what you’re thinking is wrong, and you’re far too young to know anything or be able to do anything… we’re the only accomplished people who have the right to have any insight on these matters, hence listen”.

Again, this isnt the result of something well planned – the set of panelists who showed up and the set of students who spoke up just chose to respect everyone for their strengths and encourage them… maybe it was the students factor.

There wasnt any emphasis on brutal advice being the only way of getting people through – respect and recognition works better.

Nothing felt like an MBA class

“Thank God we didnt have those MBA style things this time” exclaimed one person to me. No one was rehashing guy kawasaki or Seth Godin posts and claiming them to be their own insight. No one was standing bestowing knowledge on the rest. The entire event was a conversation of putting together mutual insights.

Everyone chose to laugh

Theres a difference between the panel and discussion being entertaining, and everyone just choosing to laugh. Entertaining is something planned… and delivered with punchlines. Just laughing and having fun feels like the time when you were in school whiling the time away – there is a purity to it. For me, it felt like all the time when I’ve spent 2-3 hours sitting with sabzi wallas and bakray wallas trying to understand their world and enjoy some talk with them – there is a purity to it.

The panelists chose to joke about themselves rather than others. Entertainment wasnt one person butchering everyone else with wit. That was the biggest achievement of the night, but it wasnt created by the organizers or the panel.. it was just a mix of the planets aligning and the weather become similar to scotlands’.

For the most part, the regulars stayed out of the way

This is the one thing the organizers did right this time – they stayed the heck out of the conversation after creating the setting for the conversation to take place. This allowed fresher voices to come in and for people to learn from one anothers.

Overall though – again – here’s my thoughts (i.e. Osama’s). Just like it doesn’t matter if a close friend says good things about a person, it doesnt matter if an event was fun. What matters is that objectively does the person deserve praise on merit, and did an event actually lead to some constructive results down the short-term road?

Something common I see in this industry is that we’re great at holding and meeting but very rarely and slowly does that result in anything substantial. If this same event was done in the states 8 or so business deals would be confirmed, 2 policy matters decided and 4 or enterpreneurs would return after a week with their prototypes ready and moving forward.

A good time alone isnt going to move enterpreneurs and our economy forward.

Facebook comments:


  • Oops — just realized you’d already touched upon some of the same themes Mansoor.. ah well now the post has both peoples’ perspectives… or we could split the post into two?

  • Its good, infact, its great.

    Th perspectives give it authenticity i believe. Loved going through your part of it.

    However, on the last part, im not really sure how much is the ‘lets do the deal right here right now’ is part of our culture?

    From what i’ve seen lately, the laid-back relaxed atmosphere of Islamabad means that you take atleast a couple of meetings to decide what you’re gonna do, rahter than right there.

    khi is a bit different, but i dont see many deals happening in just one meeting. i do, however, see ‘lets meet and hash this out further, cuz im interested’ a lot more.

    what do you think?

  • Ammar Faheem

    It finally gets to students =) How about the next one scheduled for Karachi being organized at FAST Karachi?

  • ammar: yes it does. I believe jehanara would be the right person to get in touch for scheduling issues.

  • It makes me happy mansoor, I’v been probably the only student attending the SI’s in Karachi :$

  • As a student of NIIT, it was my pleasure to attend this SI session and to share my ideas with such a distinguished panel. Most importantly, I was able to get the feedback and advice of experienced entrepreneurs, which was quite insightful, and served to clarify many misconceptions and assumptions, as well as to start me up on the right(hopefully :) ) track.

    Id like to express my gratitude to all those present, and all those involved in organizing this event. The value it provided to us students is really immeasurable.

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