The Rodinhoods Open House, which is the festival of Thinkers, Doers and Rodinhooders, happened on March 28th at NSE Auditorium in BandraKurla Complex. This is a brief round-up of the event.
While traveling from Delhi in a general class compartment of a horrible train, which had around 100+ stoppages in between, I was conducting interviews with passengers (for a new book which I am attempting), and during one such interaction, an answer stunned me. The 65 year old farmer from Sri GangaNagar in Rajasthan told me, “Son, there is nothing called planning in life. It just happens or doesn’t happen.”. His 7 sons and 3 daughters nodded in agreement, and I couldn’t help but smile.
Yes, planning doesn’t matter. All that matters is action and the wisdom which I was about to acquire 24 hours later would cement this fact.
I was able to book the cheapest hotel at Panvel, and it took some time to reach Bandra-Kurla Complex. I was a bit late, but was able to enter at the right moment. Alok sir had just started his ‘ramblings’ and two powerful messages were being shared:
a) Never be shy
b) Believe in the power of Intent
Perfect setting for a memorable Open House.
The cozy auditorium was filled to the brim, and the excitement of something big, something new, something exciting was clearly in the air.
(Alok sir was generous enough to introduce me to the community, which completely stumped me. Thank you sir!)
1) Ashwin Sanghi: “The Problem With Rat Race Is That, You Are Still A Rat!”
The Open House kicked off with a stellar presentation by bestselling author and my hero Ashwin Sanghi. Being a writer, and a would-be-author (since last 3 years..!), this session had actually pulled me from Delhi to Mumbai. I couldn’t wait to hear him, live on stage, and when he begun, then Boy! All hell broke loose.
After showcasing some hard hitting facts about writing and publishing industry (average self-published book will only sell 57 copies!), he shared his secret of fighting his fear, his family pressure and his destiny to become the Author. The way he managed to publish his first book: The Rozabal Line created goose bumps within me, and within a moment, I got all my answers which were haunting me since long.
If Harry Potter was rejected 12 times, Stephen King was rejected 30 times, Chicken Soup Series was rejected 33 times, Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times, and Ashwin was himself rejected 48 times (he was actually proud that he is ahead of them all).. then everything I have assumed about writing is wrong. It became crystal clear that an artist does not wait for failure but goes ahead and embraces it.
And wins it.
His quote: “Money gives you only one thing: Freedom to not worry about money” solved so many problems, in a snap.
He briefly gave a crash course on traditional publishing, self-publishing and marketing. Some of the craziest marketing stunts done by authors were discussed, and innovate ideas and concepts to market a book were shared.
A subsequent discussion happened where Alok sir asked some sharp questions to Ashwin, and he responded with equally blunt responses, which made everyone think, laugh and clap.
Three most important takeaways from Ashwin:
– Want to be a best seller author? Learn to become shameless
– The biggest challenge of the writer is to convince the reader to read the next chapter
– The book is a product, and the author is no more a mere writer.. he has to become a marketer and entrepreneur to make it sell. Authorpreneurship is the reality, and wake up to it!
2) Panel Discussion with Arihant Patni, Rajan Mehra & Alok sir
Nothing happens within the Open House which can be termed as conventional. The panel discussion started with Alok sir reading a fictional email from a young entrepreneur to a senior investor, and an eerie silence spread all over the auditorium.
The entrepreneurs present there quickly realized that it was regarding the recent public spat between Housing.com’s one of the founders and Sequoia Capital’s investor, which dominated the headlines of newspapers, especially Times of India.
Rajan is the co-founder of Nirvana Ventures, which have invested in Housing.com, and in my view, it was the best opening to a discussion I have ever witnessed.
To make things clear early on (I am always amazed by the clarity of thoughts which seasoned VCs possess), Rajan said that Rahul is a good guy, who is passionate and is prone to unorganized emotions. He described him as an ‘intellectual visionary’.
Arihant added that all successful entrepreneurs are eccentric in nature; sharing example of Narayan Murthy and Vijay Mallaya, two entrepreneurs at extreme ends of spectrum.
As more layers of revelations emerged, we came to know that during the early days of Internet in India, Rajan had infact invested in several portals such as Baazee.com (which was later acquired by Ebay) and IndiaCar.com, which was founded by Ashwin Sanghi, the author!
Arihant, who turned investor after Patni was acquired by iGate was pretty clear about his mission and vision, when he said that for him, it was always “coding before cricket”.
Some of the major pointers which were shared by them, during the discussions:
– An investor invests more in the entrepreneur than in the idea. Rajan shared that out of 8 startups, 5 will change their business model after a specific time. They are backing the guy, not the idea
– One of the most important characteristic that an investor will check is the team building ability of the founders: will they be able to inspire and motivate a team? Can they transmit their passion and energy within the team?
– One major secret which was shared by Rajan: VCs are attracted towards those businesses which are built without any venture capital! This may shock quite a few entrepreneurs.
– Businesses which can withstand cycles of positive and negative growth are the most prized possessions for a VC
– Arihant shared three secrets of building a successful venture backed startup: a) A good team b) Belief in the vision c) The power of listening
– Entrepreneurs can change the destiny of the world, only because they think and do more than others, and because they create. (The vision of Rodinhoods: Think, Do, Be..)
– There was an extensive discussion on the issue of burning money (since almost all the major VC backed startups are burning huge money). The takeaway is that, investors are ready to burn money if the marketing needs that, but, the business should be established in a way that even if the funding stops, it shouldn’t shut down.
– Alok sir made an interesting question to Arihant: Imagine him asking Patni Computers to spend Rs 18 crore every month in 1990s, with no revenues to show. What will happen? Arihant was quick to say that in that case, he would have been ousted from the will.
– Shortcomings of Indian startup ecosystem were discussed, as Arihant shared that Silicon understands deep tech, and people are willing to experiment, compared to India. Yes, he admitted that even he is responsible for this state, but things have to be changed for the good.
– There is an excellent support system consisting of the Universities, Government and Venture Capitalists in the USA, which promotes and encourages entrepreneurship. Nothing of such sorts exists in India. Can you imagine any Indian VC providing $3-5 million to a startup, just to travel to US and present their idea?
– An interesting anecdote was shared regarding this strange relationship: VC is just like the wife and founder is like the husband. After the marriage (funding), the wife will keep on trying to change the husband, and after 5 years, she will complain that you are not the same person anymore!
– When someone asked whether Housing.com’s full page ads will do any justice to customer acquisition, Arihant replied that product differentiation is crucial for some sectors, and such advertisement mechanisms are the only way forward.
– Another interesting anecdote about Alibaba: During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the terror of SARS engulfed China, and almost all the offices and shops were closed. It was during this time that Alibaba actually picked up their sales, and reported jump of more than 40-50% sales. Lesson: Great entrepreneurs make use of every situation, even if it’s a terror for others.
– On a question regarding customer acquisition and funding, Alok sir showed us an excellent example: WhatsApp’s first screen which appears after downloading; wherein they promise that the app would be advertisement free forever. Which investor will deny funding to such an idea and approach?
– Getting into the skin of the product is important, understanding the user interface and behavior holds the key to success; along with insane passion. Rajan shared that when Instagram was in the initial phase, the founders stalked Twitter employees wherever they went: party, vacation, home etc, and tried to pitch their product and lured them with ESOPs!
– The importance of having a tech co-founder for a non-tech founder was again emphasized. If the founder is not able to convince a co-founder, how can he convince the world? The founder should have the power and the will to part away with their equity to form a formidable team
– It was then that Ashwin asked the most important question: What is the difference between 2000 and 2015 (hindsight: 2000 was the year when dot com bubble burst and several million dollar Internet companies were reduced to zilch overnight). Rajan had a one word answer: Mobile. He said that mobile has changed everything in the last few years, and its mobile which will drive maximum growth for the industry.
– Rajan shared the 4 markets, worth $700 billion which needs major disruptions: Products; Services; Banking and Media
– When asked when a founder should seek funding, Arihant replied that the VC will check the idea and the team. Once these both are cemented, and believed upon, the funding is more feasible.
3) StoryPick: The presentation blew our mind away!
Tonmoy Goswami co-founder of StoryPick.com, the upcoming pulp-(non)fiction portal whose stories go viral in an instant, and are hugely popular among the young generation came on stage to demystify the secret of virality.
His presentation was titled “3 Reasons Startups Should Have SEX” amused one and all, and things got pretty heated up as he revealed the ideology and persuasion techniques used by them to make their stories go viral.
In case you are curious, then SEX means:
S: Support your competitors
E: Use emotions (Ethos; Pathos; Logos)
X: X is the shortest distance between A to B, or in other words, make the content easily accessible
On the issue of critics, Tonmoy declared: “Your opinions doesn’t pay my bills!”
He shared the pillars of communication, and how publishers can use them to optimally create content and make it viral. The logic of synchronization between the head, heart, gut and groin incited a new level of interest among the audience. The example of Steve Jobs was highlighted, where he packed the new MacBook in an envelope and such was the frenzy generated that people didn’t even bother to seek configuration of the laptop before ordering one.
His another quote resonated instantly with all writers and publishers out there: “Don’t be like a barcode reader who knows the price of everything but value of nothing”
Hats off to StoryPick team for revolutionizing online publication industry in India, and for supporting social cause as well using their platform.
4) Panel Discussion with Suresh Venkat & Arun Prabhudesai; moderated by Alok sir
This discussion was really engrossing and deep; and considering that I am a Senior Editor at Trak.in, founded by Arun, the discussion was indeed special. (add to the fact that after writing more than 600 blogs for Trak.in, I was meeting Arun for the first time, in the Rodinhood Open House!)
The foundations of modern entrepreneurship, based on media was discussed, and postmortemed by Alok sir. The virtue of ethics, honesty and monetization was subtly discussed, and some fabulous questions were thrown in by the moderator.
Can India produce another Economist and Business Insider which produces in-depth, deep content and still makes money? Or the list based, click bait articles which are ruling the roost these days will hold prominence?
Suresh Venkat, who is a veteran of media industry shared some interesting insights; such as how much exactly are we paying for a newspaper? Rs 3-5 is the average price of an edition, whereas it takes Rs 20-30 to print one. Clearly newspapers are actually spending money to reach us, and the Internet has changed everything.
Arun shared the benefits of following one’s passion, as he was crystal clear in revealing the source of his energy: the response and love he receives from his readers! At a time when thousands of blogs are being created daily, it’s the top rated content, polished with unique opinion and point of view will win the race. Arun also highlighted the importance of altering the medium to keep up with the ever changing needs of the readers.
The biggest takeaway from this discussion was that: Everything which traditional publishing have taught us has changed. The new reader is restless, impatient and needs information quickly. Those who are able to adapt will survive and the rest will simply perish.
5) Crowdfunding: The new paradigm of funding
The last session of the Open House was dedicated to the new phenomenon called Crowdsourcing, which is slowly but gradually bringing in a paradigm shift in the investment scenario. If you have an idea and a vision, then all you need to do is convince a specific set of people who are willing to share your passion and enthusiasm and help you achieve your goals.
Hemanshu Jain, founder of Diabeto shared his journey of asking the ‘crowd’ to fund his idea, and how his investment goal was reached within a week!
He showcased the entire life cycle of a crowd-funded project and the most important questions which needs to be asked in order to be successful.
Rishi Karthik, who founded Bombay Cab Sessions shared his story of pulling up crowd funded investment for his idea. Although the idea was entirely unique, and somewhat unconventional (artists recording songs inside a cab?), he has able to successfully reach almost 80% of his goals, and well on his way to complete the project.
You can watch the video of the crowdfunding session HERE.
The only word which described the Open House and the sessions. Too much planning makes you lazy, and more importantly afraid. It’s the action which will pull you up, and help you reach your destination.
The Open House concluded with Alok sir distributing “Autobiography of a Yogi”, as part of his mission to introduce this book to maximum people on this Earth.
Special thanks to Asha, for organizing and conducting this mega event, and pulling it off successfully. Looking forward to the next Open House with more eagerness and curiosity than ever!
Amit Kumar Sharma authored a live coverage of this event via live blog, which you should definitely check out.