Startup Events in India : What they were supposed to be…and what they have turned out to be

It’s not wrong to say that India has more startup events than the actual startups.

Explara, the event ticketing company tells us that the number of startup events has increased from 10 in 2007 to 1,500 in 2015! (am sure it has crossed 2,000 in 2016).

What gives?

Like starting a startup, conducting a startup event is very easy – just bring PR hungry founders, get some sponsors (and give them all the limelight) and bingo!

But then..the bubble is bursting.

Here is my post from 2010 announcing our first UnPluggd event (2010)

“..if you look at the current state of Indian startup ecosystem, most of the events have turned away their focus from

  • Startups to VCs.
  • Entrepreneurs to Celebrity Entrepreneurs.
  • Substance to Hype (being tweeted is more important than adding long term value).
  • Quality content to Networking meets.
  • Value vs. 5 days of hoopla (i.e. media hype)

Are entrepreneurs really looking forward to such events? All we know is that Indian entrepreneurs need a lot more than that. If we have to build a ‘Silicon Valley’ in India, lets bring in serious content that stands the test of time.”

6 years down the line, nothing much has changed and here is what I see.

The ‘standard’ startup events are predictable.

  • They have celebrity entrepreneurs (think Kunal Shah, Vishal Gondal, Ravi Gururaj and the likes – no offense to anyone, but they are all over the place).
  • More VC speakers than founders
  • The topics usually fall towards ‘sucking up’ to their awesomeness. 
  • No respect and worthy time given to startup launches (more of a PR activity than actually giving the time and stage to early stage founders).
  • Money (no surge pricing, please)
  • More about the experience (good food / fancy locations) than content.

Startup events were supposed to be?

Well, give sleepless to the founders (that’s what my agenda has always been for UnPluggd).

Sleepless nights not for the guilt (and stupidity) of making a big bad decision to attend the event, but sleepless nights because you just got exposed to some amazing insights by the founders who are sharing experience from the heart. The sort of talks that make you think ‘oh shit! I should think differently‘.

Startup events were meant to drive actionable insights, were meant to talk real shit and not the fluff content many events have churned out (and continue to).

Having done 13 very successful UnPluggd so far, all I call tell you is that it takes a lot to stick to ‘First Principles’ : the ones you can stand by and the ones that guide you even when the market is good / really bad.

The startup events in India is, in a way representation of the ecosystem. Lotsa noise and very few signals.

Too many think it’s easy.

At NextBigWhat, we continue to focus on signals. No matter how rosy (and ugly) the scenario is, we will continue to make UnPluggd the most impactful and useful conference for the founders who need (and respect) actionable insights.

And believe me, this isn’t easy (to stick to ‘First Principles’).

It impacts your sales (have to say NO to sponsors who don’t add any value), need to ensure that tickets are founder-friendly (unlike most of the other conferences) – but then, it’s all worth it when founders go back with a sense of pride that they learned something new, engaged with several other like-minded geeks and founders.

My belief is that the community will learn to differentiate between the fluff and substance – till then, there will be chaos.

FYI : The next edition of UnPluggd is on Nov 25th & 26th (Bangalore) and like always, expect awesomeness and brilliance!

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