Overall it was an useful and occasionally inspiring experience. For me the most heartening thing was how there are still people who care about ethics in the startup community, people who still think that the ends don't justify the means. At least they made all the right noises ... well, I shouldn't be really so cynical; watching some trends and hearing some of these folks does make one a bit more hopeful about the future of startups in India.This is important for me, having wasted my time in two startups that were out to game the system; I learnt at the conference that there is a term for this - 'lifestyle businesses' - startups that exist solely to enrich the founder(s). Another great thing was the remarkable absence of corporate drones at the event - there is something about about open source and startup events that makes them adopt a low profile despite their prominent sponsor banners.
A number of presenters struck the right note by honestly sharing their real experiences:
- Allwyn of Pagalguy.com asked about the number of the huge number of Web 2.0 businesses that took money and produced nothing.
- Ashsish gupta from Helion ventures gave a great talk that emphasised the need for founders to be intellectually honest
- Atul Chitnis pointed out changed conditions, the economic downturn, the unworkable VC model, etc. Atul is the organiser of India's largest open source event foss.in and he seems to have begun his career by making DOS software.
- Ashwin Mahesh with his tongue in cheek explanation of the IIM Bangalore incubation process easily made it one of the most entertaining presentations. It's so nice to see people from academia not take themselves very seriously. Oddly enough one of the organisers kept pointing out some government programs to help entrepreneurs - oxymoron and all that.
- One of the most interesting facts that came out was the number of successful startup founders without an engineering or computer science degree. Suresh Sambandan said he had never been to college. Shalin Jain of ten miles has a B.Sc in Maths or Statistics. Looks like startups are relatively free of the tyranny of degree and pedigree that plague larger companies.
- Bob Young gave a great talk - Ashish Gupta admitted it was a tough act to follow. Bob explained the history of Redhat and how he got started working from his wife's closet. I asked Bob what the big idea behind Lulu was. Bob explained that at Redhat he always had the nagging feeling that the contributors to the various pieces of open source software that Redhat was shipping were not being compensated properly. With Lulu he said they hoped to have a fairer compensation system for contributors.
- The amount of soul searching that was evident in the panel discussions, the frank admission of mistakes, etc was remarkable. You don't get to hear this kind of honesty in vendor dominated software events or in internal meetings at larger companies.