Startup Weekend: The Catalyst that Got Us Going by Deobrat Singh of @UberLabs

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Startup Weekend: The Catalyst that Got Us Going

The post is a guest post from Deobrat Singh, a Startup Weekend Alumni. Deobrat is a Co-Founder of Uberlabs where his primary responsibility is to “talk”. Before starting Uberlabs, Deobrat has lead engineering teams at a couple of startups and worked in software development roles at some big corporations like Microsoft and Electronic Arts.

[TL/DR version]

I don’t know if this is the right kind of terminology one would use but, we’re a startup-weekend graduate company. We first participated to validate our idea in Startup Weekend Gurgaon. We didn’t win the event as such but we realized that we could do something together as a team and I decided to quit my job. Meanwhile another idea hit us and luckily, Startup Weekend Delhi came along and we jumped right in. SWDEL was path breaking for us. Partly because we had a really awesome idea but more importantly because we got access to some phenomenal mentors like Paul Singh and several others from the GOAP. Paul and Dave decided to take us along with them to a trip to Agra for two days. Needless to say, it changed our lives. We started the incorporation process soon after and have never looked back since. We raised a seed round of $40,000 from people who we knew. Using the money, we launched a beta of the prototype that we built at SWDEL. The market response was miserable. We pivoted and built a kick-ass video analytics software and launched it an Unpluggd, Bangalore earlier this year. It generated some buzz. We are now on-boarding some of our first lot of customers and we’re also in the middle of closing a round of angel investment.
None of this, and I repeat, “NONE OF THIS” would have happened if it wasn’t for startup weekend and the amazing network of people who we met there. Not only did SW give us a platform to engage with people and validate our idea, it gave us the much needed belief that we can actually build something valuable and create a real company! And perhaps most importantly, it made us part of a phenomenal community that is eager to learn from each other and help each other in every possible way.
As a part of trying to give back to the community, we participated in Startup Weekend Education, Delhi. From our experience in the previous editions, we were able to help the participants in preparing for the event and helping the understand the real value of the event.
The longer version:
I’m now sharing our experience from the three weekends we’ve spent.

1. Startup Weekend Gurgaon

It all began for us with a tweet. Someone I follow tweeted about SWGGN and I decided to take a look at it. I didn’t know what to really expect from the event. But since I have always been a startup minded person and desperately wanted to get started on my own, I decided to give it a shot. I spoke to a couple of my friends and asked them to join me at the event. They were reluctant at first but finally gave in when I told them that I had already paid for their tickets (which of course wasn’t true!). Anyways, the three of us landed up at the venue. Our understanding at that time was that it’s going to be a weekend full of coding (like any other hackathon). Little did we know, there was a whole lot more waiting for us.

Every great idea requires ‘selling’

We pitched an idea about mobile payments. We thought it was pretty revolutionary and that we’d get enough votes for it without much hassle. We only talked to people who came to us voluntarily. And the ones who talked to us did vote for us. Being geeks, we did some math around how the votes would be distributed among different teams depending on the quality of the ideas. We were grossly mistaken. When the results were out, we were stunned to see our idea out-voted. We didn’t know what to do the dream was over even before it began. But we learnt an important lesson – no matter how profound your idea is, unless you really sell it, you’re not going to get the initial buyers.

Hacking our way into the demos

Once we were rejected, we figured we had nothing to lose anymore. Instead of going home and sulking away, why not stay on and see what we can build in the weekend. So, we started working on a prototype. We never thought we were actually going to demo it but, we still kept working on it. The organizers (Pankaj and Annkur) noticed our resolve and appreciated it but didn’t promise a demo slot, yet. On saturday afternoon, a TOI journo came up and talked to us about what we were trying to build. When we told him our story, he was impressed and he decided to write about us in his article about Startup Weekend. Pankaj finally said, “You may have a chance to demo it if some of the teams drop out”. And some teams did drop out so we were able to hack our way in to a demo-slot.

Was this the best way to get to demo? I guess not. But the important thing was – we were not doing any of it for the demo. It just happened as a consequence of our resilience and persistence . Key thing we learnt from the experience is that if we just keep doing what ‘feels’ right to the gut, things do work out OK in the end.

We did not win a prize at the event as such but it got a few incubators interested in us as a team and moreover, it gave us the necessary confidence to take the next step – I quit my high-paying job.

2. Startup weekend Delhi

We tried executing the Mobile payment idea but we soon realized it is not a market that entertains small new entrants and so we decided not to pursue it. We kept thinking about what else we could do. In the middle of some meaningless conversation, we hit a magical idea – what if we could point our phone’s camera at something and bring content related to that ‘thing’ over to the phone. It was profound, magical, challenging and yet achievable (both me and Debayan had some experience in Computer vision). We decided to do it in SWDEL. In the spirit of the event, we didn’t really give much thought to the idea or its execution until we were really at the event.

Initial pitch (and sales)

I pitched the idea and made sure to highlight the ‘magical-ness’ in my pitch. The idea intrigued people and many of them voluntarily said they’d vote for us. But not wanting to repeat the mistake from SWGGN, we skipped dinner and rigorously sold it to attendees in the networking session post pitching and as a result we were shortlisted for demos.

Recruiting

We didn’t know enough about smartphone programming and we needed someone who could really hack things up quickly. Luckily, we found Shubham Goel (Founder and CEO of WhatAnApp.com) and he joined our team.

Execution & Pivot

From Friday late night to about Saturday afternoon, we made substantial progress and were close to finishing a working prototype. And that’s when Paul Singh was assigned to us as a mentor. He saw what we were doing, understood the technology and threw a bunch of questions at us about monetization etc. He then suggested that we should try to use this tech to solve app-distribution problem for smartphones. We were in a fix now. A working prototype of the initial idea was about an hour away from completion and here was another wild idea which had some sense of making money as well. It was about 5:30pm in the evening. We gave ourselves an hour to think over it and make a decision. At 6:30, we met and unanimously decided to go with the app-distribution idea. We didn’t sleep through the night (we had skipped sleeping on Friday assuming that we’d catch some sleep on Saturday) and managed to build a prototype that actually worked. I loved showing it off to people at the venue. There’s a youtube video of the demo and people’s reaction.

The Result

People loved it. PaulDave and rest of GOAP decided to take us to a trip to Agra for two days. The Morpheus was generous enough to offer us a live-in before their incubation program. TLabs was generous enough to offer us to be part of their accelerator program.
The days after the event were just crazy. Saurab and Debayan quit their jobs, we incorporated, raised some seed money from people who we already knew, executed like crazy and we just never looked back.
Looking back in time, I think the role that Startup Weekend played in our journey was of a catalyst. We had some fire within but, we didn’t know where and how to start. The SW community gave us enough confidence to take the plunge and the belief that everything will work out OK. It was totally up-to us to derive value from the community and I think we did that pretty well.
I must mention in the end that while we’ve made use of the platform and the community, it is equally important for us to give back to the community. We must continue to help each other and make sure the nascent startup ecosystem in the country keeps flourishing.

Below is the presentation Deobrat and his team made at Startup Weekend Delhi

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