This part focuses on the event itself; I’m not very sure about the timeline and don’t remember everything since it all happened so fast.
This is also reaaaaaaally long so go grab a drink, go to the washroom, etc.
Tenzing Samdup, yep that’s me!!
Carrying my backpack, sleeping bag and gym bag (stuffed with clothes and a towel and toiletries, etc.) I walked up to the registration table and told them my name whereupon I received my ID and a free tshirt (free stuff!! AWWW YEAHHH!!). I was also asked if I was a tech or non-tech person, to which I replied that I would be a non-tech for this event (i.e. a business/marketing guy).
I looked around and apart from the organizers/volunteers, there was only one other person (I forgot your name dude, my bad >.<); talking to him, I learned that he was an Android game developer and we started talking about what we were hoping to pitch.
Slowly other people started arriving and we were herded up to the main hall. (BTW the event was held in SAP Falcha). Here we were welcomed by Yatin, our emcee and also a past participant from SW Delhi. Most people had come in groups so we were told to sit with people we were not familiar with. This was followed by a few ice-breaking games which included having to do pitch based on some random words. If any hopeful participants are reading this, I suggest you participate actively in these games as it helps others know who you are (among 100 participants!!) and you might even get noticed by mentors/organizers (always helps if you know them better!!).
There were a few presentations regarding the event and what was expected of us – what we needed to do, the schedule, the judges, etc. And then it was time for the pitching!!
All those who wanted to pitch were told to form a line in the middle of the room and we all pitched our ideas one by one. Each pitcher then had to go register their ideas with description, etc. with a volunteer outside. I noted down some pitches I liked and would want to vote for; these included – Gamification: a local Android game development company, Nepali Bytes: a Nepali e-book type resource base, AKAI: basically an online pricelist of various items so you could get the best price, etc. There were a lot of serious pitches and one nonsensical one – one guy wanted to create a street sweeping service (this was a joke obviously).
Pitching (again, within 5 minutes) was kinda difficult since I hadn’t really practiced. But it was an idea I had been thinking about for a long time so I knew the concept well enough. I’d rather not mention this idea here since I’ve learned how scary fast other people can be (more on this in the third installment).
With the pitching done, we headed to dinner including some campaigning (lol) to get votes. I could see that there were a lot of people who had come in groups so I already felt that they would be voting for their own friend’s ideas. My own friends voted for my idea so I can’t really complain.
With dinner done, we headed back up to the hall to vote; this is done electronically via a website. After a few technical difficulties (craptastic wifi which was a recurring problem during the entire weekend), the results were announced and my idea did not win 🙁 I was disappointed, but I had prepared for this reality. The idea people came to the stage one by one and announced their requirements; most of them being tech people, the majority of the idea people only wanted designers, coders, programmers, etc. I was very mystified, since MBA has taught me that a great product without marketing will eventually fail. There were a few winners I wanted to work with but they didn’t need a marketing person apparently.
So I said goodbye to my friends and trundled off to find a group that needed my skills. Heading out, I was called by a couple of guys I had met during the ice-breaking session – Everest KC (no I did not climb him, lol). Along with Everest, Sushant, Prabesh, Subit, Prabhat, Bibek and I formed the team now known as Team Parikshya (also the winning team, mind you :P) (Parikshya means exam/test in Nepali).
Men @ work
We all grabbed our stuff and found a room to work in; we setup the tables and our laptops and dived right in. First we talked about our skills and our contribution to the work: Everest, Sushant, Subit and Bibek would be the programmers while Prabesh, Prabhat and I would do the marketing and finance work. We also did not have a designer on the team so I volunteered for that as well (I know the basics of logo design and understand design concepts, not to mention used to Photoshop).
Then I got Everest to explain his idea to us again; he said he wanted to create an online exam system for people to use while preparing for their entrance exams at various colleges, specifically those who were trying to get into Engineering and Medicine. We talked about the details, the how’s and why’s and who our market was. I was the most confused since I had zero knowledge about this field, being an IT student and having studied outside Nepal after my SLC (grade 10).
We kept going around in circles or finding inconsistencies and problems with the market part: were we selling to students or institutions or both?? Part of it was also because it was already after 10pm and our brains were starting to slow down. I had brought my sleeping bag and the rest of the guys were also going bunk down at the venue so we went on and on the whole night until about after midnight. By this time the guys were getting busier on Facebook than the project so we called it a night (yes we slept on the floor).
Saturday, 7am – 34 hours to final pitch at Sunday, 5pm
The next day we washed up and grabbed some breakfast and got back to work, this time in our Startup Weekend tshirts.
Again we started off on defining Parikshya:
On the function end, we came out with a basic flowchart of how our service would be used:
User goes online and selects the test paper he wants to attempt -> User enters the token and sends an SMS -> User gets charged Rs. 10 and receives a unique token number in an SMS -> User enters the token in the website and gains access to the paper
After we were satisfied, everyone started working and I mean really working. With the programmers busily clacking away on their keyboards, Prabesh, Prabhat and I started working on a questionnaire. Apparently a market survey was essential so we pounded out one using Google Docs and shared it on our respective social networks; you can see it here.
Then we moved on to the logo; since we were hard-pressed for time, I worked on Photoshop since I was more familiar with it than Illustrator (Illustrator or any vector-based graphic program is usually used). I decided on a bright orange color since it was eye-catching and welcoming and seemed like it would be more favorable to young people. I also used two different shades of blue for any tagline or extra graphic elements which might be used.
First we picked a nice and casual-looking font using the orange color:
Then we wanted to incorporate some sort of symbol which would signify our purpose (initially I had used clipart of a book with a question mark but it looked dumb); we decided to use the question mark somewhere and after experimenting we turned the p into a ?. I also tweaked the bottom half to give it a bit of a depth by including a shadow:
Color codes and fonts reference:
Soon after Prabesh and Prabhat left for a market study – there were to visit a few entrance colleges to ask about the number of students there and also speak to a few students. In the meantime I worked on setting up our Facebook and Twitter accounts and related graphics which took longer than I imagined:
FB cover page:
FB profile photo and Twitter profile photo:
I had actually drawn up a schedule on the previous first night and amended it in the morning but we could not follow this strictly. It did, however, give us an idea on what tasks we had to complete. If you are a hopeful participant, then you might want to do the same: make a list of deliverables and prepare a loose schedule.
In this time I had the good fortune to speak with Shamim Zaman of Unilever – he had come for a guest lecture sometime back at our college (Ace Institute of Management) when we were studying Service Management – and again, I found his words to be very helpful. He helped me identify and plan out a marketing strategy which would be our service more attractive than what we had initially planned.
Reenergized, I went back to my laptop and plotted down our three main benefits and also made it into a poster for FB/twitter marketing.
Later on, these were also made into three separate posters as such:
Back to the drawing board
It was lunch time soon and the market survey duo returned just as we sat down to eat. After a relaxed lunch we stretched our legs and met our other friends. We convened soon after to discuss the results of the market visit which was very positive.
Again we fell back to our own work with me leading the marketing effort. I was busy explaining our three main advantages to Prabesh and Prabhat but we still a long way from complete solidarity.
By evening we were able to talk to Sparrow SMS’s main man, Amit Agrawal. Our initial plan was to use his SMS service to charge our users and send tokens but Amit said this couldn’t be done!! Apparently Nepal Telecom only allows a maximum of Rs. 5 to be charged through any SMS service, and even then cutting out their fees, we would earn less than half of that.
Once Amit had gone, we had to ask ourselves, what now?? How do we charge for this service?? Do we even charge for it??
Fortunately for us, the guy from e-Sewa was also there and some team members went to speak to him if it was technically possible to use their service for payment. When they got back, they said it was possible and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Dinner followed soon, but a question came with it too:
Will Parikshya be a paid service or a free one??
I was determined to have this question after dinner since I was not spending the second night there and wanted everyone to be on track the next day.
We took a vote on it and having 7 people, the last vote fell to Sushant (I voted it should be paid). At first he wanted it to be paid, then he didn’t want it to be paid (there was an issue that if it were free, our main revenue would be from advertising which would make the user experience less welcoming). Then he changed his mind once we explained how the ads would be designed to be as intrusive as possible.
We decided it should be paid and that was that.
I packed up and headed home with my friends (who would be spending the night at my place).
Sunday, 9am – 8 hours to final pitch at Sunday, 5pm
We made it just in time to catch an unspectacular breakfast – boiled eggs and toast with jam – but food is food!!
When I got to sit with the team, they told me that they were not sure if they wanted it to be a paid service. I almost threw a fit at this moment (lol) since we were not making any progress and still had a lot of work left to do. Somehow (I don’t remember exactly) I convinced everyone that it needed to be a paid service.
Getting back to work, we realized we had very little time left; Everest was still working out the website and there were a few hiccups at the programming end. The marketing team gathered together (Prabesh had worked out a draft financial plan by then) and we started discussing again with us going nowhere.
I pulled Prabesh and Prabhat to a secluded area along with a whiteboard and post-it notes. On this we started from scratch, identifying our market, our product, our marketing strategy, etc. with the three of us debating each other’s contributions. I tried to handle the process as best as I could making sure our efforts were streamlined and cutting out extra things which were just confusing us more.
With this clear we marched back in triumphantly and started typing away at our marketing plan and financial plan. It was soon announced that there would be tech-checks at along with a practice pitching session at 3pm and I started working on the slides. I entered the data in PowerPoint first then started on the visual elements.
Lunchtime happened somewhere in between (again, I don’t remember) where I got to talk with a few mentors and talk to my friends about their group’s progress.
Heading back down, I hunkered down again on my laptop and worked furiously on the slides. Once the tech-checks were being announced, I went to get my laptop checked and went back down to prepare for the practice session.
(We had decided that I would present Parikshya) I got Prabhat to time me and ran through the slides when they started calling us for the practice pitch session. Fortunately the practice was fine and they only said that I should speak a little slower (for those of you who have never spoken with me, I tend to mumble and speak really fast at times).
Confident, I then started tweeting about the event since my work was already done. The programmers were making me nervous though: they were still having a few problems and were working furiously.
5pm arrived and we were again herded back up to the main hall. Presenters were told to stand in the back and we were passed a presentation schedule – Parikshya was towards the end. Nervously I went through my point again and again while the programming team was STILL WORKING!! They were in the main hall and they were STILL WORKING!!…
After about 5-6 presentations they were done and huddling over one laptop we did a dry run – I would present the slides (which were in PDF format since the laptop with the demo did not have PowerPoint) and then Sushant would demo the website in real-time from login to entering the token, answering questions and displaying the results.
Most of the presentations were great – my favorite moment was seeing Race Your Town was especially impressive when they featured an actual car racing down towards Shahid Gate (albeit with basic graphics) – and then it was our turn!!
Stepping onto the stage we fired up the projector only to see the last slides. All eyes on me, I quickly hit the (wireless) mouse buttons to get to the first slide and started my presentation. Getting to the last slide which signaled the start of the demo was a blessing!! But when Sushant switched to the website, the screen went off and my heart skipped a beat.
Glancing at the timer, I saw that I had spoken so fast that we had 1 minute and 30 seconds for the demo and I sighed in relief inwards.
With the demo up and running, we presented the demo and took the judges questions. I ended up answering the questions as well and soon we were walking out of the hall to discuss what just happened. We all were excited and congratulated each other on a job well done, that we were proud of what we did, no matter the results of the final vote. We took a few photos too since we were not sure if we would not meet again.
After a while we headed back in to see the rest of the presentations and then… it was time for the results!!
Yatin started off with the announcement that there were 4 winners this time with two teams tying for the first prize.
He announced the third prize winner. They went up to the stage for a photo.
He announced the two second prize winners. They went up to the stage for a photo.
Then he paused…
“Do you know who won the first prize??”
Some people shouted their ideas… I heard someone yell “Parikshya!!” and couldn’t help but shouting “PARRRIKSHYAAAAAA!!”
And then he announced it… we had won!! AWWW YEAHHH!!!! 😀 😀 😀
We went up to the stage amidst loud clapping and just stood there grinning because we didn’t know what else to do, lol. Then we had to get back, shaking hands along the way.
There was a vote of thanks and then we broke up for some more photos (which seem to have disappeared from the face of the earth!!).
Then we packed up and it was goodbye.
It was an awesome end to an exciting 54+ hours, and an experience which I will not forget for a long time.
What happened to the team?? Did we win a million dollars?? Did I finally take a shower??
All will be answered in part 3 (of 3)!!