Disrupt Asia 2017 Part Three: The Workshops


Following the Keynote speech at Disrupt Asia 2017, the conference immediately broke down into several subsections. This included an Investor Forum, several Panel discussions on the Main stage and also a number of workshops. Always curious to know what’s happening, we made our way to the first of the workshops.

We learnt how to Master the Pitch Deck

Conducted by Cheryl Edison, the same individual who gave a riveting morning keynote, this workshop was pretty self-explanatory. In case you were wondering, a Pitch deck is a brief presentation consisting of 10 slides, each with a unique characteristic used to provide your audience or investors with a quick overview of your business plan. If you’re a startup or entrepreneur, then your pitch deck would be with you during face-to-face or online meetings with potential investors, customers, partners, and co-founders.

Cheryl explained how an investor goes through around 120 pitches a month and invests in a dozen a year. This means that he/she will only invest in one startup a month. So it’s vital to make sure you can woo investors with your pitch. In the case of an elevator pitch, your entire pitch must be made by the time the investor gets off at the top floor of a building. So in essence, it must be short and sweet.

With regard to financial projections, Cheryl emphasized not to cite a huge market and say you want to capture 1% of the market. If you get 1%, there’ll be someone who gets 51% and then proceed to outgun you. Don’t ask for too little money because you can’t go back and ask for more.Her goal is for everyone to start a business easily. This involves the ability to send and receive money easily and instantly. With a few more words of advice, Cheryl’s workshop on mastering the Pitch deck came to an end.

Why does a company needs to be incorporated?

Conducted by Dinushka Medagoda, a lawyer by profession and an entrepreneur, the workshop was kicked off by people who clearly had many questions that needed answers and solutions that can only be provided by a lawyer. The workshop touched on many critical and sensitive legal aspects when you’re kick-starting a company with shareholders, directors and executive directors, etc.

The workshop involved aspects such as why a company needs to be incorporated. During the workshop, Dinushka engaged with the audience and answered their questions using practical examples related to shareholders and voting powers of a company. He also explained the differences between partners and a company as well as the differences between ordinary and preferential shares. This essentially decides the capacity of the voting rights that will be carried by each shareholder.

Workshops Disrupt Asia
Image Credits: Sanoj Thiru

Dinushka didn’t forget to give few tips and tricks to everyone who attended the workshop. This included identifying what a stakeholder is, the difference between partners and company, limited liability, the types of shares in a company, who a shareholder is and who a director is.

The audience questioned him on certain issues with regard to lock-in where the restrictions can be put to the employees. But it was highlighted that employees’ matters go in with fair and just concepts. There was also a quick Q&A session about trademarks and the different classes of trademark registration. He then went on to explain how to get your trademark registration and the application process involved.

How do we get money from investors?

Chalinda Abeykoon is a well known name related to investor matters. He is also the CEO of Crowdisland, a company born to fill in the gap between the investors and growing startups. “Each month we meet around 20 startups. The maximum we have received per month so far was 80 startups. But even from that amount only few actually have a clear idea and execution plan. Hence why we work with startups to help them become investor ready”, said Chalinda while explaining the work done by Crowdisland.

When Crowdisland is approached by a potential startup looking to raise funding, 10-20 hours of free strategy consultation is provided to figure out the end goal and the strategy in place. Chalinda then spoke about how to present a startup to angel investors who are keen to support promising startups. In terms of effort, Chalinda believes a person should commit 15 hours a day, 7 days a week for the next 7 to 10 years in order to see an exponential growth.

From a Crowdisland’s perspective it’s not all about the cash. They have helped many companies over time, to gain customers and partners. He also said that it’s wise to approach an investor during two stages. The first is commonly identified as the “TRACTION”. This is when the prototype has been completed and you can test the product with beta customers. The second, is known as “GROWTH”. This is when the value proposition is validated and the startup is looking to scale. Additionally, Chalinda also emphasized that a startup should ask several important questions from the investors such as their previous investments, the typical investment size and their commitment along with how the startup fit into their portfolio.

Chalinda advised the participants to learn about the KPIs before hitting the investors. He then spoke about aspects such as burn rate, customer acquisition cost, DAU & MAU, Customer Churn Rate, Revenue Growth Rate, Conversion Rate, and CAC Recovery Time. With some more examples and some words of advice, Chalinda’s workshop came to an end and we headed to the rest of the workshops.

Digital Marketing 101 with Bhanuka Harischandra

Rather than have a deck of slides or presentations, Bhanuka’s (who is the CEO and Founder of SurgeViral) workshop revolved around taking businesses in the room and seeing how digital marketing can help them. The spectrum of the room went from software development, to brand management to B2B platforms and everything in between.

Back in the day, customers were aggregated via television. With the introduction of the Internet and video, this concept has since been turned upside down and inside out. You can publish anything you want, anytime. He then gave a brief background about SurgeViral and how the company came about.

After setting up SurgeViral, they set up SimpleBooks, an online bookkeeping platform. The purpose of SimpleBooks was rather simple. This was an accounting firm to handle all of a company’s bookkeeping. They pushed the product to companies emphasizing the fact that they had no prior knowledge of bookkeeping. With funding from one of their investors, a really simple video and an even simpler URL, they were ready to set up shop.

Bhanuka then spoke about SEO and how search engines rank results on to the first page and gave tips on how to pick the best keywords and/or search for the best keywords when creating content so that your results rank first. He gave an explanation of a number of resources for keyword searching such as kwfinder, Facebook Blueprint, Google Adwords and Google Partners. With that, Bhanuka’s workshop on the wonders of digital marketing came to a close.

We also had an Academic Workshop

Disrupt Asia 2017 was a great year to initiate a new workshop which talks about the policy changes that needs to be done. This was spearheaded by an Academic Workshop conducted by Indika De Zoysa – Senior Consultant at ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, Dr. Neelam Saxena – Head, Amity University, India, Centre for Entrepreneurship Development and Prof. Rehan Bhana – Associate Professor Head of Distributed Systems and Innovation, Birmingham City University.

Neelam Saxena started off the workshop. She started off with a simple question: who will survive? The answer: the first and the fastest. She then went on to speak about the global startup system. Neelam highlighted on the point that someone should never settle if they want to move forward in the startup community in a global level. She talked about the barriers to entrepreneurship such as mindset, skillset, cultural and social factors, lack of knowledge and expert technical knowledge.

Workshops Disrupt Asia
Neelam Saxena addressing the audience
Image Credits: Sanoj Thiru

From there, she went on to explain ways to motivate students so that they will cultivate and grow in the future through which they will expand the entrepreneurial borders and develop on their own.She then highlighted how small steps can create value generated ideas. From there she spoke on how to develop a entrepreneurial mind set in the students, by giving out experience and knowledge.

The next session was by Prof. Rehan Bhana. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, both academic and outside, Prof Bhana spoke about contextualizing your work. He went on to speak about how the students choose their programmes and how the academia should incorporate that into their system where they will attract students. He mentions that it’s up to you to come with an idea to how to engage your students aiming at the entrepreneurial education.

Workshop Disrupt Asia
Prof. Rehan Bhana addressing the audience
Image Credits: Sanoj Thiru

The workshop moved on to the next session of Breakout Activity. Participants were divided to 6 groups in total where they had to answer several questions that were given to them regarding entrepreneurial education. After the activity was over, a member from each of the team explained and elaborated on their points, stating the means and methods of how Sri Lankan entrepreneurial education could be developed.

Workshop Disrupt Asia
Part Two of the Academic Workshop
Image Credits: Sanoj Thiru

One team highlighted that students are developed in an entrepreneurial education system. As restrictions, they highlighted that Colombo is still a closed commercial hub that lives with the technological developments and the rural areas are not quite developed. Hackathons were also highlighted as an opportunity for students to gain an experience about the real working environment outside the academic lessons they receive. As per the competition in the industry, it was highlighted by many groups of academics that the first in the market to provide a working product will be the toughest competition to beat.

Another team highlighted that Sri Lanka lacks commercialization of products/innovation. According to the team, attitude of the society is another barrier, along with R&D and basic research funding. One of the participants highlighted that students should be encouraged to make mistakes. Some even highlighted that the younger generation is ahead of the teachers.

That brought an end to all the workshops

While the audience casually strolled out or stayed back to ask a few questions from a speakers, it seemed like Disrupt Asia was drawing to a close. But we were wrong. There was more in store for those attending. For example, who won the Hemas Slingshot battle? What happened at the Investor Forum? In addition, there would be a host of other panel discussions and the evening keynote as well. All of which would be brought to you soon.


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