A battle between startups. Two keynote speeches from international speakers. A host of panel discussions on a variety of topics. As always, the Main Stage at Disrupt Asia 2018 had a lot to offer. Here’s what we learned from the opening keynote and the panel discussions at the Main Stage.
Building a culture of innovation
“What do you know about islanders?” is a question the first speaker of Disrupt Asia 2018 is asked commonly. His response is, “I am one!” Glenn Robinson who was born in Hawaii now works as the Managing Director of the XLr8 Andhra Pradesh Technology Business Accelerator (the University of Texas at Austin extension).
Another question he gets asked commonly is, “What do you know about creating innovation in emerging markets?” He answers this question with what is called the Triple Helix. This is a combination of Industry, Government, and University. The goal here is to foster economic and social development between these 3 components. And then innovation is possible.
Glenn then introduced us to the XLr8 Andhra Pradesh Vision. This is to establish a world-class ecosystem for job & wealth creation. Furthermore, it’s also to realize the vision of the Chandrababu Naidu – Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in India, to have one entrepreneur in every family.
“What starts here changes the world, so let’s go change the world” – Glenn Robinson
According to Glenn, a total of 132 companies have gone through the XLr8 accelerator. Of these, 28 have gone into advanced acceleration. Further, a total of 1,018 new jobs and 123 internships have also been created. Glenn proudly also explained that Entrepreneur India selected XLr8 as one of the top 6 incubators in India.
Coming back to his topic of innovation, Glen emphasized that if there’s a technology created and there’s no market for it, then that would not qualify as a company. This is because there’s no one to buy what it offers. In order to ensure that your product does have a market, Glenn shared a few pointers.
The first was to exploit your local advantage. This involves locating your startup in a capital city and anchoring it to a university. His second point was for entrepreneurs to adopt an, “I can” attitude. Glenn elaborated on this saying that regardless of your gender, you should be determined to succeed. Glenn also emphasized that entrepreneurs should accelerate through collaboration.
Glenn concluded his session by emphasizing a key point. This point was that you need to find an ecosystem. One that will help you bridge the gap between innovation and market realization.
Policies and Strategies Panel Discussion
Following his keynote, Glenn was a panelist on the first-panel discussion at Disrupt Asia 2018. This was moderated by Sachindra Samararatne – Program Manager at ICTA. And the focus of this panel discussion was on government policies and strategies in relation to startups. Glenn highlighted that these were important things to consider as they show what needs to be done.
However, Mangala Karunaratne – Founder & CEO at Calcey Technologies pointed out that Sri Lanka has a 5-year election cycle. At the same time, a document outlining policies and strategies to help startups usually takes around 3 ½ years to complete. But by the time it’s done, it’s time for the next election. Here the new candidate might oppose the document entirely. So it’s back to square one after wasting time and resources.
Nonetheless, getting the strategy out is still the first step. Anushka Wijesinha – Advisor at (MoDSIT) spoke about factors that would “move the needle”. He explained that there are tasks the Government can do, but can’t do it alone. As such he emphasized that companies could identify problems and then approach the Government with a possible solution. That way both parties can work together to implement it.
A question thrown to the panel from the audience was whether or not the Government should intervene in an ecosystem that is growing by itself? In addition, even if a policy strategy is put in place, how do we spread awareness about a strategy when people might not even know about it?
Anushka explained that there’s here’s often a bit of animosity between the Government and the rest of the Ecosystem because of steps the Government takes. Most of the time, policies put forth by the Government slip under the radar and the Government doesn’t even know that it’s hurting companies.
Disrupting Digital Creativity
The next panel discussion focused on how technology empowers creativity. It was moderated by Randhula De Silva – Chief Disrupter at GIZ SME Sector Development Program. It began with Raveen Wijayatilake – Founder and CEO of GamerLK speaking about the history of GamerLK which we covered a while ago and of eSports in Sri Lanka.
He went onto explain that by 2020 eSports will have more viewers than the NFL. In fact, eSports is growing so fast that it would actually be made a medal event for the Asian games in 2020. This he stated was an example that digital content is overtaking traditional media.
Pradeepa Jeeva – CEO of Jeeva Productions Inc and Head of Content Strategy at Snake Nation also shared this sentiment. She shared that digital media is a disruptor because there are no barriers to entry. Anyone can create content and tell their stories. All you need is a camera and a smartphone.
Yet, Pradeepa also shared that the creative economy is worth approximately $30 Trillion. However, 80% of that is held by the Western world, with only a minor portion for Asian and African creators. As such, Pradeepa emphasized that more Asians and Africans need to create content.
Yudhanjaya Wijeratne – Researcher at LIRNEasia then spoke of how technology can reinvent the value chain. Speaking from experiences with his novel, Numbercaste he explained that he could have gone the traditional way of going to a publisher. Instead, he decided to sell it as an eBook on Amazon.
Yudhanjaya explained that the creation of a digital product has taken physical content creation out of the picture. A lot of the creatives need not worry about collecting rejections or getting a manuscript.
Rather, Yudhanjaya emphasized they now have to figure out how Amazon’s algorithms work. This has resulted in people rushing to publish their books via Amazon. So you also have a large supply of books, but at the same time, a low demand because not many people are buying them.
Later, Sugibun Sathiamoorthy – Managing Director/Head of Brands at Magic Mango shared that ad agencies have changed their models to adapt to the digital disruption. Yet, he highlighted that people get excited about digital disruption in other countries.
But when then they come back to Sri Lanka they disappointingly see no innovation or enthusiasm for adopting new technologies whatsoever. He then went on to share that you no longer need ad agencies to do your advertising for you. So if ad agencies are to survive, they better brace tech and innovation and adapt.
One of the key technologies set to disrupt many industries is AI. Raveen explained that AI can now even play video games for you and with you. In case you didn’t know, using OpenAI, which is an AI Research company founded by Elon Musk, built an AI bot.
This bot defeated a professional Dota 2 player at an international tournament. With regard to blending AI and creativity, Yudhanjaya explained that there is no general purpose AI algorithm. Rather, AI a tool that focuses on one particular area based on the data it gets.
He explained this with an example. This example was that a writer can give the text from their books to an AI. It will then learn from these books. After a while, the AI can write its own novels. In fact, if you feed it enough data then the AI will continue to write, mimicking your styles, even after you’re dead.
Afterward, Sugibun explained that monetizing structures are clearly old. Agencies are not making money like they used to. So they make up new fees. Then client-agency relationships fall apart. He also highlighted issues with digital advertising such as skipping and blocking ads. Therefore, he’s confident that TV and other existing forms of advertising will stay for a while.
The final question of this panel discussion was directed at Raveen. It was on the topic of how viable developing a game in Sri Lanka is. His reply was that a game in Sri Lanka has to be easily accessible for it to succeed. The barriers to this would be its price and the requirements to run it. Furthermore, if people see others playing it and can play it with their friends, then they’re likely to buy it says Raveen.
Finding success in failure
The third panel discussion at Disrupt Asia 2018 delved into the topic of failure. While celebrated by entrepreneurs it’s still shunned by the masses. And the moderator tackling this topic was Hasith Yaggahvita – Chief Disruptive Officer at StartupX Foundry. He opened by asking the panel, “How many people have failed?”
Yasmine Khater – Founding Partner at Vision Strategy Storytelling shared that she use to live going from job to job. She shared that many in such scenarios may feel like they’re failing to keep a job. Yet, it’s actually all about learning and experiencing new things. Ultimately living life to your best potential she stated.
Is it okay to fail using someone else’s money?
Heminda Jayaweera – cofounder at Venture Frontier Lanka said failure is not okay but there should be a support system. One where you can quickly get back up after failing without being penalized. If so then you can be better prepared to face the industry.
However, Yasmine pointed out that investors are also not stupid enough to just go handing out investments. They are very careful about who they give money to. Afterward, Sharanyan Sharma – Founder/Chairman of Extreme SEO Internet Solutions spoke about his story and explained how he created his own product for digital marketing.
On the way, he went through many hardships with the government especially with regard to funds. He decided it wasn’t worth blame the Government, and so went on with his work. And when it comes to running his company, Sharanyan entrusts his interns to come up with their own ideas.
Nirjhor Rahman – Country Director of YGAP Bangladesh, later emphasized that if something is not working, you need to pivot and try it again. But you can’t also repeatedly do the same thing and expect the result to change. Nirjhor also added that if you want to nail entrepreneurship, get a job in sales. It helps you get rid of all your pride.
The final topic tackled by this panel was on cultivating an innovative mindset in children. Heminda referred to Finland’s education system. He highlighted that it’s completely disrupting existing educational systems. However, such disruptive education systems are mere pipe dreams for us in Sri Lanka.
Mythbusting social entrepreneurship
The next panel discussion at the Main Stage of Disrupt Asia 2018 was about Social Entrepreneurship. In case you didn’t already know, social entrepreneurship is where startups develop solutions to for social, cultural or environmental problems. The panel was moderated by Fadhil Bakeer Markar – Partnerships, Innovation and Youth Focal Point at UNDP Sri Lanka.
Speaking on social entrepreneurship was Achala Samaradiwakara – CoFounder of Good Market. Achala explained that when she was starting Good Market, a lot of the farmers that she came into contact with were already trying to solve problems in their own villages. But, unknown to them they were actually becoming social entrepreneurs.
Giving back from what you earn
One thing that social entrepreneurs and startups do can be to give back a portion of their profits to society in order to improve it But as Alex Soksin – Interim Director of RSA Global explained, there are companies that worked for social impact, but would not provide a return from their profits.
On the other hand, though, a lot of for-profit organizations are jumping aboard the principle of “if you do good, you’ll do well.” As such, more and more companies are embracing social innovation to win the hearts of their customers.
The challenges of social entrepreneurship
Later, Sachindra highlighted that for many startups the biggest challenge is not funding. It’s simply not identifying a proper solution to the problem. And when it comes to social entrepreneurship there is another challenge. Most believe that it’s not scalable, which isn’t the case.
But what if you don’t want to be a social entrepreneur anymore? That was an interesting question asked by a member of the audience. Sachindra, Alex, and Achala all expressed their views that in the event of this, the business would have to look inwardly to see if the role of being a social entrepreneur really does go against their new objectives or motives before making such a decision
Raising a Million Dollars
The final panel discussion on the Main Stage at Disrupt Asia 2018 tackled a big challenge for startups. This was all about how startups could raise funding. And this panel was moderated by Kanishka Weeramunda – Entrepreneur in Residence at Square Hub.
So how exactly DO you raise a million dollars?
Ray Newal – Managing Director of Techstars India and Keith Wallace – Chairman and Managing Partner at DeInvesteerdersClub started off the discussion at Disrupt Asia 2018 by explaining that raising a million dollars is no easy thing. But if you have a good team and a leader then you’re off to a good start. Investors look at those who give them a proper business plan. It isn’t for everyone. If you choose to earn a million dollars, you need to know what that entails.
Afterward, Chamira Prasad Jayasinghe – Managing Director of Arimac Lanka shared his experience about raising funding. He shared that he wasn’t worried whether Arimac would find investors. They had done their homework. Thus, they learned what investors would want to see for them to show that Arimac was a company worth investing in.
“Doing a service based business is a challenge” – Chamira Prasad Jayasinghe
Yet, Heshan Fernando – CoFounder and CEO of oDoc highlighted that the biggest contributor to raising a million dollars is luck. That being said, there are three ingredients to ensure that you have enough luck. They are to have a good team, go after a large market and to pick a hard problem.
Adding to this, Jiffry Zulfer – Founder and CEO of PickMe shared that in order to obtain big money you need to also have an equally big problem to solve. So if you’re raising that first million dollars, you need to have the credibility to back it up. In other words, you need a reason and a clear plan. If you don’t have a clear answer, then either you shouldn’t raise it or you shouldn’t raise it yet.
So how does a startup come to a valuation? To be precise, a valuation that makes it work a million dollars. “What it comes down it is the market size”, shared Jiffry. You need to fully understand the opportunity, and what the startup can become.
Keith later reminded everyone that 60% of an organization is a founder. Building a startup is hard. As such, in his experience, he doesn’t want to invest in startups where the founder will leave as soon as the first challenge comes up. When the going gets tough, strong founders keep at it, especially if you’re raising venture capital.
Ultimately, for many of the panelists, they met their investors through accident. This was either at a gym or initially trying to get them as a client. But the founders built a strong bond with these people. They trusted each other. And so the investors decided to fund their startups.
That’s not all Disrupt Asia 2018 had to offer
The panel discussions on the main stage gave us some good food for thought. However, these weren’t the only panel discussions. We found more inside the halls of Stage 2.0 and the Investor Forum. And that’s only scratching the surface of what Disrupt Asia 2018 had to offer. Click here to see the rest of it.