Open Innovation, AI & more: Beyond the Main Stage at Disrupt Asia 2018


The main stage of Disrupt Asia 2018 consisted of a series of intriguing panel discussions. We saw speakers both local and international take the stage to exchange ideas. Yet they weren’t the only ones. In the halls that were adjacent to the main stage, we found the same. Here’s what we learned about AI, growth hack, and fostering open innovation, at Stage 2.0 and the workshops of Disrupt Asia 2018.

Actual growth hacking tips 101

The first workshop we attended at Disrupt Asia 2018 was on the topic of growth hacking. Conducted by GBG Sri Lanka, the first speaker we saw was Sajini Jayawardena – Community Manager of the local GBG chapter. She opened the session by stating that, “Growth hacking is simply a short-term way of accelerating growth.”

Disrupt Asia 2018 Stage 2.0
Sajini Jayawardena – Community Manager of the local GBG chapter talking about growth hacking

She then went onto share a few examples. One of the more popular ones is that of Hotmail. In the days of dial-up modems and email was new, it was a subscription service. But Hotmail was free. Then they added a small line to the signature of every email. This line read, “Get your free email at Hotmail. It worked and their growth exploded.

Growth hacks for early stage startups

Many of these hacks similarly will help enhance your process of acquiring users. Afterward, Sajini went onto share actual growth hacks early-stage startups can use. The first hack Sajini shared was to simply post about your startup on your social media profiles. The second hack she shared was blogging and utilizing newsletters. The final hack for early-stage startups she shared was drip campaigns.

Growth hacks for mid-stage startups

Afterward, Sajini shared a few growth hacks for mid-stage startups. The first of these hacks was anchor pricing and drip pricing. We got acquainted with these hacks at the recently held ImagineIF workshops.

The next hack she shared was the can’t go back hack. The can’t go back hack is where you eliminate navigational elements to prevent users from going back. But as members of the audience mentioned, this is a gamble.

Disrupt Asia 2018 Stage 2.0
Sajini continuing her workshop on growth hacking

The third hack Sajini shared for mid-stage startups was the unboxing hack. This involves utilizing great packaging for your products that customers would love to show off on social media. The final set of hacks she shared were the timer hack and the vanity hack for mid-stage startups.

Growth hacks for late-stage startups

And then we saw Danushki Perera – Head of iMarketing at Pyxle take the stage. She shared a few growth hacks for later stage startups. The first of these was the social proof hack. This involved encouraging people to leave positive reviews of what your startup offers on social media.

Disrupt Asia 2018 | AI | Security | Innovation | Growth Hacking | Startups
An example of the Thank You hack. (Image credits: Binesh Amarasekara)

The second of these was the distributor hack. Danushki shared that Kelly Felder used this hack. In its early days, Kelly Felder had asked Odel to distribute their products. Once the brand had been built, it had ventured into building its own stores. “So you can merge with another business that has the same audience as yours,” explained Danushki.

The final growth hack Danushki shared was the thank you hack. There’s nothing complicated with this hack. It’s simply the art of sending an amazing thank you note to your customers. These can be done physically done through letters or digitally via an email.

Closing tips for startups

Following a list of growth hacks, Danushki concluded the workshops by sharing a few general tips for startups. The first was not to build critical parts of your service on top of another system. The second was to find a niche instead of entering crowded markets. The third was to have a well-defined buyer persona. Danushki’s final tip was to adopt pricing and value models that can scale.

Fostering open innovation with companies

The second workshop we attended at Disrupt Asia 2018 was by Ankur Mehta – Senior Analyst at T-Hub. He opened his session by giving us an introduction to the startup ecosystem of Hyderabad. He shared that in the old days there were many active stakeholders. Yet none of them knew about what each other was doing and how they worked. Thus, T-Hub decided to be the bridge between them. So then he defined innovation as a combination of technical, social good and economic change.

Disrupt Asia 2018 Stage 2.0
Ankur Mehta speaking on open innovation

“When we talk about innovation we usually talk about inventions. But they’re not related,” says Ankur Mehta – Senior Analyst at T-Hub. Ankur defined innovation as a combination of technology, doing social good, and fueling economic change. He elaborated by saying that innovation comes when a use case appears, a company applies that use case and then fuels an economic change.

So you come up with an idea, check how many people want it, develop it, and then mass produce it. Yet, despite his original statement, Ankur went onto say that inventions still play a critical role. Startups build things to solve problems. However, they rarely check if these problems are faced by millions. So as an MVP is being built, the idea should be validated.

Disrupt Asia 2018 | Security | AI | Startups | Growth Hacking | Innovation
How to build an MVP

Ankur then went onto list a few pain points by corporates and how some of T-Hub’s programs assist them. Afterward, he touched on the Death Valley Curve. He explained this with an example where the University of Colombo sponsors complex research as part of its Ph.D. program.

However, the technologies produced out of this research aren’t used by everyone. So a private fund steps in to evaluate the research and then offers it to companies. However, Ankur highlighted that most startups die before they find such funds because they don’t validate their ideas.

How companies implement innovative ideas

Similarly, there are startups with great ideas. But because they can’t sell well nobody uses them. But companies typically will have the resources to do so effectively. Ankur then introduced us to the concept of Innovation Management. This is the systematic approach of planning and controlling innovations inside organizations.

He went onto elaborate this requires looking at the entire innovation funnel. This funnel involves building an Innovation strategy on top, a culture promoting innovation, and then going through the process of innovation.

Disrupt Asia 2018 Stage 2.0
Ankur continuing his workshop

He went onto share that HSBC is working with T-Hub to make their processes better. They want to do this by fostering internal ideas from intrapreneurs. But Ankur warns that if an idea isn’t accepted by the other employees then it won’t succeed. Having said that, Ankur introduced us to the three basic levels of innovation management.

The first level was that there has to be someone communicating about innovation with the board of directors. This should be the job of the Chief Information Officer. If this doesn’t happen then no innovation will take place. Secondly, for every idea generated there must be feedback to help create better ideas. Finally, there are multiple options and the company needs to find one that suits them.

Open innovation is not free innovation

It’s not simply sharing ideas. Every party involved should be a winner with a strong informal relationship where information is freely available. Ankur then highlighted that does have a cost, which is building an ecosystem.  

He goes onto share that Amazon, Nvidia, Microsoft, and other companies spend a lot of money building developer communities. But this has resulted in them getting some of their most innovative ideas. This is why he says intrapreneurship is the safest option to innovate.

But what drives innovation? Ankur’s answer was that it’s driven by four things. The socio-economic factors facilitate innovation, the presence of enabling technologies that allow it to actually be built, a plan to develop it over time, and then the economic factors change society.

So how can companies actually adopt innovative ideas? This is where the operative innovation process comes into play. In summary, it starts off by identifying the demand, then find the right stakeholders who can facilitate demand, then build a roadmap and find funds to execute the idea.

Disrupt Asia 2018 Stage 2.0
Ankur Mehta concluding his workshop at Disrupt Asia 2018

Ankur then shared a detailed example for a company to innovate their processes. A company would start by talking internally first to understand the problems and then scouting for the necessary technologies to solve them. This can be from startups or academia. The company then checks which of these best fits with their products. Finally, it would select the right one that works with their teams and implement a proof of concept. If the proof of concept works, then the company works in a long-term partnership with those offering the technology.

He then went onto state that when building a startup or an innovative product, you need to be everywhere. If not, then you’re nowhere. Ankur concluded his session by sharing some of the actual challenges that might be faced when implementing innovative ideas in companies and how to overcome them.

What is the role of data when it comes to AI?

Following the workshops, we made our way to Stage 2.0 where another set of parallel sessions at Disrupt Asia 2018 were taking place. We were just in time to attend a panel discussion on “Securing a Connected Society”. It was moderated by Dr. Buddhima Subasinghe – Head of Computer Science at National Institute of Business Management.  

The panelists of this session were: Mahela Liyanage – Attorney-at-law, Parakum Pathirana – Head of IT Security and Compliance of LOLC Group and Co-founder of, Sujit Christy – Governance, Risk, Compliance, and Cybersecurity Professional along with Mohit Pande – Senior Vice President of Linear Squared.

Disrupt Asia 2018 | AI | Growth Hacking | Innovation | Security
Mohit Pande – Senior Vice President of Linear Squared speaking at Disrupt Asia 2018 about AI

Well, for the first time ever, we finally have a lot of data. Firstly, everyone is storing data. Secondly, the hardware required is cheaper than it was. This, in turn, means everyone has access to it. Regardless of your dialect or the way you speak, a modern AI can recognize you and process any and all requests you have with no issues at all.

The panelists expressed their views that while all these things are great, any intelligent system can be manipulated. If you feed an AI biased data, you will obviously get biased results. This is where security plays a key part. Just as AI can be used for good, it can also be used for bad as well.

Disrupt Asia 2018 | AI | Growth Hacking | Security | Innovation
Cheaper hardware like the Google TPU’s and a lot of data is why AI is becoming popular (Image credits: Anandtech)

So if you’re implementing a facial recognition system, employees might have issues with their faces being added to a database. In addition, issues related to gender, race and even religion can be extracted from a system such as this. Hence data playing a huge part in AI.

How safe is your money?

Another point that the panelists spoke about was about smart payments via mobile phones. Even though it may be easy, there can be means and ways of tracing a person through the electronic payments that he/she makes. As such, people may feel safer with regular payment as it offers more privacy.

Disrupt Asia 2018
Sujit Christy – Governance, Risk, Compliance and Cybersecurity Professional sharing his views on a connected society

Parakum, Sujit, and Mohit also discussed a number of topics related to smart money such as cryptocurrency and electronic payments. Technologies such as Blockchain can be used to fight black money and money laundering as well.  

One point of debate between the panelists was whether or not the data of customers should be shared. In certain cases, such as with a bank, customer data can be shared under certain circumstances. However, in the case of sharing medical records, the patient might not be comfortable sharing these details. As such, sharing it without the consent of the patient would lead to an invasion of privacy.

Disrupt Asia 2018 | AI | Security | Innovation | Growth Hacking | Startups
When we figure out how to tackle the challenges of data privacy and security, we can look at a digital society (Image credits: Lynda)

If we can guarantee the security of data, then we can perhaps think about a fully secured digital society. But if there is a possibility of details such as medical records being leaked. On the other hand, as long as we can define what we share, then we still retain control over our data.

Is there an alternative to Artificial Intelligence?

The final session we saw at Stage 2.0 of Disrupt Asia 2018 was also a panel discussion. This too brought in the topic of Artificial Intelligence. To be precise, the topic of this session was “Artificial Intelligence, A technology without an alternative”. It was moderated by Wellington Perera – Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft.

AI is all about predicting actions

But then again despite the hyped up trend, concepts like machine learning and AI aren’t exactly new. In fact, they’ve been around for decades. One might wonder why we’re talking about these now if they were around for so many years. Wellington posed this question to Romesh Ranawana – Managing Director of SimCentric Technologies. Romesh attributes this to a few main things. One is the availability of a much greater computing power today. Another is the availability of refined acceptable ideas when it comes to AI.

Disrupt Asia 2018 Stage 2.0
Is there an alternative to AI? Well, that’s what these panelists were here to discuss.

But while AI would seemingly revolutionize the way we work, it would also mean that our jobs can be done by a machine. So what happens to humans who lose their jobs to automation? More importantly, what happens when the AI fails? Romesh shared at Disrupt Asia 2018 that technologies have always had an alternative method. But AI is yet to find an alternative.

Whatever the reason may be, there’s no denying AI talk is pretty much everywhere these days. Wellington notes that many companies whether tech or non-tech, talk a lot about AI. But are all these talks just merely conversations, or are there actual exciting use cases?

According to Sanka Muthu Poruthotage – CEO at Linear Squared, not all that we see is really viable. There’s so much talk of things like AI and big data, but really it’s just small data. What you end up seeing is nothing more than snazzy dashboards. But regardless, there are still viable applications out there. Throughout the discussion, the panelists took a number of use cases to showcase the various uses of AI and how it can be used for optimizations.

This can be used for marketing campaigns, business plans and even calls to action as well. An interesting view was about how GPUs can be used for AI. This was explained by Mukundhan Srinivasan – Deep Learning Solutions Architect at Nvidia. He spoke at Disrupt Asia 2018 about how you can write AI programs to make use of CUDA cores, which are a lot faster at processing compared to regular processing cores.

And that wrapped up Stage 2.0

With a few questions from the audience, the panel on Artificial Intelligence and its possible alternatives came to an end. Following this, we made our way back to the Main Stage to take part in the rest of Disrupt Asia 2018. To find out more, check out our hub here for all things Disrupt Asia 2018.