“We don’t judge ideas”

Note: This article was originally published on March 20, 2014

I first met Nithin sometime in mid-2012. He was a final year student at RIT Govt engineering college, Kottayam and he was doing an internship stint with one of our startups (Profoundis). Arjun of Profoundis introduced me to Nithin and we were having a casual interaction in my room. He was going on and on about the various IEEE related activities that he has been engaged with. It was visible that he was proud to be part of the IEEE and was also equally proud of his accomplishments.

That’s Nithin

We did have brief interactions from that point onwards and its sometime in November 2012 that the next milestone, with respect to my relationship with Nithin and his with Startup Village, happened. There was this hackathon that we were jointly organizing with Blackberry at the Innoz office in Bangalore. In those days, Nithin and co were not even aware of the concept of a hackathon. More than the hackathon itself, it was the promise of a free trip to Bangalore (along with promises of free booze & redbulls!) that motivated Nithin and his gang of friends. Much to his surprise and ours, Nithin and team ended up winning that hackathon and eventually they ended up being the team that represented India in the Blackberry Jam Asia finals at Bangkok!

Deccan Chronicle article of Nithin & team winning the Blackberry Hackathon

Yet again, this reminds me of one of those movie plots in which our dear hero just wins every single game depicted in a movie; be it kabbadi, be it cycling or be it car racing. So lets take a slightly closer look at what really happened at the hackathon to get a slightly better perspective than the one offered in the movies. Yes, they reached Bangalore and promptly went about bunking all the sessions and hanging around in Forum mall and other places. They stayed up throughout the night downing bottles and bottles of Red Bulls and channelizing all those energies into video games. And by the time the event was coming to a close, they realized that everyone had to present what they had come up with and our beloved Nithin & team had nothing to showcase! (Yeah, this aint filmy at all. This has more resemblance to the eve of an engineering exam).

Gametime at Blackberry Hackathon

Almost all the other teams were done with their apps and had started working on their pitch presentations. And our dear fellows was trying to come to terms with the reality that how embarrassing it would be for them to go up on stage and present, well, nothing! It reminds me of the scenarios that me and probably several other engineering students would have encountered at some point in their lives: You are in the engineering internals exam hall. You have turned up primarily for the attendance. Your hope is to be able to write just enough on the paper to avoid / minimize embarrassment when you hand in the answer sheets. You are offered a twine to tie the sheets together and you assuredly tie the knot across the single sheet of answer paper that you plan to turn in. And then after getting the question paper and pondering over the questions for the next 30 minutes or so, you come to the realization that all you are capable of producing on the answer sheet, apart from your name and roll number, is the name of the subject; and that too probably because it comes printed on the question paper sheet!

So our beloved team was in a similar state at the hackathon event and the primal engineering education trained instincts of summoning all your energies in a desperate attempt to avoid embarrassment kicked in. That’s when our brain also becomes really inventive and comes up with interesting hacks or innovative shortcuts. Needless to say, creativity, innovation and productivity are at its zenith during this stage. Since they didn’t have time to do both the app and the presentation, they came up with the thought of combining them both. That thought tangent led to them to think “Everyone had a app and have to present, why don’t we do an app that lets everyone do a presentation?” And they ended up with the idea of a story telling app and since they had access to the expert programming skills of Anoop Nayak (aka Package) they came up with a basic version just in time for the final presentation. A combination of original thinking, lack of time to discuss and debate alternate ideas and last minute panic combined with some skilful execution resulted in an unexpected top honours at the event.

Last minute panic as a source of inspiration

So this is the story of how they came up with the idea of a story telling app. The team did put in a lot of effort next time around before their finals at Bangkok to pull off a much better show. They crashed royally at the final round and they were clueless to the question of how the app is going to make money or what would be the business model when asked by the judging panel. After the spectacular defeat at Jam Asia and several rounds of feedback that they received along the way, our team also ended up concluding that the app did not have a market or a future to be turned into a proper company. But by then, they had decided to attempt a startup of their own.

Nithin & team formally registering their startup with Startup Village

They were now in search of a product idea for their company. And then, BB10 made its commercial launch with the unveiling of the Z10. To their amazement, Nithin & team realized that a story telling app by Blackberry was one among the handful of apps that came preloaded on the BB10 device. They had not considered that as a potential market opportunity for their app and that someone like Blackberry would have been interested in partnering with their small team of original thinkers instead of going it alone and building a story telling app themselves. This incident was insightful in itself.

A jet lagged Nithin — SVSquare trip

A far impactful and insightful information came their way few more months down the line. Merissa Meyer had taken over as the CEO of Yahoo and the geek goddess set about on an acquisition spree. The acquisitions that made the top headlines were Tubmlr (for the 1 billion dollar tag) and Summly (for being the creation of a 13 year old kid). One that did not hit the headlines was and one that invoked myriads of emotions in our beloved hackathon team, as you might have guessed by now, was the acquisition of a story telling app. This GigaOm article (Link to the article) states that Qwiki, a story telling app, was acquired by Yahoo for 30 million dollars! How about that for a business model strategy: build a story telling app and sell to Yahoo for a neat 30mn USD! Im not really sure whether anyone in our peer community would have validated or believed that line for a business model strategy. I don’t think Nithin and team themselves would have believed the statement had someone suggested to them that they should look at an acquisition by Yahoo for a business model strategy. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight, that would have been an “obvious” business model for the story telling app! A 30 mn USD (150+ Crore INR) business idea. That was potentially how much Yahoo would have been willing to pay for a last minute panic idea of a bunch of rookie engineering students from Kerala!

Created and shared on Facebook by one of Nithin’s well wishers

At Startup Village, we don’t judge ideas. We believe that nobody is qualified to do that: not just us but anybody out there. Neither do we have any right to judge an idea as well. I don’t think any “rational’ person would have believed Jimmy Wales when he said that he could create Wikipedia with a handful of developers by his side and a vast collections of individuals scattered around the globe and who had a desire to contribute. And even if someone had believed that, nobody would have ever even entertained any thought that it could even remotely challenge established majors like Britanica Encyclopedia or even force them out of business.

At Startup Village, we don’t judge ideas. At best, we are a platform; and we see our role as a facilitator to your entrepreneurial journey. We don’t judge your ideas, we aspire to only be the catalyst that facilitates and even accelerates your idea discovery & execution process. This has been and will remain our guiding principle at Startup Village. We don’t judge ideas!