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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Contest fatigue

Is it all about cheap mashups…? Asked the startup founder who sat next to me in a biz plan contest award ceremony.

I wanted to disagree. I couldn’t. This guy was obviously scornful of the pattern of results emerging from ongoing biz plan contests. Everywhere only the usual suspects had won. VCs flocked to them with vanilla term sheets. They were either founded by faculty from premier institution, employees were malleable students and their idea was a take on what manybody else were doing. “They were the best of the lot” served well for a plausible excuse proffered by the panel of judges. Perhaps the panel’s own disgusting levels of mediocrity robbed them of groovy balls to overlook the usual suspects and reward creativity. No we don’t want to look like novices. Let’s follow the herd. If another panel has adjudged them, why hazard a novice tag..? I need to come back here next year… seemed closer to truth.

"If you were a contest organizer, what would your theme be ?" The founder asked me sheepishly.

Set me thinking. “I would prefer the theme economic and original ” I replied after a pause.

That’s it. When I say economic, I don’t mean cheap. I want something useful if not cheap. It should help eliminate some processes, reduce some complexities from existing applications while seeking to deliver perceptibly refreshing user experience. And yet – capable of being founded by a driven but not so rich teams in about less than $ 50 k strap at the most. Should scream value bit by bit. The customer should be happy to pay without a thought. I call that economic.

Not another take on something which is already out or being pursued elsewhere. Almost 90% of the work done at Web 2.0 startups are a take on a Google, Yahoo or MSN ( GYM ). Everyone claims they are next in line to be acquired by one of the Big Three. Organizers should do well to do a random search while screening the entries and find out the size and spectre of competition. Call up and search them for what’s original about their venture and let them explain why would they merit an entry. Nix them if they don’t sound convincing - with full refund, of course. Newness comes only from creativity in thought and originality of execution. Hence original.

I am dedicating this post to the organizers of biz plan contests.

Please keep it as your central theme so that economic and original ideas get rewarded. That will at least get you quality entries in your next annual do and leave you with a reputation. You don’t have to run around seeking sponsors since VCs are going to love it - it should end the drought of investible ideas. You don’t have to splurge in Ad campaigns and PR blogs since new entrepreneurs eagerly look forward to it.

You got it right if the VC cluetrain stopped at 7 out of 10 idea stations and picked up some delivery….!


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