May 2008

Saturday was a very interesting day – I was judging business plans at Startup @ Singapore 2008. [email protected] is a business plan competition that allows young entrepreneurs to put their bright ideas into a plan, and if its good – earn about $30,000 in prize money to get it started.

I was allocated into judging for a room which mainly focused on web services and online applications. I guess it made sense – my co-judges in the room – Alex, Shir Li, Mr Boon and Col. Chan – most of them also specialized in online media and web portals.

Here’re the contestants:

  • A very interesting new dating site. Instead of messaging profiles, you’d bid on events that other people had set up. Going for events is certainly less daunting than messaging people based on their profile. Although we thought there were more interesting applications for this, it was a smart idea.
  • An online marketplace for digital artists. There was actually nothing ground-breaking about this (technologically), but these guys knew their market well, and they were fulfilling a need and niche that nobody was bothering with.
  • A venture by an Ivy league alumni. Something about marketing to Ivy leage alumni because they’re rich. Seemed like an idea that would make money – but the guy who was presenting the idea wasn’t able to relate to us in the room. He seemed to be speaking to a group of academics at MIT, instead of real world businesspeople. Idea with potential. Absolutely no plan. Terrible, loud presentation.
  • Another online dating venture from the founder of a popular dating company. And a generally smart idea. The best part about this venture was that this team had the experience and connections to actually make money with this venture. Their differentiation was that it would be an online video speed date. Good idea, except many judges felt that the Intellectual Property is very weak. Any dating site with deep pockets can replicate the technology
  • There was another company which just sort of chickened out at the last minute. I have no respect for them. They worked so hard to create a business plan and couldn’t show up for a presentation! Grrrr…
  • Anyway, it was a tough fight in our room with the top three team being placed very closely. One company understood the market very well. Another had the experience to make this work. And a third had an industry-changing concept. Tough fight.

    In the afternoon, our room fought it out with the other judges from other rooms – There were some good ideas in other rooms too. But we were the only room to take three teams to the delibration room (Everyone else brought only 1 or 2).

    Anyway, after hours of fighting, we decided upon one team advancing into the finals. To be honest, I think they need some work and I’d probably invest my money in one of the other two teams. But the decision was unanimous and they did a good job.

    An interesting afternoon for me – met a lot of great people in my industry. And other judges who were luminous in their own industry. And it gave me a lot of thoughts about what makes a good business vs what wins a business plan competition.

    Revolutionary ideas win business plans. It’s as simple as that. Revolutionary technology. Or revolutionary market potential. Or revolutionary team.

    I wouldnt necessarily invest my money in revolutionary businesses – but at least that’s a tip for anyone else who participates in a business plan competition 🙂

    One of the writers I admire is called Yanik Silver. He just spent the weekend with Richard Branson and wrote up his 34 rules for maverick entrepreneurs. Should be a must read for anyone in business.

    Further Reading: 34 Rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs

    Rachit Dayal

    Is the Managing Partner at Happy Marketer, and handles clients with needs in Web Analytics, Search Engine Optimization, Google AdWords, Website Design and Conversion Consulting.

    As Singapore’s first Qualified AdWords Professional and one of the first Analytics Qualified Professionals in the region, Rachit has been on the forefront of search marketing in Singapore since 2004.

    But as this industry comes into maturity, he believes now is when the fun is starting – when clients dare to dream of exciting campaigns, and we can finally show tangible positive ROI from all marketing campaigns.