Midway on the opening day of the World Startup Convention, a troop of founders had gathered in a crowd on the stage. There, the founders were not looking to pitch to investors, but, they had gathered around at least a dozen Uttar Pradesh Police officers at the India Expo Centre & Mart in Greater Noida.
If there were already red flags around the so-called ‘world’s biggest funding festival’ as we reported in our in-depth investigation, then this scene more or less committed that this is the Fyre Festival for Indian startups.
On the opening day of the World Startup Convention, on entry, there were angry crowds, the organisers were being shielded by the police and none of the fanfare that had been promised over the months in social media campaigns. For the hundreds of attendees at the World Startup Convention, the dozens of startups who were exhibiting at the event, and some of its sponsors, this was their worst fears coming true.
This is the story of the out-turn of the misleading marketing by the World Startup Convention, unverified claims by startup influencers and how they have diminished the trust in startup events and caused inconvenience to the young students and founders aspiring to be part of this ecosystem.
Sponsors pondering Legal Action
As many attendees had paid between INR 6,000 to INR 8,000 for the three-day WSC pass, the situation was obviously weightier for sponsors such as Bambrew and its founder Vaibhav Anant.
The Bengaluru-based D2C brand which makes sustainable packaging spent over INR 50 Lakh to become a sponsor for the World Startup Convention. Now, Anant is on his way to take legal action, even with two days of the event still to go.
“As soon as I arrived at the venue it was clear that this was nothing like what was promised to us. I am going to take legal action and I am naming everyone involved from Luke Talwar and Arjun Chaudhary (founders of World Startup Convention) to influencers such as Ankur Warikoo and others who posted about the event.”
He came across the World Startup Convention last year and bought eight passes for his team in the hope of getting some valuable networking opportunities with investors.
“I spent INR 48,000 for the passes, close to INR 10 Lakh for the stall and INR 40 Lakh or so for the merchandise, stall design and sample development because we were made to believe tens of thousands of people will show up”
Anant told in an interview after what he called a harrowing day for his team.
Ten of the startup’s employees made the trip from Bengaluru and at one point, the company was supposed to even provide the cups and glasses for the event, which would have involved more costs. “I primarily believed them because they used the names of political leaders and even the PM for the promos. But beyond this, there were videos by credible startup founders too,” the Bambrew founder added.
The Bambrew founder said he brought up the issues after arriving at the event, but his concerns were rebuffed by Talwar. Luke Talwar and Arjun Chaudhary are the founders of Qofunder Private Limited, the company that has organised the World Startup Convention.
“This is a tough year so you can imagine how much of a blow this is for us. We will do whatever it takes to get back some of the amounts we have spent.
Anant specified that such circumstances have caused reputational harm to the startup ecosystem and can even lead to startups shutting down. The D2C startup has raised close to $3.5 Mn (INR 28 Cr) since inception in 2018, but Anant believes some startups cannot afford to spend even a tenth of what he did.
Anger in the Audience
Besides Bambrew, the World Startup Convention also had sponsors such as Builder.ai, Coffeemug.ai and a host of other smaller exhibitors. And we also spotted a handful of angel investors attending haphazard pitches circled by crowds of people.
There were messages on Twitter about the lack of organisation and of course the failure to deliver on many promises. And when we reached Greater Noida, there was no dearth of complaints.
Some of the attendees had made their way to Noida from Chennai, Hyderabad, Surat, Darjeeling, Nashik and other places in India. Many were students, whose parents had paid for a three-day trip to the other side of the country. Others were young founders who also claimed to have been influenced by videos on social media.
“I’m just a third-year student and I wanted to experience a networking event, but as soon as I got here, it seemed to be a hoax. There was no security and they let me in without actually scanning my pass,” said an attendee from Chennai.
Nashik-based Aditya Nagare, the co-founder and CTO of fintech startup TrustPe, said he spent close to INR 60K on the trip to Delhi and his three-day stay in Noida. Nagare was hoping to strike up conversations with investors and pitch his startup in the escrow accounts management space.