Uh. Where do I start. After posting this, if I become persona non grata for all the future Proto.in events, I wouldn't be too surprised. But at the beginning, it didn't start this way. I am familiar with Proto.in and the people behind it pretty much from the beginning. If I'm not wrong, it all started with BarCamp Chennai, and it was a great event. It is so sad that it never happened again.
Anyways, the idea for Proto.in originated sometime around that time, and the people behind BarCamp and Proto.in became The Knowledge Foundation. The proceeded to organize such wonderful events like WikiCamp, BlogCamp, SearchCamp, etc. Indeed, all these people are amazing, and I know many of them personally. Perhaps that is what makes this post a little painful. But what has to be said, has to be said. Mostly, because it is painful to see a good idea being wasted.
First beef - the cost. The first Proto.in, priced at 500 Rs., was fantastic value, was only one day, had great food, and in the simple environs of IIT Madras. I liked it. But I was always a little perturbed by the fact that Proto.in mailing list never seemed to elicit any feedback, ideas or opinions. It is organized by a few people, and preparation for it is pretty much behind closed doors. If all the other events were about community, and Proto.in doesn't seem to be too community-oriented. If it is, then it is not very evident in its' mailing list. It is more or less like a newsletter.
So the second edition of Proto.in was 1000 Rs. And for two days. I kinda enjoyed it, but watching startups present all day is pretty tiring. You can't even say/ask something about them immediately. That too, a couple of talks came off like just marketing speak. I highlighted it then, and nothing really seems to have improved on that front - eliciting feedback from the audience seems like a second thought. The same vein continues - no encouragement for the community to talk, discuss and take ownership. I tend to be the most passionate about events/organizations that let me express opinions freely. Unfortunately, Proto.in started out very promisingly, and it became very much like one of those event-management company promoted events.
The third edition, is bigger, but by now has lost all its' charm for me. Starters, the entry is fixed at 1500 Rs., and is organized at a 5-star hotel. Being the cheapo that I am, I was quite offended. An event that is about startups, has no business charging that high a fee. As an entrepreneur, where it is held is almost irrelevant for me. I don't come there for the food, or 5-star amenities. A university hall is as good a place for organizing these kind of events. If not for the free entry given to all OCC members, I wouldn't have even turned up for the event.
Perhaps those are all ignorable - but what sounds like a sell-out for me is that charging 10,000 rupees each from the startups which are presenting. This is wrong on so many levels that I can't fathom that decision. The event is supposed to benefit the startups. And as pointed out by somebody on stage, 10k happens to be a substantial amount for most of them. By charging the startups, Proto.in turned into something very common place - like those outfits who approach people that they will honor them in a social function, only you need to pay some money first.
Fortunately, some of the companies presented there seemed to be truly deserving of the exposure. Good going. But they definitely deserve a better platform. And surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, there are no numbers as to how many of the companies are actually funded. Without empirical evidence, we would naturally doubt the truth about any claim. So where are the numbers? Seems like Proto.in is going to other cities from the next edition. Frankly, I'm not the least bit saddened. Perhaps, it is time OCC did its' own startup event, which has a real community behind it. I'd throw my hat in, for one.