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My experiences volunteering for
#SaaSBooMi

My experiences volunteering for #SaaSBooMi

 
 
 
 

Sathyanarayan Viswanathan

 
 
 
 

Apr 13, 2020

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Sathyanarayan Viswanathan

 
 
 
 

Apr 13, 2020

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People think of volunteering as “selfless service done with the sole intention of giving without expecting anything in return”.
Yes, I am with you on the eye roll 🙂 I normally tend to be sceptical of such lofty pronouncements, but there was something very different about SaaSBooMi. Working with the people who carried out the grunt work that goes into putting together an event like this left me a little less sceptical, and dare I say, a little transformed. Here is how.

Why did I volunteer?

 
 

I belong to the Chennai SaaS ecosystem where many companies like Zoho, Freshworks, Chargebee and Kissflow are leaving a global footprint. In one of Krish’s interviews, someone asked him about his early days before becoming an entrepreneur. Krish said that he volunteered at every possible tech conference. That was his way of learning and contributing. I told myself I would do the same.

What was the experience like?

 
 

Putting together an event like SaaSBooMi is no mean feat. Almost 550 people travelling from all parts of India coming together for a packed conference over 36 hours. That includes 400 + founders, 20+ speakers, 50+ sponsor-investors from the biggest VC funds, people from the media and more. Not to mention 1000+ applications. Volunteers handle the application & registration process, email support, payments, coordination with sponsors & investors, social media presence, blogs, website, the speaker schedule, arrangements at the venue, coordination with the event management firm, arrangements for transport and accommodation, the visual designs for the event, the goodies, and so much more! Rightly, one would imagine it takes a lot of planning, coordination and hustling.

Surprisingly though, it never felt that wayEverything came together organically, and almost effortlessly. The reason becomes apparent as you dig deeper. The answer lies in what SaaSBooMi is trying to be.

What is SaaSBooMi trying to be?

 
 

The goal of SaaSBooMi is NOT to dazzle and put on this perfect event, executed flawlessly, with superstars showing off their glossy wares. Nope. At its core, SaaSBooMi was trying to be something else. It seemed to have a very humble, but lofty goal. To serve as a “SaaS knowledge network”.

The organisers were trying to till the land for the next generation of SaaS entrepreneurs. They were up on stage talking about their failures. People who were brave enough to farm on barren fields in the early days of SaaS in India, and had now seen success, were talking about what they did wrong, and what they wish they hadn’t done.

SaaSBooMi was setting the stage for the next generation of b2b tech entrepreneurs to just walk in and harvest the rewards. Over the next 5–6 years, I think Chennai alone will see hundreds of SaaS startups cross the USD 1 Million ARR mark. And SaaSBooMi is likely to be one of the biggest reasons for that.

So what does this have to do with
volunteering?

 
 

With this vision clearly articulated by the organisers, the “hard” work that the volunteers put in didn’t seem all that hard. Avinash Raghava, one of the driving forces behind the SaaS community in India, put it very succinctly when he said,

 

“ There is something very pure about volunteering. There is no hierarchy. And it should remain that way. We are all here for something bigger”.

 
 

With the larger vision in mind, I am slowly beginning to appreciate what that means.

This meant that when things went wrong, it was okay. The priority was to create an atmosphere where founders could build relationships with each other, share their stories, be vulnerable, talk about their mistakes, and be there for each other. And the volunteers were merely there to enable that atmosphere by silently working in the background. Which is what they did. As a group, people pitched in wherever and whenever needed. It didn’t have to do with their “assigned duties” but the vision was clear, and the volunteers had bought into it. What was even more interesting was how the organisers of the event trusted the volunteers they worked with. There was no semblance of an attempt to control. They trusted the group, but they made sure they translated the vision. The idea was to run this event on distributed responsibility.

Shekar Kirani of Accel happened to walk up to the volunteers on the evening of the first day. He looked at us and said

 

“There is something special in you that makes you volunteer. Hold on to it”.

 
 

I haven’t grasped the entirety of what it means, but I am staying with it.

Volunteering for the right reasons

 
 

I realised after SaaSBooMi that the only right reason to volunteer is if we believe in the “Pay it Forward” vision, treat it as a learning experience, and think of it as our small contribution to the ecosystem. You will definitely come away feeling satisfied and with a few friends among the volunteers 🙂

Saasboomi

A big thanks to this wonderful team for the opportunity to learn.

 
 

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