Scam 2023: Inside The World Startup Convention Disaster
KABIR SINGH BHANDARI
May 1, 2023
Twitter chief Elon Musk. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Industrialist Gautam Adani. Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan. To many, the speaker line up for the World Startup Convention (WSC) which had been scheduled for March 24-26, 2023 at Greater Noida may have seemed too good to be true. And on the very first day of the event, there were clashes between the organisers and those attending the WSC, leading to intervention by the police who had reached the spot.
Attendees claimed that they had been promised a huge turnout of investors which was not the case and none of the big names mentioned in the advertisements were present. One of the reasons for the huge turnout of entrepreneurs, students and others was that the event had been promoted on social media by big influencers such as Ankur Warikoo, Chetan Bhagat and Raj Shamani.
In response to our questions, Warikoo sent the following replies regarding his association with the event, which have been reproduced below as sent to us.
Hey Saurabh (Special Projects Editor, Entrepreneur India). Thanks for reaching out. Here is my response.
1. I am not involved in the conceptualizing or organizing of the event.
2. We had done an Instagram collab reel on 19th January where I spoke about the importance of funding for a startup and how this event could be a good opportunity to explore the same and meet other founders.
3. The terms of the collab were clear that my video will NOT be used for promoting the event. However, I realized that this was not respected. While they took down ads of the video when we asked them to, the video was still used on their website and in all of their communication.
4. In January itself we distanced ourselves from the event. They repeatedly asked me to be present for the event, which we declined.
5. As late as Feb we had to keep sending them emails asking them to take down ads they were running to promote the event using my video.
It is really tragic to see how the event eventually ended up. It showed promise and could have genuinely helped founders if done the right way :((
Let me know if you need anything else.
We also sent out messages to Bhagat and Shamani, and if they reply we shall update the article with their responses.
The hollow promises of start-up funding and international exposure left the attendees disappointed and taken aback, which ultimately led to anger and frustration against co-founders of the WSC, Arjun Chaudhary and Luke Talwar.
"I attended the World Startup Convention with my team on March 24, with expectations of pitching in front of VCs and angel investors. However, after just one hour into the event, we realised that we were robbed. It was all fake promises and nothing but a scam. And like us, there were hundreds of start-ups from different parts of the country who felt helpless and scammed by the WSC. There were fake promises of having a chance to pitch in front of 9000+ angel investors, 1000+ VCs and many government officials like Shri Nitin Gadkari Ji, and to make it seem legit, they had influencers like Ankur Warikoo, Raj Shamani, Prafull Billore, and Chetan Bhagat. After three hours into the event, the helpless start-ups started protesting and eventually the founders were taken to jail by the police. We decided to head back the same day as soon as we realised we were scammed. We were promised to receive our refunds but we haven't heard anything from the organisers yet. They took advantage of the start-ups by having all the marketing around 'Funding' when there were no VCs or angel investors in the event at all," 23-year-old Adhyan Mangal, the founder of Metadrob, told us.
22-year-old Nikhil Singh Sumal, CEO and founder, Growth Jet Media was another disappointed customer. "I have never witnessed such disorganized mismanagement. The World Startup Convention turned out to be a complete scam that cost me around 50,000 INR. Despite promising the presence of big names like Ankur Warikoo, Raj Shamani, and other investors, none of them showed up. Entrepreneurs waited for hours, hoping for someone to make an appearance, but all we got was disappointment," he said.
Many took to social media to air their grievances, like Lucky Rohilla, Founder of Quantel.in, who shared a video of police arriving at the venue on his LinkedIn profile, along with a post that mentioned, "Today was a day to forget for many #startups in Noida, India. The World Startup Convention promised a wealth of resources, networking opportunities, and #mentorship, but instead, it was a day of #disappointment and #wastedmoney."
In the upcoming days and weeks we shall get to know what happens post the investigation into the incident, currently, of course what has happened poses a lot of questions around the events and products promoted by influencers and the due diligence done by them. At the same time, even those organizing such events do it in a manner which can manage to fool a lot of the most accomplished names in the industry and such cases keep popping up every now and then. One of the most prominent examples, though not from the entrepreneur industry was that of NDTV anchor Nidhi Razdan, who after a long stint at the media organization announced in 2021 that she would be leaving to teach at Harvard University, something which turned out to be an elaborate con later.