How this CA fresher co-founded 'VeriFirm' India’s first electronic audit confirmation tool, at the age of 21

  • Hi, I am Harsh Jogani a Chartered Accountant from ICAI, India and a Chartered Financial Analyst from CFA Institute, USA.
  • In 2014, as a CA fresher, I co-founded VeriFirm - an electronic audit confirmation network with four other co-founders - Kiran Bafna, Ahmad Maredia, Nikita Gulechha, Hardik Gandhi.
  • In a short span of 2 years, our venture was acquired by 'Confirmation' the world’s largest electronic audit confirmation network.
  • Here’s my story about how my career path led me from becoming a Chartered Accountant to an entrepreneur and eventually a Sales Director of a Global Company! 

Decision to pursue Chartered Accountancy – taken after much deliberation

Right after school, I was inclined towards pursuing engineering simply because it was the cool thing to do here in India! It was my father who guided me to become a Chartered Accountant since he wanted me to join the family business and take it ahead.

After multiple rounds of discussion and meeting Chartered Accountants in my family, I decided to pursue accounting! When it was time for my mandatory 3-year internship, I got an opportunity to intern at a multinational accounting firm, KNAV & Co. Here I got to work with some amazing clients across the US, UK, Brazil, Netherlands and India on some very interesting assignments. This gave me a fairly good experience on all three accounting standards, US GAAP, India GAAP and IFRS.

Very early in my career, I was very fortunate to meet some of the most dynamic, forward-looking and enterprising principals who left a lasting impact on how to think and lead life. These few years of my life were very interesting.

Around the same time, I figured out my liking for numbers and analytics and decided to make a career in finance. So, I started pursuing CFA along with my CA. I was fortunate enough to clear both CA and CFA exams at the age of 21!

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An online audit confirmation firm – the idea that developed roots eventually

During my articles in 2012, while performing audits, Kiran (who was my manager back then), and I realized that many of the audit processes are manual, paper-based and prone to errors!

There was this audit engagement where we had to confirm an arrangement with a bank in Singapore and even after multiple reminders and follow-ups, we did not receive the confirmation! 

Since it was a material balance, we had to pursue the bank for more than a month to receive the confirmation certificate resulting in a delayed audit committee meeting and financial reporting. That’s when we realized that this is not the most efficient way of confirming financial arrangements and this thought kept getting stronger with every passing audit engagement.

It was also around the time when the 'Satyam Fraud Scandal' in India was fresh. We realized that this scandal could have been avoided if there had been a secure channel to confirm bank balances and arrangements.

We thought that we could automate audit processes using technology and make them more systematic, efficient and less prone to human errors. However, it was just an idea at that time.

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Choosing Entrepreneurship as a CA Fresher

Over the years, I continued with my internship and was now on study leave for my CA final exams when Kiran (who is also a CA) decided to quit his job to work on the idea of starting an electronic audit confirmation solution - Verifirm! 

When I cleared my final exam, Kiran offered me a partnership!  I had no plan of starting my own firm or being an entrepreneur, at least not so early in my career! My plan was to get into 'Buy-Side equity' research or Investment Banking but I knew it was an idea worth pursuing. However, the biggest challenge was to convince my family and win over their trust to get into a business venture.

I was getting some amazing job offers and even the firm where I completed my internship was rapidly growing and offered me an opportunity to move to their US office or set up their Netherlands office.

My Principal showed me a vision of how I could become a partner at the same firm before the age of 30 if I continued. Such an opportunity at a growing firm made my parents strongly believe I should stick around!

Honestly, it was a very tough call for me as well, since I really enjoyed what I was doing.

I still remember having multiple rounds of discussion at the dinner table with my parents. I had to convince my dad that 'electronic audit confirmation' had immense potential as a business idea and this was the need of the hour with all the financial frauds occurring in the country! Eventually, he agreed. Phew! This was the first win. Thus, right after clearing my Chartered Accountancy exams, I went on to be a co-founder at VeriFirm, India’s first electronic audit confirmation solution.

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The initial challenges we faced in running a startup firm  

Office Space

  • When we started out, we 'did not have an office' and were operating out of Kiran’s dad’s office! He let us occupy the conference room throughout the day.
  • Since we were working on a tech platform, initially we did not have much work apart from designing the process flow and creating wireframes. We used to meet accountants from the industry at times and work on the presentation, logo, website content, etc. at other times.
  • There were also days where Kiran and I would watch movies or cricket matches in office just to kill time since our application was getting built.

Team building

  • It took us 6 long months to get the right tech person who could help us design the system architect, code the application and also believe in the story.
  • Also, we wanted this person to be a part of our team and not just work on a contract basis!
  • Once we had the right team in place, the next challenge was to learn to be patient as the initial application would take time to get built.

Capital

  • We had completely 'bootstrapped' the venture since we did not want to dilute our control early on. Similarly, there were many other small things that came up every day but since we had a good team it was relatively easy to navigate.
  • Finally, our MVP was ready and we launched VeriFirm in 2015.

Got Acquired by a Global firm within just a year

We deployed our solution and our webpage started showing up on the first page of google search. Needless to say, this caught the attention of 'Confirmation', our global peers and the world’s leading electronic confirmation business.

One day we received an email from their Founder & Chairman, Brian Fox mentioning his interest in evaluating partnering with us. Brian came down to India and spent nearly a week at our office. On the last day, he invited us to London where he wanted us to meet with the management. When in London, our discussions went quite well and on the third day, they gave us an offer for a complete acquisition!

I clearly remember that night. We were all going back and forth around with the numbers and structuring. The next day we put forward our offer. There was a fair bit of negotiation and eventually, we got up with a handshake and that’s when our new innings began with Confirmation.

Did we know the acquisition would happen this fast?

At that point in time, not at all! The acquisition came to us as a total surprise. At the back of our mind, we did expect to either be working with or competing with Confirmation, as they had no presence in India and we were the only ones focusing on this domain. However, we did not expect it to happen in less than 2 years. We thought this would probably take place 4-5 years down the line.

A new role – Director Sales, India

When we started 'VeriFirm' we knew that sales would be key!

Being an accountant, I had never tried my hands on sales so initially, it was a bit of challenge to figure things out but over a period of time, I got a hang of it and very soon started enjoying the role. Post-acquisition, we got support from the overseas teams with respect to technology, product, and marketing allowing us to only focus on sales.

With the title of Director – Sales, growing the Confirmation business in India from scratch has been quite amazing and thrilling. I meet new people from my industry every day. It’s less of sales and more of an education process. There has been a tremendous amount of learning over the years. Looking back, I feel my journey has just started and I have a long road ahead.

Yes, I have made a huge transition from being the guy behind the screen crunching numbers to being in a product role earlier and now into Sales. I have thoroughly enjoyed this transformation in my career path. Questions I get asked most often.

“Can accountants make good salespeople?"

Definitely. For anyone to succeed in sales you need to learn certain skill sets - One is storytelling skill which is profession agnostic and the other is a process-oriented approach. You need to follow the process consistently. Accountants are certainly good at process-oriented jobs which is why I feel they are very much suited for sales.

"Does having a CA qualification help even in a sales role?"

It depends on which industry you are in. My CA qualification and my background as an auditor has been a big advantage for me since we work with a lot of accounting firms and banks. Strong knowledge of the domain and understanding of the process help you explain relevant details to the stakeholders and also helps with the right sales pitch.

"What we learnt from this acquisition!"

The journey from starting a company, going through an acquisition and now completing three years with the same company post-acquisition has taught me a lot:
  • Be patient, trust your product and the team.
  • Choose the right partner and team to work with.
  • Believe in the solution and give it some time before you validate the potential, especially when you are trying to change the status quo.
  • Most of the time business is a game of survival. In the beginning, if needed, work on the weekends/free time as a freelancer to keep your scorecard ticking, manage your daily expenses and be in touch with the industry. It will take a while to withdraw money out of your venture and will give you the necessary war chest to survive longer in the game.
  • All stakeholders should benefit in the long run.

"Do CAs and CPAs play safe?"

The careers of CAs and CPAs are designed to play safe. Since they are one of the best professionals in understanding the concept of Risk and Returns, they have the ability to gauge both sides. Since they are able to perceive the risk, they tend to play safe. While a CA or CPA gets a decently paying job quite easily, it also makes them complacent early on somewhere making them averse to taking risk. One piece of advice I would like to give the professionals out there is this: There is immense potential outside of the core domain. You need to come out of your domain to experience the same. 

In Conclusion…

Looking back, I feel it is the conviction, calculated risk-taking, perseverance and having fun in everything you do that makes all the difference. Life’s been quite fair. I have enjoyed everything I do. So far things have worked quite well.

Once you enjoy what you do, everything else starts falling in place. My advice to students pursuing CA/CPA: You are at the right place. It’s one of the most secure and rewarding careers.

My advice to all my fellow mates would be: Keep learning, keep upgrading yourself and to all my CA friends make sure you all hold the interest of the profession ahead of you to keep you ahead in the long run.

Harsh Jogani is a Chartered Accountant from ICAI (India), cleared all three levels of Chartered Financial Analyst from CFA Institute, USA and completed my Diploma in IFRS from ACCA, UK.

 

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