From a listed Co to funded tech startups: Meet this CA who joined startups that grew multifold in valuation

  • Hi, I am Sumit Kawariya, an entrepreneurial Chartered Accountant and Company Secretary who has always been fascinated by the world of finance and business.
  • Hailing from a business family, I had an entrepreneurial streak ingrained in me and when I was offered a role at Flipkart in 2013, a budding startup, I jumped at the opportunity.
  • In 2016, the opportunity to join ClearTax as a Financial Controller presented itself. ClearTax was just a 30-employee startup and so I once again took the challenge. Since I had expertise in GST Law and the E-commerce industry, this role seemed perfect.
  • Over the years, my unconventional career choices of working at various startups paid off. 

Taking into ‘account’ the logic behind everything

I belong to a business-family hailing from Rajasthan (India).

Growing up, I loved Mathematics and in fact, was a science student till class 12. However, a keen interest in the stock market along with the fact that one day I would have to join my family’s business encouraged me to pursue a Bachelor's in Finance.

Once I discovered my interest in the financial market, I started studying the annual reports of various companies and I clearly remember how every book of accounts had the signature of a Chartered Accountant. This made me realize the importance of a CA and I too decided to pursue the course.

After class 12, I decided to move to Mumbai, get a Commerce degree, and simultaneously pursue CA from ICAI (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India).

Luckily, I started my articles at Chaturvedi & Shah (one of the leading firms of Chartered Accountants in India) where I got amazing work exposure and eventually completed my CA in the year 2009.

Now came the big question - What Next? 

Family Business or Corporate World?

Choosing between the family business and a corporate role was difficult but my self-confidence emboldened me to take up a corporate role.

But the question was as a CA fresher should I join a large MNC/ Big 4 or a company where I could learn? I joined the latter. I believe that in MNC’s or the Big 4 companies, one doesn’t get much freedom to explore their thought processes and ideas. In fact, one has to work in a defined process and role, while in medium IT or E-commerce companies, you have the freedom to explore.

Hence, once I was offered a role at WeP Solutions Ltd (a listed company) as a Financial Executive, I didn’t second guess my decision.

In my 4-year stint there, I came out as a Finance Manager and Company Secretary.

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A chance encounter with Flipkart ‘flipped’ the course of my career

On the work front, everything was going great. However, my love for accounts, finance, and entrepreneurship pushed me to think beyond the walls of my organization. Therefore, I decided to teach and educate other CA aspirants.

With the help of one of my CA friends, I started a coaching center and reached out to a few colleges, charging a nominal fee compared to our competitors. To our surprise, 50 students turned up for the first batch.

We were ecstatic but knew this wouldn’t be easy and it wasn’t. I would take a class from 6 – 9 am and then rush to work. But the joy of sharing knowledge was priceless.

As destiny would have it, it was during one of these classes, that a student, who was then working at Flipkart, approached me with an opportunity as a Controllership manager! So, I went ahead and met the concerned person.

My Mantra is: Before acting, think with an open mind. Undoubtedly, you will rightly execute your plan.

(At that point in time, in 2013, Flipkart was a budding start-up still trying to make its mark in the e-commerce industry. But at present, it is one of India’s largest e-commerce companies and a billion-dollar company.)

Moving from a corporate to a funded startup

After a single discussion with Flipkart’s financial team, I realized the scope of business here was bigger.

Flipkart was establishing. This narrowed down to one challenge − ‘management of scale’ and the finances required stabilization.

I was thrilled at this chance and joined Flipkart’s Corporate Finance team in mid-2014.

My responsibilities included book closures, accounts payable, setting up the entire P-P process, statutory compliance for all payables with scope, scale, and capabilities to keep up with the complexity and volume that was generated.

After a year and a half, Flipkart did the great move of taking over Myntra (Myntra was acquired by Flipkart in a deal valued at ₹2,000 crores - US$280 million).

I walked into the Controllership role for all segments at Myntra to streamline its financial processes.

Fast forward, to April 2016 that the Government issued a mandate on GST. As a knowledge expert, I also pioneered the GST project at Flipkart/ Myntra with EY in collaboration.

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From an established tech startup to an emerging startup as a Financial Controller

My corporate career was right on track just when I was approached to take up the Finance Controller role at another emerging, funded start-up, ClearTax. By now, it was funded USD 12 Million and was a Y Combinator startup.

As a strong finance professional for so many years, the product at ClearTax excited me.

After meeting the founders, I learnt that this was a software-led product, not a money-burn business, and a company that desperately needed a sound finance function.

I decided to join ClearTax and start all over. This was late 2016. 

Was it an easy decision to make? Not at all. I was in a dilemma as to whether I should switch from Flipkart to ClearTax, considering Flipkart was already well-established while ClearTax was a budding startup. Moreover, I also had good control of processes/Systems, but after meeting Archit and Saif’s partner finance controller, the decision was much simpler. My wife also helped me in taking this tough but good decision.

Responsibilities as a Financial Controller at a startup

When I joined ClearTax as a Financial controller, the finance team was only 3, and the total employees were just 30 - so I had to roll up my sleeves and do a lot of things by myself. 

My initial responsibilities included - the deployment of software for payroll, accounting that could transform day-to-day activities, and even lower operating expenses.

I realized that once this team was established, they could run in auto-pilot while I could move my focus to other business functions. Yes, delegating day-to-day operations was key.

I worked closely with the Product team curating India’s #1 GST platform, while also travelling across the country, closing deals with the Sales team.

For the next few years, I spent time contributing to revenue growth. It took almost 1.5 years for the GST to see sustainable growth in the market. Thereafter, my focus shifted to the financial product – Mutual Fund. The investment philosophies in India attracted many customers, so I helped redesign the website to enable a smoother user experience and bring in increased footfalls.

In Oct 2018, ClearTax raised series-B funding USD 50 million from Composite Capital and I decided to invest time in the Enterprise side of things.

Over the years as a Finance Controller, I’ve played an important role in setting up new partnerships, signing M&A deals, enhancing the e-Invoicing product of ClearTax, planning growth strategies, process improvements, and also building a great team of 1000+ employees.

In short, the role of a startup financial controller goes well beyond managing the company's finances and it is no longer just a support role!

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Lessons learnt at a tech startup

As a modern leader, who has a long-standing relationship with start-ups I have embraced collaborative growth and mentorship−not just in finance but also added responsibilities in product development, business functions, and sales; all while applying methods to achieve executable solutions to every challenge that’s come my way.

When I joined Flipkart from WeP, I had several questions related to job security and was also a bit skeptical about joining startups. But I was ready for worse and confident enough to follow through with my decision. Luckily the risk paid off and I’ve cherished every moment of my journey.

The start-up space has given me the freedom to diversify and work in multi-directions. More than anything it has allowed me to nurture the entrepreneurial side of me, which drives me to do more and be more.

In E-commerce where anything is possible, volume/scale is the key to success. I’ve witnessed GMV and growth rates at an all-time high of, month on month. The team is always on battle-ground, ready for anything. I have grown a thousandfold in this short span of less than a decade! 

Like everything else in life, working at a startup also has its cons.

The challenges in E-commerce are faced in the delivery and fulfillment process whereas in ClearTax, a fintech, the fulfillment happens online and eases the complexity of ops to a great extent. However, an increase in volume is a game-changer at both places. Another downside is it is operations-heavy.

Experimenting with different roles not only diversifies your skillset but also enables you to grow throughout the different experiences with complete satisfaction. My advice would be to have faith in yourself and face the challenges head-on.

Now It's Your Turn...

Would you join a startup? Or are you working in a startup?

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