Starting up in your 40s: This CA founded a fintech startup that solves tax planning for India’s 6 crore salaried employees.
Seemant is a chartered accountant who co-founded Mool Innovation Labs to help Indian salaried employees with tax planning. In 2015 he saw the combined potential of financial services industry & tech.
- Hi, I am Seemant Shrivastav, a Chartered Accountant and Co-founder of Mool Innovation Labs - a platform to help employees with effective tax planning.
- In 2015, as a CFO of a FinTech startup, I saw the potential in the financial services industry because of technology.
- Fast forward to 2020, I co-founded Mool to help 6 crores of salaried employees in India with better tax planning.
- Here is how I planned to become a business partner and not just a finance guy, starting out in my 40s.
Look at Finance, as a horizontal field not vertical
I hail from a family of lawyers, teachers, and engineers, so finance as a career was an outlier.
Inspired by my elder brother, I decided to pursue engineering. But much to my surprise my brother encouraged me to explore finance as a career.
Hesitantly I agreed, and eventually, that led to my CA journey.
As a freshly minted CA, I moved from my hometown Nagpur to Mumbai – the financial capital of India for a well-rounded experience.
For the first 10-12 years of my career, I amassed industry experience.
Having played leadership roles in companies like Johnson Tiles, Pantaloons, and Payback, across FinTech, Health tech, and Edutech sectors, I realised one thing - Finance is not a vertical career field but one that runs horizontally.
Quitting a CFO role to venture on my own
In 2008, as a CFO of India's largest multi-brand loyalty program (Payback), I was closely observing companies, sprinting to leverage technology and disrupt business models.
Years went by and eventually I got introduced to the word ‘FinTech’ and I was like, “this can be a game changer in the future.”
Since I was not from a business family, I didn’t have anyone to support me financially. I could not afford the risk of starting up back then.
But mentally I had decided to take a leap as a startup entrepreneur at some point in my career…. but did not know just when!
I was nearing my 40s at that time, which means I was reaching a level of irrelevancy in the corporate world.
After deliberating for quite some time I figured out that being a consulting CFO would be the best way to transition into the world of startups. I made the move and became an independent consultant.
I started studying a lot of business models, which not only gave me insights into your brick-and-mortar businesses, but also some of these new-age tech businesses.
I helped start-ups raise funds, set up & streamline their financial systems & processes, and deal with structuring matters, among others.
A fintech idea to help salaried employees in India with their tax planning
In 2015 I joined a consulting company called Reverie Language Technologies.
The co-founders of Reverie, Vivek, and his wife Subhashree Mishra became my close friends.
We were having dinner one day, and during our conversation, the topic came up, ‘Have you noticed that the salaried people are taxed the most?
Companies especially in the old regiments have a standardized approach to salary structure. And the poor employees end up paying more taxes.’
Vivek then confirmed the statement by narrating his own experience. When he got an offer letter at his first job he thought that the salary printed there was his net income.
But after the tax cuts, the actual take-home salary was less than 30 or 40% of what was shown on the offer letter.
Despite having taxation knowledge, I too had been through a similar situation.
I asked him, “But what can we do about it?”
And we all suggested, “Why don’t we leverage the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML) and personalize tax planning for salaried people?”
India has approximately five to six crore salaried employees in the organized and unorganized sectors.
And still, many Indians don't know much about tax, apart from finance professionals, so it was a valid concept.
But then I interjected, “Why only salaried people? Everybody pays taxes and everybody needs to do financial planning.”
And that’s how the idea of Mool was born.
Building Mool Finance as a nontech person
Vivek is a tech guy, but since he had his own venture to look after, he couldn’t join us.
On the other hand, Subhashree and I both were finance professionals.
Without a tech guy, the idea couldn’t lift off the ground. But being supportive, Vivek agreed to write the initial code for Mool and helped us set up our initial tech team.
I also started reading up more on technology and spending time with my tech team to understand how they were building the platform.
I even learned a bit of Python programming language and learned how to build SaaS products and all the relevant technologies.
It took around three months from the whole inception of the idea until we launched Mool in 2019. It’s the execution, that took a lot of time.
We bootstrapped the startup initially but scaled it up to a certain level before raising our seed round.
So I wouldn’t say it was just destiny that made it possible… but it was also my will to work toward a goal.
Things to keep in mind before venturing into the startup world
I have seen a lot of individuals working in the industry getting swayed by the glamour of the startup world.
Unfortunately, it's not for everyone.
Difficult beginnings: If you are leading a luxurious lifestyle and suddenly want to jump the ship, you need to do the analysis first.
While building your startup from the ground up, you may not be in a position to earn a salary for maybe months. Your income could be irregular when scaling a new venture.
Think out of the box: You may have an idea that seems extraordinary and profitable. But you need to see if the market is oversaturated or not.
Otherwise, halfway through your journey, you would find that somebody else has already scaled it up.
Barriers to entry: Make sure that the barriers to entry in terms of the field you are entering are a bit higher. Otherwise, there is always a threat of you being copied and outsmarted in your own game.
Managing the finances: First and foremost, you should have the ability to run a tight ship. You have to strategically manage the finances, not just of your business, but personal finances as well.
Fundraising: I would definitely not recommend raising money at the beginning unless it's from friends and family. External investments come at a cost. You might end up either diluting too much of your equity or getting an investor that wants to micromanage you. Both situations are risky.
If you are a finance person who wants to venture into the fintech space, then the first step would obviously be ‘Understanding technology well.’ I think it goes without saying.
Learn how to become a successful digital collaborator. Work on your problem-solving ability, collaborative skills, and communication skills.
And last but not least, have a strong network. I have learned the importance of it the hard way.
I remember for the first 10-12 years of my career I used to think, ‘my job is everything, and my co-workers and my family are good enough for me.’
But when I quit my job I realized that having a strong network matters.
So speak to people, join communities and attend meetings, but be purposeful with who you let in your network.
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