Meet this 30-year-old CA who co-founded a 40-member finance firm driven by technology
- Hi, I am Vaibhav Mandhana, I am a proud Chartered Accountant and Entrepreneur from India who loves technology.
- After working for seven years at Grant Thornton, I decided to unleash my full potential as an entrepreneur.
- In 2015, I launched ‘Flookup Advisors’ as a one-man show and eventually asked my friends to join me...today we are a 40-member team.
- Here is my story of how I bootstrapped my consultancy firm and went a step ahead to provide technological solutions to my clients and other CA firms, thus helping them ride the wave of digitization!
Pursuing CA with the intention to study an MBA
I was an above-average student who never dreamt of becoming a CA.
I always wanted to study an MBA from a good business school. Since it can only be pursued after graduation, I registered for the CA course from The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI)...just to improve my resume, MBA was still the plan!
After clearing two levels of CA exams from my hometown Jaipur (India), I moved to the financial capital of India - Mumbai to complete my articles at a large CA firm.
All I was looking for was exposure and experience from a multinational firm so I could broaden my perspective and stand out from the crowd.
Fortunately, I got an opportunity with Grant Thornton in Mumbai. It was here that I learnt about time management, working under pressure, networking and providing valuable services to clients.
Working at Grant Thornton after clearing my CA exam
Fast forward, the day I cleared my CA around May 2011 and was given an offer by the firm to join their auditing team and continue my journey with them.
I was so excited when I thought about audit and assurance work and working with new clients in a new industry… so of course, I took up the opportunity!
During my tenure, I got amazing opportunities to work for entertainment, financial services, healthcare and oil exploration companies. I also worked on Indian GAAP, IFRS and PCAOB assignments. It was a great experience that I’ll treasure forever!
I had a long-term plan to stay with the firm and eventually become a partner at Grant Thornton, but destiny had its own plan!
Embarking entrepreneurship with no business plan
After working at GT for seven years (including articles), things began to change in 2015.
A lot of my friends at GT started taking up new jobs, some changed departments, and a few returned to their hometown to start their own businesses.
That’s when it triggered that if I want to work with these people throughout, I need to build something of my own. (Yes, my friends mean a lot to me!)
With no plan, I decided to quit my job and prepare for my next move. I knew that coming up with a business idea was a process, and I needed some time to turn my idea into a business.
My reporting partner, Sudhir Pillai was so supportive that he even offered me a sabbatical.
What did my family think of me quitting a well-paying job with no business idea? Overall, my parents are super supportive, but I did not tell them that the real reason for leaving my job was to start a business as I had no business idea. I lied to them and said I wanted to do an MBA!
So, after a tenure of seven years, with no business idea, I decided to take a break in 2015 to come up with some plans for the future.
Deciding to be a Consulting cum Finance SaaS company
While working at GT, I started identifying places where automation could have helped us save time and cost for the client and realized there was a gap.
During my break, I brainstormed ideas daily and came up with many ideas, however, my one observation kept sticking out and that was related to a 'lack of technology used in CA firms.'
I knew small and midsized firms were not investing in technology but would buy the solutions if offered at the correct price range.
Also, a new solution would take time to develop at large firms, considering the hierarchy in the organization. So, there was my market – open for all; we just had to develop solutions and offer them on a subscription basis.
I found what I was looking for - I wanted to develop solutions to enable effectiveness and efficiency.
I decided to become a Finance SaaS company, offering solutions in the finance domain to other CAs and clients while providing Advisory, Consulting, Valuation, CFO and other services... and that's how ‘FlookUp’ was born.
Overcoming roadblocks and pivotal lessons learnt
Entrepreneurship is awesome when things are falling in place, but taxing when things aren’t. All the new ideas we tried to implement failed a couple of times, but we never gave up and always discussed a new idea with enthusiasm.
There were a couple of hurdles which we faced:
- Initially, when we started we wanted to help clients with everything finance even with fundraising but we didn’t have the expertise. This was a roadblock for us. That is when we realized that not everyone can do everything, so we created a big network chain of people with their expertise to partner with us in our growth.
- It is important to manage cash flow and reduce costs by doing the work yourself or investing time in business development.
- Recruiting the right employees is a vital decision, as every employee you hire represents your brand and one wrong decision can spoil your brand.
- The challenge in growing a venture is to have the right set of people who believe in your vision, and I was lucky enough to have that.
Over the years, our business model has undergone a lot of change as everything changes with time, especially technology.
Our business model is quite simple:
1. Technological solutions: Subscription model
- Form 15CA and Form 15CB Bulk Utility
- Repository for Certificates
- Fixed Assets Tagging and Verification Android App
- Documentation Tool
2. Virtual CFO Services: Retainership model
3. Valuation business: Companies want to know what their businesses are worth and with our tools, we can derive it and communicate it to them quickly. This helps them with quick decision making. We have enabled technology where all the valuation models are enabled into a solution, and upon data feeding at the backend, it throws the range of valuation amount. The data about the country, risk-free rate of return, cost of equity, etc. are calculated by the system after filling a basic checklist.
3. We also have great experience in working on varied valuation assignments as a Registered Valuer and with other Merchant Banker partners.
4. Financial reporting and accounting requirements, while you focus on your core operational strengths.
Complete growth Timeline of our business (2016-present)
Bootstrapping and one-man show
- Started this company as a one-man show.
- We were cashflow positive from day one; we didn’t raise any amount from anyone or use our own money. All the technology solutions that we have today are made from the money we made by rendering services!
- I hired three interns after we got a virtual CFO mandate.
Office and clients
- Started working from a client’s place where we used to render financial services in exchange for using their office space. (Rentals are killers in Mumbai!)
- Before the launch of our services, I asked my friends and family to trust me with my services and refer clients to me. We were in the right place at the right time and we got two mandates in the first month.
- I am a co-trustee in an NGO with Rasesh Seth and Namit Agarwal, Rasesh taught me that it’s crucial to be transactionally profitable, which I ensured every time.
- Made a BOT for automatic replies for financial service queries, but it didn’t work.
- Our first CA employee Aditi Jain joined us.
- We started with four outside clients and two cousins in the first year. So in total 6 clients.
2017 (Grew to 25 clients)
- With the increase in work, growth and execution, it wasn’t possible to do everything, so I asked my close friends to join me in my journey of entrepreneurship.
- Neha Jain and Akash Agarwal joined as partners, and we started to grow multifold.
- For expanding our network, we wanted someone with networking and execution skills, that’s when a close friend, Antim Patni joined us.
- Clientele increased to more than 35.
- Things kept growing and we moved to a bigger office space.
- More employees and more customers kept on increasing on our service platforms.
- We onboarded another partner Akriti Mundra, who heads the recruitment division in our business.
- A partner to handle insurance and mutual funds – Sujata Behani, who earlier was helping us with project financing, joined us.
- We rented another office space in the same building for our full-time technology team and other service line employees.
- Our technological products were launched.
- Lousy start of the year with Covid-19 ruining all the plans and affecting our budgets.
- There have been no layoffs, but no hiring as well.
- We are safe with all the tech products we introduced in the earlier years, and convincing prospective clients is easier now.
The way forward
We have developed tools for bulk upload of 15CA and 15CB; the SaaS platform of all our services is ready; valuation tech product is under development.
We plan to sell subscription-based usage of our technology platforms. Our continuous endeavor is to develop the latest technological solutions for professionals.
Do entrepreneurs need mentors and do you have one?
“Help will always be given to those who ask for it.”
Yes, all my previous seniors have mentored me to get to where I am today.
They have been kind enough to guide me every time I ask them. There are partners of big firms who have guided us on our technology, approach and growth.
Why did you choose to start a tech company instead of a CA firm?
Technology has always fascinated me. I always thought if we can get technology to our profession that could be a good game changer and a win-win for everyone.
We always thought to provide solutions that would help other CA firms, so rather than competing, we compliment them!
Should CA's go the entrepreneurial route?
"If you can dream it, you can do it."
It’s fun and rewarding to have something of your own, however, it’s a game of perseverance.
If you wish to do something of your own, try it out! I would definitely recommend young CAs to pursue their dreams and become entrepreneurs.
The possibility of it not working even after giving your 100% is quite low, and it is worth every risk.
We have a long way to go and this is just the beginning. My message would be:
Surround yourself with the right people.
Take guidance from your seniors and family members and you are bound to succeed.
Don’t try to do everything yourself, collaborate for growth and ask for help when you need it!
Vaibhav Mandhana is a Chartered Accountant and an IBBI Registered Valuer for Securities and Financial Assets; a multidisciplinary leader wearing multiple hats.
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(Article edited by Lindy Ntuli and image edited by Ankit Lodhi)