My startup got hit by covid despite raising USD 3 Mn: How learning to Move On opened new doors for me

Chartered Accountant bounced back from failed startup became COO of a fintech

  • Hi, I am Vikas Agarwal, a Chartered Accountant (CA) by profession and entrepreneur by heart. 
  • As an overly optimistic CA fresher I did take my chances at my startup dream, twice.
  • Well, my second venture, a Non-Banking Finance Company (NBFC) that raised 3 million in funding, got hit by covid! 
  • How the learnings from my previous ventures are helping me in my new role, the COO of the fintech startup Creditfair.  

My Childhood days were not perfect but we pulled through 

Growing up, the days were not so simple.  

My father was in no condition to work because of his poor health condition. Hence to take care of me and my 4 siblings, my mother & sisters started doing some artisan & stitching work. 

After my 10th standard board exam, I gave a lot of thought to my future career path. I needed to pick a course that was affordable for me and my family. 

Somehow I came to know that CA was a cost-effective course but would require a lot of hard work.

It seemed convincing.  

When I became a qualified CA in 2009, it was a day worth celebrating. My family put in a lot of effort to help me reach this place. 

I started my career with Ernst & Young (EY) in Audit & Assurance of financial services - Capital Markets. 

Working in one of the Big 4 firms taught me how to improve my communication skills, manage pressure, deadlines, and so on.   

Also Read

This CFO & COO Explains Which Skills Helped Him Become A Top Executive in Today's Evolving World

I quit the Big 4 to be an entrepreneur   

Everything seemed to be going great, but deep down in my heart I always knew that entrepreneurship was my calling.  

Instead of waiting for the ‘perfect time’, I decided to start my own as soon as possible. 

Yes, it was a risky decision to quit one of the world’s largest Audit & Consulting firms, given the responsibilities I had on my shoulders. 

My family members told me to not take such rash decisions. But I had clarity on what problem I wanted to solve & the impact I wanted to create at large.  

I started a consulting firm in 2010, to specifically advise MSMEs & solve their fund-raising issues.

I was blessed to have had all 3 fundamentals of building a startup, checked off: 

The right market connections to grow my business, a Seed Capital of  Rs. 5 Lakhs (USD 5000), and Mentors.

Later, two other co-founders joined me and the team grew stronger. 

We served more than 300 SMEs in terms of debt capital raise & IPO advisory. 

Also Read

Vaibhav is a banker who made a transition into the world of entrepreneurship and fintech. He co-founded Easy Pay which helps MSMEs and aims to become the largest MSME Neobank in India.

Starting up in the NBFC space: harder than it looks?   

After 9 years, in 2019 I embarked on another journey with SSA Finserv, an MSME Focused NBFC.  

Starting an NBFC is an expensive and challenging affair, but my experience in relevant fields made the transition easier. 

Since MSMEs are the backbone of our economy, the goal was the same as my previous venture, “solve the unsolved” for under-served MSMEs of India. 

We got our license from RBI within 3 months and started building our business products, processes, dept. like Credit & Underwriting, Operations,  A/cs, etc.

The tech team developed the loan origination system (LOS) and loan management system (LMS) etc. 

We raised $3 million in equity capital with a commitment from investors of another USD15 million. 

Unfortunately, our timing wasn’t right. 

Covid 19 pandemic struck us and forced countless businesses to shut down.

Investors were not willing to invest in the MSME sector anymore and they made up their minds to not operate a lending business.

Things didn't work out as I planned. Surely coping with it was not easy.

My first failure made me stronger. It showed me the value of money and how quickly it can be depleted.

The other valuable lessons that I learned were: 

  • How board room works.
  • What a good business model looks like.
  • The importance of a good Co-founder and a good team of senior and young professionals. 
  • The lending Business is all about collections and origination is equally important as underwriting. 

But what next?

Dealing with failure and a new opportunity

Soon I got to know about Credit Fair through my friend Siddharth Ladsariya, who happens to be a fintech angel investor. 

Credit Fair is a consumer-lending fintech start-up that usually partners up with Ed-tech companies for Upskilling/Re-skilling Education, Health-Tech Companies for Elective Treatments like IVF, Dental treatment, etc

The founder needed a good team of CXOs that can help scale the business and contribute to the larger vision of the company for sustainable growth. 

After having a few meetings with the founder and the team of Credit Fair I got fascinated by their business model. 

They are trying to create a positive social & environmental impact. 

The problem statement that Credit Fair is trying to address, matched my beliefs, therefore I thought, “Why start a new venture again? Let’s join Credit Fair.”

I joined them as a COO in May 2022.

As the COO of Credit Fair, my role is more about executing the business plan that has been envisaged by the CEO Aditya Damani, & Board members. 

To be thorough it involves debt capital fundraising, business operations, tech & product integration, with our co-lenders like – Aditya Birla & Avanse. 

Also Read

This COO & CFO shares how being a tech driven NBFC helped them empower lakhs of women entrepreneurs in rural areas

New job opportunities in Fintech for finance guys

There are great opportunities for CAs & Company Secretaries in Fintech Advising or Consulting roles.

Back in my consulting days, I used to tell my clients ‘There are no shortcuts. You must be 100% Compliant.’ 

Fintech companies need advice in finding a way through digital lending guidelines.

Finance professionals can play a key role here, be it by helping them with guidelines on digital lending, compliances & even on the formation of fintech companies, etc.

Whether it's a Fintech or other startup, finance professionals can add great value to product development, business development, & strategic alliances; outside of the typical finance role. 

However, all these roles require technical skills, and finance professionals have to read up on certain technologies; not just any technology, but the relevant ones.

In fact, most of the roles & responsibilities that I have now, are completely new to me. 

What is helping me is my entrepreneurial mindset. 

Do not be afraid to take on new roles as a CA. You are capable of adding value to not just the finance team, but other teams as well. 

Learn to move on 

As a startup founder, entrepreneur, and employee there is a lot of pressure that you have to cope with.

Stress can get the best of us, even if we love and enjoy what we do. 

Yoga & Meditation can help you stay sane, that’s how I find peace of mind.

Lastly, in this fast-paced world when you try new avenues a lot of things will not work out. Here is one sound piece of advice from my mentor that I carry with me: “Move On”. 

And learn from your mistakes. 

 

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