This millennial gave up traditional CS roles for the startup world & is now the Global Company Secretary at an edtech unicorn
- Hi, I am Akarshak Maheshwari, a qualified Company Secretary operating as the Global Company Secretary at a unicorn ed-tech startup, with a valuation of $3.2 billion.
- After qualifying as a CS and completing my 15 months of training, I worked for a few years in various reputed listed companies but was missing that ‘KICK’.
- As a result, in 2019, I took the unconventional decision to join Bewakoof.com – an e-commerce startup. After two years, I moved to Eruditus Executive Education & Emeritus Institute of Management, an edtech startup.
- Here’s my story of why I chose the startup route instead of listed companies and what I have learned so far from working at various startups.
A close friend, who is now my wife, influenced me to pursue CS
I was born and bred in a middle-class business-driven family. Growing up, I never wanted to join my family in the business. Instead, I wanted to venture into the corporate world.
Frankly, I also never thought I would be a Company Secretary (CS). In class 12, a close friend, who is now my wife, decided to pursue the profession and that influenced me to pursue it too. She and I both enrolled for the CS course from ICSI (The Institute of Company Secretaries of India).
There are basically three stages in CS - Foundation, Executive and Professional. After clearing the Foundation and Executive as well as two groups of Professional, she dropped out and ventured into media management. However, I fell in love with the CS profession and the career possibilities. Since then, I never turned back.
I did my 15-month management training at Khaitan Chemicals & Fertilizers Limited - a listed manufacturer of fertilizer, chemical and soya edible oil headquartered in Indore, India.
My training was so rigorous that I was not just limited to the secretarial stuff but had to undergo training in other departments viz. commercial, purchase, HR, Marketing, and whatnot.
Fortunately, all the efforts paid off when I qualified as a CS in 2015. A 4-year journey that I will always cherish.
Despite not having a clear career plan, I joined established listed companies
After becoming a CS, I was waiting to carve my own path but then came the big question, “What Next?”
I did not really have a clear answer to that question, but I was certain that I did not want to limit myself to core CS duties.
After obtaining my CS membership, I continued at Khaitan Chemicals & Fertilizers Limited as an Assistant Company Secretary. For the first 8 to 9 months, I was overseeing all other departments such as Commercial, Purchase, HR and IR, besides secretarial duties.
Everything was going well, but I was hungry for more.
I realised that the scope of growth in Indore was good but not great considering it is a Tier 2 city. So, I decided to move to a bigger city with better career opportunities.
In January of 2017, I relocated to Mumbai, the finance capital of India. Here I joined Videocon d2h Limited, a NASDAQ listed entity headquartered in Mumbai, forming part of the Videocon Group.
During my time in the company, I initiated the merger process of Videocon d2h with DishTV to form India’s largest direct-to-home broadcast service provider. For nearly two years, I learnt about IBC cases, various corporate litigations, how to conduct the merger process and perform due diligence.
In September 2018, I joined Sahyadri Industries Limited - another listed company that is a pioneer in building solutions.
Here my role was limited to just secretarial duties and not challenging enough. So, I decided to look out for opportunities that could help me with new experiences and learnings.
I made an unconventional decision and joined a start-up – Bewakoof.com
During my time at Sahyadri when I was looking for more challenging and unconventional roles, Bewakoof.com approached me to join them.
(Bewakoof.com is an internet-first brand of multi-category fashion products catering to both men and women and is famous amongst youngsters for its hattke products.)
Bewakoof was aiming for their Series A funding (earlier they had raised funds through angel investments) where private equity investors were going to be a part of the company. They wanted someone who could understand the processes and the company very well.
Since I had dealt with all sorts of companies, including private, public, India listed, and foreign listed, they felt I was a perfect match.
In my short interaction with Bewakoof’s Founder and CFO, I got a glimpse of the startup world and the opportunities for me as a CS. I recollect going for the interview wearing formals with a blazer, only to see many working in shorts and t-shirts. I did feel out of place but I knew this was the right place to start a crazy adventure known as startups!
And in Jan 2019, I decided to move from my boring 9-5 traditional job to join the startup world.
How I transitioned from my typical CS duties to the start-up world
Upon joining, I was informed that I need to create the legal and compliance department and structure various ongoing processes.
I formulated various SOPs for vendor creation, onboarding and contract management, to associate ourselves with various brands and advertising agencies.
As everything was scattered, I had to chase various CS offices and external legal counsel, who were providing services to them, prior to my joining.
The company’s due diligence process was fun and I initiated a plan that got us a clean Due Diligence report (with a few red marks). The process of formalizing informal processes was amazing as my role was 80% legal and 20% secretarial, for a change.
The legal functions did include drafting, vetting, and finalizing various legal agreements required for the Company’s day-to-day working.
Once Series Funding is completed and private equity investors are on board, even though you are a private company, you technically function like a listed entity as you have to follow all the norms laid by investors.
It could be conducting Board/Committee meetings, recording minutes, and working out an actionable plan post-meeting, were amongst the few secretarial activities like any other listed company.
Each meeting, we had at least 2-3 actionable items about the company, it could be for the marketing department, tech department, or some other departments. However, I was playing a key role in coordinating with all these departments and getting things done so that in the next board meeting we could get a clean comment from investors.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to work on complying with regulatory requirements to obtain approval to operate our factory as Bewakoof.com ventured into the marketplace model. I was involved in SOP creation for onboarding sellers, creating the seller portal, contract for sellers, etc.
In short, I was involved with getting private equity funding, planning out actionable items, managing board and committee meetings, creating and maintaining the ESOP pool, registering for trademarks in various classes... A terrific experience indeed.
After a stint in e-commerce, I joined EdTech
In 2021, after all these achievements at Bewakoof.com and two great years of learning, unlearning and relearning, I asked myself, “What Next?”
I wanted to venture into either a fintech or edtech company. Between January and August, edtech has been among the top three funded sectors, inviting over $1.9 billion in capital across 80 deals. That number is steadily growing.
Luckily, I received a call from Eruditus and started the interview process during the pandemic. Now, I work with Eruditus, an ed-tech startup that offers professional courses and executive programmes in partnership with leading universities. It has 2.5 lakh users across 80+ countries and that fascinated me. The company has a global footprint and I joined it to manage all its global compliances.
They have been in business for over 10 years and we just closed our Series E, a $650 million round at a valuation of $3.2 billion. It has only been six months since I joined them and I am learning a lot!
As Global Company Secretary, I am responsible for compliance with the laws and regulations for all our companies based in India, Dubai, United States, Mexico, China and Singapore.
The various assignments I have done include legal due diligence, closing Series E Funding with marquee investors, onboarding investor nominee directors and observers, etc.
I do not regret joining start-ups instead of traditional listed companies
I clearly remember when I decided to join Bewakoof.com, many of my well-wishers and seniors were against my decision and said, “There are Company Secretaries who are eager to join listed entities, but you are leaving a listed company to join a start-up.”
Fortunately, with the guidance of my mentor and my wife, I made the move and the unusual choice of joining a start-up, which really paid off.
Working with start-ups, I have learnt that the sky is the limit as it does not restrict you to the “old way” of doing things.
Moreover, I learnt that the start-up world is actually so much fun as they offered me the opportunity to learn by formulating my own playbook.
I have also learnt to take risks and learn from mistakes.