- Hi, I am CA Gaurav Sukhija, and in 2017, my squad and I ditched our Big 4 jobs to kickstart a CA Firm laser-focused on startups.
- Fast forward 6 years, and BOOM we were a team of 60 rocking it with diverse clients in IT, Fintech, and Crypto. In 2023, we merged with Kirtane & Pandit, the right move at the right time.
- How did we grow so fast? Here is our complete playbook.
Friends turned business partners
I was clear I wanted to be a Chartered Accountant (CA) and in 2012, my professional journey commenced with CA articleship in the M&A practice.
In 2015 after qualifying as a CA I joined Deloitte, specializing in, yes you guessed it, M&A and Valuations.
During this time, I worked extensively with startups, particularly those in the Series A, B, and C funding stages. I grew fond of the fast-paced and exciting dynamic work.
It is safe to say my stint at Deloitte stirred the entrepreneur in me.
In 2016, together with my friends Sanchit, and Prateek who also hail from conventional business families like mine (they were working at KPMG and PwC respectively), we decided to venture out on our own.
But the big question was…What should be the business about?
To figure this out, every Saturday we nestled in a café and brainstormed about different ideas.
Initially, the notion of a startup intrigued us. However, without a tech background, it seemed unrealistic.
After a lot of back and forth, we decided to leverage our expertise and establish a CA firm.
When we set out to build our firm, the market was already saturated. Several of our friends were running small CA firms, providing general services. We chose to narrow down and focus only on startups.
We aimed to establish ourselves as a one-stop shop for all the M&A services such as due diligence, valuation, transaction advisory, and other functions.
Our target clients were funded startups and those in the pre-IPO stage.
With that vision in mind, in 2017, we quit our jobs and established PGSJ & Co.
I was handling valuation, M&A tax, and due diligence while my Partners were taking care of international tax, internal audit, and other aspects.
Our growth journey
In September, we began in a 180-square-foot office with just the three of us and two other employees.
As a newly established CA firm, choices in selecting clients are limited. The primary focus for the first year was covering rent and employees’ salaries. In that small office, we served whoever walked through the door.
We leveraged our network of friends and family for work opportunities. In a few months, we reached a break-even point and from then we started to focus on our Niche areas.
Toward the end of 2017, we recognized that our statutory audit performance was subpar.
Thankfully, at a Diwali party, we came across our old friend CA Chirag who was working with KPMG.
We approached him and proposed that if he considered starting a CA firm, he could join forces with us. He immediately jumped on board.
This marked the inauguration of our four-partner CA firm.
We started with diverse fields and gradually expanded. In one year, our manpower grew, thus we shifted to a 560 sq. ft office.
But then another question popped up in our minds. ‘What should our next goal be? Do we need profitability in the range of 50%-70% or opt for less profitability and more clients?’
Unanimously, we agreed to acquire more clients and assignments.
2019 to 2022
Our growth continued and by the end of 2022, we reached a 55-employee count and moved to a 3,600 sq. ft office.
We were surely growing fast but we started facing two challenges:
Unable to cater to a broader set of clients: When startups reached the late stage, they typically required Big 20 CA firms. Some corporates weren’t allowed by the board to give us the assignments, citing our relatively small team.
No pan-India presence: Geographical constraints further limited our reach. We aspired to have offices in Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, and Hyderabad, with a bigger, more dependable team.
Merging with a big CA firm wasn’t initially on our radar.
To be honest, we didn’t know how viable this option was for Indian CA firms looking for exponential growth. After all, very few mergers took place in India over the last decade.
In November 2022, we attended the World Congress of Accountants in Mumbai. As luck would have it, we met a senior partner at Kirtane & Pandit, a prominent 60-year-old Accounting, Auditing, and Consulting firm in India.
One thing led to another and they brought up the idea of a merger.
They were already 700 employees and 30 partners strong, with offices spanning; Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Nasik, and Delhi. But their presence in Delhi was limited with only 10 employees, specifically in the banking sector. They were looking to fill the gap.
Fortunately, we had a great presence in the said location.
Despite receiving offers from other firms, we saw potential with Kirtane & Pandit and in July 2023, we officially merged with them.
I am now the National Leader-Transaction Advisory at Kirtane & Pandit, overseeing tax valuation and due diligence.
Post-merger the team has grown to a whopping 100 members. We couldn’t have been prouder of our decision.
A question we get asked often – Client acquisition strategy?
Since ICAI forbids us to market our practice like a regular consumer business, here is how we acquired clients:
A strong profile
- We focused on two key aspects: firstly, building a strong profile, and secondly, crafting the right proposals.
- Packaging your services well does make a big difference.
Saying yes to almost every assignment
- We were handling FP&A functions for startups, which involved managing GST, TDS, accounting, and various aspects.
- We worked with clients from diverse sectors such as IT, deep tech, crypto, and blockchain.
Being transparent with clients
- Many CA firms lacked transparency regarding fees.
- We addressed this gap by clearly communicating the fee structure from the outset – on a monthly, annual, or quarterly basis.
Providing a Big 4 level service for a reasonable fee
- In the beginning, we charged very meagre fees compared to what a Big 4 firm would have charged but we delivered top-notch quality work.
Leveraging the power of word-of-mouth
- We joined startup forums which proved instrumental in acquiring clients.
- Approximately 25 to 30 references were generated through these platforms.
- There was a moment where one person referred another, and this sequence continued until we reached the seventh company, forming an entire chain.
- There is no way that CA firms can grow unless there is a strong word of mouth.
Hiring the best talent
- We were 26 years old or so when we started the firm which made talent acquisition a bit difficult. But we were clear only the best talent would be hired.
- Apart from CAs, our team consists of a company secretary, lawyers, cost accountants, and even MBAs.
Attracting the right talent… key to our growth
Many CA firms reached out to us, asking, what is the secret to our success. There are many but hiring the right talent is key.
But the question is what did we do to attract talent? Here is what we follow:
Generally, many CA firms pay their articles as low as INR 2,500 to INR 5,000.
We paid them sufficiently so that they could have a place to stay, commute, and at least afford food. Because of this, we attracted excellent and hardworking articles.
We can gladly say that our first employee is still with us and we went from 2 to 60 team members within 6 years.
Accept good quality assignments
People join us not just to earn a salary, but to learn too, especially at the articles and paid assistance levels. So, obtaining good and meaningful work is vital.
This is more like a chicken and egg kind of situation; you need a good team to attract good clients and vice versa.
Open room policy
We encourage every team member to voice their opinion or suggestion at any time of the day.
Since our families had businesses, we never had to contribute our salary to the household. This allowed us to take calculated risks in our entrepreneurial journey. And I am extremely grateful for this.
If you are considering establishing a CA firm in India, now is the right time; irrespective of your financial background.
Operating a CA firm presents more challenges than a typical 9-5 job, for obvious reasons, however, the rewards, are twofold—both financially and mentally.
So, if you possess the necessary entrepreneurial skill sets (not just technical skills) and want to be your boss, then you can take a chance at this.
Find your niche and consider establishing a Partnership CA firm.