How this Millennial CA at age 24 established a CA firm serving 500+ clients in less than 6 years

Sohinee Dey

  • Hi! I am Nikitha Agarwal, a Practicing Chartered Accountant, and a Financial & Legal Consultant by profession based in Hyderabad, India.
  • I desired to do something different and at that time CA seemed like a viable option.
  • Soon after a short corporate stint, I took the entrepreneurial route and went on to established my firm, Nikitha & Associates in 2016.
  • Today, in a short span of 5 years, we are a team of 15 with a 500+ clientele base in different industry domains.

An unexpected career choice

As an 18-year-old fresh high school graduate, I was interested in building robots but my father had different plans for me. His whole idea of Engineering revolved around settling for a job in the long run which was a Big No for me…That’s when the whole trouble started!

After considering other career options, I chose the commerce stream and with the limited options in this stream, I decided to take the Chartered Accountancy path.

Fast forward to 19th January 2015, the big day of my life arrived!... I qualified as a Chartered Accountant! (After all these worrisome years, I had finally hit the bullseye!)

The next big question - What next after CA?

Taking up a corporate role only to realize I want to start my own

Soon after qualifying as a CA, I had industry and consulting offers in hand.

And you guessed correctly, all my well-wishers (in good faith) took the responsibility of my professional life and started advising me on what to do (not to do)!

Even though I was well acquainted with the pros and cons of being in a job (Consulting vs Industry) vs being on my own (joining someone or getting started alone), like any 22-year-old, I was still not sure on what to do next.

It was then that I confided in my Dad to guide me through this! My dad suggested that I pursue a specialization that is rare in the fraternity.

Keeping this in mind, I joined IIFL (a leading NBFC) as a Credit Manager as they offered me growth opportunities and a completely new line of activity. ­­

Here my role was to analyze, evaluate, and structure complex prospects of project financing.

Within the first year itself at IIFL, I realized the scope as a CA to help the business grow and thrive. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and help clients with desired expansion and growth strategies which would also include funding and investment strategies.

This service line was niche, as very few professionals understand Practice beyond compliances.

While still working, I focused on my line of specialization and chalked out a plan to launch my own firm, and started expanding my network.

With this vision, Nikitha & Associates was founded on 14 February 2016 as a proprietary concern.

A promising beginning of the firm

When I just started out, I had a handful of prospects and decided to hire 3 associates to help me out.

I used my savings to run the firm for the first few months and even rented office space in the prime location of Kukatpally, Hyderabad.

We were not 100% utilized for the initial months but were content with the work we were getting. However, in a short span of time, we started getting work through a lot of referrals from our existing clientele and since then there has been no stopping us.

On the service line, my idea of getting into practice was never to be a traditional CA Firm, instead, I always wanted to be a stakeholder in the client’s growth journey. So, initially, I was focused on financial modeling and funding advisory.

Over a period of time, our service offerings grew and we started taking up Audit and Compliance work as well.

Overcoming Challenges

I had started my journey at the age of 24 without any prior practice background. I did not even have a strong network of clients. All I had was a strong belief in my strengths and the faith that I could navigate the challenges.

The biggest challenge for me was to establish long-term trustful working relationships with the clients. Many of them were reluctant to engage with us as they had preconceived notions that being women, we would get married soon and their work would suffer in the process.

But apart from that, below are a few more challenges that I faced initially:

  1. Competition: Words like Penetration Pricing/Cut Throat Competition/Free Services were pretty popular back then. But it didn’t scare me as I was clear that a happy client would act as my business development catalyst. This worked well and competition in terms of fees/service was never affected.
  2. Resistance by prospective clients/employees/their stakeholders: Being young and inexperienced in the field haunted us for a while. Although there was initial resistance in few cases, with time, clients blessed us with their trust.
  3. Technology adaptation: Resistance to embracing new technologies was always a challenge from employees and also clients considering the risks and costs. This was overcome once the pros were well demonstrated. Advanced excel training, fully devised ERP systems, software linked to statutory portals, paperless reviews, and reports fully equipped our team of 12 associates. (My advice for those wanting to start their own Practices would be to adopt technology as early as possible.)
  4. Resources: A good deliverable demands good research. We had initial bottlenecks in terms of investments in resources viz., books, subscriptions to tax modules, etc.
  5. Domain Expertise: In the first year, many clients had signed up for end-to-end retainer services that demanded experience with local laws, statutory requirements, and other frameworks. But with limited experience and limited in-house staff, this was a challenge. However, with the growth of Practice, we segregated the roles and responsibilities and now we have the domain experts in every line of service.

Today, in a short span of 5 years, we are a team of 15 with a 500+ clientele base in different industry domains. Also, the majority of my employees are women and I am so fortunate to retain their trust! 

Timeline of our firm’s growth journey: 2016 – Present

2016

  • Started as a proprietary concern with a niche service line to cater to clients who were excited about strategic growth and needed advisory in the industry domain they serve.
  • In the latter period of 2016, we onboarded clients for rendering regular book-keeping, auditing, tax, and regulatory services.

2017

  • This was the most challenging yet fulfilling year for us.
  • With the advent of GST, almost every client was in dire need of a timely transition to the new regime and we were completely in jolts because of daily clarifications and changes from the Board.
  • The latter half of the year was completely taken care of by my associates, from transition to training the clients, and in the process, we had amassed significant exposure to GST Tech and compliance.

2018 - 2019

  • These years were the toughest in terms of closure of clients’ accounts and making significant filings in GST Regime. Thankfully, the close coordination among the fraternity enabled the professionals to take the requisite statutory position to close the issue.
  • These were the years of building a network. Further, the tech-enabled GST regime made the work transparent and created a possibility to work remotely.
  • We introduced Flexi-timings at work to eliminate complacency and found a surge in efficiency while letting the employees work at their comfort of time.
  • The word about our 24x7 work office for our GST practice spread like wildfire and our client book multiplied by end of 2019!
  • Our team also grew to 9 members.

2020 - 2021

  • We successfully completed our retainer services till Feb 2020 and were all set to raise our invoices in March 2020 and that’s when the crisis struck.
  • Thankfully, none of our clients had to surrender to the crisis and resumed operations when the Covid got neutralized in the later part of 2020.
  • Unlike earlier years, the hikes in our fee took a backseat and recoveries took a longer period than usual but these testing times were actually in our favor due to the technologies we adopted.
  • Started the remote working option which soon became routine to almost every service industry.
  • The pandemic also allowed us the opportunity of prolonging our expansion in the US and network firms in Dubai and Doha.
  • Today our team is 15 plus professionals.

Wrapping Up…

To sum up, irrespective of your gender, entrepreneurship is challenging. So, focus on your strengths, specialize in a niche service line, and give your 100%.

Last but not the least, do not fear competition or big names, as there is scope for everyone to succeed.

Now It's Your Turn...

Do you have any questions for Nikitha? Comment below and let us know. 

 

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