Investment banker in London with Lehman Brothers. There are few spots better than that to learn the ropes of finance. Kunal Nandwani was at it for five years but his soul yearned to start up. A chance meeting with a stock broker when he was in India gave him a glimpse of what was lacking in the Indian financial market: better technology products. The trading platform used by the broker was sub-standard. This prompted Kunal to quit his job and launch uTrade Solutions from his home office in Chandigarh with three friends.
That was on 1 July 2011. Today, uTrade has over 20 clients across India, Singapore, Dubai, and London, including the Bombay Stock Exchange, GMEX UK and Marex Spectron UK. They have 32 employees working out of Chandigarh, Mumbai and London. Their financial technology products got them selected for the prestigious FinTech Innovation Lab program in London. This would help them develop and commercialize their innovations in financial systems further with global investment banks.
Open source model is their differentiator
uTrade builds open source financial trading technology products. These include multi-asset trading platforms, low latency algorithmic trading solutions and risk management and analytics products.
Being open source, the source code of their application is included in its compiled version, and is freely distributed with a few re-selling / licensing constraints. Developers across the world can enhance and customise the code to fit their requirements. Their main competitors in India are Omnesys, Greeksoft and Financial Technologies. Abroad, there are Fidessa, RTS, TT and Sunguard. “We have differentiated our offerings by building on the latest and best technologies, using the open source distribution model, and by offering a great user experience with a faster platform,” Kunal said.
Cutting edge experience in trading houses
uTrade’s co-founders — Mayank Mathur, Harwinder Sidhu and Ashish Grover – are Kunal’s pals from college days. Harwinder, Ashish and Kunal did their engineering together at PEC, India. And Mayank and Kunal did MBA at ESSEC France. While Kunal was getting an edge in electronic, multi-asset algorithmic and high frequency trading while working with Lehman Brothers, Nomura and BNP Paribas in London, Mayank was with Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Technology Investment Banking in London and Paris. Harwinder and Ashish worked with Cap Gemini, IOCL Cadence, Connexant and C-Dot, gaining expertise in software development.
At uTrade, so far their big challenge, Kunal says, has been hiring. “A startup is only as good as its team. Our key challenge revolves around HR – acquiring and retaining quality talent from a limited pool of skilled and experienced people.”
Being based in Chandigarh did not help as the talent pool was limited in the city. “Still, for each hire in the firm, uTrade HR team has on average received 200 CVs, and done 50 interviews. This is hard work. In order to retain the best talent, we offer perks like flexibility to learn and grow, zero hierarchy and stock options to align the interests of the team with the company’s growth,” Kunal says.
With a market of over $20 billion globally, uTrade is looking to expand further with brokers, investment banks, exchanges and various other partners.
Building a collaborative ecosystem
In less than a year of starting up and building financial products from scratch, uTrade got BSE approval for its trading platform in April 2012. Seed round of funding came a month after that, and first paying clients in September 2012. The BSE, one of their key clients, came later in 2013.
“We raised close to $400,000 funding by March 2012 (including investments from co-founders) and a seed round funding of $400,000 in the second quarter of the year from Hong Kong-based seed investor firm called Axis Capital. We grew dramatically in the current financial year since most of our products launched in April 2013, and currently, we are bootstrapping with the client revenues,” Kunal says.
Along with their plans to grow within Indian markets, they also intend to expand their global footprint and collaborate with London-based investment banks and other financial institutions. The Fintech Innovation Labs would help here. “This programme is going to provide uTrade a collaborative environment to work with the largest investment banks and push adoption of their open source platform globally,” Kunal says.
uTrade’s vision is to create a more efficient, innovative and collaborative ecosystem for financial markets.