Pooja Kumar left her cushy job as the Vice President in HSBC for the SME segment in Maharashtra , to purse her passion of enabling/ supporting SMEs in India realise their full potential. It is not easy to leave a secure job and that too when everything is smooth and in upswing professionally but Pooja just went ahead and did that. Chartered Accountant by education, Pooja has a penchant for helping businesses grow. What is her idea and how is her venture shaping up? Let’s get a firsthand account from the lady herself on what is the SME Join Up story?
Pooja please tell us in brief about SME Join Up?
SME Join Up is a platform for business owners and decision makers of small and medium enterprises which helps them in three crucial areas of business- money, market and outsourcing. SME Join up is also a place where small and medium businesses can get the visibility they want to get more business. The portal uses the power of the online world as well as offline tools like conventions, conferences etc. to help the founders of SMEs reach out to other businesses and customers, thereby creating new business opportunities for them in the most cost efficient manner. We have our mixers events every three months, which is a dinner meet for SME members where to get to know each other and look for their business opportunities. We also collaborate with other associations like INK Business Media which keeps organising business meets and conventions from time to time and give our members special discounts to these helpful events. We have also partnered with Economic Times, Pune edition where the members of the portal would be given a dedicated page to reach out to customers every month at a discounted rate.
It is also a portal where SMEs can find experts for their outsourcing needs. The portal currently has experts in the fields of corporate law, business consulting, market research, web designing and development, content writing and finance. Each of the experts go through a preliminary screening process to make sure that only quality gets through to the portal.
What is the scope of this portal?
Currently, SME Join Up is a pilot project in Pune, but in the near future, we are looking to expand to Tier II and Tier III cities as well as metropolitans and give the SMEs a common platform to find solutions to their business needs. Currently, we have 170 registered members on our portal and we also have an offline network of 1,000 other SME owners who add value to the steadily increasing network of SME Join UP. We are also launching a new portal soon called gointernational.in, which would be meant to give quality SMEs the international exposure they deserve.
What differentiates SMEJoin Up?
SME Join Up is not a networking portal. It is a problem solving ground for business owners. What sets apart SME Join Up from the rest are two factors- 1. The portal is meant for small and medium enterprises only and aims to address the problems that SMEs face in their business operations. Because it is for SMEs only, SMEs get to interact with similar counterparts, thereby leading to better understanding of problems faced and the solutions possible. It is an integrated platform for SMEs where they can look to grow their market reach, get funding and funding advice and look for experts to outsource their business operations. They no longer need to look at different places to get what they want. 2. The portal is meant for founders and decision makers only of SMEs. We do not allow any freelancers, independent consultants or likewise, because it is the quality of interaction we are looking at and not just another discussion platform.
How are you looking at scaling up?
In the coming months, we are looking to expand to Tier II and Tier III cities, after getting a good response from Pune. We look to reach out to as many SMEs as possible to add to the value creation of this segment of the business society. We are also going international very soon, by way of a new portal that we are launching- gointernational.in. This portal is aimed at SMEs who are serious about catering to the international market. Only interested and quality SMEs would be listed on this portal and would be given a customised page, designed and written by quality experts in the field of online marketing, which would act as a sales pitch for businesses to the international clients. With this new portal, we plan to create a two way value proposition- the fact that only SMEs which meet a certain criteria would be listed on this page means that international clients get access to a business listing which has only quality in it, thereby eliminating the need to Google experts or go through hundreds of other business directories which contain any and every quality of business. And because the portal would cater to international customers, quality SMEs would get to have the international exposure they deserve by leveraging the unlimited power of the online world.
Please tell us about the challenges you are facing as an entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge thus far has been to make the business owners of small and medium enterprises the utility of the online medium and the value creation of conferences, conventions etc. SMEs generally conduct their business in the traditional way, and therefore, it sometimes gets difficult to convince them to try something they have never done before. SMEs are also very cost conscious and they won’t spend a dime on something they are sure would be profitable or not. It’s the same with conferences, conventions and seminars. We keep collaborating with various associations and give our members access to useful offline networking meets at a discounted price. But even when the cost of the conference or workshop is low,SME owners are not very sure about how it would help. We had to consult the SME owners individually to make them understand the opportunities available at offline networking meets, and thankfully, the business owners could understand the value proposition of these conferences.
Your biggest milestone till now?
The biggest milestone that we have achieved in the short span of four months is more than 100 registered members on our portal. Considering that we only allow founders/decision makers of SMEs, who are most of the times busy with their day-today business activities and the fact that such a thing hasn’t been tried before, it was a big achievement for us.
What drives you? What is your plan for the near future?
To reach out to SMEs PAN India and give them an opportunity to realise their full potential by giving them domestic as well as international visibility by way of online marketing as well as offline networking. We plan to take our conferences, meets and conventions to every city in India, whether it is a big metropolitan like Delhi or a suburban town like Faridabad to make sure that every small and medium enterprise gets the opportunity to become the next Tata of the small world.
We at YourStory wish Pooja all the best and hope to see SMEs benefit from her business expertise.