Why these serial entrepreneurs are building a social network for stock market investors from Bharat
Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak, the world has seen a steep increase in retail investors. The pandemic was an influx point of sorts for the brokerage industry, as new and expert investors scrambled to create dual or multiple sources of income in case of job losses or any other unforeseen eventualities.
The pandemic also drove the growth of independent online communities, as more folks from tier II and III regions in India joined the digital bandwagon. With social isolation and lockdowns, plenty of time on hand, and a robust Jio network, online communities went from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’.
Serial entrepreneurs Nikhil Manikanta and Pruthvi Raj Eranti sensed this prevailing trend and decided to capitalise on their expertise by launching Bengaluru-based fintech startup in 2021.
The platform aims to be a trusted conduit for potential and expert investors, where users can get new investment ideas, seek second opinions, learn, and invest together with other investors.
“We wanted the app to help users learn, invest, and grow in the stock market, even amidst their busy schedules. Our platform is location agnostic, and we work across India,” says Nikhil.
“Currently, we have some basic features - news summarisation using ML and AI, flash news from the industry, aggregation of suggestions from different registered advisors, personalised notifications based on your watch list and portfolio from different brokers,” he adds.
The Beta model of the platform has witnessed 10,000 users, and 85 percent retention. The features also include a trust score for every investor on the platform based on the performance of his past suggestions, returns on his trades/ ideas; investor views on market trends, and dedicated rooms to discuss different topics, among others.
Nikhil and Pruthvi, friends turned entrepreneurs, are IIT Kharagpur alumni. This is their second startup together, after building PickQuick, a no-code platform that creates mobile apps from wireframes in very little turnaround time.
They are candid when they say iTribe was born out of their own journey into investing and trading.
“Despite so many tools available to make investing/trading easy, I have always gone to Pruthvi to learn and seek suggestions from him. I made some good profits, and losses too, but still preferred going to him for suggestions because of the trust factor. Meanwhile, it also made me curious about how others started their journey in the stock market, and started speaking to close friends about the same. That’s when I realised that many of them have started their journey with the help of a friend or family member,” says Nikhil.
“After 10,000+ user interviews in five months across different geographies and different user personas, we were clear that trust was the common factor in all the segments,” he adds.
They noted that many folks from tier II and III regions often fell prey to scamsters because of a lack of awareness and knowledge. Trustworthy influencers who could help make financial decisions were the need of the hour.
“As an MVP, we started a Facebook group to understand if people in tier II and tier III towns can join and ask questions or seek advice from other fellow members. To our surprise, this group has grown to 350,000 members today with 300+ queries being asked and answered every day. The success of this page pushed us to start building a product which had answers to queries that the group couldn’t solve or answer,” Nikhil states.
From a Facebook group managed by the founders, iTribe has now grown into a company that employs 20+ people, and is also aiming to be a go-to platform for Gen-Zs and millennials who are keen to gain financial independence by building their knowledge. The user-friendly app is available on both Android and iOS.
When asked about competition, Nikhil is undeterred and says, “there aren't any big players. Multiple small players are working on similar problem statements like threedots, FrontPage and Trinkerr.”
Getting off the ground
Starting with a modest Rs 3 lakh as an initial investment, Nikhil recounts how they got their first customers by talking to them about the problems they were facing in the market, understanding where they stood, and working with them to build solutions for solving the same.
The personalised approach helped in building customer trust and scaling, and in April this year, the startup raised $1 million in a pre-Seed round from investors such as Incisive Ventures, and several other angel investors., Kunal Shah ( ),
iTribe plans to deploy the funds to build new technology tools that make adoption by the front line much more accessible, accelerating the organizational adaptation needed to produce results.
The founders are clear their goal is to become a holistic investment learning platform for stocks, NFTs, mutual funds, and moving further, even cryptocurrency.
“We are a pre-revenue company as of now. In the future, users will be paying a monthly subscription fee to access the pro features, and we also plan a ‘‘pay per advice” model,” Nikhil says.
The appetite for equities in the world’s second-most-populated nation is growing, and backing this is data from India’s main depositories - the National Securities Depository Ltd (NSDL) and Central Depository Services Ltd (CDSL). According to a study, in March 2021, 1.9 million Demat accounts were created and a record 14.2 million new Demat accounts were opened in FY21, nearly three times the figure in the previous fiscal year.
The pandemic and business disruptions had clearly paved the way for new investment opportunities, especially from non-metros.
“Creating awareness in tier II and tier III is critical for startups like us tapping into the untapped regions,” Nikhil says.
“We are working with registered SEBI advisors and wealth managers to build solutions for helping and managing their users. Furthermore, we will always aim to grow and build our portfolio in the same sector. Also, we are applying for a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA license),” he adds.
On how they arrived upon their ambitious vision to enable 70 percent of the Indian population to make informed investment decisions, Nikhil comments, “We are all set to grow to 5,00,000 registered users in the next six to eight months. Anyone who is earning anywhere between Rs 3 lakh to Rs 15 lakh is our target group.”