Creating a start-up can be hard but achievable; it all comes down to some basic fundamental necessities. These basic necessities are nothing but clarity of vision- what are we setting out to do, a strong foundation to make it sustainable and a business model not solely dependent of discounts. Then a company must have a great enabler that would be the core of what would make the company create the awesome product/value it aims to create, a great team that shares your vision and is equally passionate and motivated.
However, these are just the starting points, challenges keep coming and those challenges test the start-up’s metal, and this is where a start-up must be patient and preserved. In the end what a start-up really needs is a future, scope to grow, to fly, because a close destination makes it boring and discourages the team from innovating and expanding!
Let me take the example of our venture, Connect2India to help you understand how it all makes the difference.
Setting the Foundation
It was around 1 and half years back when I conceptualized of Connect2India. The name was easy to come since the idea was clear and crisp, I simply wanted to see our nation grow economically and for that to happen, I knew our country has to be a more active participant in global economy and we needed a trade gateway for India.
It might come as surprise to many but the fact is that inspite of the fastest growing economy in the world, our export is only 1.6% of global exports and of 51 million Indian SMEs, only less than 1 million are active in global trade. Further, of 40 million internationally competitive overseas SMEs, only a very small fraction currently trade with India.
It was apparent to us back then that the back bone of our Indian economy was 51 Million SMEs who had a lot of potential to grow globally but there were various barriers to international trade which were acting as obstacles to their growth. I believed that global markets are full of opportunities, given the current trade scenario of the world and India’s growing stature. But Indian SMEs were not even attempting to penetrate these huge markets.
The Vision – Clear as Crystal
I wanted to change that and enable & empower every single Indian SME to at least try trading globally, however, that doesn’t mean I was blindly going to push the SMEs. No, instead, with my prior experience in global trade domain, I knew about challenges that stand in the way of a SME trading globally. Thus, my idea was to eliminate these barriers & challenges that stop our SMEs from trading globally and fly high. I wanted to make global trade- from and with India safe and easy.
The job wasn’t as easy as the vision, we were daring to neutralise a bunch of barriers which has been there for ages; how would we do it with our little resources?
Technology, Our Great Enabler
I heard a quote once in a movie, “My enemy is not afraid of the thousand techniques I’ve practiced once, but that one technique that I have practiced a thousand times”. Sounds out of place here right? Let me put it the way I follow it in my life, “My greatest strength is not the thousand things I know a bit about, but the 1 thing I know by the very atom” and that ‘thing’ for me was technology. I always believed in power of technology and technology was my greatest weapon, thus, when I decided to go on my greatest adventure, I placed all my faith in my greatest weapon again.
Technology was my answer to the stubborn challenges of global trade. We started working towards creating a technology-driven, big data enabled and cloud based integrated global trade platform that could form a path for any SME through the barriers.
Getting the Team Right
With the foundation ready, we needed to get started with it at the earliest, first most was hiring. we needed a team we could depend on, a team that would understand our vision and believe in it. With our hiring philosophy of ‘hire for attitude, train for skills’, I looked for people who were culturally fit for our organisation. Given the financial restrains we had to come up with the right of everything, we decided to hire a small, full-time core team filled with the desire to stand-out.
Customer Feedback was Goldmine for our Product Evolution
We were lucky, things went well and we created an extremely talented team, roles were assigned but they weren’t rigid. We launched our MVP in the next couple of months, Connect2India, an integrated global trade platform that backed with all the latest technology, enabled facilitation to almost every major trade barrier such as availability of global trade information, global trade intelligence, foreign counterparts etc.
From the demand and supply of every globally tradable product to the genuine and verified overseas buyers of the product, trade procedures and trade statistics, our MVP was powerful enough for beta testing but it wasn’t full, we constantly took feedback from our users on the platform, and we kept refining the product based on it and before you know, in late April 2016, we launched our full platform for Indian SMEs to effectively trade globally and overseas SMEs to effectively trade with India.
Our Challenges had just started
The product was completed, but we were thirsty for results. However, we knew that the results will still require lots of efforts, from A/B testing for customers to revenue channels, the marketing and selling aspect of our business was upon us.
We knew bad marketing can break a great product, and we knew that the job was only half done. We started to market the way we knew the best, digitally! This was our forte and we did make big from it.
From optimization to campaigns to digital marketing, we tried to make the most efficient use of our limited resources and yet generate significant interest among our target user segment, in our platform.
However, the challenges were far from over. SMEs are sceptical to anything new, anything that is not already accepted by the majority or the big names, thus, we initially faced issues with the trust and faith of customers in us and our limited resources limited us from attempting full-fledged multi channel sales & marketing.
Patience and Perseverance pays off
In business, I believed in the philosophy of proving the business / revenue model and potential of the product first before aggressively scaling up. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
We started slow in the beginning, but picked up pace as soon as possible and starting January’ 17 we were seeing 100% MoM growth and here we are today.
Within 1 year of our platform launch we are operationally profitable, have 80,000 Unique Business Visitors / month, have paid customers across India and overseas, and in addition to SMEs, even large enterprises such as Jindal Group, Modi Group etc. are using Connect2India.
Looking ahead – A bright future for all!
It has been a great ride so far, sometimes scary sometimes bumpy but always fun-filled, and we are hungry for more, we still want to reach our ultimate objectives. Things are only getting better with our vision of reaching out to maximum SME taking shape. We are now aggressively scaling up, acquiring more and more customers on daily basis, investors are also reaching out to us, impressed with our revenue model, I believe we will soon be shifting gears and go even faster and aggressively towards realizing our dream of becoming the most trusted global trade platform.