Portfolio spotlight: SMEcorner

I recently traveled to Mumbai, India with Venture Lab’s Director of Portfolio Engagement, Tahira Dosani, to work on a project with SMEcorner, one of Venture Lab’s newest portfolio companies. SMEcorner is an online platform that allows small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in India to access a range of financing products from almost 30 financial institutions. We worked with the CEO, Samir Bhatia, on the company’s strategy for scaling the business in the coming year. We also collaborated closely with the SMEcorner team on customer segmentation and acquisition tactics.

SMEcorner was founded to meet India’s SME financing gap. The IFC (International Finance Corporation) estimates that there are ~30 million SMEs in India, yet the vast majority lack access to commercial capital. With such a large, addressable market of enterprises seeking financing, many are turning to new channels to access capital. Internet growth in India has been increasing at more than 30 percent per year for the last 5 years, and as consumers and businesses become more comfortable online, we expect to see more businesses seeking financial services online. Already, large players like BankBazaar have emerged in the consumer finance space and achieved considerable scale. As businesses shift online — Google has set a target of creating an online presence for 20 million SMEs by 2017 – the opportunity for online SME financing solutions is massive. SMEcorner’s solution is tapping into this demand and providing an efficient and affordable solution for millions of businesses in India.

At SMEcorner, we worked with the team on both a strategic and a tactical level. On a strategic level, although financial institutions globally are evolving and moving online, the digital lending market in India is still nascent, and few institutions are lending entirely digitally. This situation presents a challenge for digital players, as they work with to disrupt traditional lending processes and shift the sector online. Given the market dynamics, we worked with the team to outline where SMEcorner wants to be positioned two years from now, and the pathway that would lead them there.

We also worked closely with the SMEcorner team on a more tactical level to answer questions such as who the best customers are, what those customers want from a lender, and how to best reach them. We were able to sit with the digital marketing team to review past campaigns, analyze acquisition costs, and develop test messaging for future campaigns.

Being on the ground working directly with our portfolio companies is a great reminder of the challenges that startup founders face. They are determining the strategic direction, are making key operational decisions, and are also intimately involved with tactical issues on a daily basis. Spending the week sharing Samir’s office meant that we saw everything that crossed his desk; within the span of a few minutes, we jumped between working on a 30,000-foot vision of the business to getting extremely tactical with the wording of ad copy for a new online advertising campaign.

And while the dynamics of the Indian market are unique, it is remarkable how similar the young, ambitious startup culture is across the markets where we work. We really enjoyed getting to know the fast-growing SMEcorner team: Samir is a veteran with strong experience and industry ties, who balances the rest of the young, dynamic team that he has built. Getting to spend several days working closely with SMEcorner really enhanced our relationships at every level within the company.

Coming out of the trip, SMEcorner has numerous goals and growth prospects for 2016. We are thrilled to have gotten the chance to spend time on the ground learning from the team and to continue the relationship as the business grows. We are especially excited that SMEcorner will shortly be welcoming Venture Lab’s first embedded extern, Pam Sud from FSG, who will be spending time on the ground working directly with the SMEcorner team. Pam will have the opportunity to follow up on key operational projects and continue to drive value for the business, and we will make sure to check in with her on how SMEcorner is progressing.

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