What Goes Behind the Making Of 'Most Promising Entrepreneur of 2016'
I have been told a number of times that if you’re really good at something and work on it, you will be recognised. You need not shout it out to the world but your work and effort will definitely take you to new heights.
It is this that Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards look for when looking for a promising entrepreneur and this year their search brought them to India. Sustained by the top-notch industry and government authorities, the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards acknowledges and felicitates exemplary entrepreneurship. Held on March 3 by Asia’s leading non-governmental organisation for entrepreneurship, the Awards honoured the most promising talent encompassing three qualities in particular: benchmarking and surpassing industry’s best practices; flawless previous and current endeavours; and unrelenting publicity and public outreach.
The award was brought home this year by Sirish Kumar, Co-Founder & CEO of Telr, as he was named the Most Promising Entrepreneur of 2016. So, what was it that he did differently, let’s find out.
Was entrepreneurship something you always wanted to do?
Entrepreneurship is something I had in my DNA, but this did not become apparent immediately. My father, an international trainer and mentor, used to narrate inspiring stories about micro and small entrepreneurs from his experiences. This subtly nudged me in towards developing an entrepreneurial bent of mind and approaching problems with a ‘how to’ attitude. My professional experiences with MNCs, particularly Cargill and Motorola, also played a very major role in developing my entrepreneurial skills.
So how did it all begin?
I hold an MBA from INSEAD and a degree in Chartered Accountancy from India. As any young guy looking to kick start his professional career, I joined an MNC immediately after obtaining Chartered Accountant degree. The job was with Cargill Foods, which is the world’s largest privately held food corporation. Cargill gave me a fantastic wealth of experience.
I worked directly with the CFO at Cargill and was exposed to a host of business functions such as forex/commodities trading, acquisitions, setting a new berth facility for large shipping vessels. I was selected as top 20 talented team members in the company.
All of this contributed towards developing an entrepreneurial mindset while working within the framework of an MNC, and also helped me in identifying the asymmetrical information flow between buyers and sellers within the business environment, especially when pertaining to the intermediary chain, such as brokers, that typically operated within it.
What is Telr all about?
Working with Motorola and PayPal, there were three major SME pain points that I had identified, and Telr has been actively addressing those concerns with its merchant payments solution and an out-of-the-box approach. We have streamlined the process of bringing merchants onto a digital platform by automating the process through our proprietary self-on-boarding approach while at the same time doing away with the upfront fees related to it. Our merchants, in other markets, also have the freedom to transact in a currency of their choice without having to worry about the currency in which the payment is made or the conversion charges. Lastly, we are supporting our merchants with our ‘merchant advance’ facility, which helps them in scaling their operations through short -term capital advance. The idea was to create a ubiquitous payment processing ecosystem across multiple geographies that partners with SMEs in their growth story.
Teller at a bank counter has been the person receiving and paying cash in a bank’s branch for a long time. Telr denotes the digitisation of a process of handling cash (read cashless) that enables merchants to scale up.
How was the idea of your startup conceptualised?
Although I had already been approached before to become a part of a start-up earlier, the initial idea for Telr was actually conceptualised during 2013 when I was working at PayPal. This was when I had started a social entrepreneurship platform in Singapore, which encouraged people to start their businesses and revisit their business models through access to experienced mentors.
This involvement had me interacting very closely with start-ups and entrepreneurs, and led to several discussions around specific pain points faced by SMEs. At PayPal, I sought to gain a deeper insight into the SMEs in emerging markets who were taking too long to come online
My interactions with the SME community revealed there were major reasons behind the failure to adapt to a digital medium and sell online. Using these as baseline, it was in August 2013 that I finally started talking to people about my idea to create an ecosystem that not only provided online payments solutions to the SMEs, but also served as a growth partner to help them grow through auxiliary support. The discussion was extremely fruitful, and led me into establishing Telr as a platform to address the various hassles faced by SMEs when trying to come onboard a digital platform.
Who has been your mentor in your entrepreneurial journey and what did you learn?
I have been influenced by several individuals. Some of them are investors in our company, while others are people whom I have worked for in my corporate life.
The biggest learning experience has been realising the value of clarity of vision and developing an attitude to test my limits by getting my hands dirty. I have also learnt how teams are more important that individuals, and as such have always endeavoured to hire people who are highly skilled in their respective fields to build an expert cross-functional team.
Who do you look up to as an entrepreneur?
Richard Branson, for obvious reasons. He is one individual who has constantly tested his own limits to today establish unique culture across his various businesses, and hasn’t compromised on his humanity and humility. He is a true inspiration to all entrepreneurs.
The biggest challenge you have faced?
It would be the dilemma between a focused approach and doing things in parallel, between focusing on profits and creating a top line. However, this constant challenge to balance short-term thinking against a longer cycle time helps me in developing an objective viewpoint on issues and aids indecision making across functions. I try to merge a hands-on approach with creativity without compromising on the time-bound limitations.
How have you and your way of doing business changed over the years?
The biggest change, I would say, is that I have understood the actual value of time. More of my time now is spent in achieving than in discussing. I have also learnt how to take tougher decisions and keeping emotions out of business decisions.
Moreover, starting my business has also made me more selective about partners and investors.
How is Telr different from other payment gateways?
We are more than just another payments service provider with an experienced team from organisations like PayPal, Visa, World Pay and Standard & Poors. By providing support to the SME industry, we actively encourage development of local e-commerce entrepreneurship by extending several services to nurture growth for our merchants.
Let’s give our homeboy a huge round of applause and we hope this award to be the first of many to come in near future.