Interview: BharatX

In this jungle of digital market where everyone is striving to do better than their contenders, here comes a group of enthusiasts who have fearlessly stepped into the race. Meet the BharatX team – Eeshan, Mehul, Shyam and Siddharth, 4 friends who aim to provide a new holistic approach towards credit. Find about their ongoing journey towards success, their fruitful insight on the financial situation, importance of start-up culture, juggling life at NIT-T and much more.

Could you tell us more about BharatX and how you are working towards your vision to enable effortless access to credit for the Indian middle class? 

Eeshan Sharma: I guess we are trying to pick out a different approach. Usually, people have tried and tested the same models, same things, and keep on trying out the premium class that is always there. More or less, it is the same old philosophies and same old practices. So, first and foremost, the vision for us was to do something different. We tried to look at it from a holistic point of view and wanted to ensure that everything that we did was in that direction. So, it took a lot of thinking and time to break away from what is already there and think of the whole problem in a holistic manner right from the beginning. For example, data about payments exist already but it was not being used. Another example is that there is so much payment data that is available on the phones that we have in our hands but no one really cares about that if you were to walk into a bank and were asking for some money. Right? So, that was the idea and that was the viewpoint that we set out with. We were trying to change how people adjust when it comes to credit. 

Mehul Nath: The one-line version of it would be that we enable other apps and websites to give  credit to their users and we use digital financial data like payments, and so on from their apps and devices and just the users from that meeting and thus making it a holistic approach towards credit. 

So, what inspired you to start BharatX? Did you have any role models guiding you? 

Mehul Nath: We started out BharatX because we had faced the problem of access to credit ourselves in the past. We come from Indian middle-class families and in India, 97% of families don’t have the proper documents required to get access to credit. I, myself, faced a lot of difficulties and problems when I had to get an education loan. Like, Our institute branch was not even able to facilitate it and I had to use a different branch. So, there are a lot of problems in the financial ecosystem because of proper documentation and that is what inspired us to start BharatX. On one level, we were trying to solve the problem for ourselves and even still do. 

All 4 of you are still students at NIT-T at the moment, and you are already so established to the point where you got mentioned in Forbes 30 under 30 this year, yeah? It’s not often that we get to see something like this. So, how was your road to success, and what were your greatest difficulties in reaching this point? 

Shyam: I wouldn’t call it a success yet.  Yeah our efforts have been fruitful so far and we have been working hard behind this idea, but that doesn’t mean we have reached the end yet. Despite our results, we have had troubles in various ways. For example, getting our product out was not that easy and the error rate was really difficult to manage. We had to become founders and that was an uphill road by itself. As you mentioned, managing the fact that we were still in college, and juggling between traveling to classes and focussing on this was not easy. We had to compromise on things like having fun at certain points, we had to compromise sleep at other points. So, it’s not easy to do both. 

Aishwarya: Yeah, that makes sense. Giving up sleep and fun is hard. 

All of you are part of ProfNITT – Our financial and Investments Club. Not only that, but you are also the co-founders of ProfNITT. So, how did this experience help you when you decided to start BharatX? 

Eeshan Sharma: I will be very honest, ProfNITT was something that was done just for fun. We wanted to do something different in college other than the usual. As second years, you join clubs, As third years you become managers and in the fourth year, you might get a shot at becoming heads of the club or you might just be a part of the club.  That’s how most of the clubs in NITT work. I met him through ProfNITT. So, when we were starting out ProfNITT, we realized that we worked really well together. There is no comparison between the difficulties that we had there and what we have now. That had its own set of difficulties like dealing with admin, and I guess that is something that even you guys can relate to. Starting out anything at a high level and that too being a first-year at the time, there were a lot of difficulties. But, the fact that we were able to find ourselves and know how to work together as a team is something that we can owe to ProfNITT. 

Speaking of ProfNITT and finances, financial literacy is really something that is not taught in our schools,  and it is quite normal for people like us to be intimidated by financial jargon. But working with money is such an important part of our lives. So, how do you think you can equip today’s youth like us with the required skills to make sound financial decisions?  

Mehul Nath: There are a lot of publications available today that explain financial steps in a very precise and concise and easy manner. For example, economic times is a really good publication and there are others like them that have good publications. I think one should keep track of those and read them because people perceive finance as mostly tax, accounting, maths, and other random, tangential, lazy stuff. But, when they enter the industry …….like as an indexed start-up, 90 – 99% of our work is integrated with finance. I don’t even remember the last time we had a finance-isolated discussion. So, you will have to learn it and gain that knowledge while working in the industry, so the earlier the better. 

All brand new ideas of entrepreneurs need the support of established institutions on some level. So, how do you think schools and colleges can help foster an entrepreneurial mindset? 

Siddharth Venu: This question reminded me of an idea from ProfNITT. I think it’s called alumni connect. So, essentially what it does is, it helps students to reach out to alumni for various things. Not only start-ups, students can also ask about stuff like what do we do for highers? For example, let us say a student is doing a major in EEE and has a specific question about doing higher studies in the USA or Canada. Imagine if you had a directory of sorts of various alumni, their name, their professions, what are they doing, like are they a professor or something like that. So, we can do something like that for all colleges.  Alumni can help a lot in raising 1 start-up to 10 start-ups within the college itself because they are more reachable.

Mehul Nath: I would like to add to that. I don’t know about schools, but college administration, in particular, can help a lot. They can create a very small fund that can be used by the students to register the company, at least. Because that itself costs around 10 -15 thousand rupees, and we remember when we were in college (we still are), we thought of that as a very large amount as a second year. But for the college, that is not a huge amount of money at all. If they even facilitate 15 – 30 registrations per year, I am sure that 2 – 5 of them would become a good start-up. Not only that, it would also prevent students from doing activities that aren’t properly legal as well at the same time. So, that would help at both ends. Colleges, in general, should start looking at start-up activities as something that is good. For instance, all of us still have to maintain attendance percentage, we have to do final year projects. If we were to take a parallel to BITS Pilani or any other campus that has a really good start-up culture, you do not have to do your research and can instead directly focus on your start-up and that will count as credits. Your attendance percentage requirements get waived off. But here, we might raise millions of dollars in the company but will still have to abide by the rule set of college, and I think that is something Colleges should try to work to improve upon for the benefit of the larger community.

The thing with Fin-Tech start-ups is that they are becoming much more commonplace and the global market is expected to reach like $700 Billion dollars by the end of this decade. What do you think separates BharatX from other Fin-Tech Start-Ups in this really big and expanding sector? 

Mehul Nath: I think we are solving a problem directly. In India, access to print is a trillion-dollar problem. So, that alone blows larger than the 700 Billion Dollar Global market and all the other companies. Because of the sheer size of India, anything we solve is big honestly. What makes BharatX different is while many start-ups are focussing on making incrementally good products such as making banks work better, making investment experience better or something along those lines, we are trying to go from 0 to 1 in lending. Previously, where 0 people were getting access to credit, we are trying to make it such that 1 person gets access to credit. So, we are going through that 0 to 1 journey. Most of the sector and most of the other players make better products and better journeys. We are trying to do something that banks have not done in the last decade or so, and not making their processes better. 

Aishwarya: I hope that what you guys are doing reaches a lot more people!

Tarun: Congratulations guys on recently securing a quarter of a million dollars in pre-seed funding and you have also been selected for the lightspeed extreme entrepreneurs program. This is such a big achievement, what was your reaction to this news? 

Mehul Nath: Fundraising is a really long and hard process. Obviously, we are really happy. Many of these news stories like funding, Lightspeed, and other such news that you will know soon in the coming days, make us happy. But the life of an entrepreneur is like a graph, it’s like up, down, up, down every day. So, the effect lasts for a day or two, and the remaining time you again start to focus on the work. 

Tarun: So, you have accomplished this with just a few employees. So, what are your plans for the future? 

Shyam: Our plan for the future is to add more things at our price. So, we do not want to become huge and have immensely large repos working under us. We always want to keep a close-knit and small team working for us, moving forward. So, you can expect like maximum 50 people working for us in a year maybe. 

Tarun: Yeah, thanks. 

All of you guys are engineering undergraduate students. So, how did your engineering studies help build BharatX, and is there something you wish you could have done better while in college? 

Siddharth Venu: Let’s see. I didn’t choose EEE because I was interested in it but because like most of the students in India, it was the best branch I could get. Like I’m more into CSE, and the one thing that indirectly helped me is like finding a dream team. These people who are right here – I could not ask for more. It’s very hard to make good stuff, so, I guess that is one thing that I got from this college. 

So, is there something you guys wish you could have done better while in College? 

Mehul Nath: We could have probably started up earlier and maybe we could have spent less time thinking, planning, thinking, inserting, doubting, feedback, Most people do not realize that a start-up idea can be implemented in 2 – 3 days. Working hard and even without code. You can validate it. Your product does not have to be that great, to begin with. If you love the product that you built for the first time, then it’s a bad product or a bad startup. Build something silly, and if there is one thing that makes it work and if people love it so much that it is working, then people will always love the better versions of it. So, you can always do something in 2 – 3 days, you don’t need to plan out and all that. In fact, the best way to research about something is actually launching it. Like, I was talking to a NITT team recently and they had an entire ppt where they said that after they make a website, they will do branding, they will make an app, then they will do research, and then blah, blah, blah. And then they will launch the app after like 8 weeks. I was like, you do not even need an app, just directly go and talk to people. Make a WhatsApp group, and do whatever you want to do like make a google form for all we care. You do not need to be Amazon on Day 1, just launch within 3 days and try to get your first customer. If it works then make the app, and we have seen billion dollars worth companies being built in India that way just by using google sites and Whatsapp groups. 

One more question, what are your fondest memories of college? 

Shyam: Well, that is not exactly a fair question to ask when we literally spent the last 1.5 years with each other as a company. 

Eeshan Sharma: I think, I mean I don’t really know. I think, obviously, we are all aware of the fact that colleges are going to be opening back and all that. For us, it means two things. One thing obviously is that we have to figure some stuff out to keep this thing working. Amidst all this, the only thing that pulls me back to college right now is that there is a small friend circle. Thankfully, I have been able to stay in touch with all of them. They are spread all over, for example, there is one guy in Chennai and another who is sitting in US, and there are two others who are sitting in Dubai. But still, somehow we managed to stay in touch and maintain connections, and just being able to meet them and see them again is really exciting. So, I guess the friendship circles that you get in college that is what keep you connected and I feel those would be my fondest memories even by the end of college. 

Aishwarya: That’s honestly really sweet to hear.

Mehul Nath: So, a message to the juniors would be to focus on your friends more than your grades and that would be a bigger, better investment rather than solely focussing on studies. (Friends over Feeds). 

Finally, what advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs? 

Siddharth Venu: Start building stuff. Start Building! Don’t think too much and just Start building and you will get there.  

The interview was taken by Aishwarya and Tarun, and transcribed by Amogh Sundarraman

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