Connect2India was set-up in December 2015 with a single goal of serving the unmet needs of SMEs. With a founding team of 5, Mr. Pawan Gupta, the founder of Connect2India has been launched the global trade platform in May 2016.Lets glance at his successful journey as an entrepreneur.
Coming from an army background, Pawan spent most of his growing years traveling across the Nation. This gave him a first-hand exposure to living and interacting with people across regions.
While being good in academics as an above average student though he claims he never had been in the toppers category. There was never pressure to top from his parents either. They were supportive and wanted him to just give his best and not be concerned about the grades. As a result of there never was any pressure. Pawan still remembers his fathers advise to stay calm and perseverant “rest is best before the test”. These learning has been the underlying tip to this day that proved useful for his startup. Patience, perseverance, being calm and able to give your best without getting into pressure are important traits to have for startup’s success as well, he opines.
Also, being naturally inclined towards extra-curricular activities during his schooling days, be it participation in competitions such as debate, declamation, extempore or public speaking or youth parliament, he always seized the opportunity to participate in activities that provided a platform for him to come to the fore. By the virtue of his involvement in activities like these, Pawan gradually developed an innate ability to dwell deeper into the thought process of people and fine-tune his approach accordingly. In many ways, this exposure subconsciously helped sow the seed of entrepreneurship. The germination process, however, happened during the final semester of college, where he decided to submit a paper on the topic of international trade as against the course a young Pawan was about to graduate in – electronics & communication engineering.
Though Pawan comes from a strong techno-business background, with B.Tech Hon’s degree in Electronics & Communication Engineering from NIT Kurukshetra, he has always been passionate about global trade. It excited him to see and understand how companies in different countries are able to successfully trade with each other!
Given his deep interest in global business, Pawan headed to United Kingdom for some time to explore the global markets and get the first-hand experience of operating in an overseas market. Despite a strong technology background and his association in the position of technology leadership roles with companies like IBM and Siemens; the inclination of being involved in International Trade, however, continued to grip him. London being the trade-hub for the whole world and him being there to actually see how London was the common point of facilitating trade between Europe, America, and Africa, rekindled his enthusiasm of starting a business from scratch pertaining to International Trade.
Inspired, Pawan started EXIMAT (an acronym for Experts in Export-Import and Trading) and began executing export-import of raw materials and commodities at a global scale. He successfully facilitated multi-million dollar recurring trade for and between reputed business entities across the world. Some of the clients included Barrick, U.S, the largest gold mining company in the world; Afepasa, Spain; Industria Chemica, Italy; Birla Group; Oriental Carbons, part of J.P Goenka Group of companies; Kutch Chemicals and many more. It was here he understood the nuances, risk, complexities, and challenges of global trade. This also gave a first-hand experience in understanding the tricks of the trade of this business.
In 2009-2011, Pawan completed his MBA from London Business School and submitted the thesis on “making global sourcing effective and efficient”. In his technology leadership roles, Pawan used technology to solve real-world business problems and has always been passionate about leveraging the power of technology to enable great business outcomes. In the thesis, he applied the same concept in the global trade domain to analyze how technology could be used to make global trade safe, simple and smart.
After his MBA, Pawan joined as a Group CTO of Trilogy / Versata Enterprises, one of the largest privately held Enterprise software companies in the world with a focus on 100% customer success. He was involved in due diligence, integration, transformation, and growth of acquired businesses, including solution selling to Fortune 100 customers. The opportunity to work with Trilogy helped him grow as a top-performing professional.
Pawan was being consistently rated amongst the top performers in the company, being surrounded by great colleagues in a company with the great work environment and given his interest in technology, he was enjoying the work as well. However, after spending close to 4 years there, it started seeming that something was amiss. There was this insatiable itch that he wasn’t exactly able to put a finger on.
A chance conversation with another C level executive from the firm finally seemed like a moment of epiphany for him. A simple statement “to be truly happy, just being great in what you do is not enough, you need to follow your passion” saw a renewed enthusiasm in Pawan.
Being a strong believer in the power of technology to impact large-scale positive change and use it for a tangible business outcome to impact millions was what deeply interested Pawan. Probably, working for with large-scale organizations, those results were not visible or apparent. His passion has been to combine trade and technology; to bring positive change on a large scale; to do something that could impact millions, in a positive way.
It helped that it was at the time when there was a lot of talk from the Government on implementing policies to increase the export targets, to increase exports to USD 900 Billion in a couple of years.
Post some preliminary analysis, Pawan figured that finding and qualifying trade counterpart was a major challenge for Indian SMEs and there was no single stop source where they could get the end-to-end export/import related insights and information. Overall, they perceived it to be a very risky and complex proposition to start global trade business in India without access to the relevant information and with the existing knowledge gap.
He realized that global trade in India had not really evolved with time and advancements in technology and that there was a big gap which has never been addressed. If with my trade and technology background, I was finding it difficult to find relevant information; I could assume how difficult it would be for those MSMEs with no or little background in this area–says Pawan. He realized probably that’s the biggest reason that out of 51 million MSMEs in India, only 1% participates in global trade.
That’s how Connect2India was born, with the vision of becoming the most trusted one-stop global trade source for India, enabling Indian SMEs to effectively export/import from India and Overseas SMEs to effectively export/import with India. However, rather than focusing only on one aspect of the problem, he decided to develop a broader strategy of solving end to end problem for enabling “trade with” and “trade from” India.
The timing too was good for the venture with basic infrastructure in terms of connectivity, speed, reliability either present or in progress in India and host of initiatives from Government such as Digital India, Make in India and Skills India, which Pawan believes are an enabler for the venture.
Given the difficult situation for SMEs like access to international markets, lack of an easy and effective way for international small and medium businesses to connect & partner with their Indian counterparts amongst many others, the time was ripe to launch Connect2India to address such woes.
The venture seemed like an opportunity to make a large scale difference and positively impact millions of MSMEs in India by providing real business value.
The journey of Connect2India:
Connect2India was set-up in December 2015 with a single goal of serving the unmet needs of SMEs. With a founding team of 5, Pawan launched his global trade platform at the end of April 2016. The product was completed, but the team was thirsty for results. However, the results would require lots of efforts, from A/B testing for customers to revenue channels, the marketing and selling aspect of our business was upon us.
Pawan understood the importance of marketing and realized that bad marketing can break a great product, and the job would be a half-baked effort. Pawan started to market the way he knew best – digitally! This was the company’s forte and they did make big from it. From optimization to campaigns to digital marketing, the team tried to make the most efficient use of the limited resources and yet generate significant interest among our target user segment, in its platform.
However, the challenges were far from over. SMEs are skeptical to anything new, there was lack of market awareness and anything that is not already accepted by the majority of the big names, thus, Connect2India initially faced issues with the trust and faith of customers and the limited resources limited the company from attempting full-fledged multi-channel sales& marketing.
Though successful in terms of people’s interest, the company yet had to convert this into revenues. Pawan along with his core team, which comprised of mostly tech devotees, decided to take it upon themselves to start selling. Despite product team’s inexperience in sales they jumped in with a blindfold and started converting the free users into ‘paid customers’.
But again like any other business, the startup was hit by the ecosystem, first in the Demonetization and then GST Era!
“MSMEs were not spending money, some were presuming losses due to demonetization, some were being skeptic about spending any money at all, some were not clear on the implications of GST on their business and on exports, others were simply confused whether they would even be able to sustain their business. Everyone seemed in a state of panic, no one was willing to make a decision, SMEs wanted to wait and watch.” Pawan, however, knew that this was temporary and instead of losing hope like the rest, he saw this phase as an opportunity to build a strong foundation in all the areas, product, sales, marketing etc.
Connect2India started by making SMEs aware and empowering them with analytics, trade counterparts and expert resources for them to expand globally. Connect2India currently works with 2 Billion+ global trade stats, has 15 Million+ Organic Google Impressions per month, has 2 Million+ Global Trade counterparts and has to pay SME customers all over India within multiple industries, including several large Indian conglomerates also using Connect2India.
The company plans to increase its presence to 50 countries and to 30 top industrial cities in India by next year. Connect2India currently has 1000,000 organic business visitors per month on their global trade platform and plans to increase that to 5Million per month by Q3 and to 50Million per month in 2 years time. On the technology side, Connect2India continues to make global trade safe and easy with technology, including enabling end-to-end trade execution using the platform.
Future plans of the company include establishing the company brand as the most trusted global trade source for India and do whatever is necessary and required for doing that. The market and the opportunity in enabling global trade from SMEs are huge as this is a completely unaddressed need. We will continue to scale our sales and marketing operations to expand nationally and internationally and continue innovation in our trade platform to make trade safer and easier, says Pawan Gupta.
The growth potential:
Indian Global Trade is expected to rise to USD 2 Trillion in coming years and we are here to seize that opportunity. Further, the world is full of opportunities in the shape of unexplored global markets. The world’s export by WTO members in 2017 was USD 22.45 Trillion and WTO has predicted a 4.4% growth in global trade for the coming year. This means more demand in the global markets, which eventually means, more opportunities for SMEs to sell their product and take advantage of the vacuum between current supply and foreseen world demand.
The focus since the beginning has been to build a very strong foundation and deliver value to customers and the strong foundation not on one aspect but on multiple aspects such as technology platform, leadership team, company culture, sales & marketing channels etc. If the foundation is strong, it makes it easy to scale and grow very aggressively. Further, you need to develop trust with customers and there is no better way of creating trust by delivering value. Gimmicks, discounts, and freebies will get you only so far. Nothing makes us happier than making our customers happy.
The venture not only allows me to pursue and live my passion, combining trade and technology but at the same time also contributes to India’s global growth and success story in a big way. We are redefining the way global trade will be done in years to come and I believe the venture has potential to allow India to be at the center of global trade and that continues to keep me motivated.
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 and we continue to aggressively work towards realizing our dream of becoming the most trusted global trade platform.