A ‘skep’ refers to a traditional beehive which offers protection and stability. These being the core values of the new-age blockchain technology enterprise founded by Tushar Srivastava, Mayank Tewari, and Prerit Srivastava, ‘Skeps’ seemed the most befittingly natural title for their venture.
Back in 2016, the co-founders discovered an opportunity to disrupt the traditional lending industry through the innovations and ease of blockchain, thereby ushering in a new era of Fintech.
Right from the kernel of the idea to their Series A funding announcement of $9.5 million, it is this journey that I now have the privilege of sharing, in conversation with Tushar Srivastava, co-founder of Skeps.
The three co-founders go way back. Tushar and Prerit, in fact, are brothers, and Mayank joined them as their schoolmate. They did not know then that a common interest in Fintech, and an obvious problem statement they discovered, would lead to them building a dream together.
Since the advent of the Fintech industry, there has been a need to solve the bottleneck of how large institutions addressed consumer loans. The technology had arrived on the scene but building relevant use-cases around it was a work-in-progress.
It was this thought that became the foundation that Skeps would eventually be built upon.
Tushar, Mayank, and Prerit, discussed various use cases surrounding micro payments in marketing, realizing that there existed several issues both on the consumer and the merchant/lender side -- and there had to be a solution that could cater to both ends efficiently.
The golden question though, was, how to make credit accessible to people and how to design the platform that would distribute it to them.
The answer to this came to them in a shining stroke of inspiration in the form of a technology that was growing in popularity; the blockchain. Here existed a unique fintech solution that could encourage institutions to offer loans tailored for each unique consumer, while also limiting risks.
They had a lateral business problem to solve for, and their understanding of the technology helped them marry it together. As Tushar recalls, “Our biggest plus point was that our idea was never to bring blockchain into financial services. It just so happened that we were trying to solve a real problem and the idea fitted in very naturally.”
Prerit, CTO of Skeps, then became a certified Ethereum developer, hired a small team of developers whom he trained on blockchain stack, and the company began investing in blockchain technology and the platform in 2017. The growth of Skeps is testament to how well-received and more importantly, how necessary the idea was.
Having the ‘eureka’ moment though, was only the beginning. Then began the uphill climb of crystallizing the idea into a viable business model.
For the folks at Skeps, this fell into three actionable steps.
The first part was probably the easiest to tackle. “When you’re selling, it's ideal if you don’t need to convince your buyers that there is a problem to begin with”, quips Tushar. In this case, they were arriving with a solution to a very defined and longstanding problem statement.
With this, they started building viable use-cases for the product, and experimenting with them. The founders now had a clear vision of their target market and how to go about building the business.“We had to make sure the product worked and we were hyper-focused, since we were introducing new technology into a well-established industry”, recounts Tushar.
They now needed the right names to establish trust and credibility around their startup. Armed with this vision, Skeps raised their seed round of $1 million from Accel in December 2019.
At the close of their Series round A in September 2021, the startup had bagged $9.5 million from Bertelsmann India Investments and Accel.
Now that the money had hit the bank, what were the organizational and operational levers put in place by the co-founders?
Tushar, Mayank, and Prerit had the strengths of a long-term association and with this came an unshakable trust. They were keen to build on this value as they started hiring initially. As Tushar rightly says, the people who join early become the backbone of your entire organization.
As for their operations, AWS has made things a lot easier to get off the ground with the availability of compliant, robust, and cost-efficient infrastructure. This not only gives them a useful lever in tackling the global market, it is also a big boost to the startup ecosystem that immediately reduces overheads.
Skeps started small but powerful, as they hired a team with focus on tech, and built the cogs from within.
Further, they had a clear and concise strategy on utilization of the capital they have acquired, which will go towards expanding the startup’s sales, marketing, engineering, and product teams, grow their merchant and lender client base, and broaden services offered to their customers.
While the future for Skeps has endless possibilities, Tushar genially admits it was not easy getting here. His multiple forays into the world of entrepreneurship have led to invaluable learnings that he put into the workings of Skeps, leading to its success.
What are these learnings?
This might seem the most obvious, but you would be surprised how often you confuse a good idea with an idea you are passionate about; and this, in Tushar’s opinion, is a key difference. Once you know what you are passionate about, build your idea around it, he grins, referring to his keen interest and experience in Fintech.
Growing with people you trust and who trust you, is key to the success of your journey. “You will find that more than ups and downs, the journey of an entrepreneurial venture is full of zig-zags. You have to find people who believe in you and vice versa. You should believe that what I tell you on day one is the best I know and believe on day one, and what I tell you on day five or fifty or hundred, is the best I know and believe on that particular day” says Tushar.
Choosing your people wisely is the make or break move of your business.
Tushar believes that while the product is the holy grail of your venture, you cannot dive head-first into it with blinkers on. It is more crucial to listen first. Read the market, talk to people, be receptive and absorb all that you possibly can and you never know, you might find a problem statement vastly different from the one you were operating with the belief of.
Timing is everything in this tricky little game of entrepreneurship. There is a sweet spot that is not too late and not too soon. Tushar reminds us that you will know this only if you have a constant and keen insight into not just your market, but other markets that affect yours.
The platform is currently building a robust network of issuers and merchant partners. This creates a double network effort whereby their issuers bring their merchant partners and in turn these merchant partners ask them to switch on additional lenders, based on their financing requirements. They are also forging strategic partnerships with other players in the market which will allow them to accelerate their distribution.
“We have a growing presence in the US market and are looking to expand across geographies,” Tushar says of his future plans.
And judging by my conversation with him, success and more growth are definitely on the horizon.