Bengaluru-based startup Capital Float, which lends to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), plans to grow its presence from 40 cities to a 100 cities in the next 12 to 18 months. While sellers on e-commerce platforms make up a large chunk of whom the company lends to, it says it will focus more on tier 2 and tier 3 businesses, which might be solely offline but have the potential to grow massively. Gaurav Hinduja and Sashank Rishyasringa, founders of CapitalFloat talk to Alnoor Peermohamed in the company’s plans. Edited excerpts:
The e-commerce segment is fairly new and there’s bound to be volatility. How do you think that might impact your business?
Hinduja: E-commerce merchants are the core to what we do and it’s an important vertical, but we’ve also diversified outside.
We do loans to a lot traditional SMEs — brick and mortar, manufacturing and service type of organisations because that segment is 30-40 million, whereas e-commerce is 100-200 thousand. I think almost all sellers sell on all marketplaces. And when we underwrite the business, we look at a combination of things. Sales across marketplaces, and how does that look across his offline sales as well, because a lot of sell offline. We look at a holistic view of the business before we actually decide to give the person a loan.
Data on sellers is harder to come by in the offline world. How are you tackling that?
Rishyasringa: You’ll be surprised as to how much data is available on any business in India and that’s very much a big part of the IP we’ve built since the early days. I think what we’ve been able to do is build a lot of pipes for data sources such as Aadhaar, NSDL, and a whole host of other government and legal databases.
The borrower is also able to give us access to a lot of data that we can then use in deciding what terms and what kind of loan to give them. For example, social media is a very interesting input that we consider in our underwriting model.
On the online piece, yes there is some additional data which helps with the speed of lending. So today we give real time approvals to e-commerce sellers in 10 to 15 minutes.
What is your primary source of raising capital?
Hinduja: Like most financial institutions we obviously raise equity right, and we have raised a little over Rs 100 crore from some of the best VCs, but also we have raised debt.
What are your sort of default rates? How are you working to keep them low?
Hinduja: Ironically, a lot of the bank’s defaulters are not coming from the SME sector. They’re actually coming from large borrowers. A lot of what we do is the underwriting, through different data, and we do that to keep our credit costs, which are defaults, et cetera, really low.
Today they are very low, I’d say 80-90 per cent better than any NBFC that lends to SMEs out there. That said, it is still early days. This is a lending business at the end of the day, there are going to be defaults.
What do you think will happen when guys like Alibaba increase their focus in India? Where do you fit in?
Rishyasringa: B2B e-commerce has the potential to be far larger than B2C e-commerce in India. And we think what Alibaba has been able to achieve in China and in India with its SME base for exporters and importers is tremendous.
We are partners with Alibaba. You can infer from that, that we’re already active in the space and its part of our strategy.
How is this partnership going to work?
Hinduja: They’re going to look at us to help get more SMEs to become active Alibaba users. But at the same time a lot of their SME merchant base will require financing, whether it’s for domestic transactions, or cross border transactions. They will look at a financer that really has the speed and the agility to meet the SMEs requirements in that sense.
What are your growth plans?
Hinduja: We want to be in 100 cities in the next 12 to 18 months and obviously a lot of that growth is going to come from tier 2 and tier 3 towns. Because banks really don’t have a presence there.
While people and SMEs in the top 8-10 cities can still access a bank branch, bank branch penetration in those tier 2 tier 3 towns is almost negligible. I think that’s where we’ll see a lot of growth and through the make in India and e-commerce stuff you’ll see a lot of business growth in those cities as well.
What sort of regulatory hurdles do you see yourselves having to cross?
Rishyasringa: Actually in the financial services space I think we’ve got a very proactive regulator and what you’re seeing in these payment banks, small finance banks, e-KYC, I think these are all steps in the right direction and we obviously hope that we continue to see these steps.