In this BOSS episode, our host Sarthak Varshney gets into a conversation with Smriti Tomar, founder and CEO of Stack Finance. Smriti talks about the perks and struggles of being an entrepreneur and how being an entrepreneur amuses her every day.
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS THAT YOU ARE INTO BECAUSE OF WHICH WE CAN SAY THAT YOU HAVE THE BALLS OF STEEL?
I am running a fintech start-up that deals with personal finance. We are catering to millennials.
The product itself is a mobile application that helps you automate, manage, and track all your expenses, savings, investments, credit, loans, etc.
The idea was to create a super app in the financial service phase, where you don’t have to juggle between different kinds of letter banking apps, wallets, expense management app, or anything.
There is this one app that handles everything. The app is like a financial manager setting in your pocket.
THE CONVERSATION ALREADY SEEMS VERY INTERESTING, SO SMRITI WHY DON’T YOU TELL US EVERYTHING ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE CURRENT POINT AT WHICH YOU ARE?
The journey has been full of highs and lows. In my undergrad, I became very interested in finance, especially investments. I happened to stumble upon the book of Warren Buffet in my teens.
He inspired me, and I became his hardcore follower. I started investing in the stock market, and my passion for finance grew up. Although I was studying engineering, I had this passion for finance.
Hence, I would do a lot of finance courses. After that, I landed up a job and met many entrepreneurs. I told them about the problem that I saw existing in the market.
The problem was that of people not being able to handle their personal finance. During my college time, people used to ask me various questions regarding managing their personal finance.
In fact, my relatives started asking me, and I realized that people are a lot more confused about their money. Somehow, financial management becomes a luxury in a common man’s life that it should not be.
Money is a necessary thing in your life. You should know how to take care of it and grow it. I started ideating on the same thing, met a lot of people, and did brainstorming.
Back in 2018, people who themselves were entrepreneurs gave me a push. I was not sure, but I got a few nudges and just took the leap of faith. So, I quit my job and began doing this full-time.
MOVING THE CONVERSATION AHEAD, SMRITI TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY BACKGROUND.
I have been born and brought up in Bhopal. Nobody in my family comes from a business background. I think it’s not the instinct of doing business but the instinct of solving a problem that triggers the entrepreneur in you.
I never started my journey thinking of making money or business. Belonging to a non-business family, it wasn’t easy to convince my parents.
Entrepreneurship is a never-ending struggle. You can never know you are at a stage where you have made enough money or become successful. One moment you are at the peak of success, and the other moment COVID hits, and you don’t know what might happen to your business. (laughing)
So, I think business is all about risk; you can never say that you have achieved everything you wanted. Hence the lifestyle itself becomes very dynamic.
The byproduct is that you grow at exponential levels than people with other career options. If you are not an entrepreneur, then sometimes it becomes hard to match pace with them.
Those are the problems that my family had faced. As time passed, they have come to terms with it and have been supportive. They have never held me back.
SMRITI TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION IN BHOPAL, WHAT IS THE SOCIETY LIKE AND WHAT IMPACT DID IT HAVE ON YOU?
People don’t look down upon entrepreneurship, but they are not very excited about it as a career. People value you more when you have more qualifications, a high-paying job, or a secure career like a civil servant.
Growing up, I didn’t know how to start a business. It was only 2-3 years back that the college had initiated an entrepreneurship development cell during my undergrad.
So, you can imagine how laid-back engineering institutes are in this area. If you are not educating people about business, then people would have fewer options around it. Now I see things changing.
There are many colleges and institutes that I go to for various programs, and there, people are very knowledgeable and enthused about entrepreneurship. It looks great.
COMING FROM A VERY DIFFERENT FAMILY BACKGROUND HOW DID YOU CONVINCE YOUR PARENTS ABOUT STARTING A BUSINESS? SMRITI TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT THE CONVERSATION?
My father is in government service. I was great at my academics. I have never scored anything below 95 in my school life. Naturally, they had these aspirations of me taking up UPSC.
I didn’t want to go to civil services. So, like everybody else, I opted for engineering. I enjoyed studying in college. Fortunately, I landed up a job where I had to work with Citibank, Mexico.
While working in the bank, I saw how bureaucratic and complex things are. Banks have a huge network of staff, which makes it difficult to operate on heavy balance sheets.
I realized that these people could not innovate. It’s hard for them to provide the kind of ideal services that I had always wanted as a user. It has to be done by a start-up.
The job was great, but it wasn’t challenging enough. I could not work at a place where I cannot see the impact being created by me. I took this up with my parents. Naturally, they overreacted. I didn’t want to quit my job until I have something substantial in my hand. So, I met a lot of people.
For four months, I was part-timing to venture out. I realized that if I don’t do it now, somebody else will, and then it’s gone forever.
I finally told my parents. They were neither encouraging nor discouraging. I quit my job and had enough savings to start-up with. I started when I was 22.
People don’t trust you when you are young. However, if you have the right mindset and passion for doing it, it would reflect your work, and people would see it.
I READ VERY FEW BOOKS DURING MY ENGINEERING. SO, HOW DID YOU READ THAT HEAVY BOOK OF WARREN BUFFET THAT TOO ABOUT FINANCE?
I had come across Warren Buffet much earlier. I have been an avid reader, so reading was not that much of a struggle.
To understand the term was hard. No matter what, I could never forget the first three chapters of “The Warren Buffet Way,” where his life is explored.
That inspired me. By nature, I am very competitive. At some point in my engineering, I realized the abysmal truth of our education system, i.e. whatever you are writing in your exams probably will not help you out as a future.
The hard truth about engineering also started hitting me that we are not taught the practical knowledge we need.
It was upsetting and took my faith away from all qualifications, degrees, education, etc. I wanted to be as independent as Warren Buffet. To date, he does not approve of many qualifications and degrees, and I agree with him.
THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION SMRITI PLEASE TELL US WHAT WAS THE MINDSET WHEN YOU SAW THE PERSONAL FINANCE PROBLEM EXISTING IN THE MARKET?
While I was in college, I didn’t think much about starting a business. That’s why I took up the job right after college. I wanted to get into the business, but it was probably after an MBA.
My interest was in finance, and an MBA was beneficial for the financial service sector. I wanted to take up an MBA specializing in finance and then venture out. Fortunately, things turned upside down.
Before even realizing the plan forward, I met some entrepreneurs, and we became good friends. I told them about the problem I saw and how nobody was focusing on it.
They all saw my passion for it and motivated me not to take-up MBA and do a start-up.
Pursuing MBA, taking up an educational loan, having another liability over your head, working to pay off all this, etc., could have been a huge liability.
By that, you are almost thirty, and as a girl, you have other pressures in life. It was another well-planned trap that I could have fallen into.
Luckily, I left my job and started-up. It was a huge struggle. For many months I was alone, brainstorming, ideating, researching, etc., and then things started falling in place.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST STRUGGLE THAT YOU HAD TO FACE WHILE SETTING UP THE COMPANY AND WHAT IMPACT DID IT HAVE ON YOU?
There are mainly 2-3 significant struggles. One was to get the right people to join the company. It has always been a challenge to find the right person. For a tech start-up, people are the only asset you have.
I value my team and am very picky and conscious about it. The start-up was not boot-strapped. So, it was hard to gather capital.
In the financial service sector, business is very costly. You need a massive capital to start-up. Being a young entrepreneur myself, it wasn’t easy to get investors and other people to trust you without much experience.
People have their apprehensions when it comes to young female entrepreneurs. The third struggle has been around regulations and bureaucracy.
You have to do business with many people and big financial institutions you have to comply with. It’s a part of the business and keeps going.
IN THE EARLIER CONVERSATION, SMRITI YOU TOLD US THAT YOUR FRIENDS NUDGED YOU TAKE UP THIS JOURNEY. SO, WHAT WERE THOSE NUDGES THAT PUSHED YOU TO STEP IN?
I never in my close circle had anyone into a business. Fortunately, there was this mutual friend I had. He had company and was doing great in that.
I used to talk to him now and then. That’s the only exposure I had to an entrepreneurial start-up.
He opened my eyes and said MBA is not a requirement to do a start-up. He gave me all the motivation and still pushes me to do things that I find hard. An entrepreneur needs to get out of his/her comfort zone and do things that he/she might not have done otherwise.
Now I have accumulated many people over these years to guide me and help me out with various things. At different stages of your life, you need to have various kinds of people who can help you at those particular times. If not anything, I have avoided many mistakes that are very much obvious in a start-up journey only because these people were there to correct me.
SMRITI MOVING THE CONVERSATION AHEAD, TELL US HOW DID YOU LEVERAGE YOUR PASSION OF BEING A YOUNG WOMAN ENTREPRENEUR TO GET THE BALLS ROLLING FOR YOU?
There are many things that I struggle with, even now, for being a young female entrepreneur. For instance, many a time, I would be travelling throughout the month.
So, I have to be very selective regarding my travel plans, flite that it doesn’t land me up at 2 in the morning. It is unsafe and very inconvenient to travel at that time.
Being a female entrepreneur, you’ll get many doors open, and at the same time, you’ll also get a lot of doors shut in your face because you are a female entrepreneur.
I remember this one investor who had a problem with me being a girl and leading the team. This investor called one of my team members and said everything is great, but Samriti is very young right now, and we are not very comfortable with the fact that she is leading.
In my team, everybody is older than me in the senior leadership, and they all believe in my vision and capabilities.
This investor said maybe she is good at what she does, but she is young now; what if she gets married tomorrow, has a husband, and has to move to a different place, etc. When I heard this, it didn’t make sense to me.
Everything was fine, but just because I am young and single, I wasn’t good enough. These are totally illogical things. The person who said that has two degrees and is father to a daughter. It isn’t delightful. Many female entrepreneurs bear the consequences of such thinking.
SMRITI, YOU SAID THAT ENTREPRENEURS GROW AT EXPONENTIAL LEVEL THAN OTHERS. CAN YOU SHARE YOUR INSIGHT OVER THIS PARTICULAR STATEMENT?
I am not trying to demean any other career options, but I feel that the curve is very sharp when it comes to growth. Only in a matter of years, your perspective, mindset, exposure goes from level 0 to 100.
You meet many people, visit various places, do enormous tasks. Hence, you grow at a pace that is very high compared to other careers. The reason I like working in a start-up is because of the growth. The lifestyle of an entrepreneur changes a lot.
I am so much buried in my day to day work that I hardly get a chance to meet my friends, make new friends, and have family time. With growth, you have to compromise on certain things, but the choice is yours.
SO, SMRITI WE ARE COMING TO THE END OF THE CONVERSATION. I WOULD LIKE TO ASK YOU ARE YOU A MONEY-MINDED PERSON?
Yes, definitely. I am from a business background. So, I am supposed to be money-minded and money conscious. Money is one of the goals that I want to achieve. I value money for the choices it creates. More money means more options. I never want to have a luxurious life. All I want is more choices.
SMRITI PLEASE TELL US VIA THIS CONVERSATION WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST HICCUP IN YOUR JOURNEY AND WHAT DID YOU GAIN FROM IT?
I have been a failure more often than a successful person. In business, I have failed many times. I have been unable to match deadlines, goals that we have set for ourselves, and sometimes my team’s expectations. I am continually learning all those things, and I don’t regret making all those mistakes. These are not the last failures.
I am going to fail a lot more in the future. The only point is to learn from those failures and not repeat them. Make new mistakes and failures. Try to learn new things and don’t repeat those failures.
BEING A WARREN BUFFET FAN, RUNNING FINTECH START-UP AND DEALING WITH PERSONAL FINANCE, HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR MONEY?
My money-management mantra is simple. I usually follow the 50-30-20 rule. This means that whatever your income is, you can utilize 50% of it as expenses, 30% savings for your short-term goals, and 20% for your long-term goal. I am very minimalistic, and I prefer that kind of lifestyle.
We feel immensely proud of having this conversation with Smriti and bringing it to you. Smriti shared how her curiosity to solve the personal finance problem led her to start her own business and grow up from all the difficulties she faced. We hope this added something gainful to your “Dhandhon Ni Soch.” Stay tuned.