The Intuit Circles Codeathon held from October-December 2020 highlighted the potential for innovation in India and gave startups across the country a chance to showcase their tech products and services. The inaugural edition saw a rousing reception with 138 startups and additional 525 student-led startups registering for the event.
Fractal Ledgers, MoneyOrder, and directly.live were the three winners of the Intuit Circles Codeathon. Each of these startups had B2B solutions that targeted small businesses and independent entrepreneurs.
The first place was bagged by Fractal Ledgers, which offers digital accounting solutions for small enterprises. Founded by Chidroop and Mahit Agarwal, who are childhood friends, the startup intends to solve accounting problems for SMBs and is integrated with Intuit’s Quickbooks API. The solution automates accounting, sales, audit, and other such aspects of the operations for SMBs.
MoneyOrder emerged as the first runner-up of the event. Founded in 2018, the startup enables SMBs to send invoices via multiple channels, accept payments digitally, and also brings access to invoice-based financing. MoneyOrder is founded by Saurav Raaj and Smriti Chaudhry.
The second runner up of the competition was the tech platform directly.live. Launched in November last year by Mayank Dubey and Harshit Soni, the platform helps experts create an online presence and offer their services via a personalised webpage. The platform books video sessions create meeting links, manages calendars for the experts as well as manages the payments. It is targetted at Tier 2 and 3 cities with the intention of bridging the gap of knowledge and mentorship that smaller cities usually don’t have access to.
Inc42 caught up with the winners to talk about their journey, challenges, and more.
Growth Amid Challenges
It’s no secret that early stage startups in the B2B and enterprise tech sector go through the initial struggle of convincing clients to give their product a chance. Getting the first 10 or 15 clients can be a big challenge. The story was no different for Fractal Ledgers.
“They looked at us as just college graduates and were apprehensive about giving us an opportunity. If they did, the bigger challenge was to earn and build that trust, to put their data on our digital platform and give them the confidence that they still controlled their own data.” recalled cofounder Chidroop.
When Intuit Circle’s Codeathon was announced, it brought hope to Fractal Ledgers. While initially, the founding team was happy with just getting the chance to showcase their startup on a big stage, they were thankful for all the mentoring and guidance they received from Intuit. Chidroop pointed out that Intuit held ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions alongside workshops and mentoring sessions which brought clarity to the ideas they had and showed them a way to implement them.
Running their operations with three clients from different profiles, the startup is slowly scaling and is going from strength to strength. Focussing on Indian SMBs, Fractal Ledgers is trying to provide an affordable platform which can fulfill the requirements and needs of the SMBs. Calling the platform ‘India-centric’, the team is making the platform legally compliant with Indian accounting and auditing standards while also adjusting to the scale and nature of individual SMBs. Winning the competition and getting the right kind of exposure to the industry, the founders now remain confident that the market will see the appeal of their platform.
The journey was similarly challenging for directly.live. Initially convincing experts to come onboard their platform was a difficult task because they had no prior experience in running a business. The startup team believes the Intuit Circles Codeathon was a unique opportunity for them to learn and improve at a faster pace. Dubey says that the workshops and interactive mentoring sessions for the participants gave them a direction and deep insightful understanding of how to manage clients and understand their customer needs better
Intuit’s experience and the network has been beneficial to the startup. At present, the platform has over 200 registered experts and more than 650 calls booked. Agarwal claims that most of their customers come back for more sessions to discuss the progress and learn more skills.
Coping With The New Normal
With the pandemic and the ensuing market conditions, 2020 was filled with uncertainties, and running an early stage startup in these unprecedented times is a big struggle, especially where things were set in motion but not finalised. MoneyOrder’s Raaj had just begun talking to banks and SMBs in order to kickstart their operations when the pandemic arrived.
“Covid-19 brought a standstill to our dreams. We couldn’t continue pursuing fundings and since businesses were not doing well, their issues around payments also reduced. This meant that our solution wasn’t needed like it was, before. We then chose to partner with payment gateways and decided to first tackle the problem of making payments across multiple account types,” he recounted.
As the situation remained uncertain, Intuit’s Codeathon was announced. Raaj exclaims that the competition gave them their biggest exposure and helped them on many fronts from providing direction to building connections. The startup project was kickstarted and the Mumbai-based team is currently working to launch their startup full scale.
While the other two winners weren’t affected as adversely as MoneyOrder, both those startups also faced coordination challenges and a slowdown in their processes due to the pandemic. But Fractal Ledgers’ Chidroop believes the lockdown might have even done the startup some good in giving them a little more room to think and ideate seriously.
What The Future Holds
With directly.live already running at a small scale, cofounder Agarwal wants to begin full scale operations soon, with a focus on increasing digital awareness and expanding the scope of knowledge in tier 2 & 3 cities of India. Cofounder Dubey, final year student from IIT, acknowledged his privilege of being able to access the highest level of education in the country and wants to use his learnings to give back to the community.
Team of MoneyOrder remains confident of launching their startup and being able to use their product to benefit the SMB sector which generates a lot of value for the nation.
The founders said the exposure in the Codeathon helped them understand the various aspects of the business that need further improvement, and gain perspectives from investors and experts as well, boosting confidence.
Fractal Ledgers is currently working with three clients and hope that they will soon capture a greater share of the market when they execute their plan of making their platform more customisable and efficient for the Indian market. With the early implementation of CRM features and auditing focus, cofounder Chidroop is in a position to look towards the niche market like credit analysis to improve the quality of his product. He said that a huge part of the future plans is just staying with accounting practice and learning as much about the market as possible.
With the future looking optimistic for all the winners of the competition, Codeathon has emerged as another step in the journey towards a blossoming digital SMB ecosystem in India.