He is a maverick entrepreneur. The experienced veteran who taps the important pain point prevailing in the market. Shankar Vaddadi, a quintessential entrepreneur and a corporate leader has held successful corporate leadership roles as CO- CEO & CEO of large companies in manufacturing, technology and engineering. I-lend.in, his second venture, is geared towards changing banking and financial services in India. I-lend, India’s leading online personal loan marketplace is disrupting conventional banking by giving the power of credit decisioning to Individuals through Technology and several algorithms. Shankar is at the forefront of disruption, building the alternate finance eco system.
Thugstart catches up with Shankar Vaddadi to understand his amazing journey from a startup rookie to a ‘high risk high return’ hustler. Shankar is now on a groundbreaking mission that will change the game face of lending in India.
How did you start out as an entrepreneur?
I can actually go on to say that I was always thinking of doing something by myself but that would be untrue. I was keener on solving a pain point which was visible and that’s how my attitude got shaped to become an entrepreneur. During my school days, I established and ran a door-to-door circulating library for a few weeks. Essentially solving the last mile problem. The library was shut once my father came to know about it and felt that I was doing something that does not befit his status.
But I had loads of fun. I was the envy of my friends because I could boldly into every house in the guise of this circulating library and strike a conversation with girls. That was on a lighter side. On a serious note, I did make some money and had a great time and obviously it established my reputation in school.
The first real opportunity was in the retail technology, POS space in India. I was the first company to design and manufacture a totally indigenous point of sale system. This company, Extredge POS Systems Ltd, was a public company funded by no less than the IDBI Ventures. These were the days when there were no private venture funding yet. I eventually sold that company in 2005.
What were your initial challenges while starting out? Do you recall any prime milestones in the journey with respect challenges, opportunities or threats?
I had several, in terms of both opportunities and threats. However the challenges were quite formidable in those days. For instance, in order to buy land, you had to go to APIIC. The best joke was that in order to set up an electronics manufacturing facility one needed approval from the Inspector of Boilers!! But seriously, several challenges were there – people, process, funding, vendors etc.
The major milestone was to get a full manufactured POS machine and also to get someone to buy it. The challenges were because of various technologies and making all of them ‘talk’ together. Competing with the likes of IBM & Siemens didn’t help and getting a retail store owner to believe that the company has the capability was huge.
Another most important aspect was funds and fund management, bank relationship and working capital. As an SME entrepreneur, if one is not alive to these things, failure is a direct result. The opportunity obviously was attaining or being acknowledged as the leader in the Retail technology / POS space, already dominated by companies like Kelvinator , Bradma and later IBM , EPSON & Siemens.
We did it and then in 2003 we were the number 2 in India after IBM, as rated by Gartner. A year later, I sold the company. The obvious threats was of course a prevailing perception that an Industrialist was making money. Hence a sense of entitlement by the departments where one needs to work with and maintain cordial relationship at all times. The other major threat was clearly lack of adequate funding. Most SME industries in India face problems which are identical to what I stated and the awareness has slightly improved from those days to now. But otherwise, the situation has largely remained unchanged and is archaic.
“I-lend is disrupting conventional banking by giving the power of credit decisioning to Individuals through Technology and several algorithms. P2P or Social lending has gained significant traction both in the US & UK and has already made inroads into a host of countries. A lot of P2P initiatives are on the drawing board in Africa also and this model is gaining acceptance across the world because of the model’s simplicity and its inclusiveness.
Coming to India, with its wide disparities, uneven social structures, economic differences, geographical and infrastructural challenges, it is important and crucial that credit is available across the country at moderate rate for growth to be inclusive and sustainable over a long period of time. Achieving this requires an initiative which can connect people with surplus money and help distribute these monies in a democratic and a transparent manner in a seamless way without geographical and infrastructural restrictions.”
Share some of the memorable moments of hardships…
Again, hardships are normal and an entrepreneur should be prepared for various situations, most of which are not one’s own responsibility but has to be dealt with. Resilience, perseverance, and patience are three extremely important qualities for an entrepreneur and they will be called upon several times. One of the prominent memory was when we had to drive from Hyderabad to Mangalore to meet the customer deadline.
Challenges will also come from within, and the family will be subjected to hard situations. Lifestyle changes may have to be made and sometimes forced on you as well. The other issue will be that of investors saying “no “and most investors will say no. Entrepreneurs will feel devastated most times but that is when we need to pick ourselves up and not take it as personal rejection. For instance, in my early days while pitching to one VC funding, I actually made a prototype with my own personal money, hoping to blitz the investment committee with my enterprise and risk taking ability. It failed dramatically to the extent that we never got a call back from the fund!!
How do you see the future of your already successful business?
www.i-lend.in that way has taken a little longer but is today the most respected alternate finance model in the country. The indication of this fact is that we are getting the invites from several banking conferences. I expect i-lend to build an eco-system which includes credit decisioning using AI , ML and NLP methods , changing the credit paradigm from tracking to prediction and offering a viable means of credit deployment to people who do not have access to moderate rates. We see i-lend having an impact on unorganized lending, inculcating transparency in financial services , establishing benchmarks and frameworks for people to follow.
Have the failures helped you? If so, in what way?
Absolutely. Failures always help if one introspects but most entrepreneurs surround themselves with sycophants, which is not conducive to critical thinking. “Yes Men “will always tell what one wants to hear. So the first step as an entrepreneur, always have people who are not afraid of you. I have most of my learning in people management, time management, inspirational leadership and other things that are crucial for business. One of the major reasons for the failure of an enterprise is people and handling them is crucial. Second is learning to structure your thoughts and approaches. Easier said than done but again crucial for success.
How does it feel to be a happening entrepreneur all the way from a rookie startup founder?
It feels great, though i-lend hasn’t yet reached its potential. It’s just the matter of time. The feeling when working with people who share the same attitude, approach or dream of changing a paradigm or solving a problem is awesome. Thankfully I have also been a part of IIM (A) Mentoredge, which allows me to interact with several youngsters.
Where do you see this new startup revolution headed in the next five years in India?
India or its younger generation are on the cusp of a great global opportunity and this process is going to lead to a lot of knowledge getting disseminated as we go along and bring in a significant wealth as well.
How does your typical day as an entrepreneur look?
I play a bit of Badminton, I am hobby Photographer, and you can see the pathetic attempts evidenced on my Facebook timeline. Otherwise, I try spend at least an hour reading or doing something which doesn’t fit my daily grind. It could be as simple as reading a book on Psychology or playing chess online but I ensure that I have a few moments to myself outside, with friends and colleagues.
What according to you is the real meaning of success?
Money is obviously an important barometer but for me, I always assess whether I have pushed the envelope a little bit more every day in everything – professional, personal and what not.
Published author, dreamer, entrepreneur and believer. When not running Contenuto, her freelance content vendor firm and writing the next novel, Deepa loves to catch up on her favorite US TV Shows. Loves spending quality time with her family and constantly hallucinates some 'me' moments in a far far away Austria.