First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Vishal Devanath : Thank you for asking. We are doing good. I hope you and your readers are staying safe and strong during these tough times.
Tell us about you, your Career, how you Founded or Joined SMERGERS
Vishal Devanath : I previously worked for an investment bank, which primarily focused on large mergers, acquisitions and private equity deals. It was not just my firm; all investment banks tend to focus on large transactions. While the effort and costs associated are similar, revenue earned is significantly higher for larger deals. So all investment banks would rather focus on larger deals which bring them higher fees. Invariably the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) get ignored. There are about half a billion SMEs in the world and this space was underserved by investment banks to a large extent.
Similarly, there are several investors and entrepreneurs seeking small business opportunities, but deal flow is not easy. To solve this problem, we had to reinvent the business model and approach this problem in a different way to make it more cost-effective and efficient for small businesses. I teamed up with my friend Krishna who had built several tech platforms for his previous startup and other silicon valley firms. Using this experience, we built SMERGERS, an online platform to bring SME businesses, franchises, investors, buyers, business brokers together and enable them to transact in a secure manner.
How does SMERGERS Innovate?
Vishal Devanath : Innovation at SMERGERS is generally a byproduct of necessity. There is no inherent drive to innovate for the sake of it. Honestly speaking, the term rarely gets mentioned within the company. Having said that, some of the factors which foster innovation within the company are constant strive for simplicity, efficiency and customer-centricity. We aim to solve things by first principles and solve them for scale and this leads to innovation.
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business and how are you Coping?
Vishal Devanath : We did see a temporary dip in our revenue in the second half of March. I think the initial dip was because people did not know how to react to this whole situation. Soon our traffic and revenue was back to the original levels and has started growing too. People around the world are adapting to the internet faster than ever before and that’s beneficial for online platforms like us. We are also really fortunate to be in a position to assist businesses which are struggling due to the very pandemic. We are seeing a lot of businesses which are not able to function and are now listing themselves for sale. At the other end of the spectrum, many experienced corporate professionals who were laid off are exploring entrepreneurship through the acquisition route. I had not imagined something like this even remotely a few months ago.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices and what are the Lessons Learned?
Vishal Devanath : Thankfully, we did not have to make any tough decisions. Probably the only change is that the complete team has started working from home since the pandemic started. As far as the lessons are concerned, right from the beginning, many raised questions about online M&A platforms and its efficacy. Most believed that M&A is a high touch activity and it would require travelling, personalization and face to face meetings. We, on the other hand, believe, while personal connection is important, what really triggers a deal is discoverability and that can be solved with the power of the internet. Fast forward 5 years, I’m glad that we built a world-class online platform to serve the M&A market for our SME users located across the globe.
How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety, how do you Project yourself and SMERGERS in the Future?
Vishal Devanath : I believe stress and anxiety arise because you are either analyzing your historical metrics too much or you are making too many targets, forecasts and plans for the future. A sudden dip in revenue/users/traffic or a sudden spike doesn’t mean much in the overall scheme of things. What matters is a steady and consistent effort to bring out the best experience for customers who are with us today.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you Plan to Stay in the Game?
Vishal Devanath : SMERGERS competes with a wide range of players in the market. At the mid-market level, where boutique investment banks are the primary users, we compete with Axial. In the mainstreet businesses category, we compete with BizBuySell and BusinessesForSale. With respect to online business transactions, we compete with Flippa. I do not have any grand plans to stay in the game. Our plan is to continue doing what has worked for us in the past and explore any new avenues of improving our overall offerings and quality of service. That is what we have focused on so far and that has enabled us to emerge as the market leader globally.
Your Final Thoughts
Vishal Devanath : Several industries are facing difficult times and that will eventually have a ripple effect on every company and every individual on this planet. It’s time to think about how we can overcome this together and what’s the best role we can play in this fight against the virus. I’d also like to applaud startup.info’s effort in bringing out interviews on how companies have coped with COVID changes and that could inspire other companies and entrepreneurs.