Propelling SME Growth

With a strong urge to build something of value for the SME sector, Pooja Kumar created SME JoinUp. We catch up with her to know about her pet venture.

Propelling SME Growth

With a strong urge to build something of value for the SME sector, Pooja Kumar created SME JoinUp. We catch up with her to know about her pet venture.


SS: Tell us about yourself, what was your previous profession and how did you think of coming into this business?

PK: I hail from a traditional Marwari family, born and brought up in Kolkata, married for 8 years and located out of Pune. I am a CA, with work experience of 6 years with ICICI Bank, 3 years with HSBC Bank, last worked with HSBC as Vice President in the Business Banking Grp catering to SME segment.  


I never dreamt to be an entrepreneur to start with. But while working with HSBC as a Vice President for the SME segment in Maharashtra, I realised the issues and the difficulties that SMEs face in their business plans and the fact that their concerns were being largely ignored by the business fraternity. That is when I thought of creating something of value for the SMEs to help them realise their full potential. Initially, it was difficult to leave a cushy job and the sense of security, but my urge to create value for the SME segment and the constant support of my husband made me take the plunge and that’s when SME JoinUp was born.


SS: What role did your family play in terms of supporting you?

PK: My career started when I passed out my CA and my father, though belonging to a traditional Marwari background was very clear that education and career was the most important thing in life . He wanted me to be an independent career woman and supported me in all ways.

I was luckily married to a person with similar thoughts who was clear that he would marry an independent and career oriented person.

I spent total 9 years in corporates and finally started my enterprise in 2010 with the encouragement of my spouse who himself had tasted entrepreneurship and felt that with my kind of passion towards work I would fit into the entrepreneurial shoes very well.


SS: What is your company’s full name and what is your product range?

PK: My company, SME Networks Pvt Ltd (smejoinup.com ) is a platform for business owners and decision makers of small and medium enterprises which helps them in three crucial areas of business- money, market and outsourcing. I come with more than 9 years of banking experience and a network of venture capitalists and bankers who can help the SMEs get funding for scaling up their business by way of debt or equity. SME Join up is also a place where small and medium businesses can get the visibility they want to get more business. The portal uses the power of the online world as well as offline tools like conventions, conferences etc. to help the founders of SMEs reach out to other businesses and customers, thereby creating new business opportunities for them in the most cost efficient manner. We have our mixers events every three months, which is a dinner meet for SME members where to get to know each other and look for their business opportunities. We also collaborate with other associations like INK Business Media which keeps organising business meets and conventions from time to time and give our members special discounts to these helpful events. We have also partnered with Economic Times, Pune edition where the members of the portal would be given a dedicated page to reach out to customers every month at a discounted rate.


It is also a portal where SMEs can find experts for their outsourcing needs. The portal currently has experts in the fields of corporate law, business consulting, market research, web designing and development, content writing and finance. Each of the experts go through a preliminary screening process to make sure that only quality gets through to the portal.


SS: How did you fund the business initially?

PK: It was self funded with my savings from my earlier years of work in corporate. 


SS: What challenges did you face in establishing your business?

PK: The biggest challenge thus far has been to make the business owners of small and medium enterprises the utility of the online medium and the value creation of conferences, conventions etc. SMEs generally conduct their business in the traditional way, and therefore, it sometimes gets difficult to convince them to try something they have never done before. SMEs are also very cost conscious and they won’t spend a dime on something they are sure would be profitable or not. It’s the same with conferences, conventions and seminars. We keep collaborating with various associations and give our members access to useful offline networking meets at a discounted price. But even when the cost of the conference or workshop is low, SME owners are not very sure about how it would help. We had to consult the SME owners individually to make them understand the opportunities available at offline networking meets, and thankfully, the business owners could understand the value proposition of these conferences.


SS: What is your team size and what challenges did you face in putting your team together, how was the experience of hiring the first employees?

PK:  SME JoinUp believes that charity and outsourcing begin at home. The basic policy behind SME JoinUP is to encourage SMEs outsource most of their work and that is what we do. We assign 2-3 month projects to interns and part time workers as this platform runs on an online platform on auto mode. 


SS: What is your product’s USP?

PK: SME Join Up is not a networking portal. It is a problem solving ground for business owners. What sets apart SME Join Up from the rest are two factors- 1. The portal is meant for small and medium enterprises only and aims to address the problems that SMEs face in their business operations. Because it is for SMEs only, SMEs get to interact with similar counterparts, thereby leading to better understanding of problems faced and the solutions possible. It is an integrated platform for SMEs where they can look to grow their market reach, get funding and funding advice and look for experts to outsource their business operations. They no longer need to look at different places to get what they want. 2. The portal is meant for founders and decision makers only of SMEs.  We do not allow any freelancers, independent consultants or likewise, because it is the quality of interaction we are looking at and not just another discussion platform.


SS: What is your marketing strategy?

PK: We believe in being visible in events and conferences to be known to the SME fraternity. We do not market our services through sales personnel or advertisements. We have grown to a 280 member platform just by this mechanism without additional costs.


SS: How are you planning to scale up your business?

PK: In the coming months, we are looking to expand to Tier II and Tier III cities, after getting a good response from Pune. We look to reach out to as many SMEs as possible to add to the value creation of this segment of the business society. We are also going international very soon, by way of a new portal that we are launching- gointernational.in. This portal is aimed at SMEs who are serious about catering to the international market. Only interested and quality SMEs would be listed on this portal and would be given a customised page, designed and written by quality experts in the field of online marketing, which would act as a sales pitch for businesses to the international clients. With this new portal, we plan to create a two way value proposition- the fact that only SMEs which meet a certain criteria would be listed on this page means that international clients get access to a business listing which has only quality in it, thereby eliminating the need to Google experts or go through hundreds of other business directories which contain any and every quality of business. And because the portal would cater to international customers, quality SMEs would get to have the international exposure they deserve by leveraging the unlimited power of the online world.


SS: What is the price range?

PK: We do not charge our members on joining the platform . Also we do not charge members anything for connecting them to empanelled service providers. We operate on a revenue sharing model with service providers and only charge the member on specific services that we ourselves provide eg.assisting in funding, placing interns etc

SS: What is your turnover like?

PK: We have not yet completed one year but our turnover till date ( 10 months) is around 4 lacs and we are currently in profit.


SS: Who are your target audience?

PK: All business owners running an enterprise from ZERO turnover to 300cr turnover. The business can belong to any segment. The owner has to necessarily run an entity and cannot be a freelancer.


SS: Where do you see your products 5 years from now?

PK: Hopefully, we will reach out to SMEs pan India and give them an opportunity to realise their full potential by giving them domestic as well as international visibility by way of online marketing as well as offline networking. We plan to take our conferences, meets and conventions to every city in India, whether it is a big metropolitan like Delhi or a suburban town like Faridabad to make sure that every small and medium enterprise gets the opportunity to become the next Tata of the small world.        



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