By 2004, I had around 9+ years of work experience having worked with Tata Consultancy Services and banking and a financial software products company. I was in New York at that time and I realized that it was time for me to do something that I would enjoy doing for the rest of my life and not consider as work. I did a lot of introspection on what I really wanted out of life, and what the purpose of my life was.
The only answer that I could come up with was 'Making a real difference in the lives of people through Financial Planning'. This is because I used to help some of my friends and family members with financial decisions and I really enjoyed the whole process. Since I was already living in the US, my first thought was to start my own practice in New York. However, there was something that struck me and I asked myself "Why not India? Why don't I go back to India and start this off?" There was no institution offering fee based financial planning in a very structured way and I saw a huge opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of people…So I decided to come back to India and start my fee based financial planning practice.
A lot of people told me that I was an idiot to go back to India and start off. People kept telling me that you will come back in 2 years so why don't you just start here in the US. All I had was a belief that I could make it in India, the drive that was necessary and the support of my wife, parents and a few close friends. I was convinced that I would find an audience who would appreciate advice in their interests and the fact that one could build a scalable business by following the simple strategy of 'Honesty is the best Policy'. Thus, MFA was born from my apartment's bedroom.
Though my timing was simply perfect, it just didn't work for me. I mean the markets took off after I started in early 2005, real estate started inching upwards and gold was already going up. In an environment like this, you don't need an advisor and on top of anything an advisor who might charge you a fee. However, we stuck through the tough times till 2007 and built a solid foundation. The best came for us during the global financial crisis when people actually realized the value of a great advice and the right way to taking financial decisions. We grew from a team of 10 odd people to around 60 in 2014, in an environment where it was proving difficult for others to stay afloat.
Over the last 12 years, we have made a happy difference in the lives of more than 500 high net worth families. Having done that, it was time for us to make that same difference in the lives of people all over India and the world. This sort of a venture would be possible only with the help of technology. So, we built a world - class digital solution and coupled it with seasoned, passionate advisors. Thus, HappynessFactory.in was launched to make Indians HappyRich by helping them Invest Purposefully and get a Return on their Life.
Our experience in the field also made it clear that this kind of a set up couldn't be created within the MFA eco system. Thus, the foundation stone of HappynessFactory.in was laid and a separate company was created.
At HappynessFactory.in, understanding what makes our clients happy and helping them work towards it wasn't simply a feel - good philosophy, but a rock - solid strategy. Our formula for helping people achieve their version of Happiness is simple:
Purpose + Money = Happiness
Engaging in goal based investing helped us streamline the process of helping clients stick to their goals and find their version of Happy. Thus, the language we speak is one of "Happiness, Purpose of Life, Goals and Behaviour", which we believe as required for investment success.
With the philosophy and general process in place, we understood that making this kind of a venture a success would require exceptional leadership. So, we focused on building our core team and we were blessed to have some amazing professionals believe in our mission and vision. Mr. P.L. Natarajan Iyer, with over 30 years of experience in Operations across diverse groups such as Tata Tele, Bharati Airtel and Xerox, came on as CEO. Mr. Satish Joshi who was the CTO of Patni, iGate became our CTO and Mr. Bhaven Mahadevia as Head of Product Engineering (from TCS). A small but capable team was set up, who strived for almost two years to create a world class online investment platform. Carl Richards, author of "The Behavior Gap", a New York Times Columnist and a well - known speaker & financial practitioner told us "What you have built is amazing. You have captured the essence of financial planning. Is this really made in India?"
We officially launched on the 20th of March, the International day of Happiness because we felt our ideology aligned itself perfectly to the day.
Challenges experienced and opportunities taken
My first business, MFA experienced a lot of challenges but thankfully, we haven't experienced any major setback in HappynessFactory.in as of now. As a new firm, the only setback HappynessFactory.in has experienced has been the launch date. Our initial launch date was set for October 2016 but we weren't internally satisfied with the client experience and so took a conscious call to delay the launch. With MFA on the other hand, from 2004 till 2007, the stock markets took off, real estate also started inching upwards and gold was already going up. In an environment like this no one wants an advisor because everyone believed they knew the right way to make the most of their investments. At the same time, no one wanted to pay fees because no one else was charging fees. Thus, it was very difficult to get this point across to people about the value of managing risk, avoiding costly mistakes, having a written financial strategy and so on. But, we did get the point across by clearly defining the Ideal Client, building practices around Doctors, Celebrities, Corporate Executives and Business Owners and most importantly, saying No to clients who did not fit our Ideal Client Profile. Often new businesses insist on saying yes to any opportunity that comes their way. But, we focused on saying No and choosing to work with people that we really enjoyed working (even if that meant a lot of hard work and patience). We realized people appreciated this approach and became our brand ambassadors.
I also wrote more than 500 + columns, 4 books on personal finance, developed a board game called Financial Premier League (FPLTM) and lot of training materials on personal finance. People really enjoyed my columns, our training programs and our passion for financial literacy worked. It was all about making personal finance simple and engaging.
Tips of entrepreneurial skills /do's and don'ts for new comers
The most important things to keep in mind are the following
- What problem are you trying to solve and for whom?
- Is your target market big enough and can you create a viable business model?
- Creating a viable business model is a function of testing your value proposition. Don't just believe people when they say this is awesome and there is a need...See if they are willing to commit money by becoming your initial clients.
- One of the key things is that don't focus on raising institutional or any venture capital till your business model is proven...Think of making money and not raising money.
- Don't go too fast in the initial stages. Create a product that delivers an emotional experience and build a passionate team who is aligned to your vision and focus on building brand ambassadors for your startup.
Finally, don't focus on building valuations, instead focus on building an amazing business that your customers and team members love and valuation will follow.
Present status and future possibilities of startups in the country
There is phenomenal opportunity for startups in India in most sectors. There is tremendous growth that India will witness in the next 10-20 years despite of all downturns and turmoils that we could possibly witness...There is no better time in history than today for startups to compete with the biggies and to even build a global organization. Yes, a lot of them who don't focus on key things such as culture, philosophy, team, and client experience and business model in this order will either be out of business. We have even seen valuations of global startups as well as local players go for a toss when the focus is missing on things such as culture, values, happy environment for team members.
Even in today's tough environment, capital is always available for sound startups who focus on all of the above and an intelligent team who knows it is important to slow down to grow fast...
My biggest achievement and the legacy that I will leave behind is an amazing ecosystem of our dynamic team members, clients and partners who all continue to co-create value for each other. We have built a happy team that will always ensure that our culture and values are the bedrock of what we even do 100 or 200 years down the line. Besides this I count our phenomenal body of work and the intellectual property that we have built and that we continue to work on as some of our greatest achievements.