By creating digital profiles and catalogues of SMEs, the business has given them access to a collective pool of resources.
One morning in 2015, two Indians sat down for a meeting at a cafe in New York city. Little did they know that their 45-minute chat would transform the prospects of thousands of Indian SMEs.
Budding entrepreneurs Summi Gambhir (37) and Sameer Vakil (54) were both equipped with rich experience in finance and banking. While they discussed the challenges the small businesses faced globally over a cup of coffee, they agreed that SMEs lacked economies of scale as they all worked in silos. Thus, SMEs were unable to leverage the advantages that come with large scales of operation and resources.
“As a solution to this challenge, Sameer and I conceptualised a company which can enable SMEs to become digitised and connected,” says Summi Gambhir, Co-founder and Chief Experience Officer, GlobalLinker. “This was how the concept of GlobalLinker was born. We wanted to create a unique SME enablement ecosystem that focuses on connecting them with each other so that they can enjoy unhindered networking, powered by algorithm-based matchmaking.”
The meeting led to the birth of the idea to create an SME solution that focussed on addressing various needs of the sector such as payment issues, scaling, networking, logistics, etc. “We wanted to make an effort to ‘globally link’ business owners digitally, allowing them to harness a collective pool of resources – people, knowledge and even collective economies of scale,” she adds.
The duo formally launched GlobalLinker in 2015, headquartered in Mumbai, and moved back to India to run the business. Initially, the company was a self-funded venture that was supported by a parallel business, which provided digital strategy and solutions to large corporates. “Over a short period of time, we served several Fortune 500 companies and generated over $1.2 million in revenues,” recalls Gambhir. “Post this, we invited select friends and family, who are largely senior professionals and industry veterans, to invest in the organisation, such that they have a stake and also play active advisory roles.”
In just three years, the business has become cash flow positive and is now poised for exponential growth, according to Gambhir. By creating digital profiles and digital catalogues of SME members, GlobalLinker has also given them access to a global community of over 2,00,000 members.
“The SMEs are free to explore business opportunities through making new connections, assisted by GlobalLinker’s algorithms. Further, SMEs get access to economies of scale, using a wide range of business tools and services pre-created specially for them,” Gambhir explains.
Gambhir and Vakil knew that small businesses did not have small dreams, but achieving larger goals proved tricky for Indian businesses as progress in the SME sector was limited. “After China, India has the largest SME population. While it has been the focus of every government and every corporation, the progress in this segment has been very minimal, and no prominent SME specific-solutions have been launched,” Gambhir says.
“A lot of the recent environment in the country also favours SMEs and startups through the several umbrella programmes such as Startup India and Digital India, but the overall digital adoption by SMEs seems to be extremely low.”
With this in mind, the duo wanted to target India and provide services, access to knowledge, a set of capabilities and access to a community of like-minded businesses. “With this approach, many businesses have started seeing strong value by using GlobalLinker such as improved revenues, reduced expenses and even expanded business opportunities locally and even internationally,” Gambhir adds.
She says, there are three roles one can play in GlobalLinker. The first is an issuer of GlobalLinker (such as a corporation, trade body or government). The second role is of an affiliate partner, and the third is a member on GlobalLinker, either as a company or as an individual associated with a company. For this third role, one can create the first account of the company or join as an existing account of the company on GlobalLinker.
In terms of business, one of the major milestone has been landing Jet Airways as its first corporate partner. “Besides this, we also received a US patent for the virtual eBusiness card, expanded to international locations such as Thailand and Philippines, and launched FIEO GlobalLinker (set up by the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India),” Gambhir says.
However, most core functions of GlobalLinker are created and delivered in-house. Suppliers are mostly business partners who are brought into highly specialised areas within a build-operate-transfer model (BOT). “The BOT model ensures cultural fit and internalising of business objectives. Additionally, innovative solutions and business models have been used to keep expenses to a minimum without compromising on global plans,” she adds.
GlobalLinker’s success can be attributed to Gambhir and Vakil’s complementary backgrounds. Prior to founding GlobalLinker, Vakil was the Managing Director at Citibank in New York, and was leading a global effort across multiple countries in creating a next-generation digital banking experience. He has also been the President at Citi Cards Japan; Head of MasterCard in South Asia; Founder-CEO, GE Capital, (a joint venture with SBI); and has also held senior positions at HSBC.
Gambhir has a background in user experience, design and content, and she led the charge in designing mobile apps and web experiences globally for large organisations such as Citibank, Axa Equitable, Etrade, Jet Airways, ITC Hotels, and others. The duo was later joined by TJS Varadhan (59), a veteran in managing technology for banking and financial platforms. Prior to taking charge of technology at GlobalLinker, he spent more than 20 years at Citibank in Japan and several years at TCS.
Besides seeing success, the novelty of the solution posed a challenge during the business’ early days. GlobalLinker found it tricky to sell an entirely new concept to the big corporates and trade bodies, since nothing similar existed at the time. “A current challenge is helping SMEs change their habits and getting them used to manage their business through a digital platform. Another ongoing challenge is to make SMEs believe there is no catch to a rich solution being offered at no fee,” she says.
Despite recurring challenges, Gambhir remains bullish about finding business opportunity in supporting small businesses. “SMEs are the backbone of every economy and face a number of hurdles. I advise budding entrepreneurs to find an area of assistance and create a unique solution that drives efficiency and saves expense for them,” she explains. “Leverage new-age digital capabilities in addressing service gaps, and do so with great passion as the SME opportunity is extremely scalable and profitable.”
GlobalLinker now seeks to grow and tap into this vast sea of opportunity. It aims to be amongst the most valuable companies globally, and seeks to create the world’s largest SME community and be the largest traded platform anywhere. “In doing this, we are looking at expanding geographically in major trading blocs such as the ASEAN countries - Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia - in addition to Philippines and Thailand, where we are already present,” Gambhir says.
“We are also targeting the SAARC nations - Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - in addition to India. Other countries such as the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Netherlands, USA, Canada and Mexico are also on our radar,” she adds.