Interview with Nishant Behl and Rohan Raj Barua, Co-Founders of Expand My Business, India’s first B2B service aggregation marketplace

(L to R) Rohan Raj Barua and Nishant Behl, Co-Founders of Expand My Business
(L to R) Rohan Raj Barua and Nishant Behl, Co-Founders of Expand My Business

Expand My Business is India’s first B2B full service marketplace for all the digital needs of a business, co-founded in 2018 by Nishant Behl and Rohan Raj Barua. Categorized into three main headers, the platform focuses on IT Development, Marketing Services and Deep Tech support. Drawing parallel from Zomato, Alibaba and Urban Clap, Expand My Business is a service fulfillment platform and provides a managed end user experience. The platform is designed to provide service discovery, assist end users to make an informed decision and further bridge the gap between execution and delivery of the project within the stipulated timeline.

Every firm, whether it is an SME, a startup, or a large corporation, face difficulty selecting the correct service vendors. Expand My Business identified this gap and validated their idea through the proof of concept and tested their product with a big data set. With more than 1000+ transactions, Expand My Business sees nearly a 20% repeat in business. In 2018, Expand My Business raised a small ideation round. Following that they raised an undisclosed round of funding from Campus Fund and other angel investors including Bharat Shah, a founding member of HDFC Bank. 

Expand My Business’ vision is to become a one stop solution for businesses to not only get ease of access while choosing a service provider, but also to become the fulfilment partner for them.

In an exclusive interaction with Motiverge, Nishant Behl and Rohan Raj Barua, Co-Founders of Expand My Business share more insights about the brand, journey so far, motivation and future plans.

Below are the excerpts from the interview:

Tell us more about Expand My Business.

Founded in 2018 by Nishant Behl and Rohan Raj Barua, Expand My Business is India’s first managed marketplace for B2B service procurement. The company helps businesses by shortlisting quality vendors according to their project requirements, assisting them in making informed decisions, and further coordinating to ensure the project is delivered on time. The vision is to become a one-stop solution for businesses looking for digital services online by making the entire process effortless- right from finding the correct vendor to timely delivery of projects. At the moment, Expand My Business has over 1000 clients from more than 12 industries. 

What factors influenced or motivated you to create a B2B service aggregation marketplace? What seeded the idea of a startup in this space?

Expand My Business’s founder, Nishant Behl was working as a consultant for PwC, while he ran a successful Home Decor business as a side-gig. While looking for digital services for his business online, he realized how laborious it was to find the right vendor. He had to spend a huge amount of time surfing on platforms like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn, only to finalize the wrong vendor. That’s when he realized that the Indian market provides a number of discovery platforms, but none of them focus on streamlining or standardizing the entire process. There’s no way of knowing beforehand how your chosen vendor will perform, will they deliver on time, or if they’re charging you the right price. It was during this time that he started thinking about building a solution that would make the entire process of finding digital services online seamless.

Rohan Raj Barua: Before Expand My Business, Rohan Raj Barua, the co-founder of the firm, was working with Adidas in the supply-chain department. There, he observed that there are tons of problems a business faces while dealing with vendors- communication issues, late deliveries, no proper support, etc. He talked with Nishant regarding these recurring issues in the supply management and they both agreed that something had to be done in this area to resolve the concerns. That is when the idea of a startup to facilitate convenience in service procurement came into being. 

What were the first few steps during and after the launch of Expand My Business?

The first step was to find out if the problem that Nishant faced was real for other people too! They surveyed 1000 businesses to find out if these businesses were facing similar issues and would be willing to pay for a solution that would streamline the entire vendor procurement process. On receiving positive results, Nishant and Rohan started working on a solution. They created their proprietary ML/AI algorithm that shortlists the right vendors based on the requirements entered by clients. The vendors on their platform are verified through review checks, previous work, and background checks. All clients have to do is sign up, fill in their requirements- and they will be connected to prospective vendors instantly. Furthermore, it was decided that they would also act as fulfillment partners for their clients, and ensure that projects are completed under the stipulated deadline and there are no payment security concerns. 

Have you raised funds so far?

Expand My Business has raised 3 capital rounds so far. The first was the seed capital from Mr. Bharat Shah, the founder of HDFC Bank, Campus Fund (Micro VC), and some angel investors. To add to that, the firm has completed the Pre-series A – Chiratae Venture (Formerly IDG), Tanglin Venture Partners, and marquee angel investors. 

Tell us about your motivation. What keeps you going?

We believe in our vision of creating a B2B service aggregation marketplace. We’re problem solvers at heart, and every person that joins the Expand My Business team does so because they want to serve a larger purpose- helping businesses go digital effortlessly. The aim of the firm to make the next million businesses digital is what pushes them towards constantly innovating ways to make service procurement an easy task and one that is accessible by all.

How has your journey been so far?

It is fair to say that no startup journey is easy, and for Expand My Business, it has been the same as well with its own unique set of ups and downs. Creating a dynamic solution for a large customer base, where each buyer has their distinct requirements and challenges has without a doubt been a toilsome task at times. But every client that the team has got on board, listening to their issues, and coming up with solutions, has contributed to their exponential growth. There have been periods of stagnation as well as that of speedy growth. Both come with challenges of their own but we’re grateful for every roadblock we’ve faced because that has only made us better at what we do.

How big is your team? How did you manage your team & business during the COVID-19 outbreak?

At the moment, the team has 60-70 employees and is growing at a rapid speed. During Covid-19, all our functions were undertaken virtually. If you want to run a business online, there can be absolutely no compromise on technology adoption, so Nishant and Rohan decided to introduce the SaaS models across all functions to make sure all processes were carried out smoothly. Another hugely important factor is communication. Proper communication channels were set up during the Covid-19 lockdown. Fortunately, because of the nature of the business, the pandemic didn’t stop the growth. The client base grew significantly during the pandemic since in several cases, the businesses were required to essentially go completely online.

In your view, how AI is enabling on-demand procurement in India?

As of now, although AI is largely getting accepted and explored, India still does not have a proper data ecosystem in place to be able to create sophisticated AI models even in the product procurement space. Therefore complete AI adoption in-service procurement is a far cry from its inception stage. And Expand My Business plans to change that. The team is currently using Machine Learning to match the right vendor to the right client based on their specific requirements. Going forward, one of the long-term goals of the business is to introduce AI in the mix to help the clients make more accurate decisions by furnishing them with AI-driven insights.

How Expand My Business is empowering sellers or vendors from Tier 2-Tier 3 cities to sell to the world, thereby expanding global footprint?

Expand My Business’s algorithm takes a slew of parameters into account before onboarding vendors on the platform, because the essence of it all is to provide sharp quality and precision. And what is truly brilliant is that out of the innumerable vendor profiles on the system, a good number of vendors from tier-2 and tier-3 cities have also cut. There’s a large talent pool in these cities, and local businesses are looking for faster growth opportunities, especially after the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Expand My Business acknowledges this talent and believes that it is definitely worth the recognition. The team ensures that these tier-2 and tier-3 city vendors get the best opportunities and are therefore connected to the best possible clients. These clients are not just from India but have a large base in western nations like Germany, the UK, Canada, among others.

Who are the major competitors of Expand My Business in India as well as globally? How do you differentiate yourself from your competition?

The two major competitors for Expand My Business are Grocurv and Supersourcing. Since the firm is a hyper-growth startup, there is a constant effort put in the processes with a 24X7 active ecosystem. That is what differentiates the firm from its rival companies.  Expand My Business is the only B2B firm successfully offering digital services under three major categories- website/app development, digital marketing, and designing. With a client base in over 23 countries, the constant progress has led them to soon have an office in Dubai. There is also a strong foothold in around 12 industries with an impressive amount of recurring clients from eCommerce, Healthcare, Food & Beverage, travel, and IoT like Maruti Suzuki, Swiggy, CBRE, Clove Dental, and FedEx.

What are the business opportunities in the Managed B2B Marketplace space especially in the APAC region? How do you see growth, market response, and challenges in a post-COVID world?

There is a strong preference for digital mediums in the APAC region, and with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the growth of technology services has been rampant. In a post COVID world, the perceptions and attitudes of businesses and their consumers have evolved. It has been made evident that consumers are now willing to pay for their comfort and to protect themselves and their families from heightened medical concerns. This is where the role of the B2B services comes into the spotlight for enabling the businesses to cope with new waves of changes in the marketplace. The B2B marketplaces are in need of positioning themselves as giver and pivot on the need for building connections with their consumers. The virtual experiences have become unique to the consumers, and B2B technological companies have the special advantage in the post COVID world. The potential for B2B companies in the APAC region is especially strong. The region already accounts for 29% of the world’s total revenue in the Information and Technology sector. The robust skill base for the talents in the APAC region already makes the region a preferred choice to cater to the need of exploding demand for digital services.

With accelerated digitization of the population in the APAC region, the potential for the B2B companies to contribute to facilitating technological development is immense. Apart from digital services, the APAC region is also of strategic importance as it grows to become the hub for renewable energy. All this combined makes the potential for the region to take in the evolved practices of the consumers in the post COVID world exciting and promising.

Being a startup, what do you think is the biggest challenge in India? Please share your views on how the Indian Government is doing on supporting startups?

Though the startup culture has really taken off in the past few years, most startups don’t receive enough financial support or are unaware of the complexities and the pain points they might encounter while fund and capital collection. Besides that, the execution and finding the right resources to execute an idea can be a major concern in case of faulty ideation. And that is the major roadblock because lack of resources truly stunts growth, which is why startups in India have to struggle a lot to go beyond the initial stages. The Government of India has set up a portal #startupindia under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. 960 crore of funding has been enabled to Startups through various schemes. 828 Cr sanctioned funds are kept for infrastructure. Another provision of the program is IT exemption for 3 years. There have been positive results when it comes to startup affiliations with the Indian government but Expand My Business is yet to pick up funding from the mentioned sources.

Where do you see yourself in the upcoming 3 to 5 years?

In the next three years, Expand My Business is eyeing a 200x growth with a much larger client base where they  receive standardized B2B service procurement and fulfillment services. The process to realise this idea of unparalleled growth is already in place, and continuous optimisation is ongoing to ensure that 3 years down the road, the team have standard and mapped-out solutions for all types of businesses in the few industries yet not explored. When it comes to expansion terms, the plan is to have offices in over 10 major international locations. With Dubai already in the pipeline, the team is surely headed in the right direction to reach other countries soon. And in 5 years, the plan is to become a Unicorn, and contribute significantly to India’s GDP by streamlining and standardizing the entire service procurement and fulfillment process.

Awards and achievements, if any?

The biggest achievement for Expand My Business is its constant growth in the business world and the increasing client-base. The firm is often referred to as the “Alibaba of digital services.” It represents 2000 businesses globally who advocate that Expand My Business has impacted the business world in a good way. With the Pre-Series A round done, the firm has now set eyes to achieving bigger things and add some laurels to their credit in order to recognise the unmatched hardwork and dedication put in by the team. 

What are your messages or leadership lessons for budding entrepreneurs and emerging artists?

If you have an idea or a vision, you really have to go all-out with it. There’s absolutely no other way. Keep questioning the status quo, and encourage your peers, colleagues, and team members to do the same. It is important to support the creative freedom of the people you are working with because that is how visionary ideas and procedures are born. So give a chance to whatever new or unconventional ideas your team comes up with. Furthermore, grit and dedication are what are going to take you forward with effective time and resource management. An added benefit is to not succumb to the pressures of building a hyper-growth endeavour because as it is true by the nature of it, a startup is going to bring in some tough times for the team. Being focused and solution-driven at such times can truly get one out of perplexing and downtrodden situations.

Hope this interview will motivate all the aspiring entrepreneurs. It is a part of our startup profiling feature story/interview series. We are on a mission to bring forward the inspirational journey of successful entrepreneurs in order to spread some motivation during these tough times.

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