CA turned Entrepreneur: Sneak Peek in the life of Niraj Bora, Founder of Surmount Business Advisors Pvt Ltd

Niraj Bora- Founder of Surmount Business Advisors Pvt Ltd

Interview with Mr Niraj Bora: Founder of Surmount Business Advisors Pvt Ltd

Niraj Bora has brought his excellent credentials and professional accomplishments with private equity funds and big corporates to the world of startups, with Surmount Business Advisors Private Limited, a company he set up in 2013.

Over the last seven years, he has invested in several interesting startups, from tech-and non tech startups including Tribe stays (myturf hospitality), which runs the premium student accommodation; Frido (Arcatron Mobility) which is focussed on ergonomic products for consumers, among others. 

Bora, who has worked in BDO & EY in the past hails from a VC/PE background. He has previously worked with Reliance Group, M&M, Axis Bank, Piramal Group, Essel Group and HCL on deals up to $2bn.

His considerable experience in transaction advisory (both buy and sell), fundraising from seed to IPO, across several different segments and industries such as real estate, infrastructure, technology, financial services, media and entertainment and e-commerce, handling revenues amounting to over $10b and Asset Under Management (AUM) of $1bn, has held him in good stead while working with startups.

It has offered him the insight and management skills that help him ferret out promising ideas and steer startups through initial days of setup, to reach their potential, while managing their funds effectively. 

Bora, a member/investor with Mumbai Angel Network, Venture catalysts, JITO angel network and others and has served as a working committee member of JITO Angel Network in the past. He is a hands-on investor, working very actively with startups he invests in and generally doesn’t prefers pure passive investing.

He serves on the board of quite a few startups and has served on the jury panel of fund-raising events held to evaluate new startup ideas. 

Niraj believes tech and new age startups would reduce world’s problems to a large extent by diverting global resources to more meaningful problem solvers.

A keen follower and writer on trends and news about world economy, policymaking and startup ecosystem, he is of the firm view that tech startups can revolutionise India and catapult it into the much-vaunted $5tn India’s economic target. 

Over the last seven years, he has invested in several interesting startups, from tech-and non tech startups including Tribe stays (myturf hospitality), which runs the premium student accommodation; Frido (Arcatron Mobility) which is focussed on ergonomic products for consumers, among others. 

Bora, who has worked in BDO & EY in the past hails from a VC/PE background. He has previously worked with Reliance Group, M&M, Axis Bank, Piramal Group, Essel Group and HCL on deals up to $2bn.

With considerable experience, Niraj Bora is well versed in market situations. His sharp business acumen coupled with an in-depth analysis and understanding of the market makes him a much sought after business advisor.

Tell us a little about yourself

Niraj Bora: I am a CA by profession but have not worked in traditional areas. I have done my internship in Big5 and then moved to EY in transaction advisory practice. Thereafter I started surmount in Pune in 2013 as an advisory firm and then later also started investing in startups on my own.

Please tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey

Niraj Bora: Well, I would not say it was like a startup founders’ journey, but yes I found my niche in the space which is emerging and has a lot many players, and have a lot to grow further in next few years. 

Like I said, I started with advisory practice in business advisory and financing and in a few years the experience with this practice got some of the clients to offer board seats and equity to me against the work that we did in the firm.

Initially the equity was in the nature of sweat equity wherein we saw the startups’ journey first hand and learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t work.

Gradually then we started investing our own money in these startups and got more involved in building their business, solving day to day problems, speeding up their growth eventually.

Now, we have 7 companies in the portfolio and growing further strong. 

What is your biggest USP

Niraj Bora: I believe we are the ones who operate between a startup incubator and an early stage VC firm. Most of the companies we have onboarded till date have a lot of our involvement.

We involve ourself to strategise model before hitting PMF, we help in raising funds, we assist them in partnerships, and setup processes, etc.

We do not invest in tens of companies in a year (unlike VC firms), as we would not be able to assist so many of them with our time.

Our major contribution we think is in the time we put in these companies to unlock their potential. Most of these companies we invest in, we are actively involved.

We think our involvement is high till the company crosses pre series A investment. Once we are done with that, we move to other companies to take off to this level.

Now, our investment is modelled in structured equity style, wherein we do a debt and equity sort of structured investment depending upon the business model of the company. 

What made you choose this type of business?

Niraj Bora: It wasn’t a choice truly speaking, but it came my way and I took the chance and did it. Eventually I realised I love doing this.

Everyday, one or the other portfolio company has some or the other problem and me and my team like to resolve them on a day to day basis.

What was your mission and vision at the outset?

Niraj Bora: We do believe our job is to divert resources from less efficient businesses or less value add investments to better business models, and earn better for us and our investors.

In the journey, it would also benefit the other stakeholders including consumers of the free market to access better, cheaper, improved services and products in the better manner.

E.g. Some unsustainable business, inefficient models are getting funded daily, so our job is to divert these resources to sustainable ones.

In this process, the unsustainable model also gets more competitive and improve their business model. So, it benefits everyone. We cannot do this for the entire world, but we intend to do it everyday to the extent we can.

What is your Leadership Mantra

Niraj Bora: There is no mantra as such which can make your company take off in one go. Different business have different requirements, and no single mantra can solve your everyday problems.

What’s your company’s goals?

Niraj Bora: Our goal is to further do good investments, and raise external funds in a fund structure to expand and grow this business. 

We are maybe among the first structured equity investment firm for early stage investing stage for startups. Maybe we crack this niche soon in a better manner going forward.

What was the inspiration behind turning an entrepreneur

Niraj Bora: My dad ran a music store in a small place (yavatmal, MH). I have always admired him since my childhood for running the store so well.

I used to literally learn something from him everyday sitting in the shop. He was my inspiration to turn an entrepreneur. Seeing him, I realised that business can make more than working a job, and with great satisfaction. 

Also, while I was working in mumbai it seemed so difficult to find someone who actually enjoys they job very much and was satisfied with the work everyday. So it looked like a dead end tunnel anyway to get out of. 

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

Niraj Bora: We had our share of failures in the journey, and few leanings we have factored from that. Profitability equations need to have lower number of variables while operating, and high margin businesses do better since they have that leeway to absorb extra marketing to add customers. 

Thin margin and operations heavy business are difficult to build and it takes years of burn. For a firm like ours who cannot sustain burn ourself for a long time, we need to focus on less burn models.

We realised this a bit late but now things are better from this standpoint. We have a lot to learn further, hopefully with less mistakes going forward. 

Key things to consider before starting a Business

Niraj Bora: Ensure you have done some homework beforehand rather than jump and then figure out what to do.

One can figure out the business idea while working jobs, and can do some research on that, talk to people who can be potential customers, suppliers, partners, etc on whether they would be open to something like your business model. This would help a lot.

Consider the worst case scenario in case it doesn’t work out, and make peace with that situation before you take the leap.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?

Niraj Bora: Not confronting things to founders with that intensity, when things were going wrong. Many times the focus of the founding team and management is something else than what we want them to focus on (function wise, not business model wise)

I would not say that I am right all the time, but putting forth the point (with the intensity the issue requires) to brainstorm would have been better than leaving it to founders to figure it out.

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Niraj Bora: There is no single piece of advice that works for everyone. Every founder and its business has its own set of challenges. 

Deep dive into all the stakeholders requirements and mindset of your business model, and get right insights into the current system. Then try to fit your model into that. I think that will help you a lot with your business.

Your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs

Niraj Bora: One has to stick around for a while to understand any particular business, sector, the key parameters that drive any businesses. Switching strategies frequently or pivoting frequently does not makes sense unless you put in enough time to understand how the system works.


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