Creating a level Playing Field for SMEs

Date:   Tuesday , April 30, 2013

A second generation of expatriates is setting up base for their businesses in India. This is due to the opportunities available to innovate and expand which are unique to the Indian market. However, the favorable circumstances that India presents to immigrants are not only about an economy which is growing at a faster pace than their respective home country, it is also about the concentration of Indian engineering graduates and a culture that is wholly inclined towards startups.

John Verbic, founder and CEO of, moved to India in 2007 from New York City where he specialized in private equity and venture investing. After over 15 years investment experience in the U.S., Verbic decided there may be better opportunities in India – so he left what was familiar in order to take a chance on an uncertain future. We highlight the journey of John Verbic and how he, Rahul Dhingra (CTO) and their team plan to level the playing field for businesses around the world with their business networking platform, The social network with a difference promises to benefit SMEs by providing cutting-edge tools to help businesses grow faster and to succeed.

What was the key pain point for businesses that you wanted to address with TrepUp’s business tools and platform?
I wanted to find a solution for the “resource gap” for small and medium-sized businesses. Worldwide, SMEs account for over 90 percent of businesses and 50 percent of employment. They are the backbone of the global economy and are key drivers of job creation and economic growth. They constitute the largest portion of the employment base, hire the greatest number of new employees and provide the majority of every country’s goods and services.

Yet, despite the importance of SMEs, they face difficulties in obtaining credit and equity financing. They do not have the security for conventional bank lending, nor the potential returns to attract risk investors. Their restricted resources limit access to new technologies, information and management talent, and prevent them from growing their businesses. In India, SMEs obtain only 10 percent of their funding from external sources.

How do you plan to create a new methodology of working for businesses?
There is talk about a level playing field, sparked in part by Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. But what is a level playing field in the world today, and is it ever level in business?

The very notion of a level playing field is a myth. There never has been and never will be a level playing field. In India, let alone in other countries, SMEs will never be on a level playing field with big business that can spend millions to launch a new product or service.
Many businesses large and small regularly fail to make insightful decisions about significant changes in their business and markets due to a lack of information, processes and tools. This is where TrepUp offers a solution.

TrepUp combines social software with business intelligence capabilities to create a level field for all businesses, no matter the size, industry or location. Our technologies give businesses the tools required to make better decisions, uncover new opportunities, and respond quickly to changing market conditions and customer demands. The result allows businesses to grow faster and more efficiently.

What advantages does TrepUp offer businesses?
Imagine the power of social networks when they become a part of daily business and are not used mainly by consumers. In spite of Facebook’s remarkable achievements, we have only witnessed the beginning of social networking’s power to revolutionize business interactions. The result will increase the speed of innovation and productivity, and create new growth opportunities and jobs across the globe.

What do social networks do? They bring together the core features of our personal life, centralizing them in a way that enables us to interact with anyone, anywhere, at any time. The efficiency of these tools allows people to maintain broader networks of friends with less time and effort. Today, many of us have adjusted our social lives to make the best use of the online networking tools available. Businesses will undergo the same process as they learn to harness “social business” tools.

TrepUp provides social business tools to help businesses reach customers, connect employees and coordinate with suppliers. The tools help businesses share information, gather market intelligence and build relationships with customers. TrepUp brings together the objects of business – such as resources, opportunities and information – to help businesses leverage social networking for business processes and real-time information flow.

A key advantage for SMEs on TrepUp is an integrated network and real-time intelligent business environment. This gives access to the collective knowledge of other businesses, customer preferences, and potential partners and investors.

How does TrepUp bring visibility to businesses in the global market?

We are in the process of integrating email marketing tools so users of TrepUp can reach their connections and followers in a targeted way. These tools will help businesses gain maximum visibility and recognition, not only locally but all over the world. Users can design their email entirely from scratch or select from design templates. TrepUp does not impose user and business account-based connection and follower limits. Our goal is to make it easy for businesses to create profitable relationships and succeed.

How does TrepUp help entrepreneurs showcase ideas and what they need to start or grow their business?
TrepUp makes is easy for entrepreneurs to showcase their “personality” and interests. Visual features in a cutting-edge social media style offer them an opportunity to connect with fans and followers at a deeper level, and make their marketing and promotion more engaging.
TrepUp reflects the next generation of socially networked business communications – where the written word is no longer sufficient. A business sharing pictures, not just text updates, is likely to generate more “Likes” and comments owing to the visual component.

How do startups benefit from using TrepUp?
TrepUp offers three key benefits not only for startups but for any business that signs up for free. Visual Business Pages increase brand awareness and engagement. Second, search and tags allow them to easily get found on TrepUp, Google, Bing and Yahoo! Search. Third, blogs for posting news and sharing knowledge help in the building and positioning of their brand.

How did you overcome challenges while building TrepUp? Being an immigrant, how different was your experience of starting up in India?

Moving from one country to another and launching TrepUp was about being comfortable with being uncomfortable and being willing to take risks. I remember arriving Mumbai for the first time with my family and thinking: “This is not going to be so easy.” In retrospect, it took some guts to leave the U.S. and what was familiar in order to take a chance on an uncertain future. However, I felt there were better opportunities in India and never looked back.

As for challenges, I do not concentrate on them. I believe, “where there is a will there is a way”. But admittedly it is pretty fantastic living in India. There are always solutions to problems and nothing seems impossible. I imagine living here is a little like living in the U.S. during the ‘50s when there were no limits, only possibilities.

What motivated you to begin TrepUp? How did your VC experience help you?
I wanted to redefine business interaction and collaboration in cyberspace. By creating a business utility, which let businesses do all kinds of things, from exchanging ideas and sharing information to conducting business, I believed we could make the world a more productive place.

However, the DNA for success as an entrepreneur versus a VC is not the same. There are parallels, but the crossover from financing the building of a company to building a company requires different approaches. VCs offer advice, guidance, visibility, connections and money. But for the entrepreneur, it is about selling your idea and getting your product into the marketplace, putting everything on the line for a dream, sacrificing your personal life to keep that dream alive, and picking yourself up if you fail. Almost all the rest does not matter.

What advantages does India offer TrepUp in comparison to its foreign counterparts?
The talent pool in science, technology, engineering and maths offer the ability to outthink and out-compete foreign counterparts. The increasing numbers of engineers that are abstract thinkers with high levels of innovative and problem solving skills are significant. These engineers work well in teams, possess strong interpersonal skills and are globally competitive.

A second advantage is geographical.The next billion Internet users will come from emerging markets, with a fourth from India. Worldwide, India is one of the fastest growing markets with social networking and email the main purpose of Internet access. With the mobile phone the preferred Internet access device and India’s mobile subscriber base edging closer to a billion, we are witnessing the beginning of a mobile social media revolution.

Third, are the demographics – more than half of India’s population is under the age of 25. By 2020, India’s average age will be 29 years, in comparison with 37 in China and the U.S., and 45 in Western Europe. No other country offers a similar scale of human resource talent and opportunity.

What is the biggest challenge that you face to make TrepUp successful?
Our biggest challenge in the long run is to develop a viable mobile strategy. Moving TrepUp to smartphones and tablets changes the user experience. Mobile is an integral part of our lives and is transforming the way we work. Linking mobile technology and social networking will accelerate change in business. The business networks of the future will not only be comprehensive, but mobile, reaching all six billion mobile devices in the world.

As part of our plan to build a fast Android and iPhone app, we will create a tool kit for developers to connect apps across the Android and iOS operating systems. TrepUp is starting from scratch with its app. Our mobile team is not repackaging the Web experience into a phone. The team’s intention is to create services and programs for mobile that are not possible on desktops.

What new developments will we see from TrepUp in the future?
Up first is real-time search with location awareness. “Real-time” search capabilities will make it easy for users who are searching for a particular good, service or opportunity, and they offer a powerful direct marketing channel for SMEs. The tool will help businesses increase their relevancy by appearing in filters and make it easier for them to connect with potential customers, partners and investors.

Early next year, we will integrate groups along with privacy settings. Groups will allow users to setup their own groups or join existing ones, and include live chat and the ability to send and receive files and share photos or videos with other group members.

Privacy settings will also be added to help users control what they share, and with whom they are sharing. TrepUp privacy options will make it easy to share posts, photos and other content with exactly the people and businesses the user wants. TrepUp will institute a strict OPT-IN policy for information – no information will be shared without explicit agreement.

What is the vision for the team and road map ahead?
TrepUp’s culture revolves around our mission: ‘to unite the world’s resources and make it universally easy to collaborate for business growth.’

Who is hired to build and scale TrepUp is our most important decision. In the year ahead, we will recruit more local talent spanning the spectrum of skills from direct acquisition marketing to technical back end and front end engineers.

Long term, we will make the site available in other languages. Language localization is the ultimate equalizer. Our goal is to get the entire planet on TrepUp.