Alum Ventures: Scripbox – Atul Shinghal, PGP 1993

A simple idea with strong values backed by determination has led Scripbox to what it is today. Pioneer in the field, it’s a brainchild of its Founder and CEO Mr. Atul Shinghal. He has a grand vision to help a million families achieve financial freedom, through his company.

Staying grounded to his roots, he is a sports person, a national champion with a flair for numbers, Atul is a person full of life. He has taken on all facets of life with gusto and transformed ideas into reality.

In an exclusive interview with Atul Shinghal on his entrepreneurial journey and more..

Could you please tell us something about yourself?

A regular, overeducated, underpaid guy, I grew up in an Army background. Apart from 2 stints in boarding schools (Welham Boys and Mayo College), I travelled to different small towns across the country with my parents – and have lived in over 20 cities.

The Army and boarding school upbringing also gave me an opportunity to play multiple and exotic sports, and has nurtured my lifelong passion for all kinds of sports. As an example, I learnt yachting as a child and represented India at an Asian Championship in Japan, after winning the Nationals.

Unfortunately, I could not continue with yachting, as I ended up in Chennai for my Engineering, and as anyone from IIT Madras will tell you – water is one thing that is genuinely scarce in that coastal town. I am hoping that I can get back to the sport sometime in the future…

Post IIMB, I was in corporate life for about 15 years, and worked in India, UK and South Africa.

We have been settled in Bangalore since 2008 and since then, I have had the privilege of being involved with 2 start-ups.

My wife is a designer with her own boutique and we have 2 daughters.

Can you please tell us about your ventures Scripbox and Probe Information Services?

Scripbox is India’s pioneering digital wealth manager. We founded Scripbox in 2012 because we felt that India deserved better than what was on offer for the common investor at the time. Of course, over the years, as the requirements of our customers have grown, so have we – by launching new products, offering customized financial advisory, to name a few. We aim to help a million families achieve financial freedom, by simplifying wealth management.

Probe Information Services, is the largest and most efficient provider of Financial Information on corporates in India. Our purpose is to enable Indian businesses to make better business decisions through the use of information. Probe42, our primary product covers ANY and EVERY company in India and is currently used by most Banks as their primary source of reliable information.

The journey so far has been fantastic and my hope and belief is that we will build  genuinely world class organisations over the next few years.

Scripbox is one of the best innovators in the field, what makes it a pioneer in this space?

When we first launched Scripbox in 2012, our idea was to take the fear away from investing and to get people started. Contrary to all expectations and every other incumbent, we launched with a basket of just 4 mutual funds, in line with our simplified investment approach. Our philosophy was – and still is – that we want to help people worry less about money.

We leverage the power of digital in its truest sense. People confuse digital with online: it is not. Online is just a channel, whereas digital combines Science, Maths, Data and Technology to give customers better outcomes. As an example, we have over 30 algorithms that power every aspect of the wealth management value-chain, from fund selection to portfolio management to automated rebalancing to tax optimisation.

As our customers have grown with us, so have our solutions. From starting with a curated basket of 4 equity mutual funds, today, Scripbox is a full-stack digital wealth manager, providing solutions across multiple financial products.

Most business ideas originate from personal experiences or observations, can you please tell us what prompted you to take up the entrepreneurial path?

I am an Accidental Entrepreneur. Having had 2 corporate sponsored intrapreneurial business ventures shut down because of the 2007 – 08 Financial Crisis, I knew I had done my tour of duty in ‘Corporate Life’. Post a year long sabbatical, once I had figured out what not to do, I got together with a dear friend and batch mate, Ravi Shankar (Tuff), to see how we could scale Probe.

Scripbox was actually born out of Probe: It combined Ravi’s deep knowledge of investments, my experience in building a digital bank in South Africa and my experience of applying for a SEBI license to set up an AMC in India, plus Sanjiv Singhal’s work in the wealth-tech space.

Apart from the relevant background mentioned above, I have an interesting story about the genesis of Scripbox. Let us call it the ‘Javed Bhai story’. This was in 2009, it was at a time when I was home visiting my parents, in Dehradun. My father, a retired Lieutenant General,  had just received some arrears on his pension. So here I am, the country manager of a potential AMC, listening to this discussion between my parents on where to invest this money, my mother says, “We will give it to Mrs. Sharma, since she gives a cashback of Rs 2000”. My father, on the other hand, wanted to give the money to Javed Bhai. On asking a few questions, I was told to stay out of the discussion !! and soon realised that my parents had no idea how and why their money would be invested – whether it was Mrs. Sharma or Javed bhai or a third person. On digging around it seemed to be a universal truth – Investing without a purpose, cluelessly. In fact, not too long afterwards, my father had been sold a life insurance policy at the age of 70, which was a clear case of mis-selling.

It was clear that India deserved better, and that is how Scripbox was born, as a true garage start-up.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of being an entrepreneur? Any key learnings that you would like to share.

The most rewarding aspect, for me, would be the freedom to do what the heart desires. The gap between thinking and doing is removed. The power to create genuine value for customers, to build an enduring business based on simple principles of ‘Doing the Right Thing and Doing It Right’.

That said, it is important to remember that entrepreneurship is a long and largely lonely journey. Also the shift one makes from an employee to an entrepreneur is a big one, as they also need to shift their perspective to that of a business owner. One needs to learn to do more with less. In a start-up atmosphere, you need to play with the cards you are dealt, and move at speed, whether while decision-making or execution. Also, you should be ready and able to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. You have to be capable enough and willing to fulfil all roles from the DEO to the CEO.

One thing that no one tells you about entrepreneurship? Any advice for budding entrepreneurs.

One Lesson : It always takes longer and it always costs more. People under-estimate the effort required and also just the sheer cost of doing business. As a corporate employee, though you are conscious about budgets, etc, you really do not understand the value of money. The one lesson I have learnt is that ‘Cash is King’. Make sure that you always have sufficient capital available to fulfill your ambitions. Be very frugal. Be paranoid.

The one advice I have for all budding entrepreneurs is to respect SALES. Typical tech entrepreneurs do not understand and do not respect sales. Believe me, however good your product is, you have to find paying customers for it – and only a sales person can make that happen. So make sure that one of the cofounders is an out and out sales person.

What keeps you motivated?

I consider myself very fortunate to have had a very privileged upbringing and access to the best of everything in life. And from this stems a desire to make the most of it, to create more value, to do more, to give back more.

The fear of time – or rather the lack of it – as well as the fear of failure, are also key drivers. I feel that there is so much to do, but such little time at hand. So get on with it and get stuff done has always been a way of life.

Any fond memories of your days at IIMB.

Enduring life-long friendships, endless parties, admiration for the intellect around you, regular trips to Mohan’s Paradise and SBR, Nexus at RSI, Chai at Aunties, the beautiful green campus and F-BLOCK , to name a few. And yes before I forget, the academics. 🙂

A book you are currently reading.

Principles –  Ray Dalio

The Psychology of Money – Morgan Housel