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Driving Digital And Financial Inclusion For SMEs – Deepankar Rustagi

Driving Digital And Financial Inclusion For SMEs – Deepankar Rustagi

Deepankar Rustagi - the spark youth empowerment platform in nigeria

By Lucy Onuorah                                      

It was a very hot afternoon when we welcomed  the founder of VConnect Global Services, popularly known as VConnect – Mr Deepankar  Rustagi into our office. Eager to have a chat with him we had reached out to him and he obliged us effortlessly.

Deepankar Rustagi - the spark youth empowerment platform in nigeria

Deepankar Rustagi had his education here in Nigeria and has lived here for the past 23 years and it was here he found a reason and an opportunity to give back to the society; hence the journey to creating VConnect was initiated.

VConnect is an online service marketplace that helps users hire local professionals for all service needs. There are over 100 services listed on VConnect ranging from repairs to maintenance, home and office improvement, personal services, business services and logistics.

His inability, in 2010, to locate Nigerian local businesses online led to the idea of VConnect. Deepankar began assembling a team that would help collect local SMEs information that can be accessed via a Google-esque local search engine. This eventually led to the launch of VConnect alongside co- founder Anand Chander, in 2011.

Today, VConnect stands as one of Nigeria’s hottest tech startups.

For some Nigerians, when you hear of VConnect it is likely that we remember it as a platform to check for registered and verified addresses to various businesses, however, there is a whole lot more to the platform than being just a directory.

Two major factors that helped shape the idea of VConnect and bring it to a reality was that of the absence of a link between service providers and their customers. There was a point in time where it was difficult to verify if a business is registered and trusted. Nowadays, with client reviews and online search on VConnect, you are good to go.

“VConnect came right in time to fill in the huge trust deficit there was between service providers and their clients. We find that many businesses in Nigeria start out with a short term goal. Instead of looking at about 5 years of operation, they tend to look at 2 years of operations after which, if no major success has been recorded, they start getting discouraged. It is as a result of the high rate of interest and high cost of operation that businesses suffer.  It is worthy to note that the absence of the right number of customers involved in your business for growth purposes eventually cripples the business.”

“In setting up VConnect, we had to sensitize people and make them change their mindset and accept the idea that there was nothing wrong in running an online business, online business is not a taboo,” said Deepankar.

“Online business is important for businesses to gain more visibility and accessibility. Education and rebranding are not exempted either. That was how we became the first platform to embrace that online presence.”

When starting up a business, it is always advisable to carefully select a team because that will be the most valuable asset. Starting VConnect at 26 years of age, it was quite cumbersome to grow a trusted network but slowly and steadily, VConnect found its feet.

“There is no shortcut to success; brainstorming amongst team members is encouraged. It helps to build a team that absolutely believes in problem-solving as well as empowerment of small and medium enterprises. That has made it possible for VConnect to simplify things for users and making a place where getting things done is not a challenge. “

“Funding is usually a problem faced by many start ups, however, you need people who understand your model and believe in your motivation enough to see that you are committed and persistent. That is not to say that one would not invest, personal investment cannot be overruled. Whilst banking on friends and family is a viable option, personal investment is encouraged. This lifts off some of the financial burden.”

To continually have a positive effect on businesses in the Nigerian economy, Deepankar’s VConnect aims at providing a feasibility study to businesses as well as building an economy of trust. “When you are able to build trust between a business and its clients, users will have no doubts about the businesses they come in contact with via our platform. VConnect prides itself in being recognized as a trusted economy.”

VConnect has a low barrier entry which enables startups place their listings. It is a model that pays you off in the long run so once started, it will take a while to gather those businesses, pin their relationships with those businesses. To separate themselves from other competitors, VConnect tries as much as possible to understand and maintain a good relationship with its customers.  At this level, an understanding of user needs comes in to be able to create end-user satisfaction. More so, they try not to over-market themselves so as not to send the wrong signal. It pays off eventually to allow for an organic traffic which stems from satisfaction from the customers who will keep coming back.

Often times, we hear some people say that tech businesses are easy to handle while some others see it as a quick way to success but that is far from the truth. What is more acceptable is that tech businesses are a more organized form of business so when working with the right model and the right sociability, it yields great results.

Notwithstanding, there are still unique challenges because of the ecosystem, absence of infrastructures, etc which creates amazing opportunities and interesting problems to be solved. Every startup has in mind a problem or more to solve, however, solving the problems will ultimately be determined by the level of commitment, persistence and hard work.

Tech business is not a quick walk and will never really get to that point where it becomes all too easy. It involves high level of intelligence and patience as well as machines and software.

Vconnect has been recognized by Forbes as one of the “Hottest Tech Startups in Africa. By 2015, VConnect was reported to have had 1.2 million businesses listed.

Evolving progressively, 2018 saw VConnect officially launching Market by VConnect – a service marketplace where trusted business owners can find and connect with real customers.

“For tech startups, getting the right unit matrix and the formula to scale is the biggest and most important thing. Instead of focusing on too many things at a time, rather, focus on doing one thing right and you’ll find that you are in track of your unit matrix from the onset.”


Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.

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