Nikhilesh Goel | Founder of Validus

Introduction

Success leaves clues

Finance Strategists sat down with Nikhilesh Goel, founder of Validus. He discussed the past, present, and future of the company, as well as the insight he gained from running the business.

Who is Nikhilesh Goel?

Q: Who are you and what’s your background?

I’m Nikhilesh Goel, co-founder of Validus Capital. I lead the Singapore team and co-manage the Vietnam team along with my CEO of Validus Vietnam. On a day-to-day basis, I’m responsible for overseeing all tech, data and marketing shared resources across the Group including prioritization of budgets, resources and projects, sharing of best practices across all operating entities within the Group and corporate finance decisions and capital allocation across the Group entities. 

 

Prior to Validus Capital, I spent the last 14 years of my career in Private Equity and Corporate Finance experience across Southeast Asia. My expertise includes debt and equity financing across diverse sectors, as well as portfolio management and value creation at SME companies. I founded the M&A Advisory practice at Taipan Partners, focusing on consumer and tech sector deals across South East Asia. 

I have a Bachelor of Engineering Degree and an MBA in Finance. I contribute to the fintech ecosystem by sharing my insights regularly at fintech and SME conferences on topics relating to Alternative Lending, Small Business Financing and Peer to Peer Platforms. 

I’m also the winner of Top 10 FinTech Leaders at Singapore FinTech Awards. 

Q: Who has been your biggest influence, and why did they have such a significant effect on you?

Growing up in cricket-crazy India I always idolized the great Australian captain Steve Waugh. Leading a team of some of the most naturally gifted cricketers ever to play the game, he stood tall purely on the basis of his grit and determination. Even in the face of insurmountable odds he continued to battle on and it often seemed he just didn’t know how to give up. Whenever the team had their backs to the wall, all heads turned to him and more often than not Steve would bail them out. A man of few words, he played the game on his own terms – bouncing back when the critics had completely written him off and walking off into the sunset when he was at his best. 

Entrepreneurship and leadership come with its share of ups and downs and one of the most precious qualities is the ability to battle it out while keeping your head high. It always brings a smile to my face to reminisce about my fanatical cricket-following teenage years and the picture of sheer grit and determination that was Steve Waugh.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have told yourself when you were in your twenties?

That the journey is always going to be longer than you what had set out to be and shortcuts are akin to a mirage in the scorching desert. It is important to pace yourself so one does not lose patience, passion, or the energy to reach the end goal. A difficult journey is always easier with like-minded friends and hence there is nothing more important than the right team – choose your team wisely as that is the single biggest contributor to success or failure. One often overlooks the importance of the right set of investors / backers – an ideal investor backs you not just when the going is good but also when it’s tough. 

And finally, the startup journey comes with regular and extreme emotional swings – from euphoria one moment to soul crushing problems the other. It takes a while to get used to the roller coaster journey but the reward that awaits at the other end is the joy and satisfaction that can only come from creation.

What is Validus?

Q: What is Validus?

Validus is the largest online lending marketplace in Singapore, focused on SME lending via funds from HNW investors and institutions, including family offices and hedge funds. To date, Validus has aggregated a record S$450+ million to growing SMEs across ASEAN. 

An award-winning Fintech company using data analytics and AI to drive growth financing to underserved SMEs in the region, Validus is also present in Indonesia (Batumbu) and Vietnam (Validus Vietnam), partnering with Corporates to provide supply chain financing to SME ecosystems. 

Founded in 2015, Validus holds a CMS licence by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and is backed by highly reputed VCs including AAA-rated Dutch Development Bank FMO, Vertex Ventures, Openspace Ventures, VinaCapital and AddVentures. 

Q: What makes your company different from its competitors?

People: We have a highly experienced team unlike any other in the industry; the management team has a collective experience of over 200 years in SME banking in the region

Products: We offer short-term financing solutions to underbanked or unbanked SMEs in a simple, flexible way, with a fast turnaround time of 48 hours. In addition, we are able to offer highly competitive and affordable bank-like rates to SMEs through our Corporate Vendor Financing program to provide financing to businesses within a partner’s SME ecosystem on a pre-approved basis. 

Our products also allow us to offer investors attractive risk-adjusted returns with low-volatility diversified investing opportunities. In addition, we have partnered with leading trade insurer Coface who provides insurance on the majority of lending opportunities on our platform, so that investors’ principal amount invested is insured. 

Partnerships: We are backed by highly reputed VCs including AAA-rated Dutch Development Bank FMO, Vertex Ventures and VinaCapital Ventures, each of whom are key to our strategic growth across ASEAN. Our strong corporate partnerships with industry leaders, including banks as well as VISA and Xero, large corporates such as SMRT and ST Engineering, is a testament to our ability and strengths in addressing the SME financing gap in the region. 

Platform: Validus is disrupting traditional lending models by providing previously unbanked or underbanked SMEs access to financing, and in turn driving inclusive growth. We’ve leveraged technology to create a fintech ecosystem bypassing traditional lending mechanisms, to facilitate a simple, straight-through process for both borrowers and investors. Powered by a lending engine, the platform SMEs to accredited investors for funds, enabling lenders (accredited investors) to lend directly to borrowers (SMEs). In using data analytics to fund growing businesses, Validus gleans data-driven insights through machine learning and AI to make better informed lending decisions, and make use of sophisticated credit scoring and technology in our processes. While SMEs can obtain financing quickly and easily on the platform,  accredited investors (lenders) can access an attractive new asset class.

Q: What led you to start Validus?

Having spent the last decade or so on the other side of the business, I wanted to be at the forefront of creating something that benefits the community. Validus was founded to help address the USD 175 billion SME financing gap in Southeast Asia (McKinsey, 2016). There are 39 million SMEs in Southeast Asia that lack access to credit; SMEs are a key contributor to any economy, contributing massively to its GDP while providing stable employment to large chunks of its workforce. 

We’ve seen a number of SMEs and business owners unable to jump at growth opportunities due to an inability to draw on a bank loan or alternate means of financing. This is where we come in. We believe that by providing SMEs with access to convenient and sustainable financing, we are paving the way for a stronger economic foundation for our country. 

Validus is helping to drive financial inclusion through building better business communities and promoting inclusive growth in the countries we’re in, ultimately making a difference for our partners and SMEs in the region. 

Q: What has the experience of building the business taught you?

Execution always trumps ideation – entrepreneurship is a creative activity and the end result is often very different from the initial idea. It is key to get started, tackle each roadblock as it comes and continue moving forward. Equally important is learning to trust your instinct against conventional wisdom, especially when industry gurus and know-it-alls proclaim otherwise. It is very important to choose the path yourself as eventually you are going to walk it alone – there is nothing worse than second guessing half way through.

Finally, experience is overrated and passion and intellect trump everything else. Allow passionate people to take the initiative and back them with your belief and the right set of tools to create magic.

Q: Where do you see things headed for you in the next 5 years?

We took a while to test our strategy and product-market fit in Singapore and waited till we achieved pole position in Singapore before launching in other markets. We are now confident of replicating our success across the ASEAN region and have launched operations in Indonesia and Vietnam in quick succession with Thailand slated to go live in Q3. 

 

Success to me is to be the best version of myself and to inspire others around me to

contribute at their highest levels while making a real impact on the society at large. With that definition I do feel successful as we are now a team of 100+ motivated and driven individuals at Validus working towards a common goal of driving Financial Inclusion and Nation Building across ASEAN countries. Our goal is to complete financing of over SGD 1 billion by the end of this year and despite the current pandemic, we’re well on track. 

Having said that, we are still at the lower rungs of the ladder with a long way to go before we really make a widespread impact, but with each step along the way comes belief that we can continue to climb our way further up.

Hereon our focus will be to develop strong teams and deep-rooted presence in each of the markets we operate in and become the online SME lender of choice for the region.