Category Archives:Blogs

The Good, Bad, And Ugly Of GST – An Ecommerce Perspective

This could be purely coincidental. But the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in India was introduced as the 101st amendment to the Constitution. That’s the best Shagun and an auspicious number in itself to make sure it has a successful rollout, eventually!

For a while now, there has been enough said about the impact of GST on the mushrooming ecommerce industry in India. In some cases, they have begun sounding more like debates around whether GST is a boon or a bane for ecommerce. To my mind, this is a classic case of too much noise being made around a few relatively trivial issues in a much larger scheme of things.

To put this in perspective, the thing that matters most is that, finally, India is on the verge of implementing its largest tax reforms since independence. No other country of similar size and complexity has attempted such a mammoth task before. It unambiguously helps us simplify our tax structures and systems, helps goods move seamlessly across the country, spurs growth and improves ease of doing business.

This is one of the best things that could have happened for ecommerce, particularly B2B ecommerce, in the country. Online platforms and marketplaces will now truly be able to maximise the benefits of distributed inventory, without having to deal with variables such as taxation optimisation. Various states imposing entry taxes and the way-bill documentation complications, which restrict or escalate costs for marketplaces, will soon be a thing of the past.

It is clearly settled that the implementation of GST in India, is by and large, a boon for all businesses! There is no two ways about it.

Having said that, there are some pertinent challenges that need the attention of the GST Council. In context of the ecommerce industry, these challenges are centred around the following:

  • Tax Collection at Source (TCS).
  • Treatment of sales returns, cancellations, replacements, and discounts.
  • Ambiguity around a few specific clauses in the GST draft bill.

How To Combat These Challenges

According to the draft bill, the e-commerce platforms will be liable to collect TCS on the sale of goods and services made by the supplier. It will be the responsibility of e-commerce platform to file monthly and annual returns.

This obviously puts a huge accounting burden on the ecommerce platforms given the fact that there are now lakhs of sellers concluding millions of transactions on these platforms.

To be fair to a fledging yet fast-growing industry like ecommerce, the burden of tax collection should not be put on the platform. This should remain restricted to the extent of data sharing at seller-level, with the tax authorities, the way it is being done in Delhi and Rajasthan currently. It is a fair ask, since there is no such obligation on any other business model as part of the draft bill.

Due to a fairly high component of COD for most ecommerce platforms, returns and cancellations rate still amount to nearly 20% and cash reconciliations take anywhere between 7-15 days. This is in stark contrast to most other offline business models.

Returns happening in months different from the month of sales booking, replacements being done from different states’ sellers, inter-state cancellations are fairly common scenarios. There is much greater clarity required in the draft GST bill on the treatment of such cases and how it impacts TCS calculations.

Also, the value of goods sold in context of discounted products is still ambiguous. Clearly laid out guidelines for the same are needed before roll-out.

Clearly, there has been an attempt made for the first time by Indian regulation to recognise the emerging tech-based business models ahead of implementation. For instance, there are definitions in place for Operators and Aggregators. But a lot more in-depth work needs to be done to be able to eliminate ambiguity completely.

A lot of issues such as treatment of inter-state stock transfers, point of taxation, place of supply and registration requirements in case of e-commerce platforms remains shrouded in ambiguity.

The last thing that the industry needs is, too much being left to the interpretation of local authorities. That will only end up defeating the whole notion of One Nation, One Tax.

However, these are some relatively minor hurdles that need to be crossed, considering the distance that we have covered. It has taken over 15 years for us to get here, since the Atal Bihari led government set up the Empowered Committee in 2000 to streamline the GST model. There is hope that all valid concerns shall be addressed by the GST council.

In Conclusion

These final hurdles seem minor in contrast to the huge positive productivity impact that we shall see in India’s logistics and warehousing industry, the improvement in ease of doing business in the country and the simplification of taxation for businesses. Most ecommerce companies have their roots in a strong startup culture and realise that complex change is mostly incremental and not necessarily perfect from inception. A less-than-perfect GST can be improved with time and is bound to be better than the complex taxation web that we are currently operating in.

In conclusion, I think the current government has demonstrated its clear intent to take bold decisions and push through reform, in its recent demonetisation move. There is substantial hope that we will see similar intent while implementing GST as well as per timelines, keeping in mind the Good, Bad and Ugly aspects of it.

Source – ETRetail

How banks throw fresh credit lifelines to startups

MUMBAI: Private sector lenders HDFC Bank, Axis, IDFC, Kotak Mahindra and Yes Bank have started extending short term credit to meet working capital needs for Ola, Power2SME, Flipkart, OYO, Zinka, Capital Float, investment banker-turned-entrepreneur Fulguni Nayar-owned Nykaa and many others, throwing a new credit lifeline for startups starved of equity capital, signalling some sort of maturity in the sector.

“There are business opportunities in funding start-ups and new generation companies,” said Sidharth Rath, Group Executive, Corporate Banking, Axis Bank. “We prefer companies with adequate equity funding, which helps them to have enough liquidity and aids in debt servicing. It has been satisfactory so far.

“They will grow bigger in future, and some of them will turn out to be unicorns. We too would have higher share of businesses as we are identifying them early,” he said. Axis Bank funds them mostly through letter of credit, bank credit guarantee, bill discounting offering credit support in transaction banking.

The average size varies in the wide range between Rs 15 crore and Rs 10 lakh with maturities from one month to two years. Banks price such loans after adding a premium over their respective lending rates based on marginal costs of funds, known as MCLR in market parlance. This could be about 200-400 basis points over the benchmark rates adding up to about 12-13%.

“Banks should fund working capital for start-ups and new generation companies. We have started funding the likes of Ola, OYO, Rivigo, which are all funded by well-known equity funds,” a senior executive from one of the top three private banks told ET.

Global private equity firm Warburg Pincus backs Rivigo, a logistic startup while Singapore sovereign fund GIC and Japan-based internet company SoftBank part-own taxi aggregator Ola.

Loans are collateralised either through assets or book debt (in the form of equity capital). For a logistic startup plying trucks daily would be assets. In some cases, they may be in unsecured form and equity fund funding the startup sets the benchmark for the lender.

“We got a credit line of INR 25 crores from Axis Bank in December 2016,” said R Narayan, founder and CEO of Power2SME, which is financially backed by Power2SME and marquee investors include Nandan Nilekani. “We also have a SME Financing Program sanction from Axis Bank for Power2Sme customers for INR 50 crores.”

Out of that Rs 25 crores, the venture debt (term loan) was of Rs 15 crore and the rest through cash credit limit.

Puru Vashishtha, co-founder WishFin (formerly Deal4Loans) said startups backed by known institutional investors should get better deals from lenders. Banks are comfortable to extend working capital loans when EBIDTA (Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) is visible.

IDFC Bank is providing credit and working capital support to merchants, ecommerce resellers, offline sellers and start-ups through its partnership with fintech companies.

“An increasing number of these merchants are now going digital – in terms of selling and the way they access credit,” said a senior IDFC Bank official. “This means that a bank can write algorithms to underwrite them much better now than in the past.”

“The intent is to expand format credit to an underserved segment and expand geographic reach in locations where the bank does not have a presence,” he said.

Fintech companies like Capital Float, Indifi and Novopay sanction loans live, customers accept the sanction letter on the web browser and enter into a tripartite agreements among the borrower, IDFC Bank and its fintech partner.

This has helped IDFC Bank to skim the market, which is getting larger. For example, small businesses based in Surat, Rajkot, Chandigarh and Bangalore approach Capital Float and Indifi and the bank underwrites these loans. Yes Bank too funds with Rs 1-2 crore ticket size to fintech startups.

Source – ETRetail

Co-working spaces, a new hit among startups

BANGALORE: Co-working spaces are popping up across Indian metros as well as tier-II cities, providing startups with flexible working options at affordable rents.

According to Jll India, at last count, there were more than 100 operators in this space across India, though there is still very limited supply of co-working spaces available.

However, this segment is slowly but surely moving into boom mode across India, given the many advantages that such spaces offer, cost-efficiency, employee motivation and retention, increased productivity.

“Firms focused on agility who house their innovation teams in co-working spaces can induce a quicker learning curve to integrate them into the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Ramesh Nair, CEO & Country Head, JLL India.

Certain co-working operators will prefer leasing out parts of or the entire areas of their co-working office spaces ‘anchor tenant’ corporates. In other words, co-working operators and corporates will move into a ‘hybrid’ sort of space and increasingly rely on each other.

“The perfect option for companies who need their client servicing teams close to their respective client sites in locations with low office vacancy,” he said.

Source – ETRetail

Govt ready to roll out GST from July 1, says Revenue Secretary

The government is pushing for rolling out goods and services tax (GST) from July 1and industry has been given sufficient time with the rules, law and basic structure in place for implementing the reform measure and now they must put in place the IT infrastructure for the roll-out, a top official said on Monday .

“We are ready for implementing it from July . The law is ready , the rules have been finalised and are in public domain and our IT infrastructure is ready ,“ revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia told TOI.

He said that the GST Network (GSTN), which is putting in place the information technology backbone for the new tax regime, will start live tes ting in the first week of May .“We reviewed the GSTN on Saturday and they are prepared.The industry wanted some time and they have got it, now it should start putting its software in place,“ the revenue secretary said.

Although the government has time till September for rolling out GST, given the amendment to the Constitution, it is keen for a quicker transition so that the teething problems, if any , are sorted out at the earliest. As a result, all efforts will be made to meet the July deadline.

The government had earlier thought of implementing the tax that will subsume central excise, service tax, VAT and several other levies, including cesses and surcharges, from April. The deadline had to be deferred as the states and the Centre took more time to iron out their differences.

In Kolkata, minister of state for finance Arjun Ram Meghwal too stuck to the July roll-out date. “Hundred per cent GST will be implemented from July 1,“ he said.

Some industry bodies and tax practitioners have suggested that a September deadline was more feasible as industry would be better prepared.

Last week, the government finalised four sets of rules, while draft for public comments on five other aspects was released on Saturday . The state and the central bureaucracy will now sit down and fix product-and service-wise rates -called fitment in tax parlance. A decision on most aspects is expected at the next meeting scheduled for Srinagar in the second half of May . The GST Council has agreed on four slabs of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28% with a cess on tobacco, soft drinks, pan masala, luxury vehicles and coal.

Source – ETRetail

Lesson for Fund-starved Startups: Self-help is the best help

Fund-StartupWhat can the current crop of startups that are staring at a dip in funding learn from a turn of a phrase that was used in the early 19th century United States?

Plenty, perhaps.

“Bootstrapping,” which meant completing an absurdly impossible action (origins are from the phrase “pull oneself over a fence by one’s bootstraps”), is a way to support the operational expenses and growth needs of the company, through finances that are self-invested or through the sale of the startup’s products and services.

Trying to grow a startup without external funding in this day and age, when there are so many different sources of funding, might seem absurd, and trying to achieve it might seem like an impossible action. This is what Chennai-based Zoho Corporation (which started off as AdventNet in 1996), attempted in the early 2000s during the telecom bust, when its core business of infrastructure management was down and out. Zoho has survived two economic and tech bust periods and having been completely bootstrapped, has now grown into one of the most successful Indian software product startups, butting heads with giants like Google and Microsoft. Other successful examples include FusionCharts, Wingify and Kayako.

Bootstrapping maybe a good idea considering India’s current startup funding scenario. Till a few months back India saw a glut in early stage funding. If you were a startup, you were wooed by everybody from seed investors, angels, Venture Capitalists (VCs), hedge funds and even the government. Angels, seed investors and VCs invested a total of $778 million over 695 deals in 2015, compared to $538 million invested across 374 deals in 2014. In an attempt to grow at a blistering pace, startups need to burn a ton of cash in a short time, and after the initial money invested by ‘friends, family and founders’ is exhausted, they rely on external funding for expansion. With funding drying up, startups need to depend on internal accruals for survival, and growth has to be self-funded.

Bootstrapping maybe the best solution. It has several advantages.

Doing it on one’s own rather than relying on external sources for funding gives an entrepreneur a sense of achievement, independence and satisfaction of owning most of the company. Growth through bootstrapping might be slower. But it is more sustainable than using external funding, because the survival of the startup is not in the hands of investors, who can decide to stop funding anytime, putting its survival at risk.

Bootstrapped startups can also be nimble and change direction when they want to. They are not wedded to the original direction they plotted, as they are bound by the wishes of VCs, who may perhaps not bless strategic direction changes without asking tough questions. Since bootstrapping involves focusing internally on execution rather than an external focus on raising funds, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to perfect their products and services rather be anxious about VC presentations. Bootstrapping is also great for financial prudence. Every rupee spent needs to be justified and should ideally lead to the creation of an extra rupee. A lot of funded startups get blinded by the millions in the bank and end up spending money on marketing campaigns, expensive hires and swanky offices (think Housing’s Rs 120 crore “Look Up” marketing campaign). Cash burn rates are high not because the business demands it, but because they were lucky to raise a big round, when the market is flush with funds. VCs are known to invest at inflated valuations just because of the fear of missing out or because there’s money to be invested.

Jon Yongfook writes on why he bootstrapped his press release delivery platform startup  Pitchpigeon. Some of his reasons included how being bootstrapped forced him to focus on revenues (instead of spending), learn the value of money, keep ownership, avoid dubious early stage investors, grow organically, increase leverage for funding in the future and save time that is usually spent on raising funding. Paying attention to Yongfook might be a good idea because his startup turned profitable and was acquired in 2014.

Stories of successful companies that use the bootstrapping method seldom get told, because it is “sexy” for the media, to report that a unicorn received hundreds of millions of dollars in funding than report the slow progress of a bootstrapped startup. With the success of Zoho, which is perhaps India’s first bootstrapped unicorn, bootstrapped companies might start getting the same attention that startups that get multiple rounds of funding get.

But bootstrapping may not be for every entrepreneur and every kind of startup. Entrepreneurs who bootstrap are disciplined, highly organized, financially prudent, patient, not swayed by the lure of easy money. They are focused on the bottom line, rather than be concerned about topline growth that may add customers, but doesn’t yield profits. They do more with less, and have a history of cost-cutting, maximising resources and a habit of swapping bells and whistles for the bare minimum. If an entrepreneur does not possess these traits, then he or she is wasting their time pursuing this direction.

Some type of startups do yield to bootstrapping, especially when they require huge amounts of upfront capital investment in human resources, infrastructure or IT equipment. Starting a hotel, going up against an already established competitor, launching a micro-finance company or a bank and manufacturing IT hardware or semiconductors. In these instances, external funding is required.

It is also important to consider some of the downsides for opting to bootstrap. First up: it is huge risk, because an entrepreneur is investing his own resources into the startup; if the startup fails, all the money lost is his alone. Bootstrapping means working with less resources, so it is tougher to hire top talent, invest in infrastructure, marketing or acquiring new customers.

Quite often, an investment is strategic, meaning that an entrepreneur opts for a certain VC because they have invested in a similar business earlier and mentored the startup to a successful exit. Other than mentoring, VCs may provide a suite of other services like legal, human resources, IT, tax and compliance. They also open doors for strategic partnerships and provide handshakes with potential customers. The money becomes incidental; the relationship is more valuable than the money invested. Investment from marquee investors ensures media attention, respect from peers, customer trust and easier to make potential key hires.

When it comes to bootstrapping, it is best to take a “horses for courses” approach, meaning it works for a tiny sliver of startups and entrepreneurs. But those who succeed, reap rich dividends, and respect.

Source – Kotak Business Boosters