Import-export is an important part of any countries economical sustainability. It ensures that an active chain of goods exchange carries on across international borders. Also that activity ensures that there is active monetary exchange happening between countries. However, the process of import-export in itself is highly manual in nature and requires endless documentation to process a shipment from one place to another.

Today, we will interviewing Sunil Kharbanda (Co-founder & CRO in TreZix) and Haresh Calcuttawala (Co-founder & CEO). Sunil is a veteran in the field of setting up organizations and has a corporate experience of more than 30 years in varied sectors. He has a track record of building, growing, and managing large complex business portfolios and setting up LOVs (list of values for tech giants like SAP and Oracle in Asia Pacific and Japan.

Haresh on the other hand is a master of design thinking led innovation, business process, re-engineering and technology led transformation for projects. He has been an advisor for several C-level executives for transformation programs, startups, and digital transformation.

Together both of them have build TreZix for solving complex problems around import-export. In today’s interview, we will be asking them the story behind TreZix and how they are filling the missing gaps in the import-export industry.

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1) Can you tell a little bit about your background and how TreZix came into being?

We both have been together for the last 15 years. We both were working for SAP. I (Sunil Kharbanda) was the chief customer officer, Haresh was leading the design thinking initiatives by playing the role of the director.

I remember when I was working for Oracle (before SAP), what I found common was that ERP takes longer to implement. You are with the same customer for at least 4 to 6 months. In fact, we both felt the same. We witnessed that the system of import and export was built & customized on top of ERP systems. Also, these both import and export are polar opposite processes.

The process was highly manual and that’s how the reconciliation process was done. So, once we settled well in corporate in 2019, we decided to address this problem. In fact, when the government of India said they want to scale up to three trillion by 2025 with import-export. So, there was a market but no technology to ease up the process and that is essentially the backstory of TreZix.

2) Tell us about the competition that TreZix is facing, and how crowded the import-export industry is?

As far as the competition, there is no product that provides end-to-end solutions. There are products in the market that caters to a point solution. In fact, the biggest problem for an MSME is integration if they buy a point solution. Also, there is gap in skillset (in terms of using the products) and other things that come into play.

For instance, one or two stop shop catering the entire business. From purchase order to remittance to sales, integration is required as per compliance to create an end-to-end process. And, this is where we stand out from the rest of the products available in the market.

3) Can you tell us how has TreZix reimagined the logistics sector for importers and exporters today?

Firstly, I would like to rephrase this question. When we talk about import-export, the world has looked at logistics from a different angle in terms of tracking, tracing, in terms of how importer or exporter will get their container. However, no one looked at importer-exporter as a persona and what they go through.

Let’s say, I have an order from the US. I need my stuff sent to the location. For that, I need to go through specific documentation. Now this, persona is left out of automation. The persona gets his order by email, it starts its work on Excel then goes to Microsoft Word. Basically, the persona works on different systems together.

There is no consistency or integration of information between the different pieces. This leads to huge delays. On the other hand, logistics comes very late into this entire charade. So what we are doing is automating the job of this persona. Suppose, if there are five shipments in a month then the documentation related to it is excruciatingly difficult. In fact, if we see 75% of the exporter’s work is outside the office and it isn’t identical to ERP where 80% of work is done inside the organization.

With TreZix, we are focusing on building a strong foundation. I think the importer-exporter persona will flourish well if we focus on making them strong. If the exporter is able to plug their shipment in advance for six months then we will be able to consume logistics better. Also, we will have a better way of scaling logistics.

4) What are some of the emerging opportunities that emerging entrepreneurs are interested in the import-export industry?

The are enough opportunities from various pockets and angles. There are large technology players who are interested. In fact, there are startups who are building around lots of devices to automate certain processes. There are startups who are creating a new space with the help of EXIM space. For instance, if you have an e-commerce platform for the international market.

We just wanted to know a bit more about the import-export industry identical to its common belief in any corresponding country.

5) Where does India stand in terms of reliability on import versus its expansion to exports in the global market?

We would like to answer this question from the perspective of how import exports works because that is where we can provide value. So you see a lot of make in India initiative. For instance, make in India, make in US, and who know there will be make in UK initiative in the future.

It is happening because we believe in innovation. And our innovation will be consumed globally. For instance, if you need a technology, you will import it from the U.S and we will value it. This cycle will be prevalent across the world especially if you get its value from a country which has that skillset. For instance, see what we did with Boeing, Airbus, and Rafael.

In a similar way, we will do a lot of things for other countries. This is how the whole import-export charade will work balancing the act between importers and exporters.

6) You acquired a recent funding of $1.2 million from Gujarat government and their are other investors like Soha Ventures. Can you tell a little about the seed funding stage and how that changed companies operations in the last month or so?

We find ourselves lucky to investment from Soha Ventures, a company that backs so many innovations for instance lab grown diamonds, machinery, and textile. They saw this product which had great potential in terms of taking care how an importer exporter scales.

The great part in all this is that we got a grant from the Government of Gujarat. We had our angel investor Sumeet Prakash who is the director of Emerson and has been in business for 25 years. He also does a lot of import in terms of innovation and technology and liked our project to invest in it.

We are now expanding sales and marketing as we need to give more information to our customers so they can get on the platform. We are also enhancing our product in terms of automation. For example, we have built our won OCR. Now, our import export customers only have to scan and everything will be fed to the system.

Right now, we are working on blockchain, tokenization of payments, etc. We are ICICI bank trade emerging partner.  We are getting Kotak, SBI, and Axis onboard. We are also expanding the horizons of our sales.

After six months or so when a company brings in customers, it thinks of bringing in the customer success department to build a successful organization. We are now ensuring that our customer adopts our products faster. We are making sure that it doesn’t take more than two weeks for customer onboarding. We want our customers to keep consuming our products and keep automating their processes and this is how we are utilizing the funds.

7) Can you tell us a little about how you’re integrating blockchain into a SaaS platform?

Well, the work has just started. It started when we got a customer in Middle East and North Africa. They were basically exporters here and importer in other countries. Now, obviously you need a simultaneous flow of documentation. You need seamless flow of all the calculations and compliance across.

You can setup a workflow setup and notification system. It will create a much more transparent and faster system which is blockchain. Also, we adopted blockchain technology for tokenization to get into payments which will get into different documentation to the clearing agents. Therefore, everything is secure.

8) Were there any hiccups during the fundraising process or any lessons that you learned through the experience?

Coming from a corporate background, fundraising was an experience. However, I think the puster was the first kick we got from the Government of Gujarat that gave us a lot of confidence. In fact, we were lucky to close the deal at the first time. It was lucky for us to close a deal in such a short span of time.

We will add that the most important thing was looking at a strategic partner. I think its important for any starup to have a strategic partner. You know one can be your strategic partner if they have done work in the similar space. Infact, the overarching component of the story is when they understand what you’re doing and it makes the process faster.

They understand the pain area or you know they would have filled the gap themselves, otherwise you will not get your funding or support from them as strategic partner. They not only provide money but also open doors with contacts you might not have access to. Right after, we launched our beta version in April and Alpha version on November 21, we got industry validation, government validation, customer validation. Basically, we took time to find our strategic partner.

9) AI technologies such as blockchain and big data analytics are now an integral part of the SaaS space. Where do you see the impact of AI technologies in the SaaS ecosystem and how will they change the product?

Microsoft has led the architecture of the product. Considering next-gen technologies which are AI, ML, and blockchain has become an integral part of the product. Previously, a task that took three to six months can now be done in half a day or even half an hour. So, AI today is something where you can fit in customer value and optimize & automate the entire process. For example, OCR is not something new. However, the biggest challenge earlier was to identify which document is for what purpose. On top of OCR, we simply have to put in one AI component and the system is capable of detecting that this document is for this person.

Another example would be, let’s say globally everyone has their own formats and own methodologies. Rather than teaching everyone, we can use machine larning and see what a particular vendor, customer, or an ecosystem player is following. It is that part of the algorithm that automatically learns and use the same thing so that you don’t have to change the existing system.

Let’s talk about ChatGPT. It is a hot topic so we came up with our own ChatGPT which is embedded with the main product. So let’s say, you want to export to a particular country then what are the process and the documents required. With our innovation, we try to give value to our import-export customers. We provide value with our innovation, otherwise it won’t be of any use for our customers.

10) How do you ensure that there is no bias or underlying mistakes with your ChatGPT system?

I’ll put it in simple terms i.e. with any search tool, you have to provide an authentication plugin. For example, what RBI says for Forex or any remittance. When does regulation such as FIRA or any regulations comes into play. There are thousands of other websites. However, how do you plug into what is the generic information of RBI. Therefore to apply EXIM policy, the source is very important. You don’t need thousands of resouce. You only need the most reliable source. You need to understand the source of information to foresee transparency in the entire information.

11) Before concluding, can you give us one underrated advice for our emerging entrepreneurs?

I think, there are categories of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who doing it from the get go. Second, we have entrepreneurs like us who went through corporate life. I advice for people more like us.

The biggest advice is that need to unclear everything you know the moment you first step for entrepreneurship. It is an actual world and you’re creating real value and impacting businesses for a customer. Therefore, unlearn whatever, you have learned in the corporate world as it is a new world. Here, you have different yardsticks and very different ways of doing business.

You’re looking at value and people who come from 25 years of corporate life. Therefore stop saying that you know everything. We don’t know everything. We are zero in the beginning and we remain zero for the next five years.

With entrepreneurship, you are learning new things. So that’s my advice that I have learned painfully in my initial years. And now when I think from the hindsight, I think the first six months of entrepreneurship, I was not willing to give up my corporate life. I used to tell people, I know things but I didn’t know anything. Therefore, I think as soon as you step into entrepreneurship and unlearn everything as you are the new kid in the block. Get hustled and take it in the right way to embrace the learnings properly. You will become a better entrepreneur in your life.

Want to follow the journey of Sunil Kharbanda and Haresh Calcuttawala, check out their linkedin by clicking on the link provided. To get notified for similar interviews, subscribe to MobileAppDaily. To read similar interviews, click here.

Want to follow the journey of Sunil Kharbanda and Haresh Calcuttawala, check out their linkedin by clicking on the link provided. To get notified for similar interviews, subscribe to MobileAppDaily. To read similar interviews, click here.


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