‘If necessity is the mother of invention then discontent is the father of progress’ goes a famous saying. But for 33-year old Lionel Charles, while discontent gave him a new business opportunity, necessity is keeping it growing.
Alongside a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Computer Science from the US, Charles also applied for a Commercial Pilot License in 2008. Later, he completed MBA in Airline Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and worked in Lufthansa Systems in Miami for a few months. In 2010, while the US economy was still trying to recover from the aftermath of the global recession, Charles was fortunate to get an offer from a US airline company.
As fate would have it, Charles had return to India after being prodded by his mother to settle down in the country. Charles agreed but on condition that he would be allowed to start his own business.
After assisting his dad in his debt syndication business between 2010-13, Charles decided to start a nutraceuticals import business. But he was unable to get the requisite licenses for import and in the process lost around ₹50 lakh of his investment. In short, his first business venture failed to take off.
“It then struck me that despite coming from a family of Chartered Accountants, if getting a license or registering a business was tough for me, then what about the common man who wants to start a business,” Charles said.
At the end of 2013, Lionel launched IndiaFilings.com, a cloud-based business services platform with the idea of simplifying the business registration process at an affordable cost for entrepreneurs and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
“Today, we incorporate companies for around ₹8,000 and people from anywhere in India can do the registration by using our mobile app,” said Charles, the Founder and CEO of IndiaFilings.com.
“Currently, we do around 6,000-7,000 incorporations a year online,” he added.
Subsequently, the company also ventured into trademark registrations and currently makes around 20,000 filings a year. In 2016, IndiaFilings.com expanded its portfolio to include business tax returns and income tax filings.
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) came as a game-changer for the company. In 2017, IndiaFilings.com introduced LEDGERS, an online accounting platform that supports GST invoice creation, GST return filing, input tax credit reconciliation, e-Way bill generation and bank reconciliation.
“Today, we have nearly 50,000 customers using LEDGERS. They use it for accounting, invoicing, banking and payment solutions,” Charles said, adding that the platform is also linked to Income Tax and GST departments and is integrated with various banking platforms through which customers can make payments, reconcile bank transactions and fetch bank statements.
Drawing a parallel with aircraft flight rules, the wannabe pilot said there are two sets of rules for flying any aircraft ― Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).
“In India, many entrepreneurs run businesses on their gut feeling, which is like flying in VFR mode,” he said.
Under VFR, a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. But when the sky is not clear and the outside visual references are unsafe, the pilot operates under the direction of the Air Traffic Control (ATC) using IFR.
“Operating on the strength of gut feeling is not reliable at all times. Businessmen need to have structured data to give them accurate and real-time guidance for decision-making,” Charles said.
Noting that accounting is still a ‘grey area’ for many entrepreneurs due to lack guidance, Charles said besides simplifying the accounting process using its platforms, the company also sends out weekly and monthly profitability analysis for the businessman to arrive at data-backed decisions.
IndiaFilings.com has been witnessing 2x growth over the last five years. Last year, the company recorded a turnover of ₹42 crore and aims to close 2021 at over ₹100 crore.
Currently, Income Tax and GST filings account for 60 per cent of the business, and business incorporation accounts for 15 per cent. The remaining business comes from license registrations and other services.
“So far, we have 15 lakh platform sign-ups and 70,000 plus paid customers. Next year, our aim is to cater to at least 70-80 lakh platform sign-ups, and we are working on some unique solutions to achieve that,” Lionel said.
The Chennai-headquartered company currently has more than 500 employees spread across seven offices.
IndiaFilings.com charges ₹7,899 for company registration and ₹5,899 for trademark registration. It offers GST registration service at ₹1,488 and GST return filing at ₹8,899 per year.