Seven start-ups from different entrepreneurial roots based in the sleepy town of Kozhikode in North Kerala teamed up together to form a single company, ‘Collatree’. They managed to turn the curse of Covid-19 into a blessing in what Manu Ganga, Co-Founder and Chief Growth Advisor, says has introduced the trend-setting ‘Thrasio’ model in Kerala. 

Under a Thrasio model, named after an eponymous US unicorn, a start-up collaborates with or acquires peers in a specific vertical and shares knowledge and resources to run them most efficiently. “At Collatree, we utilise each other’s knowledge base and experience and work under a single umbrella to give the best value proposition to clients,” Ganga told businessline. 

Standing up to Covid-19

Entrepreneurs who have come together in this manner and draw on a collective experience of 30+ years from and presence in 10+ countries are Kavitha (IPIX, software and web development); Faeez (Glaube Technologies, logistics); Akshay and Manu (Growth Associates, Digital Marketing); Vivek and Basith (Zinfog, Software and web development); Rifath (Capio, brand marketing); Sooraj (Armino Technologies, IoT and software development); and Niyas and Shiyas (Odox, Odoo services).

The idea had spawned at a time when businesses were badly hit by Covid-19 and sentiments were low. Though part of different entrepreneur groups was in Calicut, they came together and decided to explore alternative ways to expand business, says Ganga. The start-ups are all based in Kozhikode, which some employees call their home, too. 

In an interview, Ganga lists the benefits; one, low capital needs when expanding into newer markets and two, more experience and a bouquet of technology and services under the same brand, which bigger brands seem to enjoy - which wouldn’t have been possible to individual Collatree companies.


What brought you together - need for cash optimisation or striking synergies?

It was a mix of both, but above all, it was the uncertainty during Covid-19. Initially, it was just to understand how to stand up individually to the pandemic. Later, it became a group to discuss how we can best use each other’s strengths to scale up and expand abroad. 

We now have a common sales and marketing team in multiple countries. This was the biggest gain from the union. Being service-based companies, we never had to deal with inventories. We were able to optimise the sales and marketing teams and able to free up cost for other things.


Did the collaboration require you to bring resources invested in personal assets into business as equity? 

It wasn’t a requirement but we did bring in personal assets in both India and other countries to speed our growth. We have a couple of angels interested in investing to support our expansion into other countries. We will evaluate each and then decide to take it forward.


Which are the disruptive ideas that converged in your case? Did they throw up a new line of business?

We were always trying to be a single-stop solution for a client - from financial and other compliances to software development and tech consulting to digital marketing. We were lucky to have clients who decided to go with us for all these requirements. We are also expanding into blockchain development and data warehousing. This is possible thanks only to the exposure we got from our expansion.


Could you elaborate on how you innovated on services/products after you came together?

We have had multiple products in our offerings, such as CRMs and a logistics platform. Once we came together, we made it a habit to improve and give suggestions to each other to improve. The kind of experience and exposure each director has is different and we get valuable advise from each other. 


Did you also focus on growing digitally since that was the only platform that thrived during Covid-19?

Our complete growth has been digital, we heavily focused on digital channels to reach our current growth ($1 million+ sales in 12-15 months). Even now, we focus on a digital-first approach. With the current growth prospects, we don’t tend to look for a collaboration outside of this ecosystem to pursue growth or enter new business. 


Do you think SMEs in Kerala can take a leaf out of the Thrasio’s books? 

There are some great software and digital companies from Kerala, some of them doing exceptionally well and having expanded into bigger markets. Unfortunately, there are many smaller companies without the knowledge or capital to do so. We, as a group, are trying to solve this. Collatree is open to adding new partners with unique propositions and open up services from Kerala to the global scene. 

We have been taking funds only for expansion requirements. Discussions are going on to enter more geographies. But we need to study the market to understand if it is worth it and also the investor/investing institution to understand if they have the same goals as us.