In a nation where transparency and accountability in government finances are paramount, Subalakshmi K, the founder of Munify Datatech, has been on a relentless mission to provide invaluable insights into the intricacies of municipal finances. In conversation with SheThePeople, Subalakshmi K shares with us the inspiration behind her entrepreneurial journey, creating an impact through her financial database tech firm, the challenges around financial analysis, and the need to establish transparent structures in finance.
Subalakshmi's journey began with a deep-rooted motivation to serve her country. She recalls, "My father was a Rajya Sabha MP, and after his passing in 2007, I felt a compelling need to contribute to the nation." With an illustrious career as the Head of Public Finance and Infrastructure Ratings at CRISIL, she was well-acquainted with the complexities of government finances. "I knew the shortcomings of municipal bond markets and how to solve them, thus began my journey in the area."
Unveiling Government Finances
Through her firm, she embarked on a mission in 2013 by compiling an extensive library of state government and municipal reports. In the early days, sourcing financial statements was no easy task. Subalakshmi shares, "We often had to invoke the Right to Information Act to obtain these documents." Their library, initially known as "Public Finance India," found resonance with over 2000 users, primarily students and research professionals. With financial support from the Omidyar Network in 2015, she delved into providing municipal spreadsheets to a private open data program.
We realised that spreadsheets alone weren't sufficient for comparing city financial performance effectively. As a solution, we developed a prototype of an analytical municipal database in 2015, a technical platform that assigned codes to financial information, allowing us to compare municipal performance.
In 2020, the venture raised seed capital, a milestone that facilitated the completion of the database, including contextual data and credit scores for cities. The platform was fully launched in April 2023, accompanied by an elaborate infographic dashboard created in collaboration with the National Institute of Urban Affairs.
Ensuring Data Security and Credibility
To maintain the security and credibility of the analysed information, her firm relies on data that municipal corporations in India publish on their websites. These financial statements are audited, further vouching for their credibility. Additionally, the firm utilises audit reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for valuable insights. The team then comprises chartered accountants with in-depth knowledge of municipal accounting, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of their analyses.
Key Milestones and Entrepreneurial Advice
When asked about key milestones, Subalakshmi highlights four significant achievements: achieving the first 1000 users for their library, securing their first client for Munify, completing their first research project, and establishing their first business collaboration. Each of these milestones symbolizes Munify's growth and market validation.
Subalakshmi's advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is rooted in the wisdom of being "for profit." She recalls a lawyer's counsel: "If you make money, you can help yourself and the world. Always be for profit." This advice has been a guiding light for her entrepreneurial journey.
Subalakshmi points out that, as a primary business, LinkedIn has been their most effective social media platform. It has played a pivotal role in generating marketing leads and reaching potential customers. Social media, in her view, has levelled the playing field between startups and large corporations, making it easier to connect with the right audience.
Sustaining and growing financially
For her firm, the path to financial sustainability has been marked by challenges. Their unique position as a venture required a strategic approach. They manage their finances by being frugal in their expenses, focusing on revenue generation, and raising funds for product development. As a two-year-old startup, the journey has only just begun as a company. However, Subalakshmi's team has been in this field for a decade. She believes that entrepreneurs need a cause they are deeply passionate about, as it makes every sacrifice worthwhile. Perseverance and creativity, she notes, are essential for survival in the challenging world of entrepreneurship.
Future plans and goals
Currently raising a round of funding, her venture aims to build an online financing platform for municipal projects. They aspire to use Munify to bring together municipal projects and financiers, addressing urban and climate crises through financing support for local government projects.
This interview is in partnership with WE Hub