September 22, 2021

Jitesh Agarwal & Garima Mitra, TreeLife Consulting

When Jitesh met Garima, a one-stop solution for startups’ accounting, taxation and legal needs was born. Jitesh Agarwal and Garima Mitra, both were keen to provide legal and financial consulting services. But during the journey of starting up, they found a new niche. One where most startups and SMEs would approach them during their own journeys. Treelife Consulting is a multi-disciplinary business consulting firm for startups and SMEs. It primarily helps clients with tailor-made solutions in legal and financial areas. Jitesh saw “a huge gap in the market”. “Traditional support services did things theoretically while new-age entrepreneurs wanted to be well aware of their surroundings and experiment with new business ideas.” The idea was simple: to offer quality services to new entrepreneurs and support them in their growth story. In the near future, Treelife Consulting aims to be a one-point support system for all legal and financial needs. TreeLife Consulting has a two-fold revenue model. In terms of clients, they closed at 250 clients in the last financial year and are on track to increase this figure. The company has expanded in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad and aims to expand further in the coming years.

In an interaction with Shweta Papriwal, Editor, indiainfoline.comJitesh Agarwal & Garima Mitra, TreeLife Consulting said, “Treelife Consulting is first and foremost a full service startup consultancy”.



Brief about Treelife Consulting and what makes it different from its Competitors?

Treelife Consulting is a full service consulting firm dedicated to servicing start-ups and MSME’s. Approximately 95% of our work comes from servicing clients that operate in this space.

Treelife does not really count itself as having any competition, as it is operates in a space that provides all support services (accounting, audit, finance, legal, compliance, business operating strategy) under one banner. You could make a case for competition with firms that service start-up’s within each of these verticals. However, even then, firms that service through each of these verticals and provide their services (almost) exclusively to such start-up’s are very few and far between and operate at different scales. Thus, counting them as competition does not make business sense.

However, competitors based purely on the service deliverable offered are majorly those that aim to provide their service on the online front. They would be cleartax.in, vakilsearch.com, or indiafilings.com. These platforms, though functional in their service delivery, cater to a standardised set of services. There isn’t much too much of a room for accounting for the dynamic requirements start-ups may need to have / benefit from. Moreover, a point of competition (if at all) arises from the seemingly straightforward services offered, though in reality, jumping the hoops within such online platforms may lead to more confusion for the ill-initiated.



Being India’s leading Consulting firm, can you tell us about some latest trends that have emerged when it comes to Merger & Acquisition deals and how do you cope along with clients considering the same?

Well it is not so much as ‘coping’ rather than ‘servicing’. Definitely, we will get into all the nitty-gritty’s as to the why (first) our clients are looking into mergers/acquisitions specifically. Once we are satisfied that the clients are aware of the pros/cons of undergoing such a corporate action, we move on to servicing the when and how of it.

After the marvellous year 2018, the deal activity both in terms of number of deals and value of deals has started to take a downturn in 2019. This year also till H1 2020, the deal activity in terms of number of deals continued the same pattern registering a drop of more than 30% whereas in terms of value of deals it registered a marginal decrease of almost less than 5% on a Y-o-Y basis.

Generally speaking, acquisition deals have been the flavour of the town when it comes to deals that have taken place this year. EdTech is one of the industry verticals that has seen the most high-profile action in this year, for obvious reasons. Investors are becoming more bullish on online education platforms. Byjus acquired Whitehat for $300 million, a deal in which Treelife played an essential role in getting over the line within record time, as we represented Whitehat. Bangalore-based startup Vedantu has raised $100 million in its Series D financing round. Unacademy acquired PrepLadder, another online learning startup, for $50 million. Days later it also acquired a majority stake in Mastree. The EdTech space is impressive as we are finally witnessing the diversification that edtech products can have when providing learning options to all, from kids-adults (seeking to move into life-long learning, especially with the hit the job market has taken).

Healthcare: COVID19 has given a push to the healthtech space to come up with solutions to service patients/customers keeping in mind the limitations of the pandemic. The market opportunity was large, growing, and untapped. At $18.5 billion last year, India’s retail pharma market has been growing at annual rates of 15-20% for many years now. This is primarily due to a big chunk of the population moving up the economic ladder. Medlife, once India’s largest e-pharmacy, merged with its rival PharmEasy, with Medlife’s shareholders receiving 19.59% in the combined entity. Netmeds, the earliest of India’s e-pharmacies and also one of the largest, was bought by Reliance Retail, the retail arm of India’s largest conglomerate, Reliance Industries.


What were the major deals that you helped close this year and what role did you play in it?


Byjus – Whitehat: Amongst other core services provided by us, one of the headline deals we have closed this year is the acquisition of Whitehat by Byjus for $300 million. We represented Whitehat and were key in ensuring that Whitehat remained a acquisition worthy entity throughout. The deal was closed in record time, and we essentially provided our services on the legal, finance and compliance fronts. Our services included preparing and vetting the legal documentation, preparing and filing all statutory approvals and licenses needed to push the deal through, liaising with national and international regulatory bodies to push Whitehat’s business growth in markets abroad, ensuring that key employees of Whitehat got their appropriate due as a reward for their efforts in building the Company et al. We understood the opportunity this presented for our clients, and knew that timing was key to closing this deal. Whitehat represents a paradigm shift in online learning, as we worked with our clients to ensure that its value was maintained. Treelife’s founder – Jitesh Agarwal, has worked with Whitehat from the start, and Treelife has been servicing Whitehat from day 01. We understood that acquiring WhiteHat now gave Byju’s two advantages. First, it can immediately capitalise on the growth opportunities in this sector over the short to medium term. Second, WhiteHat offers a business-model hedge that will allow it to scale supply quickly in the event that growth continues unabated.


Rentomojo Series C, C1: We represented Rentomojo in its Series C raise of approximately INR 25 Crore. Since this was a round that was raised from its existing investors, Treelife was required to ensure that all compliance documents and filings were made in order for Rentomojo to raise the money. Rentomojo is another one of our clients that we have been with since the start of its funding journey.


This pandemic has compelled every business to go digital including various legal activities and hearings too, can you pour some light on this scenario and how are you adapting to the same?

Services like ours, just like everything else has had to go online/digital. The biggest impact that COVID has caused to our deliverables is from the compliance filings that have to be made to authorities such as the MCA. While all compliance filings have been made digital (and it has been a while that the same has taken place), the impact of COVID has meant that regulatory authorities are taking more time to vet the veracity of documents so filed due it many such authorities being understaffed. However, there have been relaxations that have been granted and this has made work easier for us and our clients. We would like to commend the various regulatory authorities for the work they are doing to ensure approval, and while they are taking a while to provide said approval, they are working tirelessly to do so.

It is true that hearings are currently mostly taking place virtually. The shift we have noticed is that written submissions and oral arguments are now being assessed on a more meritocratic basis, which is good for the young lawyers in our firm, as we do not have to depend on attracting the big names (and pay the big money) to senior counsels. However, we foresee that courts are slowly starting to open up and hearings are likely to move back to their physical nature sooner rather than later.



As asked above, can you also let us know your views on major learning from the market amidst the Covid-19 crisis and how efficiently you consult your clients through legal and procedural minefields?




As stated above, everything has moved digital. While this fact itself has been present for a while, issues due to COVID have impacted on the stringent timeliness for making filings. Treelife on its part has played the necessary role to gain clarity from regulatory authorities to determine the best course of action when it comes to making filings and representations. We are constantly in touch with authorities to gain clairty on interpretational issues in relation to many of the changes that have been made to account for the impact of COVID on corporate actions that are to be taken by companies.



What growth rate in terms of revenues Treelife Consulting has been witnessing over the past few years?


For the past few years, Treelife has observed a 75% growth in terms of revenue y-o-y.



What kind of clientele do you specialise in?


Treelife Consulting is first and foremost a full service startup consultancy. All solutions that are backend / in -house for a regular company, are provided by Treelife. This includes accounting, audit, legal, compliance, regulatory and strategy. Treelife provides both transactional and advisory support for each service of the range of services they provide.

 

While Treelife does provide services and solutions to early stage start-up’s, as Treelife has evolved, so has its client base. Treelife mostly aims to work for mature entities that have moved beyond the proof of concept and have started generating revenues. Treelife’s aim is to work with such start-ups till the time they raise their Series C or D funding. After that point, start-up’s work with Treelife on a more consultative role as they usually have to move more functions in-house.

 

Start-up’s that range from a Pre-Series A, to a Series C, D funding round, mostly. Jitesh and Garima also are close to Founders / entrepreneurs as well, and sometimes provide standalone advice to such people as well.

 

Treelife also works with investors , funds, incubators and accelerators. For many such incubators and accelerators, Treelife has been able to position its offering as a set of service standards that should be abided by as a necessary system of checks and balances for the incubatees and applicants to such kinds of entities.



How do you foresee the post Covid19 situation for the industry?

To state generally, Start-up’s will be taking a hit on their valuations. This is the main impact of COVID. Companies will need to relax their appetite in relation to their expected valuations. Due to the challenges created by this new economy, Investors are going to be even more sceptical in agreeing to valuations demanded by the Company.

There will also be significant corporate actions such as mergers and acquisitions, as companies will now look to align their strengths with other companies where there is an organic fit. The world has generally been moving towards consolidations for the past 4-5 years. This is now going to play out within the start-up domain in India as well.

Pharmacy is one of the prime examples of the same. What was once an industry which presented opportunities for many players to enter, is now going to be dominated by corporate behemoths. Amazon has entered Indian pharmacy, and so has Reliance. They will use their collective enterprise strengths and skills (such as understanding supply chain management and the ability to run a business as a loss making entity far longer than a start-up can et al.) to muscle out competition from smaller entities. This would mean winding up / shutting shop by many younger companies, or them being acquired by bigger players.

Pharmacy however should not be confused with Healthtech and should rather be defined as a subset of the latter. The healthtech space is representative of the opportunities that would exist post COVID. Innovativeness (with an emphasis on innovativeness for India) is going be the key word. Indian entities have barely scratched the surface when it comes to being inventive in providing products to the Indian healthcare market. This is already changing with companies that are dabbling in AI, ML, Medical Devices et al. The health-insurance market will also see a boom due to the ever-evolving nature of software and code and its ability to reduce pain points in these historically averse-to-change business verticals are another example of the change that will take place.

FinTech, which for a while now has been a little stagnant in innovativeness, is also going to change. There is an anticipation that soon the players in the space will have to move beyond payment and settlement based solutions, to actually figuring out their service offerings to the lending market in India.

We also expect EdTech to be the rage. Purely because of the way education can be structured for almost all demographics within a society, EdTech is another area where we anticipate the impact of COVID being positive.

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