Entrepreneur Bobby Bhatia
“China has 350 million brokerage accounts, whereas India has only 25 million,” says entrepreneur Bobby Bhatia. And of those 25 million, only about 3-4 million are ‘active’ accounts, defined as those through which individuals have traded on the stock market at least once over a 12-month period.
This stark difference is because of “information asymmetry” explains Bhatia, a private equity veteran who spent the latter part of his career as principal of JP Morgan’s Asia business, before taking over as managing director and head of principal investments at AIG for the APAC region. Over his 20 plus year career, Bhatia noticed how institutional investors always had a clear edge over do-it-yourself investors, because of the information, as well as research and analytical tools they had access to.
Determined to “level this playing field”, Bhatia quit his corporate job and set up TrakInvest in 2012.
The service – which includes a website and an app – lets users make mock investments in real companies through real stock exchanges. The company has tied up with nine stock exchanges across the world including the National Stock Exchange, the London Stock Exchange, the NASDAQ, and the Shanghai Stock Exchange to provide real time data to users – with a time lag of 10 seconds.
Once users sign up on the platform, they are given access to contextualized news, analytical tools and a stash of Rs 50 lakh in virtual cash. While basic services are available for free, premium services, like trading on international stock exchanges, are available for a fee – Rs 700 per month or Rs 1750 per month, depending on the package chosen. Taurus Wealth, a Singapore-based multi-family office and Korean startup accelerator SparkLabs are primary investors in TrakInvest.
Several dummy trading platforms exist in India today, including ICICI’s virtual trading platform, Moneycontrol’s Moneybhai and the National Stock Exchange’s Paathshala, among others. But Bhatia claims that TrakInvest’s key point of differentiation is in the social media services that are integrated onto the platform. Users can follow or “trak” the trades of successful investors and mimic those trades to build their own portfolio. “It’s a peer-to-peer learning model,” explains Arjun Chakraborti, president, TrakInvest.
“Say a user is knowledgeable in the tech sector, as evidenced by the returns he makes in his virtual portfolio, others can keep track of the stocks he buys and sells, and copy the same trades. So you are able to learn from other users as well as share your insights with them,” he says. Currently, TrakInvest boasts of 100,000 users, of which 17-19 percent are active at any given point in time. They spend an average of 14 minutes per session on the platform, according to Chakraborti.
The third peg of this “learn-share-earn” model, as TrakInvest calls it, comes from the many competitions that the company conducts that gives users a chance to earn cash prizes, as well as internships at leading banking and financial services companies. For instance, TrakInvest is currently in the middle of what it bills as “India’s first virtual stock trading reality show”. 16,000 users from across India, including students, professionals and even homemakers, participated in a qualifying round to build a winning portfolio. The top six now appear on the 10-week long TrakInvest Show, aired on YouTube every week, where they discuss and debate their investment strategies. An expert then weighs in with a final verdict. Every three weeks the participant with the poorest performing portfolio is eliminated and another top performing player on the platform joins in. The carrot here is TrakInvest’s promise to provide 100 jobs to the top 100 players of the competition, in banking and finance companies across Singapore,
Hong Kong, Dubai and Australia. “By leveraging technology to gamify stock trading and providing merit-based placements, we are, in an intelligent way, connecting talent to opportunity. Unless you complete that loop of learn-share-earn, what’s the real value proposition for the guy?” points out Bhatia.
Vedant Wanchoo, a 19-year-old student of finance at NMIMS in Mumbai, who features among the top six contestants on the TrakInvest Show, says that being a part of the competition has given him “tremendous exposure” and that he’s now certain of his future career path. “I can see myself doing this [stock trading] for the rest of my life.”
Just like Wanchoo, Bhatia too appears to have cut out a clear path for the future. Aside from the B2C side of the business, which includes TrakInvest’s freemium services for everyday users and also a three-month long global online trading certificate program offered in partnership with the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, Bhatia is also keenly looking into the B2B aspect. The company runs stock trading competitions for large corporates and also hopes to license certain pieces of technology and content to them for a fee. With a clear revenue model in place, a deep understanding of the user stemming from Bhatia’s first-hand experience within the industry and a keen eye on innovation, TrakInvest appears to have hit a sweet spot. As Chakraborti says: “We might see the next Warren Buffet from here…anything can happen.”