After studying law I vectored towards journalism by accident and it's the only job I've done since. It's a job that has taken me on a private jet to Jaisalmer - where I wrote India's first feature on fractional ownership of business jets - to the badlands of west UP where India's sugar economy is inextricably now tied to politics. I'm a big fan of new business models and crafty entrepreneurs. Fortunately for me, there are plenty of those in Asia at the moment.
As an engineer working at Tata Steel, Pulkit Baldev, 28, often thought about why the Indian steel business operates in a low-tech manner. Buyers would make calls to dealers, quotes were exchanged over WhatsApp and prices were negotiated over phone. Surely this was a market that was ripe for moving into the online space.
“We have a huge market, but things still operate in an orthodox manner,” says Baldev, who founded his venture with two batchmates. He describes its method of operation as ‘haphazard’ and was attracted by the large-ticket size of transactions. He’d also seen global companies like Reibus, Zhaogang and Felux scale up rapidly.
In May 2022, Metalbook, which advertises itself as India’s largest largest online marketplace for the iron and steel supply chain, received its first order. Baldev, who grew up in the Delhi suburb of Burari, points out that there is a mindset shift required to get customers to transact online. Initially they were unwilling to trust their money on an unknown site and even today, as co-founder and CEO, Baldev spends a majority of his time with managing cash flow and fielding customer inquiries.
Metalbook’s roster of clients in India and overseas can place orders online, receive financing and logistics support, and be assured that they are dealing with a partner that will take care of any hiccups. Baldev, who started this business in May 2021, says their customer repeat rate is 95 percent, pointing to a high degree of satisfaction. For overseas customers in places as far as the US and Germany, the company is responsible till orders leave Indian shores.
In its first year of operations, Metalbook reached a gross merchandise value of ₹100 crore and ended FY22 with ₹800 crore. Bootstrapped from the beginning, Baldev and his co-founders, Aman Tibrewal and Raghavendra Pratap Singh, decided to raise their first round of funding in January 2022 as they had to turn away orders due to a lack of working capital. View the full list of Forbes India 30 Under 30 2023 here
In March 2022, it raised $1.1 million (₹8.8 crore) in a seed round from Axilor Ventures and has since raised an additional $1.7 million. “Metalbook is building a comprehensive end-to-end supply chain for the global metals industry. We are glad to be early backers as the company scales from strength to strength in the global metals market,” says Nandan Venkatachalam, principal, Axilor Ventures.
For now, Metalbook has managed to scale up faster than rivals and with less capital. Startups in the metals space have taken at least five years to reach ₹800 crore of GMV and $50 to $60 million (₹400-480 crore) of investment. Metalbook did it in two years with a $2.2 million investment. Scaling up from here will be key.
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(This story appears in the 10 February, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
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