Entrepreneurship evolved me into a confident person: Preeti Ubale, Co-Founder, SMBXL

Discover the journey of Preeti Ubale, as she navigates through childhood dreams to entrepreneurial triumphs, reshaping the landscape of digital empowerment for SMEs in India

Entrepreneurship has evolved me, Preeti Ubale, SMBXL

In a world teeming with aspirations and opportunities, women entrepreneurs are becoming a beacon of resilience and innovation. One of them is Preeti Ubale, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of SMBXL, which has revolutionised the landscape for thousands of SMEs since 2018. With a track record boasting of over 500 crores of business facilitated through its technology platform, SMBXL is acting as a catalyst for change in the SME sector.

Recently, SMBXL organised India’s first B2B Online Machine Tools Expo 2024, setting a new benchmark for digitisation in the industry. Talking to SME Futures, Preeti enthuses, “This has elicited an immense response and traction both on the online expo and on social media. In the next 6-9 months, we are looking forward to more of these, covering a gamut of industries. Our upcoming interesting out-of-the-box projects and activities are at the ideation and incubation stage.”

“By March 2025, we are targeting to have over 125,000 SME businesses growing on our platform and a revenue growth of 30 per cent. Professionally, we are engaging with our target segment, replicating our success modules and growing the business. Personally, I am looking forward to a lot of travelling and reading,” she adds.

Edited excerpts:

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What were your aspirations as a child? 

I had a wonderful childhood. I was born in Hyderabad but grew up in Chennai; two cities with vastly diverse cultural, social and behavioural aspects. Being the oldest of three siblings prepared me to be a responsible and assertive individual. I was equally interested in studies and sports, and the NCC helped me develop my confidence and personality. We travelled a lot during my childhood because summer vacations were for family visits and winter vacations were for discovering new places, whether they be mountains, beaches, or historical sites. My paternal family are all educated professionals and my maternal family are all business-focussed, hard-working, assertive, and adaptable – I guess that is where I get my traits and values from.

As a child, you observe your social circle, read, and build personal aspirations. So, I wanted to be many things, a doctor, a bookstore owner due to my love for books, a skydiver to overcome acrophobia, and even a farmer! And now, in my current profile of building digital strategies for growing businesses, I am supporting all of them in becoming more efficient and profitable.

What is something most people don’t know about you? 

While I am mostly juggling between family and work, I do make time to get outdoors. I am an extrovert, I love driving, and I love greenery, which motivates me to take up farming or afforestation. I am an attentive and thoughtful listener. Also, I can pull off some basic Japanese that I learnt during college. Besides that, I appreciate Carnatic music. I am up to date on current events—all of these skills allow me to initiate and maintain a conversation with anyone. Also, I along with my school mates, participate in an initiative to provide free education for the deprived.

What drove you to become an entrepreneur?

You begin to gather inspiration at the grassroots level. It was the same for me. During my school days, we attended a biotechnology meet at Anna University and there was Kunthala Jayaraman (KJ), renowned as the mother of industrial biotechnology education—she was highly energetic and forceful; a wonder woman who would break down science into elementary and engaging facts for an audience like us.

Then during my post-graduate programme, we had a guest faculty member, Ms Anuradha Parakkad, for entrepreneurship development. She had a powerful impact on me. When most women worked in traditional sectors such as fashion, cuisine, and trading houses, I was impressed when she developed a manufacturing unit that served larger firms. Later, I met many others who broke the gender barrier. No matter whether they were male or female-it was all about dreams and becoming an entrepreneur. With almost a decade of corporate experience, it was logical for me to consider doing something different. As the saying goes, opportunity knocks, and I took advantage of it by embarking on this voyage.

In your initial days as a businesswoman, what types of challenges did you face?

Our company’s goal was to help SMEs go digital. We started by researching their requirements. The difficulties were largely related to the market readiness of a product (online). These markets are traditional and predominantly male dominated. Ironically, many businesses were named after women. There was a gender bias; as these businesses were run by men. But I discovered that they had a lot of respect for women when they came into their office/premises for work. On extremely rare occasions, I had to elbow them out. I really believe that how they treat you is determined by how you approach or portray yourself.

So far, how has entrepreneurship changed you as a person? 

Entrepreneurship has undoubtedly changed and evolved me into a more confident person. Since I used and applied my past experience in terms of contacts, networks, concepts, and conviction, the entire experience gave me knowledge, honed my capacity to influence and behavioural skills. I believe that confidence takes you to the greatest heights of success.

My journey has been fraught with uncertainties, ranging from leaving a well-paying career to the uncertainty of a new enterprise, to shifting market dynamics and user behaviour. For instance, during the pilot phase, when we tested the product-market fit, the markets showed a strong interest in embracing newer technology and innovative solutions. However, when it came to implementing the change, the same markets demonstrated resistance. In this scenario, we set out to digitise firms to increase their efficiency and growth.

Another example is the traditional offline model. The user needed to engage but were digitally shy. We had to adopt the “educate-modernise and connect” model, that included establishing ourselves as experts, gaining trust, engaging-which resulted in success. During the pandemic, the firms that had gone digital fared very well. To summarise, markets are dynamic and uncertain but demonstrating resilience and providing value is what gets them to accept your offerings. While that is about acquiring external customers, building employees is equally challenging. In fact, you must become a multi-tasker to grow your company.

What was the highest point for you on this journey?

There have been a lot of them, especially on forums, where people seek your expertise, demonstrating that you are trustworthy. You serve as both the face of your brand and as its official spokesperson. People remember and recognise you based on the work that you accomplish. The most rewarding aspects of this journey for me have been when the businesses in our target segment share their success stories and discuss their requirements and concerns while experiencing and enjoying the value we bring, validating us.

According to you, what will be the greatest challenge for the future generation of female leaders?

I believe women formerly prioritised their homes and families and felt guilty about going out for work. But the changed scenario has paved the way for the next generation. When you look at the stories of the most popular influencers from the past generations, such as Sudha Murthy, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, and Indira Nooyi, you will notice that they desired success and received complete support and backing from their families. I believe that the difficulties that the next generation of female leaders will encounter are-a lack of sufficient instruction, a clear roadmap, and real-time mentoring. If this gap is filled, the next generation will have no excuse for not pursuing their dreams and goals.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs and women in SMEs? 

My advice to budding entrepreneurs and women in SMEs is to first find your footing, determine how driven you are, and focus on your passion. That will drive you to success. Preferably, have a mentor who will channelise your energies and help you to stay focused.

In the current scenario, in businesses across various stages of growth, women manage the work-life balance when starting a home-grown business. They travel to expand their firms. Some are self-motivated women and are doing substantial work. What steers them is their stubbornness, courage and confidence, which translates their passion into triumph. So, here’s the stage all open for you!

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