Asesh Sarkar Podcast Transcript

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Asesh Sarkar: [00:00:00] There isn't this 20 year education in business. I need to go through. A lot of things in business are quite intuitive as I was thinking about what type of entrepreneur I want it to be, because social impact is really important. I could work in the city and get a 5% interest rate. My children's nanny would be paying 50 to a hundred percent.

Asesh Sarkar: It's like, well, we are kind of equaling people. Basically. This one action and really made quite a big difference, actually felt really good about it. To, we're seven and a half years in, we've raised a hundred million plus in capital. Uh, they reach four and a half million people. We've lent over a billion pounds.

Amardeep Parmar: Hello, hello, and welcome to The BAE HQ where we inspire, connect, and guide the next generation of British Asians. Smash that subscribe button if you're watching on YouTube, and leave us a five star review if you're watching on Apple or Spotify. Today we have with us, Asesh Sarkark, who’s a global CEO and co-founder of Salary Finance.

Amardeep Parmar: It's a workplace financial wellness platform. How are you doing today?

Asesh Sarkar: Very well, thank you. Very well. I, [00:01:00] uh, arrived from Los Angeles yesterday, so slightly jet lags. I also strangely have hay fever for this time of year as well, a combination of two. But otherwise, I have, I have very good. And th,thank you for having me on.

Amardeep Parmar: I appreciate it. So you're getting all the excuses at the beginning. 

Asesh Sarkar:Absolutely. 

Amardeep Parmar: So if we dive into your background, right. When you were growing up, did you ever think like you'd be where you are today? 

Asesh Sarkar: I would say I was born in a family where, you know, maybe Indian parents do like this, which are very believing.

Asesh Sarkar: Yes, I was built in an environment of a lot of confidence. You know, I would say when I went to university, you know, I went to a good university, had lots of very strong peers. I'd say that kind of makes it a bit reflective. And then when I, then, you know, as a manager consultant, I worked in the city and then actually I thought, okay, well maybe, you know, there's a lot for me to learn.

Asesh Sarkar: So, so I'd say in childhood, yes. As I started coming into the real world, you then kind of work out actually there's a lot of smart people and uh, yeah. It's not, you know, you're gonna have to work pretty hard to kind of get somewhere. 

Amardeep Parmar: Is it, I think a lot of  people have this transitional of when they're at school, they might be a top of their class.

Amardeep Parmar:And then you go to [00:02:00] university and everybody else is smart as well. And you're going into work and it's the same thing too. How is that like transition for, see..

Asesh Sarkar: Funny enough was the inverse for me, which is actually at school I wasn't naturally academic. Uh, but I, but my parents were, you know, I guess, you know, as Asian parents were keen that you work hard, so you have a good future.

Asesh Sarkar: So, so I worked incredibly hard to get decent grades, but I would say hours per grade was not a brilliant, that kind of brilliant ratio that, that there in hindsight was okay. And similarly, uh, but, but then at university, I guess you focus on a subject and so, so I was kind of, yeah, that, that was kind of better.

Asesh Sarkar: But still, again, a lot of hours, uh, per, per getting a decent grade. But actually when I went into work, I was fortunate that I'd landed in something that suited my skillset and kind of really excelled kind of early on. So, so for me, education was tough. I'm not a kind of natural learner exam passer so on. Uh, but in terms of business, thankfully that comes more naturally to me.

Asesh Sarkar: And I was kind of fortunate to get into a career which was kind of quite natural early on. Uh, then I've kind of been able, been able to build from there. [00:03:00] And I feel very fortunate for that is, you know, I guess, uh, you don't know if something different. People are good at different things, and I guess it can take you a few different times to find something you're good at and enjoy.

Asesh Sarkar: Uh, I was quite fortunate that I kind of found that early, early on. 

Amardeep Parmar: What made you go into consulting?  Did you have an inkling that that's gonna be what you're gonna enjoy? Or was it just apply for a job and see what happens? 

Asesh Sarkar: So, you know, I was born in, uh, inner city Leicester, where, you know, management consulting, I would say doesn't kind of, you know, tip off the tongue, but my brother was 12 years older than me and so, you know, as a classic Indian family, You know, very much appreciating accountants, engineers, doctors, and so on and so, so my mom was very influential in my brother becoming a chartered accountant because he's 12 years older than me.

Asesh Sarkar: I remember at one point him having an argument with my mom saying, I hate being an accountant. Like, you know, why did you make me do it? There were these management consultant, and I think he worked at Anderson at the time, or Arthur Anderson, and then he was like, well, these management consultants, they do much more interesting work.

Asesh Sarkar: They don't have any exams to work for. I [00:04:00] wish I had done that. And so actually at a very young age that I had kind of clocked into my head, okay, management consultants, interesting work, don't have to do any exams. That sounds like it's for, kind of for me. And so, so that was, you know, I guess, uh, I probably would've never heard of it otherwise.

Asesh Sarkar: And so I guess fortunate to have an older brother. It kind of, you know, paving is way, which then, you know, was, you know, kind of guidance for me as well. And also the thing which I liked about it is, you know, what I was good at at school is not so much at exams, but at project based work. Um, and management consultant is very much around projects strategy.

Asesh Sarkar: You know, not, not really business as usual. And so again, that was kind of really appealing, appealing to me. you 

Amardeep Parmar: And when you started, you said  thrive pretty quickly. What was it you think in your skillset that allowed you to  thrive so quickly?

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah, so, when I, you know, given the, the, the name of the podcast.

Asesh Sarkar: So, you know, you know, I was born in Leicester, a very, very high Indian population. Uh, kind of basically, I then went to university at Warwick, which was at a complete opposite, kind of, you know, very high white, middle class kind of population and actually gonna kind of go quite, quite, quite different. And that kind of [00:05:00] customized me a little bit to, to a different culture.

Asesh Sarkar: And then I went into the city again, a very, very kind of different, kinda different environment. And so, when I, when I first went in, you know, and I remember that, you know, I was in, in the city as a young, uh, you know, kind of British Asian, you know, kind of finding my way and, and very intimidating. I, well basically like I'm gonna have to do like 20 years work here to work out what's even going on.

Asesh Sarkar: Like presumably these guys, girls in suits or whatever. And actually my first project, um, it was with this, uh, American bank working on the, um, the KPIs that the executives were looking at. And, and basically I was there sitting back, working out, okay, how am I gonna learn? Like, you know, you know, who am I gonna learn from?

Asesh Sarkar: And then I looked at it and I was like, well, actually I've just got a different perspective on it. And then I kind of set out a perspective, you know, for me, you know, you know, quite introverted, but strangely, quite confidently and vocally. And actually I was right. Then suddenly very early on, you know, a, I think the people I was working with were like, okay, wow, this guy's just come from university.

Asesh Sarkar: He's got a point of view. And then I had basically [00:06:00] realized that actually there isn't this 20 year education in business. I need to go through a lot of things in business are quite intuitive, instinctive. And then I actually, I was very fortunate that early on I'd kind of realized that actually there's not this kind of, it's not like at university I've got, it's not like being a doctor.

Asesh Sarkar: It's, you know, you know, business is, a lot of it's about instinct, creativity, angles. Uh, and actually I formed that quite early on, and then that really, you know, kind of, kind of set me up there was actually, I was very much le, less about, you know, yeah. Respectful of other people's learnings and so on, but also just quite original in my own thoughts as, as, uh, kind of as well.

Asesh Sarkar: Which has kind set me in kind of good, kind of good stead. 

Amardeep Parmar: I like this. Sit there. Well, 

because I had a similar experience, right. I grew up in Elford. Which is, my school is 90% Asian. They went to Bar University. So it's a similar kind of thing to work. Right. Population is very heavily white.

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: And I had that culture shock. It was weird to have a culture shock about white people being from Britain. 

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar:But that's what I had. 

Asesh Sarkar:  Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar:  And then going back in the city again, it's good because then I find we can blend it, right, because we can understand the different perspectives. [00:07:00] Where some people I grew up with stayed in London.

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: So they might not understand some of the other sides of things. Some people grew up in middle class families in the countryside somewhere and then don't really understand. So it's, I think it's a really important skillset to have, to be able to blend between two different environments.

Amardeep Parmar: And you worked way up to partner at Consulting, right? So did you always think we're just gonna keep going down this path? And once you made it to partner, how did you feel about that?  How did you enjoy that role? 

Asesh Sarkar: You know, when you're a consultant, you're kind of working through the ranks and you know, the ultimate is, is kind of partner.

Asesh Sarkar: And again, as, as soon as I'd kind of gone in, I think quite original, kind of, you know, good at communicating ideas. People listen, was also very introverted. Uh, and you know, people that were generally partners were A, extroverted, and B had generally gone to very good schools and had good networks.

Asesh Sarkar: Um, and, you know, were generally Oxford educated and so on. And so I say, okay, again, maybe this is gonna take me quite a while, like, you know, I'm not gonna be the guy that's networking and playing golf with everyone. Um, [00:08:00] you know, I'm not gonna be the guy that's, you know, got this massive network. You know, I've, you know, I'm good at my job, but you know, I'm sure lots of other people are good at job as well.

Asesh Sarkar: And so, So I'd always wanted to be a partner and, and, and actually, you know, I, you know, I became a partner at PA Consulting and, and funny enough, as a graduate, I applied to PA but didn't make it through the grad scheme. Um, because again, you have lots of people, unless you're somewhere extroverted or, you know, get, getting phenomenal results, it's kind of quite hard.

Asesh Sarkar: And so, so I got a job somewhere else and then that experience and helped me kind of get in, kinda get in later on. You know, ironically I joined kind of PA consulting as a, uh, consultant analyst within the first 18 months. Been promoted three times, and within, um, I think it was eight or nine years, I became the youngest consultant in the firm.

Asesh Sarkar: I. Uh, at the time kind of globally. Uh, and, and that was really, I guess, kind of doing it my way, which was, you know, yes. And, and, and I was increasingly being comfortable myself is, yes, I was introverted, but the, you know, what I was able to do is form deeper relationships. So it's while whilst a lot of people were very widely networked, I had a smaller network, but more [00:09:00] kind of deeper connections.

Asesh Sarkar: You know, I had formed some quite deep thinking in certain areas, which would then allow me to then kind of sell work in my way. Uh, not necessarily relationship driven, but kind of more kind of contract driven. And so, yeah, I'd kind of, you know, fortunate to have found a career I was good at. I enjoyed and, you know, was able to kind of work myself kind of through, kind of through the ranks.

Asesh Sarkar: And then once, once I got to partner, And, you know, all the way through this, I'd wanted to be an entrepreneur. So that was kind of my kind of real, uh, kind of real thing. And so it hadn't quite clicked during that journey. When I got to partner, I was like, you know, either now's the time to make that transition, or you should just stick as a partner.

Asesh Sarkar: Kind of see it through either a good. Uh, all kind of good roots, you know, a lot of my friends who are partners still have done very well and live a very good life. But for me that that was a kind of the, the kinda inflection, inflection point.

Amardeep Parmar:  You mentioned a few times about you being  introverted and how that's affected you.

Amardeep Parmar: Obviously, some people listening right now are introverted.. And they're going through the same thing. Can we often hear where people feel like, because introverts, they don't get ahead in their careers. Mm-hmm. What advice would you have for them to try and help them to?

Asesh Sarkar: [00:10:00] So, so for me, I think it's really important to be happy with who you are and not try to be someone else.

Asesh Sarkar: And so, so I've seen as you go through, You know, I'm 40, 42 now, maybe 41. I forget. And so, yeah, and as you get kind of older, you know, you, you know, certainly I have become more comfortable. You come my own skin. And so I think, you know, so sometimes you try to emulate other people or kind of, so, and, and I think it's

Asesh Sarkar: good to learn, to be reflective and so on. But I think it's most important to be really comfortable in your own skin, what, whatever you want, you know, I think it's not, it's not necessarily binary that someone is introverted, extroverted, there are lots of different shades, there are lots of other different variables.

Asesh Sarkar: But for me, you know, being content in life is important. Confident not chasing things other people have. And so, so, so for me, I think that journey of being comfortable in yourself, you know, everyone is good at something. Some people are good at this, some people are good at that. And so, It's, you know, I think the more comfortable you are in your own skin, I think the better you kind of, you could do.

Asesh Sarkar: And then certainly for me, again, as I progressed, um, you [00:11:00] know, I've been fortunate to do well, but, but I definitely don't define, you know, I think everyone, you know, should, in my opinion, live life in a pursuit of happiness and that kind of, you know, what else is there to live life for? Uh, which doesn't necessarily equate to kind of, you know, success on any monetary or promotional kind of front.

Asesh Sarkar: And so as long as you are good, happy content, you're a good person, then you are, you are, you, you are kind of winning. And that's something you also learned over, over the years. 

Amardeep Parmar: And you mentioned this, so I guess that's part of your pursuit that's happening. You're thinking one day I wanna become an entrepreneur.

Amardeep Parmar: What was behind that thinking before you even, I guess, thought of salary finance? 

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: What made you think one that wanna be an entrepreneur?

Asesh Sarkar: So, you know, I, I would say as an entrepreneur, there is an element of which it's in your genes I would say. Like, you know, like I loved, I kind of mentioned project based work.

Asesh Sarkar: You, I just, you know, I just love the  idea of creating something, owning something, you know, I don't want work to feel like kind of work freedom, you know? And also I would say, you know, the time I was working in consulting, you know, I worked with a financial services team. I worked with a lot of big banks in the UK.

Asesh Sarkar: There was also a level of hierarchy, you know? [00:12:00] Yes. I was able to kind of cut through it. But you also, there, there is kind of hierarchy and you know, so, so, so for me, I always wanted to kinda achieve something big, something impactful, you know, uh, emerging of kind of work and life, you know, to build something that I was really proud of.

Asesh Sarkar: And so, management consulting, if you know what it is you do, it's incredibly hard to explain if you don't, and so, so, yeah, I just kinda wanted to kinda something which, which entrepreneurship all kind of in, in kind of cap kind of encapsulated for me. Yeah. I think everyone is somewhat money motivated. I'm not motivated, I'm not massively money motivated equally.

Asesh Sarkar: I'm not, not money motivated and so, so, but there's also an element of, you know, kind of financial freedom and kind of doing, kind of doing well from that, for that aspect as well.

Amardeep Parmar: And I guess the element of financial freedom is part of what came into salary finance, right? 

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: So where did the idea for salary finance come from in the first place and

Amardeep Parmar: what made you decide like, this is a business I'm gonna go for?

Asesh Sarkar: So, you know, timing was important. So, you know, like I say, I, I, I actually tried a few things, you know, on, on, on the side of my desk while I was working, which I [00:13:00] Generally speaking, if it's on the side of your desk, doesn't, um, you know, unless you're fortunate, you know, doesn't take off.

Asesh Sarkar: And so as I got to partner, I was gonna say, okay, look, you know, I kind of wanted to wanna take one of these two, kind of two paths. I kind put, put some, put some thought into it. And so you, I was fortunate, kind of three things came together an idea, which I thought was a winning idea. Um, you know, also because I was a young partner, I had some credibility to then raise capital, which is quite hard in the UK.

Asesh Sarkar: And I, you know, for some reason, you know, you don't know what, sometimes I just had a level of confidence, which allowed me to take that leap because I also at the time had one child, another child, um, kind of underway, uh, and had, you know, kind of financial responsibilities, uh, you know, as, as well. And so, You know, if, if we start with the idea, so, you know, you know, we have, so I've got children, you know, we, my wife's a surgeon and so it's quite busy as well.

Asesh Sarkar: So we have a nanny that kind of helps look at, look, look, look after us, look after our children. Um, and as well sometimes, you know, she was having debt problems and so we would pay her, you know, nannies in London get paid quite a lot and, you know, but then she [00:14:00] was, you know, say, oh, financial challenges and so well, Why is it you have financial challenges?

Asesh Sarkar: You get kind of paid to kind of quite well. She said, well, you pay me, but then a lot of my pay just goes on paying off credit cards, payday loans, and so on. So doesn't seem to make any sense. Okay. That that's not good. It's not, we're working hard. You are working hard, your money's going, so why don't you just go to a bank because you know I'm a

Asesh Sarkar: Consultant. I work in lots of banks. I'll help you. Then the reality is, you know, the banks decline two and three people unless you have a, unless you have a high kind of credit score. And so, so actually she was in this kind of cycle of debt and so, so I thought, okay, you know what? We'll pay off your debts for you.

Asesh Sarkar: We'll give you a, a loan. We'll collect the, the repayments on payroll, so it's nice and easy. And then that's that. And then basically we, we, we, we did that on a Friday, so we kind of gave her a loan. She paid off her debts. The next week. I basically saw the change in her eyes, which was, she was, a lot less stressed.

Asesh Sarkar: She was keeping more of her own money. She was grateful to my wife and I better looking after our children. So I could just basically see this one [00:15:00] action had really made quite a big difference. I actually felt really good about it, and at the same time as I was thinking about what type of entrepreneur I wanted to be, for me, you know, social impact is really important as in, you know, uh, you know, because it's what, what I was finding, you know, as I was working through the ranks in a city and so on, the best talent tends to go into jobs which don't do bad for the world, but are not purposefully there to do good for the world either.

Asesh Sarkar: That's not like their prime objective is delivering shareholder value. And I have this particular thing about, okay, well who are these shareholders and why do I care so much about delivering value for them? Like, what is the kind of wider, kind of wider purpose here? So, so then I kinda, kinda clocked. Okay.

Asesh Sarkar: Uh, and, and then, you know, also my time in the city, I could see lots of cases like my children's nanny, which is where, you know, again, when I was working in the city, no one was intending to do bad. I, I didn't work with a single person who was like, you know, these poor people, let's screw them. But you could just see how the models were working.

Asesh Sarkar: So if your middle to low income, you get a bad credit score by design. And basically what happens is those people then, you know, get a loan, the interest rate is [00:16:00] higher. They guess what? Don't have as much disposal income, so don't pay that proven model. Correct. And it starts to kinda start, so you have this situation where generally speaking, the less you earn, the worse your credit score and the higher rate you pay an interest.

Asesh Sarkar: And so at an individual level, I felt very guilty. I, I felt guilty that I could work in the city and get a 5% interest rate. My children's nanny would be paying 50 to a hundred percent. I like, well, we are kind of equal in people, but then why would, why would you do that? And then, so I basically kind of got really passionate about, okay, how can we help everyday people get better access to finance?

Asesh Sarkar: So whether you are, you know, you know, in the same, you know, seeing the same in my wife's hospital, whether you are a consultant or a porter, you get the same, same access because again, just crazy situations like, you know, porters and nurses are spending their money on high cost. Credit, uh, when the consultants are getting like 5% from the H S P C if they, if they need or, or any big back.

Asesh Sarkar: Um, so, so basically kinda came up with this idea around, okay, well if we work with big employers and if they do what I did with my children's nanny, which is if we offer them finance as an employee benefit, where the [00:17:00] repayments are collected from payroll, you're basically reducing the risk. So rather than having to price in the risk, you're getting to the same set net, uh, same net outcome.

Asesh Sarkar: And so, so the whole, the whole idea was, okay, let's try to reduce the interest rate gap between people using the structure of employee benefits and using the cost advantages. Kind of, uh, kind of within that, kind of within that. So that, that was a kind of the genesis of the idea. And then at that time, you know, today, E S G is a very common term.

Asesh Sarkar: At the time there was no E S G, so it was when I was, there was actually only one person talking about it at the time, which was Nigel Wilson, the CEO of Legal General. And so at the time I went very big on this philosophy around business with social purpose, how you can make profit but do it with, you know, actually solving a big problem in the world.

Asesh Sarkar: You just need to think deeper. When it comes to loans, you can make the same amount of money by reducing risk or pricing it in. And so, yeah, so as I got passionate behind this idea, uh, and then, you know, was fortunate enough to be able to raise some capital, you know, fortunate enough to have the confidence because I thought, okay, if it doesn't work out, I'm a [00:18:00] partner.

Asesh Sarkar: I've have to get another job, and then took, took the leap. 

Amardeep Parmar: It's an amazing  story as well. It just, it's one of the things I think always like the most is when somebody comes on here and you can tell one, they really care about the problem they're trying to solve. But it's a problem they're try and solve because it matters that problem too.

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: It's not like, oh, this is a problem, which can make me a load of money. Like you said, it's a problem, which you could just see that you said about the difference you could see in the person as well. 

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah, 

Amardeep Parmar: and I think the best business is that's, it's a much bigger fire to keep you going. Right, because.

Amardeep Parmar: Once you've made a bit of money, then what's gonna, are you gonna keep going 'cause of more money or are we gonna keep going? 'cause like this is something which you can make a change of. Right. And like in this early stage as well, you've got a co-founder. Right. How did that relationship come about? Like how did you know that this is the right person?

Amardeep Parmar: Or how did that all come into play too?

Asesh Sarkar: Absolutely. So yeah, I've got very fortunate. I have two co co-founders, both named Dan, either one called Dan, one called Daniel. I guess the other thing, uh, for me is, uh, I'm very reflective about my strengths and weaknesses, and I'm very relaxed on those. I don't need to pretend or try to be the best at everything, and I've always worked on the basis that, you know, I [00:19:00] have certain super strengths and I'm gonna go really deep on those.

Asesh Sarkar: Uh, and then where I have areas which I don't enjoy, don't come naturally. You know, I try to develop, but sometimes I can't be bothered. And so then I'll kind of fill my, you know, network with kind of good people around. And so, so, so, so for me, the, the, the, the two, the two areas which, you know, were kind of weak for me, one is, as I'd mentioned, which was networking network and, and so on.

Asesh Sarkar: And so, so my co-founders, a guy called Daniel Shakhani, and then I was introduced to him via one of the other partners at PA, they went to Harvard together and he is just the opposite to me, like, you know, as, as much as I'm introverted, he is extroverted. Uh, and then as a result, he's a really kind of great network and the type of business I was trying to build in terms of raising capital access to employers.

Asesh Sarkar: You know, I thought he would be kind of great. Uh, kind of great, great at that. And then so the two of us came together and then we raised our, our kind of initial round of capital from a venture builder called Blenheim Chalcot. And then as part of that, um, one of their partners came on board as a co-founder as well.[00:20:00] 

Asesh Sarkar: Uh, a guy called Dan Cobbley. Dan was formerly the MD of Google in the UK. And again, he introduced a different dimension. So, you know, when you are in consulting, yes, you're in and around tech, but you know, you've not built a, a tech company like Google. And so, so, so Dan bought that dimension as well. And so the three of us were kind of very, very good.

Asesh Sarkar: You know, I was very passionate about the idea. Uh, you know, had spent, you know, time as a consultant, you know, kind of, uh, building new products, businesses, very disciplined, uh, in doing that. Daniel Shakhani. Prolific networker that can kind of help, uh, the kind of business and very talented at that. Uh, and Dan is very good at kind of tech building, kind of tech businesses.

Asesh Sarkar: So the combination worked, uh, kind of worked well. And then for me also, you know, again, as a first time entrepreneur, my aim was to build something big and impactful. Um, and so I wasn't too worried about, you know, diluting equity or anything like that? No, not, not to say that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Asesh Sarkar: You know, as a second time entrepreneur I might do something differently. Uh, but certainly as a first time entrepreneur, it was really about, okay, I'm not so worried about [00:21:00] my stake. I'm worried about big impact for want to be a success, um, and my probability of, of success to be high basically. And so I had a lot of people around me.

Amardeep Parmar:One of the things I hear a lot now as well is people who they're trying to raise around, but they want the strategic investors and people who can actually, like you said, with um, Dan, well, it's the second Dan about bringing that experience to it as well. Right. And it's quite difficult thing for many people to do.

Amardeep Parmar: And what I find interesting is that your co-founder is introduced to you by somebody at a company, because some people might be worried about asking other people at the company for those kind of connections. 

Asesh Sarkar: Oh yeah. That's but in the context of work there at the time. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah. 

Asesh Sarkar: And so we'd just become friends actually.

Asesh Sarkar: And it is quite a funny story, which is, uh, so, you know, I got, I got to know him as, as we were doing things in my kind of day job as well. And then for a year we, we just didn't keep in contact even though we had kinda, you know, kind of clicked, gone really well, uh, and actually saw him at David Lloyd at the gym, uh, you know, after quite a while.

Asesh Sarkar: And then it was, and then he was asking, you know, how are you doing? And so I said, well, good, you know, work's going well, you know, really keen to kind of raise some capital for this business. And then actually took us a [00:22:00] year and a year to the day that had re-met him. We basically then joined, uh, the kind of, you know, uh, we'd raised the capital and kind of joined as a kind of the first, the first day.

Asesh Sarkar: And so, yeah, those, so sometimes things are. You know, serendipity as well. Like, you know, you know, you can't always, you, you, you work hard, but your path is your path. And so, yeah, I guess sometimes you're just destined to meet, uh, uh, kind of meet people. Um, you know, I I, I, I am very blessed with both of my co-founders.

Asesh Sarkar: You know, you, I'd say, say in seven and a half years we've been together. We've never had a single argument. I'd say arguments are bad, but, but we we're, we are very respectful of each other's kind of skills. We're very able to have robust conversations, but know whose domain and who kind of take, kind of takes a call.

Asesh Sarkar: I think all of our skills have been very valuable to kind of get us, get us where we are today. So, so I say, I'd say co-founders on the positives are very, very good and I've been very fortunate. But, but if I think about, you know, as we have grown over the past, you know, uh, seven and a half years, we've probably, you know, think of a team of about 400 now.

Asesh Sarkar: I've probably hired a thousand over that, over that time, you know, different people are, are cut out for [00:23:00] different parts of the journey. So, you know, you do have to think through co-founders and around, or they, you know, how long are they gonna be kind of right for the journey as well. And then also, yeah, you, you know, you, you want to make sure it's someone that you can work kind of work with, I guess goes without saying, but, but it's important.

Asesh Sarkar: It's like a marriage, like once you're in it, you know, you know it's an important, it's an important relationship. 

Amardeep Parmar: One actually started building the tech behind salary finance and starting to get clients. How did you find it different from. I guess advising clients on what to do versus doing it for your own company.

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: Was it close to what you imagined or was it much more different?

Asesh Sarkar: And so, you know, in, in consulting you are advising, which is very different to doing. And, and you know, the, the reality is, you know, and quite a lot of what I was doing was operational turnaround work. You know, a division's got an issue, a company's got an issue, a private equity firms just bought something and needs to a turnaround.

Asesh Sarkar: And in those environments there's always something going wrong. And it's actually relatively straightforward to look at something someone's doing and say how you do it better, building it first [00:24:00] time round is a lot, is a lot, a lot harder. And so, yeah, it, it, it was very, very different. Uh, you know, again, having good people around you kind of helps.

Asesh Sarkar: And so again, we, we, we, we formed a good team quite early on. Uh, and again, certainly in the early days, the quality of that team is important. Uh, you know, certainly what I found important is having people that were hands-on. Uh, so, so where I had come from, actually people kind of like me. Um, you're good at certain things, but I can't code or build something.

Asesh Sarkar: And so actually having people that are very hands-on is very helpful. Actually, where I was hands-on was on kind of sales and business development. You know, Daniel would open the door. That's his forte. And then my forte is, uh, you know, uh, selling posts that kind of basically like selling the vision, making sure it's robust, credible.

Asesh Sarkar: That it's gonna deliver at the end of the day, because if you don't deliver, you get caught out quite quickly afterwards. But yeah, building a company and advising is very different. That's also one of the reasons why I wanted to be in this transition. I didn't want to be like an advisor my whole life, like advising other people.

Asesh Sarkar: I wanted to kind of be bee, be doing. And, [00:25:00] and the irony is I now have advisors in my company in that, uh, who, who kind of look at a business situation is quite big and, you know, all businesses which are quite big, can do better. Which, which is quite funny. But, but yeah, it kind of happens as you go. Yeah. You have to be on one sided the other, either you need to be building a bus, business and it's always things you can do better and be humble enough to accept it or be on the other side and be the one kind of giving, uh, giving advice.

Amardeep Parmar: What have been the most difficult  parts about scaling and I guess obviously you now advisors, too,  help you point out things you've done wrong as well. 

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: What parts have been tough? We've had to make changes or pivots because of 

Asesh Sarkar: Yep. Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: As you've got  bigger and bigger?

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah, so, so you know, we just give a sense of journey.

Asesh Sarkar: So we're seven and a half years in, we've raised a hundred million plus in capital. We've got 700 clients in the UK, in the US, everyone from Tesla in the US to Tesco in the uk. Uh, they reach four and a half million people that are in our kind of, uh, employee communicate community. We've lent over a billion pounds.

Asesh Sarkar: Uh, and then our investors are all generally institutions. So, you know, legal and general Goldman Sachs. We've got venture builder, original [00:26:00] investor, a kind of core partner, Blenheim Chalcot Yeah. And so on and so. Um, so yeah, the business is quite, you know, it operates that kind of decent, uh, decent scale

Amardeep Parmar: decent scale.

Asesh Sarkar: It's probably a bit of an understatement there. Yeah. Um, and, and, and the reality is, uh, you are always, we, we, and we were actually, actually probably only two weeks ago, which is probably where I've got time to this podcast, is, you know, we now have a a C E O in the uk, a C E O in the US the group CEO.

Asesh Sarkar: And so we probably at the stage now where the company doesn't need me. As in, you know, I, I believe I can add value, uh, and I can get us, you know, kind of further and faster. However, it doesn't need me as in like, you know, I have, other than those two, I have no direct reports, like, which is a nice place to be in because prior to that, the past seven and a half years, it's, you are really on a six monthly basis, which is

Asesh Sarkar: the first six months, right. We need to get a product live and prove that this isn't just a nice concept. Yeah. And so, so you're like, okay, if I don't get that first client, and one of our first clients in the UK was Dunelm, uh, actually from, you know, uh, the headquartered in Leicester where I, um, where [00:27:00] I grew up.

Asesh Sarkar: Uh, and they were just really passionate about the people. So kind of really, really kind of got it. And so that was really pivotal, pivotal for us. So then you get your first client, then it's like, okay, well we've now got clients, but we need, you know, we need, uh, debt funding to fund these loans. Uh, but you have no, you know, you have no data and so, okay, so unless I get this, it's not gonna work.

Asesh Sarkar: So you've got your debt funding kind of, that's great. Then, okay, you know where I've got one client and then where I need employee takeup is employee and I need to show they're getting value. Okay, now you've got that. Then you've got that, okay, well I now need to raise my next round of equity capital is, I don't get that.

Asesh Sarkar: I've kind of got issues and you've got that. They'll say, well, You know, the market's doing really well. I need to be in the US now before someone else is, and know, and it goes on. And so basically every six months you have this existential crisis and you are, you're, like I say, when you are in the midst of it.

Asesh Sarkar: Um, and like I say, thankfully, I'm kind of a bit more reflective now 'cause I'm kind of one step removed. It is existential the whole, the whole time. And the reality is, um, you know, sometimes it's true, it is existential. [00:28:00] Sometimes it just delays you. But at the time, and you know, certain, you certainly, you know, as I look back, I think most of them have been like to get to where we are, we've needed that six month cycles.

Asesh Sarkar: But, and, and, and that's a challenge 'cause you are operating on adrenal the whole time. You know, and in reality is when you are taking decisions, six months, uh, you know, away you have to take shortcuts. Sometimes is, is the reality. And then, You know, you know that you, you call it, uh, you know, technical debt.

Asesh Sarkar: You know, you're gonna have to go and have to recover that. And, you know, when I get to that stage, actually people are gonna come and say, why on earth did you do that? Uh, and then I will need to be, be, be humble enough that they will not understand that, that unless I took those decisions, which, which you look in hindsight, you think maybe weren't good, that's basically what kept us.

Asesh Sarkar: And so, uh, and then this is where we are today. Like I say, you know, we are a big business, but you know, you then have kind of big business challenges. And so we're now very much kind of, you know, making sure our techs robust, make sure our processes robust. Of course, if we [00:29:00] were, if we took not six months to build original platform, we took two years, it'd been more robust than it is today.

Asesh Sarkar: And so you kind of work through those, uh, kind of work, kinda work through those and yeah, and that's like, you know, I guess the the spirit of an entrepreneur, basically, which is being able to make those calls. Um, and a lot of the time the margin for error is low. You carry that burden yourself, 'cause you always have, you know, you have your investors, you have your team, you have your clients, you have your employees, you have your own pressures, but ultimately you have to make calls the whole time.

Asesh Sarkar: And those cause ultimately make the difference between kind of success, uh, success and failure. And then certainly for me, In the, you know, on the journeys, I've always wanted to be in a position where if the company fails, it's because of a decision I've taken, not because of one someone else has taken that I've just gone with.

Asesh Sarkar: Uh, and so I would say I've been pretty strong in my decisions, you know, most, I think are good. Some maybe not so, but, but at least I had that kind of conviction as, as well. Uh, and the other side is, you know, you have to choose your investors. Um, with open eyes as well. And so, you know, for us, [00:30:00] because of, because the nature and scale of our business, institutional investors are really important.

Asesh Sarkar: You know, they are obviously, um, you know, come with institutional grade requirements, governance, compliance, which you need to be able to kind of meet as well. So you need to be kinda thoughtful about all of these, all of these things. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah. Something about to my own consulting days where you had different types of consultants, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Of some people who would, it's, you get like 90% there and then you get out, right? Where some people will. Check it a hundred times before they take it out. And if you're doing that a hundred times checking before you release it. 

Asesh Sarkar:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: You might have that a hundred, like it might be at an incredible job, but you've taken 10 times the amount of time to do it.

Amardeep Parmar: Right. And that's something the client's paying for. 

Asesh Sarkar:  Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: And it's exactly the same mindset comes as an entrepreneur. If you, but as an entrepreneur it's different, right? Because if you are the person who checks things a million times, gets it from perfect. By then, it might be too late. 

Asesh Sarkar:  Absolutely. 

Amardeep Parmar: It might be you've run out funding.

Amardeep Parmar: It could be that they, somebody else has now overtaken, somebody else has released something that's 80%. And they've got now the entire market share. And you've got to be comfortable with [00:31:00] that level of risk, like you said. And it's great that you've had that. I like you've been aware of it the whole time about owning that process.

Amardeep Parmar: And it is true 'cause obviously, especially I guess as a consultant, right? You're looking at other company, why did they make a decision for, that's a really bad decision. But I guess once from the other side of the table, you realize, oh, they made that decision because they had to make that decision. You mentioned where you are today, but what you excited about for the future?

Amardeep Parmar: What's coming up in the future that you are, like, what's the dream now you've got the global CEO position. 

Asesh Sarkar:   Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: But what else is coming up or what hould people be looking out for?

Asesh Sarkar:  Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, my aim has always been for, you know, so I think Salary Finance is a, uh, is, is a better way of delivering financial services.

Asesh Sarkar: It's just a much foot fairer way. And so, now if, if I look at, you know, any one of our clients who we work in one, in three NHS trusts in the UK today, so in those NHS trusts, if you are a consultant or a porter, we give you access to fair finance. Without us, you don't have that, you know, without us, you have the, the consultants, if they need a new car, will go to a big bank, happy days.[00:32:00] 

Asesh Sarkar: If the Porter's car breaks down, then they're simply left with, you know, high cost credit cards, payday loans, a hundred percent of interest. And so, so for me it's been always been about the model becoming mainstream and having a big, a big impact. And so, you know, for, for me, I think we've reached a good base now, you know, four and a half million employee reach, you know, over a billion in, um, kind of loans funded, you know, hundreds of millions in interest save .

Asesh Sarkar: We operate in the UK ofcourse, operate all 50 states in the US. Uh, like I say, we've got a team of about 400 at the moment, UK, US, we have a team in India, uh, India as well. Uh, and then we have a series of products. So we have, uh, payroll linked loans, uh, on demand access to pay, uh, savings, education. So for me it kind of feels like we're kind of getting to like a good, uh, a kind of a good, a good baseline.

Asesh Sarkar: Um, and then from, from here on in, it is really kind of multiplying 'cause that's the other thing you see as an entrepreneur. Like it's really hard getting your first clients. They help you win the next five. Those next five help you win the next 25 and you start to kinda multiply. So, so for me, we've got to kind of a good [00:33:00] base, uh, and now it's about multiplying.

Asesh Sarkar: So we reach four and a half million people. Like how do we multiply that, um, within our clients, you know, how do more people, employees know about us? You know, how do we add other products? So, so mortgages an area of a lot of interest getting onto property ladder and, and, and so what new countries are interesting.

Asesh Sarkar: And so, yeah, I think the business has a kind of lot of, uh, a kind of, a lot of potential, a lot of growth areas. But ultimately, you know, when I looked into my, you know, nanny's eyes unconsciously as in like, I could just see that, you know, you, when I look at our Trustpilot, you know, and I obsess on that, you know, it's, you know, we have a.

Asesh Sarkar: Um, you know, four point, I think it's six or seven out of five, um, you know, is those stories and you know, just kind of multiplying, kind of multiplying the impact you have because then, you know, then you know, ultimately what, what, what, what do I see? You know, I see myself, you know, growing up in the inner city of Leicester, um, to, you know, having then had a positive impact on kind of millions of people.

Asesh Sarkar: Um, I know kinda like, like you said, I've also had lots of different experiences. You know, I've, you know, gone from a, you know, a kind [00:34:00] of a, a first generation kind of migrants and the kind of financial challenges that brings to, you know, running a big, um, you know, hundreds of millions of pounds worth company today, you know, and you know, you also have kind of relatives in India to being on, you know, people's private jets here.

Asesh Sarkar: Like, so it's a, you know, it's a, it gives me, yeah, it gives me a lot of, uh, joy to go from, you know, something here to be able to like, impact a lot of people. And, you know, certainly when I kind of see my future. Um, you know, I want to continue to multiply that. Like, I'm super happy with where I am. You know, the reality is I would've loved to have been an entrepreneur younger, but I know today I did it at 35.

Asesh Sarkar: If I did it younger, I wouldn't have been ready basically. Um, but now I'm kind of, you know, 42. Um, you know, I still see, uh, you know, touch wood a lot of years ahead where I can kind of multiply that kind of impact and, and, and also very much around, you know, I don't have things mapped out. It's not like I do this, do that, do that.

Asesh Sarkar: It's, you know, every day you are learning opportunities come up, you meet people, ideas come up. And so for me, [00:35:00] you know, being a partner gave me credibility. Being where I am today gives me credibility and I want to use that productively. Like, you know, the irony is, you know, I have quite a few grand titles.

Asesh Sarkar: None of them like, you know, I actually the least person that cares about titles. Uh, but what I do like about those is the kind of ability to then multiply my, my impact. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah. I think it's what  I think, for example, like getting good knighthood or something like that. It shouldn't matter about you shouldn't, the goal shouldn't be to get knighthood.

Asesh Sarkar:  That's right. Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: It should be like getting a knighthood that allows you to be in different rooms, which allows you to expect the impact you want. 

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah. Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar:  And I always say it's like for says all those kinda stuff, it doesn't really matter as a title, but if people then pay more attention to you, you can then fed your message better.

Amardeep Parmar: Definitely. So we're gonna have to move on to the quick fire questions now. So who are three British Asians you love to shout out you think doing incredible work?

Asesh Sarkar: Mm-hmm. So, you know, I have huge gratitude to man Manoj Badale , um, who is, uh, one of the founders at Blenheim Chalcot, who's our original investor basically.

Asesh Sarkar: And so it's a, raising capital in the UK is actually certainly seven and a half years ago was quite difficult. It's somewhat, uh, [00:36:00] kind of easier. Today. Uh, so it's a gratitude for, you know, investigators, but, but also, you know, Blenheim Chalcot is a venture builder, so they help you through the journey as a first time entrepreneur.

Asesh Sarkar: Been an incredibly valuable, uh, valuable kind of throughout, um, and just a very good person. Um, and then other, other people, you know, that, that I admire a lot. Uh, so Ashok Vaswani from, he was Barclay's Chief Digital Officer and a lot of senior roles there is now the, uh, president at Pagaya. Um, a FinTech.

Asesh Sarkar: Um, and, and again, just a very, you know, for someone who is very seasoned, knows his stuff, um, is just a kind of a, kind of a great, uh, kind of a great person. Um, and then JDEV, um, you know, I've met a few times dunno him, uh, incredibly well, but again, admire what they do at kind of Zopa basically like, you know, one of the pioneers originally in kind of peer to peer have kind of pivoted since to becoming a, a bank and, and seem to be doing it kind of very, kind of very well.

Amardeep Parmar: Awesome. Then if people listen right now, want to reach out or learn from you, what's the reach out about?

Asesh Sarkar: I'm generally like, unscripted, like, like kind of like this. And so, you know, I'm happy for people to [00:37:00] reach out if I can, you know, with whatever, if, if they think that there's something I've heard, heard today, which it resonate with, I'm, I'm happy to kinda connect with people like, like clearly.

Asesh Sarkar: Um, you know, there's only so many hours in the day, but if I feel I can help something, someone on someone, then that's certainly, you know, is something I'm very kinda happy, kinda happy to do. 

Amardeep Parmar: And then on the flip side, is there anything that you need help with right now that maybe somebody listening might be able to help you with?

Asesh Sarkar: Um, yeah, look, I, I would say, you know, from a salary finance perspective, we're always looking to do new. Uh, and innovative things. We are always launching into new clients, both in the UK uh, and in the US. And so, yeah, if the mission resonates with something that someone's someone's doing, uh, then, you know, always open to kind of learn and collaborate.

Amardeep Parmar: So thanks so much for coming on today. I've learned a lot myself. Have you got any final words to the audience?

Asesh Sarkar: Yeah, look, yeah. Given the title of the podcast, I guess this is about British Asians wanting to be entrepreneurs. Um, you know, I, I, I would say, look, it's a great aim. It may not happen overnight.

Asesh Sarkar: It may take three times, it may take four times. But if you believe you are an entrepreneur, if you believe that's your passion, um, [00:38:00] then yeah. You know, you sh you, you, you should do it. Like I say, you know, I'm not your classic, uh, entrepreneur by any means. Uh, different people have different, uh, different paths and so yeah.

Asesh Sarkar: You know, you know, I'd say, yeah. If, if that is your passion, then, you know, kind of keep, uh, kind of keep at it.

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Amardeep Parmar: And by doing that, it means we can get bigger guests, we can host more events, we can do more for the community. So you can play a huge part. So thank you so much for supporting us.