Growing up in the bustling city of Kolkata, Sahill Poddar’s journey has been one of determination, intellectual curiosity, and a passion for making an impact. From tinkering with his first computer to delving into the world of particle physics, Sahill’s experiences have shaped him into the entrepreneur he is today.
In this blog post, we’ll explore Sahill’s transformative journey, from his early days in Kolkata to co-founding Parafin, a platform revolutionizing small business financing.
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Early Years in Kolkata
Kolkata, India’s third-largest city, was the backdrop of Sahill’s formative years. The city’s vibrant chaos provided a stark contrast to the serene environment he’d later encounter.
Growing up, Sahill’s days were filled with a blend of academics, sports, and the thrill of exploring every available patch of land for cricket matches. It was here that Sahill’s passion for math, physics, and computer science first took root.
A Fateful Encounter in Pune
Sahill’s journey took a pivotal turn when he met a high school teacher in Pune who encouraged him to pursue physics over mathematics. This shift in focus laid the foundation for Sahill’s academic and career trajectory.
The friendships formed during this period remain a cherished part of his life, underscoring the positive impact of his time in Pune.
Imperial College: A Dive into Particle Physics
Venturing into Imperial College, Sahill found himself amidst a group of highly motivated individuals, all aspiring physicists. The environment demanded rigor in mathematics and physics, pushing him to excel.
It was during this period that Sahill explored various facets of physics, ultimately leading him to specialize in particle physics for his Ph.D.
The tools Sahill mastered during his Ph.D. at the Large Hadron Collider proved instrumental in his transition to data science. The emphasis on machine learning, statistical modeling, and computational math in particle physics seamlessly translated into the burgeoning field of data science.
Sahill also learned computational math to analyze data from the Hadron Collider to find signals for physics events such as the Higgs Boson. The key realization he arrived at was that having learned these tools, you could apply them anywhere.
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Facebook: A Giant Leap into Data Science
Joining Facebook, Sahill was drawn to the immense impact the platform had on billions of users worldwide. His role as a data scientist was fueled by a wealth of data, a crucial ingredient in solving complex problems.
The experience at Facebook not only honed Sahill’s skills but also provided invaluable insights into the world of fintech. Sahill’s path to Robin Hood was serendipitous, sparked by a chance meeting with a seed investor at Meta (formerly Facebook).
It took months of persistence to convince Robinhood to bring Sahill on board as a data scientist. This move marked a significant shift, leading Sahill to the heart of the financial technology world in the US.
He talks about how they were able to expand the Robinhood database by more than 100 times using machine learning ad networks and making calculations and measurements to prevent churn rates.
Founding Parafin: Bridging the Gap for Small Businesses
The ideation for Parafin was a gradual process borne from observations in the consumer fintech sector. Recognizing the need for a renaissance in small business financing, Sahill and his co-founders embarked on a journey to leverage their expertise in fintech to create value for small businesses.
The early days at Parafin were marked by a deliberate focus on customer research rather than rushing to write code. This approach allowed them to identify the specific problem they aimed to solve—facilitating access to capital for small businesses.
Through strategic partnerships with platforms like DoorDash and payment processors like 360 Payments, Parafin gained its initial traction and eventually landed Amazon as a customer. Sahill was also open to leveraging the company’s equity to raise debt capital.
Funding the Vision
Parafin’s vision attracted significant investment, raising $94 million across three rounds of financing. Sahill’s approach to funding evolved from a direct connection with Ribbit Capital to engaging Thrive Capital for its invaluable network and insights.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that Sahill Poddar was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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At Parafin, Sahill and his team embody four key cultural tenets: intellectual honesty, efficiency, accountability, and empathy. These values permeate every aspect of the company’s operations, driving a culture of transparency, rigor, and kindness.
Adapting to a Transparent Future
Navigating the path of transparency and accountability has empowered Sahill to make decisive, informed decisions. It has also prompted a strategic shift towards prioritizing efficiency and profitability, recognizing the evolving landscape of capital markets.
Sahill Poddar’s journey from the bustling streets of Kolkata to the helm of Parafin exemplifies the power of determination, adaptability, and a passion for creating meaningful impact.
Through his experiences, Sahill not only transformed himself but also laid the foundation for a platform revolutionizing small business financing. As Parafin continues to grow, Sahill’s story serves as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and a testament to the potential for positive change in the world of fintech.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Sahill Poddar’s upbringing in Kolkata instilled a love for math, physics, and computer science, setting the stage for his future endeavors.
- An early encounter with a high school teacher in Pune redirected Sahill towards physics, shaping his academic and career trajectory.
- Sahill’s transition from particle physics to data science was a natural progression, leveraging similar tools and methodologies.
- Joining Facebook provided Sahill with a platform to make a massive impact, thanks to its vast user base and wealth of data.
- The founding of Parafin stemmed from a keen observation of the fintech landscape, recognizing the need for a renaissance in small business financing.
- Parafin’s cultural tenets of intellectual honesty, efficiency, accountability, and empathy form the bedrock of the company’s operations and ethos.
- Sahill’s journey underscores the power of transparency, adaptability, and a relentless pursuit of truth in building a successful fintech venture.