Shivashish Chatterjee’s story is a testament to the power of passion and purpose in driving entrepreneurial success. His journey from a traditional academic path to founding DMI Finance serves as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs worldwide.
His venture, DMI Finance, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like MUFG, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, and NXC.
In this episode, you will learn:
- An upbringing in India emphasized academic excellence and preparation for college, setting the stage for an entrepreneurial journey.
- Discovering U.S. universities in the eleventh grade opened new possibilities and financial aid options, leading him to Harvard University.
- A shift from computer science to finance theory during his junior year at Harvard propelled Shivashish into the world of finance, solidified by internships at Bear Stearns and Solomon Brothers.
- In 2008, amidst a global financial crisis, Shivashish took a bold leap into India’s emerging credit market, establishing DMI Finance to address a gap in private credit.
- Overcoming challenges in India’s digital transformation, including document validation and low internet penetration, DMI Finance leveraged Aadhaar and improved infrastructure to revolutionize consumer finance.
- DMI Finance’s long-term investment perspective, attracting endowments, pension funds, and family offices, sets it apart from typical venture capital-backed firms, raising over one and a half billion dollars across its platforms.
- Entrepreneurial reflections highlight the importance of passion, conviction, trusted co-founders, early hiring, and institutionalizing processes for sustainable growth, leaving a legacy of purpose-driven success in the financial industry.
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About Shivashish Chatterjee:
Shivashish Chatterjee is a Co-Founder of Sparkle Fund serves as Joint Managing Director at DMI Finance. He also serves as Board Member at Quickwork.
Previously, Shivashish served as a Managing Director at Citigroup. He began his career with BlackRock Financial Management in New York in 1995. Following a brief stint as an Analyst at BlackRock, he moved to Salomon Brothers Incorporated in March 1996 where he was a junior trader on the storied Mortgage Trading desk at Salomon.
Over the following six years Salomon Brothers became Salomon Smith Barney, which, in turn, became Citigroup Global Markets Inc. Over this same period, Shivashish became a specialized market maker in various mortgage derivatives products.
During his tenure managing the derivatives business, Salomon Smith Barney was nominated the #1 Mortgage Derivatives Trading House by Institutional Investor magazine. He was promoted to Managing Director by Citigroup in 2002.
In 2003 Shivashish took over the management of the prime residential mortgage trading business at Citigroup and subsequently became co-head of all securitized products trading in North America, a business comprising almost 30 frontline traders and several tens of billions of dollars in assets.
Shivashish served as Citigroup’s representative on the Executive Committee for Securitized Products of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) which is the governing industry body for all Fixed Income securities in the USA.
Shivashish left Citigroup in 2008 to start DMI with Mr. Singh. He graduated from Harvard University in 1995 with a B.A Magna Cum Laude in Applied Mathematics.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a really exciting founder. You know a founder that they you know basically did you know most of his career in wall street and you know then he decided to just go at it. You know on his own back in 2008 around 2008 you know what? Ah what a time to to ah to get going. You know, incredible now we’re going to be talking about raising money racing money not from the traditional p or the vcs but racing money from other sources and and they’ve raised you know quite a bit. You know we’re talking about one point five billion already so I think we’re going to be learning again. You know on everything that we like to hear building scaling financing rammping up and and all the above so without farther do let’s welcome our guest today shi chatter j welcome to the show.
Shiv Chatterjee: Thanks Alexandra glad to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally you were born and raised in India so give us a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up there.
Shiv Chatterjee: You know I mean I growing up in India was was pretty much growing up in India in the in the seventy s eighty s um, lived in Delhi which is the capital for a large part of it and went to an all-boy school and. Everything was focused around basically academics is a large part of what we did also decent decent extra curriculars. Um, but it was it was very much about getting getting the right grades and and being prepared for. For college that was the focus growing up.
Alejandro Cremades: So in this case I mean college you know you decided to do applied mathematics and you came to harvard. You know that’s a long way all the way from India so how were you able to? How did you manage to do that. You know that’s quite an accomplishment.
Shiv Chatterjee: Well I think I got very lucky because I happened to be in a school in which I had some role models people in in years ahead of me who had who had done the same thing and typically in India the the career paths or the academic path. Is to you know, take 1 of the large entrance exams I t if you want to be an engineer or the medical entrance exams and and hope you succeed and to me that was really not a very attractive proposition because I for one I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so. You know it’s much easier if you’re very very sure that you want to be an engineer and you’re very clear as to what you want to do I did not and so it it didn’t seem exciting to me to to spend the kind of time and effort to ah, take the id entrance exam. Um. But then luckily as I said you know when I was in the eleventh grade I discovered that there is a path to applying to us universities and obviously growing up very much middle class in India it would not have been possible for me to or for my family to to really contribute significantly to that education. But it also turned out that I discovered that the us universities are very generous in in their financial aid and so um, we had a group of kids all together. We were all focused on kind of not doing the indian.
Shiv Chatterjee: Higher education thing and trying to come to the us and and that’s what we focused on for you know about eight months and eventually that ended up you know, applying to the to the Us colleges ah got I was lucky enough to get accepted lucky enough to receive. Significant financial aid and so ended up ended up going to Harvard Farm to grad.
Alejandro Cremades: So how was like I mean was it much of a culture shock you know, arriving there and looking around you and the American dream and and all that stuff on our.
Shiv Chatterjee: I think the culture shock was just how cold it was you know Boston gets really cold in the winter we had you know 90 ninety two I think was one of the big winter storms and I remember. You know so spring semester my my freshman year there was a period of time several weeks when when I didn’t go to college. Didn’t go to any classes because there was still on the ground outside. It was really really cold and it was just not my thing so that was that was really the culture shock. Other than that you know Cambridge is a coreous, wonderful place. Harvardsquare is ah is a great place. Couldn’t have couldn’t have asked for a better undergraduate experience.
Alejandro Cremades: So it sounds like you continued you know in the numbers direction. You know you say you did applied mathematics there and the numbers seem to be your thing and you felt that numbers in New York City in wall street you know was the best way to really? um, you know, take advantage of your. Ah, passion. There. You know for numbers. So why wall street out of all things you know how was that the you know thought process and then also how did you end up landing you know working at Citigroup.
Shiv Chatterjee: Yeah, so ah that that that was you know that that progression is exactly why I wanted to come to the us for college when I when I applied I thought I kind of knew what I wanted to do I thought I wanted to be a computer science. Graduate I thought I wanted to go to graduate school get a ph d in computer science and basically focus on theoretical cs for the rest of my life and you know junior year of college I kind of discovered that. That’s not really my thing and you know academic research is not really my thing. And had I been in India I don’t know what my options would have been at that time but given that I I was here I basically went and you know spoke to our spokespoke to my academic adviser I said this is this kind of where I am. This is my coursework so far and I’m not really interested in in pursuing the career path or the academic path that I had thought I did so what do I do and he said well why don’t you take a few courses in a bunch of different things that sound interesting and maybe figure out what else. Is interesting to you and so ah, it was very fortunate again that I was at Harvard because Harvard business school has these courses that you can take as an undergrad and so I ended up taking 2 classes that that were very pivotal to how things moved for me 1 was a.
Shiv Chatterjee: Was a class on finance theory and the other was a class on game theory and they both sounded very exciting and I took both in the hope of figuring out whether I liked them and I was hooked. Ah game theory turned out was not quite what I had expected it to be. But finance theory was exactly what I wanted to be and so it started there from there I ended up getting an internship my you know the the summer after my junior year with bear stearns and I worked on financial modeling of interest rates. And it all it. It was exactly what what was of interest to me at the time so that was my entry into a world that was different from the traditional engineering computer science world that I had envisioned and the first time I came to New York city it it. was just magical for me. Never seen anything like it and I felt instantly felt at home and I wanted to be here. So a large part of it was just like I wanted to be in New York city and I wanted to be in finance.
Alejandro Cremades: And what was it like scaling through the ranks because you ended up making it to managing director at Citigroup and you were there for about 12 years you became there. The co-head of North America securitized products trading. So what was it like you know, scaling through the ranks corporate America the red tape internal politics. You know, especially at a company so big. How was it like.
Shiv Chatterjee: So I think you know when I joined I didn’t join citigroup I joined what was a company called Solomon Brothers and Solomon Brothers was was a pure bond trading firm right? they they was. It was a relatively small bond trading firm. They were. 1 of the pioneers of a lot of the ah structures that are that are commonplace today and were even commonplace back back by the time I started. Ah but it was in many ways that was my introduction to a pure meritocracy where people really didn’t care about you know. Where you came from what you look like the entire focus was was on making money was on pnl and ah I was I was surrounded by some of the smartest people that I had met up until then because it attracted a very very high caliber crowd and and so.
Shiv Chatterjee: Your point there really wasn’t much of politics. It. It was all about how well you did it all about how well you did your job and and I was again fortunate enough to be in a group which which is the secretized product trading group. Um. Which was extremely multicultural extremely International. We had people from all over the world and it you know I I just clicked so in in many ways I found I was one of those lucky few that that found something that I really enjoyed doing. Pretty much right after I I I left college.
Alejandro Cremades: So then so then let’s talk about Citigroup. You know it comes to 2008 obviously very difficult time you know in the economy at that point with the financial crisis and that’s pretty much the moment where the idea of. Venturing into the world of entrepreneurship. You know, like really starts knocking I mean your whole career. That’s all you knew corporate America you know being you know at big financial institutions I mean all of a sudden one day waking up and handing your resignation letter I’m sure he was frightening. To say the least.
Shiv Chatterjee: Um, yeah, um, actually you know the funny thing is that handing in the resignation Letter was not the frightening part. The frightening part came afterwards um and celebrity.
Alejandro Cremades: So walk us through that What walk us through that incubation process process on on how you started thinking about it and and and what happened.
Shiv Chatterjee: Yeah, so let me take a little bit of a step back? Um, you know as I so as I said I grew up in India and about 8 years before I actually quit citigroup I had looked into doing something in India.
Shiv Chatterjee: And a lot of it came from from from from just the belief that that India was was on the move right? So ah right before right? after actually actually right before the dot com bubble burst. There was an enormous amount of activity in the internet space in India. And so but my partner and I at the time or or Yuvraj who’s my partner today in my business. Ah, we took a trip to India and we said let’s look around. Let’s just look around and see what’s happening and and can we build. You know can can we build some kind of a credit or or fixed income related business because that’s what we knew up until then and we came away realizing that India wasn’t ready yet for the kind of stuff that we had grown up doing in the us that India was still a very much an equity focused. Economy and and so we came back but it was always then in the back of our minds that India was something that we wanted to work with um so over the next eight years as I continued working at Citigroup we would engage with fixing income transactions in India. And so at some point it appeared to us as we would see transactions that were offered in India it would appear to us that the pricing of risk was was not commensurate with with the actual amount of risk that was in these transactions.
Shiv Chatterjee: That that you were getting paid a lot more to put on the same kind of trades in India as you would get paid to do in the us and that was something that we found intriguing. So what I mean is you know corporate bonds in India or or just um, you know private loans in India and the private credit market. Those were priced at in some cases what we felt was like hundreds of basis points above where they would be in ah in an equivalent risk adjusted market that was more developed and so it it looked interesting but we were obviously busy with our work and and.
Shiv Chatterjee: Didn’t really have time to dig deeper into it until 2008 right? 2008 comes we have obviously a global financial crisis brewing. In fact, in the middle of one um citigroup is in is right in the heart of it and at the time it just felt that okay, we could. Just continue working in this ecosystem and maybe have no regrets. But at the same time it felt like it would be a real shame if 20 or 30 years from now. Ah India became this. Real player in the in in the credit market in the global credit markets and if we with our background had 0 role to play in it and so we said okay, well given that things are looking not that gradient here in the us why don’t we go take a look at what’s happening in India. And so we spent several months in 2008 again canvassing the market and figuring out that there was a real opportunity now that didn’t exist back in 4001 when we had last did it and and that the real opportunity consisted of the private credit market and the private credit market in India ah you know. The the public credit markets in India were very underdeveloped and in fact, still continue to be pretty underdeveloped and India had at the time a real need for private debt and so it made all the sense in the world for us to then try to.
Shiv Chatterjee: Build something in the private credit markets in India and so when we left in 2008 that was that was the focus. The focus was that there there is a real need for private credit just to give you some numbers. You know most economies most developed economies private credit with gdp. Tends to run anywhere between a hundred and fifty percent and you know two hundred and fifty two hundred seventy percent of gbp um developing markets. Are you know, high double digits seventy eighty ninety percent to you know a hundred and fifty hundred seventy percent that’s kind of the norm india. Back when we looked at it was in the mid 40 s right? it was 45% of gdp. So it just felt like it could use a lot more credit and that it needed a lot more credit to achieve the goals that it had set for itself and that’s how we we said? Okay, this is something that we’re going to take a shot at.
Alejandro Cremades: So then when you say this is something that we got to take a shot at what happened after. Okay.
Shiv Chatterjee: Um, so but we we studied the market in terms of how do we do this? Do we set up a fund. Do we you know do do we do we buy bonds. Do we lend money to individual companies and after a bunch of research we came to the conclusion that the only real. The the really scalable safe way of doing this was to actually be onshore in India to actually have your own company. That’s regulated by the central bank in India that’s The Reserve Bank Of India and there are only 2 kinds of entities that have the ability to do that 1 is either. You get a banking license. Or you have what’s called a nonbank finance company license and given the hurdles to acquiring a banking license which the ah Rbi rarely if ever gives fresh ones we went for an nbfc license the nonbank finance company and we set that up. 2008 late 2008 is and we got the nbsc license and we started lending in early 2009 and as I said the the first the for the first several years of what we did was lend money to real estate.
Alejandro Cremades: So.
Alejandro Cremades: So what ended up being the business model of Dmi finance I mean for the people that are listening to get it. How do you guys make money.
Shiv Chatterjee: Ah, so we have we have equity holders who own the equity of the company. We we have credit lines from banks from capital markets. So we lever the balance sheet with with borrowings and then we lend that money out. We lend that money out. You know today we lend that out mostly to consumers for for consumer loans and consumer finance. But in 2009 when we started we were lending almost 100% to companies.
Alejandro Cremades: So 2016 is when you decided to make the jump into consumer finance. Why why? why? Why was that the case what happened. So.
Shiv Chatterjee: So yes, so 2016 is when we made the jump to consumer finance and what happened was a significant change in the underlying infrastructure of India. So if you think of what what the barriers to entry and consumer finance are. Especially in a country like India there are several barriers First of all, but the primary ones are ah k I c is a huge problem right? know your customer. It’s it’s a big problem because you have to spend so much time and money and effort. To validate documents right? somebody comes to you and say this is who I am right? This is my what what in India is called a permanent account number a pan number they show you their pan card. You can’t take it on face value that this is the valid pan card. You have to actually go through the process of validating the pan card make sure it’s It’s a genuine pan card somebody comes to you and says these are my bank statements. You can’t take it on face value. These are valid bank statements. You have to actually figure out are these genuine or have they been doctored is it even from from you know of has the bank even actually issued this right. Um, so Kychistorically has been a ah big pain point and that has you know, not being able to solve Kyc has been a ah source of losses due to fraud so now typically in in credit. You’re really hoping.
Shiv Chatterjee: Right? You’re really hoping that you’re not dealing with fraud because it’s very hard to identify fraud and protect against it. You’re hoping that you can you can rely on the information that we have and make a credit decision right? So your your core expertise is on credit underwriting. And not on fraud detection but a large part of your losses come from fraud and not because you underrode bad credit. So historically when if you look at consumer finance companies in India and businesses a lot of them did not succeed because of fraud issues right? so. That’s that’s one barrier to entry right? which is if if it takes you so much time money and effort to solve for fraud then how much like how how do you protect yourself against that the second barrier to entry is how do you acquire customers and customer acquisition in country like India which. You know for the longest time and was datad dark was had had very low internet penetration was physical customer acquisition. You have to have you have to have physical branches of your business so that people could walk in and apply for a loan right. And now when somebody comes in and walks in and applies for a loan with a big stack of documents and big stack of paper then you need a lot of people to process that application. So again, the problem then becomes is that there is ah there is a minimum loan size.
Shiv Chatterjee: That you need to address because the cost of originating the loan is so high right? you’rere you’re solving for fraud. You’re solving for kyc you’re solving for origination and you’re solving for all this manpower that’s needed you’re solving for a physical network and you’re solving for all this manpower that’s needed now all of that all of that in some ways changed in 2015 and the reason it changed in 2015 is that in 2015 ah, the new government that came in the Nba government led by the current prime minister Mr. Modi they embraced what had already been in the works. Which was a biometric-based digital identity right? It’s called aha in India and it is the base layer of what is now called India stack and India stack is something which is unique in its in its way in in the entire world which is that it is. Ah, very comprehensive digital public infrastructure. So layer one of India’s tech is identity. A one point four billion indians have a digital identity by which you can be identified accurately in a matter of seconds right now. This was. Becoming now that is the that is the case today in 2015 is is when we first realized that this was likely to be the future and and so we took a step back and said okay if identity is no longer a problem right? So that.
Shiv Chatterjee: Identity fraud can largely be eliminated. How would you build a consumer finance business for the future and when we looked around and we looked at the competition. We said that is not how you would build it for the future now. Typically if you are trying to set up a new finance. A new consumer finance company and you’re trying to compete against large ah large incumbents who have significant distribution. It takes an enormous amount of money. It takes an enormous amount of effort. And large manpower to make that happen. We got very lucky in some sense that we identified very early on that this was not going to be the way of the future and as a result we had the luxury of being able to build something from the ground up. That did not rely on legacy systems so we built ourtagonureal finance business to be completely Api driven so api being application process interface or application programming interface. And we built it. We built it with the intention that people could apply for a loan completely digitally on their smartphones. So the other thing to keep in mind is that India was starting to also become um you know smartphone rich in terms of.
Shiv Chatterjee: The dissent ownership and dissemination of smartphone at the same time Reliance Geo which is now the largest telecom company in India was on the verge of launching what was effectively. Ah free data. So ah broadband wi-fi smartphones. And digital identity but were all coming together in 19016 in a way that would revolutionize consumer finance and a lot of other things but we were focused on zero finance and that was the impetus for us moving into of finance in 2016.
Alejandro Cremades: So you guys have raised quite a bit of money. How much capital have you guys raised today.
Shiv Chatterjee: Ah, so across all our businesses and our businesses comprise you know the nbfc which is dmi finance that today that’s mostly consumer lending. We have a housing finance company that does mortgage origination and and had a mortgage portfolio. And we have what’s called an Aif for an alternative investment fund which is a family of third -party capital funds that we invest largely today in real estate private equity and so across those 3 platforms. We’ve we’ve raised about one and a half billion dollars
Alejandro Cremades: And why haven’t you raised from vcs or P firms.
Shiv Chatterjee: Um, so we have tended to stay away from vcnp firms because we have we believe that we have a longer time horizon in how we are thinking about a business than a typical vcrp firm is willing to accept. So they have fund life constraints. They have return constraints and we are a lending business by and large and we are trying to build something that we believe or we hope not we believe but we hope we’ll be around for decades and so we are building it in that way. Right? We’re not building it to ipo in 3 years we’re not building it to go from series a to series b to c c ah we are building it such that we reach the kind of scale and we reach the kind of reach ah that we would like to have in 101525 years
Shiv Chatterjee: And that kind of a timescale is not necessarily compatible with what venture capital firms are looking for and what p firms are looking for and so we really wanted to have long term n lp capital um, you know. Endowments pension funds insurance companies, family offices and we were fortunate that we we met the right kind of investors early on who chose to stay with us and grow with us over the last fifteen years
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing now you’ve been pushing this now on your way to 16 years I mean 16 years pushing a startup is in dock years right? I mean incorporating compared to corporate America I guess all these years now imagine I was able to put you into a time machine. You know, incredible lessons learned and I bring you back in time back in time to that moment where you were you know, still a citigroup wondering. What will be a world where you could you know dive in and do something on your own and let’s say you had the opportunity of giving ah a piece of advice to your younger self about launching a business.
Alejandro Cremades: What will that be on a Yi you know what? you know now.
Shiv Chatterjee: Um I think I would I would break that up into into 2 pieces if I think about it right? Then the 2 pieces are what did we when we started. what did we get right in hindsight even if some of it was luck and what did we get wrong right so let let me start with the with the elements that we that we got right? and that I think is very important to keep in mind because we in some ways we locked into it right? So I would say one. Only do a startup if you are really really passionate about it right? The the likelihood of startups succeeding is is pretty low. There are always. There are always days when things look extremely bleak. There are nights and and and they may be. You know, many consecutive nights when you cannot sleep and if you are not passionate about what you’re doing and you’re in it because of of you know, maybe it’s purely financial motivations or or maybe it’s you’re defining success. However, you’re defining it. It. It is going to be tough. Right? So I would say that only jump into it if you feel extremely passionate about it. Um, don’t listen to too many people. Um, everyone is going to have an opinion but you need to have your own conviction as to why you’re doing something and you need to have enough of a conviction that.
Shiv Chatterjee: when when your assumptions are challenged. You are able to stand up to it. Ah, when things don’t look like they’re going the way you thought they would you still have enough of a conviction in your underlying thesis that you can go through the hard times and and make it through to the other end. Have at least one cofounder I strongly urge people who are who are going into startups and thinking of doing it by themselves I strongly urge them to rethink and have at least 1 cofounder that you trust completely because as I said again. When things aren’t going bad things are not going well you can’t talk to your employees because they are your employees. You can’t share your insecurities with your family because your family tired of hearing them and and doesn’t really want to hear about it anymore and you need somebody who’s in the trenches with you. And that’s going to be your your cofounder so make sure you have that. So I think by and large those things we did get right? Even though we we didn’t set out to get them right? There were a couple of things that we we did not get right and that I think are extremely important and I would change if I if I were to do something afresh right. Ah, 1 is most of life is a desk is is a journey not a destination so learn to enjoy the journey. Um I think we you know we we did not enjoy the process of getting here as much as I wish we had.
Shiv Chatterjee: Ah, because even when things are not going well we should be able to enjoy the fact that we are going through an experience that not that many people have in their lifetime and if we go in with that kind of a mentality and that attitude I think that the journey itself becomes a lot more pleasant. And the likelihood that you hit your destination becomes that much higher and on a more prosaic level I think we didn’t hire enough people early on. Um because I think as a founder there is a tendency to to end up doing a lot of things yourself. Because you start out by making doing everything yourself, you’re you’re bringing the coffee you’re you’re doing the photo copying you’re making the phone calls you’re doing everything yourself and the transition from that to a company which is actually hopefully has the capacity to continue without the founders. That transition is a hard transition and it becomes even harder the longer you wait to institutionalize some processes right? So for instance I wish we had hired a more like I wish we had hired a big hr function a lot earlier than we did all right because as you grow. It’s okay when you’re twenty ten people 20 people. But when you are 50 people 70 people. You need an hr function and if you don’t already have 1 then at that point it it becomes harder to keep the company culture together right? So focus on on on hiring early and focus on hiring the best people that you can.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Amazing. So I guess for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi shift. What is the best way for them to do so you say enough well hey shiftff thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Shiv Chatterjee: And don’t worry about the cost too much.
Shiv Chatterjee: Um I think Linkedin is probably the best way to do that.
Shiv Chatterjee: Thanks Aleandra my.
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