Growth Story of HSBC-backed Serai that offers Supply Chain Solutions

Jeenal Jain Jeenal Jain
Aug 29, 2021 13 min read
Growth Story of HSBC-backed Serai that offers Supply Chain Solutions

Company Profile is an initiative by StartupTalky to publish verified information on different startups and organizations. The content in this post has been approved by HSBC-backed Serai.

The global textile market size is anticipated to reach USD 1412.5 billion by 2028, according to a new report by Grand View Research Inc. The market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 4.4% from 2021 to 2028. Disrupting the supply chain solutions in this domain, HSBC-backed company Serai has built a digital B2B platform that allows verified apparel buyers, brands, suppliers, and manufacturers to easily search for and connect with each other.

Serai is the non-banking extension of HSBC’s global physical network and hence is a fully owned subsidiary of HSBC. While the company is a part of HSBC Group, it is not a financial institution and acts outside the bank. It has over 10,000 companies on its B2B platform from over 100 countries including India, Bangladesh, the US, UK, and Australia. The number of companies on the platform has grown at 98% QOQ. In 2021, Serai also launched a Traceability solution that allows global apparel brands and manufacturers to trace and map their global supply chain from raw material to finished product

StartupTalky interviewed Mr. Vivek Ramachandran (CEO of Serai) to know the growth story and roadmap of Serai. He also shared insights on how Serai started, its business model, expansion plans, marketing strategies adopted & more...

Serai - Company Highlights

Company Name Serai
Headquarters Hong Kong
Owner HSBC
CEO Vivek Ramachandran
Founding Team Andrew Dennison (COO), Kar-Lyn Tan (Head of Product Partnerships), Patrick Balling (Partnerships Director), Vivek Ramachandran (CEO)
Industry Apparel/Textile, Technology
Founded 2019
Website seraitrade.com
Registered Entity Name Serai Limited

Serai - About
Serai - Vision and Mission
Serai - Industry Details
Serai - Product/Service
Serai - Founding Team and How it Started
Serai - Name, Tagline and Logo
Serai - Business Model and Revenue Model
Serai - Growth and Marketing Strategy
Serai - Initial Challenges Faced
Serai - Current State and Expansion Plans
Serai - Recognition and Achievements
Serai - FAQs

Serai - About

Founded in 2019, Serai is the digital B2B platform by HSBC that makes global trade easier for apparel businesses. As a member, you can build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Companies can share information about their business, products, and services to create a trusted ecosystem across the supply chain.

Through a single platform, members can access industry business solutions and exchange complex information from multiple data sources to gain visibility into their supply chain.

Serai Platform

Serai’s digital B2B platform allows verified apparel buyers, brands, suppliers, and manufacturers to easily search for and connect with each other. Companies can create a profile to showcase their products, services, facilities, and credentials. Serai helps companies reduce time and money spent on sourcing high-quality suppliers. With Covid making international travel almost impossible, Serai makes it easy for brands and buyers to build relationships with suppliers and manufacturers globally.

This year (2021), Serai also launched a Traceability solution that allows global apparel brands and manufacturers to trace and map their global supply chain from raw material to finished product. They can easily collect and manage data from their supply chain partners. Having all this information in one place can help them drive operational efficiencies, manage underlying risks and eventually achieve greater transparency and trust in their extended supply chain.


Also Read - List of Top Supply Chain & Logistics Startups in India.


Serai - Vision and Mission

Serai’s vision is to build technology that can help to shape the future of trade.

Its B2B network aims to simplify global trade by enabling apparel businesses to showcase their products and services, connect and build stronger relationships. Its supply chain solutions help consolidate fragmented supply chain data, providing large apparel companies with the right data and insights so that they can make more informed decisions.

"It’s all about taking the complexities out of global trade. Beginning with a focus on the apparel industry, Serai’s goal is for every company, regardless of industry, to have a profile on its platform" says Vivek Ramachandran, CEO @ Serai

Serai - Industry Details

Serai currently focuses on the apparel, textile, and fabrics industries. The global textile market size is anticipated to reach USD 1412.5 billion by 2028, according to a new report by Grand View Research Inc. The market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 4.4% from 2021 to 2028. The Asia Pacific is also set to rebound faster from Covid, with China, Japan, and India dominating the top five apparel markets in the world.

The apparel industry has always been quite traditional and opaque. Businesses have always relied on sourcing garments and fabrics in person. However, travel restrictions brought about by Covid-19 have forced businesses to digitize. The team has seen a huge change in mindset where apparel companies are more open to exploring new ways of forming connections and doing business.

On the other hand, there is also rising pressure from regulatory bodies, consumers, and NGOs for the apparel industry to be more transparent about where their products come from. They see large brands and manufacturers exploring technology that helps them track their supply chains from end-to-end, and gain visibility into where their products come from. These have been positive changes and the team sees the industry continuing to head on this trajectory.

"In the next five years, we also imagine that data will play a bigger part in driving more informed decision-making. For example, the insights could help them understand their consumers better and build a more targeted product mix" Vivek added.

Supply chain data on areas such as consumption of water, energy, and greenhouse gas, or man-hours spent throughout the various stages in the supply chain, can help companies increase operational efficiencies or be more sustainable.


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Serai - Product/Service

How does Serai work - It's USP and Innovation

Serai’s digital B2B platform allows verified apparel buyers, brands, suppliers, and manufacturers to easily search for and connect with each other. Companies can create a profile to showcase their products, services, facilities, and credentials. Serai helps companies reduce time and money spent on sourcing high-quality suppliers. With Covid making international travel almost impossible, the Serai B2B network makes it easy for brands and buyers to build relationships with suppliers and manufacturers globally.

This year, Serai also launched a Traceability solution that allows global apparel brands and manufacturers to trace and map their global supply chain from raw material to finished product. They will be able to easily collect and manage data from their supply chain partners. Having all this information in one place can help them drive operational efficiencies, manage underlying risks and eventually achieve greater transparency and trust in their extended supply chain.

Serai Traceability

Pivot from the Initial Offering & Why

While its mission has always been to simplify global trade through technology, Serai's target audiences have evolved for its B2B digital platform.

While it has apparel businesses of all sizes on the platform, Serai has seen more usage from small and medium-sized companies. They may not have the sourcing network that a larger, more established brand would have, and so, have seen a lot of value from a platform like Serai’s. Hence, many of the features that Serai introduced recently are focused on helping them further. For example, Serai launched a request for quotation (RFQ) feature where brands and buyers can upload specific requests for manufacturers and suppliers to respond directly to.

Serai's Traceability solution is another example of something it built in response to industry requirements. It was initially developed to help a global manufacturer client to trace their supply chain from material to shelf, but having seen such a positive response from the industry at large, the team @ Serai continue to build on the core offering, adding more modules aimed at helping apparel companies achieve supply chain sustainability.

Serai - Founding Team and How it Started

HSBC was founded in 1865 with one key objective – facilitating international trade. Ever since HSBC has used its global network to connect customers to opportunities around the world. However, despite tech-driven improvements in most areas of business, international trade remains as complex today as it was more than 150 years ago.

To simplify trade, HSBC needed to look beyond banking. Serai was born from this insight and a big idea - a data-powered platform to help businesses grow and connect globally.

The idea for Serai came out of a ‘Dragon’s Den’-style competition organized by HSBC UK. Vivek Ramachandran, current Chief Executive Officer of Serai, led a team of four in pitching the idea of a digital platform aimed at simplifying trade. At that time, he was the Global Head of Growth & Innovation for HSBC Commercial Banking where part of his role was driving the adoption of new technologies.

Serai team

While HSBC’s key objective has always been to facilitate global trade, this would be the first time the bank would invest in a non-financial project. The HSBC executives saw great potential in a platform like Serai to disrupt the otherwise traditional industry of apparel.

The rest of the founding team comprises - Andrew Dennison, Chief Operations Officer; Kar-Lyn Tan, Head of Product Partnerships; and Patrick Balling, Partnerships Director at Serai. They were all working at HSBC UK in various capacities at that time.

In two years, Serai has grown to about 60 people in its headquarters in Hong Kong in various departments such as Growth & Marketing, Product, Technology, and Data Analytics. Serai was founded on the values of Simplicity, Empathy, Transparency, Boldness, Partnership which remain integral in everything Serai does.

Serai Office

Serai comes from the word Caravanserai, which was inns along the Silk Road. Merchants between East and West would rest, trade goods, exchange knowledge, and build relationships at these inns. The Serai of that time was an entry to international trade. Inspired by these ancient hubs, it aspires to build a digital equivalent for today.

Serai's logo symbol is inspired by the aerial view of the ancient Serai. The central squared hole resembles that of an ancient Chinese coin, reflecting its Hong Kong origin.

Serai Logo

Its tagline, ‘Your Advantage in Apparel Trade’, clearly represents what Serai wants to deliver to its clients.

Serai - Business Model and Revenue Model

Serai is the digital B2B platform. Creating a profile on Serai is free. However, businesses can pay for premium services such as being promoted as a featured business on its platform or gaining access to data and analytics to help them further grow. Serai’s supply chain solutions, such as Traceability, also come at an added cost.


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Serai - Growth and Marketing Strategy

At Serai, the team has always taken an integrated approach to its marketing strategy. While it is a global company, Serai believes it’s incredibly important to localize its marketing for its target markets. This is especially pertinent for a diverse region like the Asia Pacific, where one has to cater to various languages, cultures, and audience preferences.

When we first started, our primary objective was to build brand awareness so we engaged the main trade and business media globally to get media coverage" says, Vivek Ramachandran, CEO @ Serai.

The company also saw success through digital marketing campaigns via channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google which has helped in customer acquisition.

Partnerships are also key to Serai's growth strategy. The company has established good relationships with local trade associations in its focus markets, working with them to run initiatives and marketing programs that support the manufacturers and brands in the apparel industry. Another focus area has been to develop partnerships with other like-minded technology and data providers, and sustainability-focused organizations to collaborate on developing solutions that support its users to learn and understand their potential and existing supply chain partners.

Serai's marketing mix continues to be a mixture of digital and offline activities aimed at increasing brand awareness and customer acquisition including paid ads on major social media and search platforms, events and media engagement. With all these initiatives, though, it’s important to ensure they are integrated and convey similar messaging. This has helped the company build a strong brand identity.

Events have played a huge part in increasing its brand awareness. The company has taken part in major industry conferences and organized its own webinars. In India, for example - the company ran a webinar on how Indian apparel businesses can grow through digitization earlier this year. Serai is currently looking at participating in upcoming trade conferences in India.

Naturally, the marketing team has grown over the last two years so there are teams dedicated to areas such as content, digital marketing, events, PR, and partnerships. It has ramped up content creation, with topics localized for focus markets. Partnerships with major industry associations such as the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) in India have also helped the company reach a wider audience.


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Serai - Initial Challenges Faced

The apparel industry is one that is very traditional and opaque. The team realized at the beginning that a lot of companies rely on traditional methods of sourcing and connecting with companies. There was a low digital quotient across the industry.

"We’ve seen this slowly change, though, with more companies embracing digitization. We had to do a lot of education on the importance of having a strong digital presence" Vivek Ramachandran added.

This included working closely with many of its MSME clients in helping them create strong digital profiles on Serai's platform and making meaningful connections to help grow their business. There is definitely an appetite for them to improve which is heartening.

Serai - Current State and Expansion Plans

Serai is headquartered in Hong Kong, with a team of about 60 employees – a number that is rapidly growing as Serai continues to build its Technology, Data, and Product teams.

There are over 10,000 companies on Serai from over 100 countries including India, Bangladesh, the US, UK, and Australia. Out of this, Serai has registered over 4600 are Indian companies on its platform. These include leading Indian manufacturers such as Pearl Global, Shivalik Prints, Radnik Exports, and Indian Designs. The number of companies on the platform has grown at 98% QOQ.

Serai's expansion strategy is aligned with market demand. Most of its business is centered around countries that are major apparel hubs. Being headquartered in Hong Kong, it was a natural focus in the beginning. While it still is, the company has branched out to Bangladesh and India as there are two major manufacturing hubs in Asia. India will continue to remain a huge focus over the next year. Over in the West, it has focused on the US and the UK as many major apparel brands are based there.

"We will continue to monitor trends in trade corridors as we prioritize market expansion" Vivek added.

The team is also continuously building new features for its solutions. For the B2B digital platform, it is adding features that encourage more interaction between its member companies, making it easier for them to network and trade with each other.

Serai would also be launching a supply chain Visibility solution soon which allows apparel businesses to visualize, analyze and verify information on their supply chain in one place. With supply chain sustainability and transparency being huge priorities for the industry, this is an area that would be a key focus in terms of product development.


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Serai - Recognition and Achievements

Serai has built great partnerships with industry associations such as the BGMEA and AEPC, with whom it has collaborated to help apparel companies in Bangladesh and India grow respectively. However, the company's greatest achievement would be the rapid and tremendous growth it has seen of companies joining and building relationships with each other on the platform. Serai was established to simplify trade and the team is doing that slowly but surely. Serai has seen various success stories over the last few months of apparel MSMEs who have established new business partnerships with companies all over the world.

Serai - FAQs

What is Serai?

Serai is the digital B2B platform by HSBC that makes global trade easier for apparel businesses. As a member, you can build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Companies can share information about their business, products, and services to create a trusted ecosystem across the supply chain.

Who founded Serai?

Vivek Ramachandran, the current CEO of Serai, led a team of four in pitching the idea of a digital platform aimed at simplifying trade. The rest of the founding team comprises - Andrew Dennison, Kar-Lyn Tan, and Patrick Balling.

What is Serai's business model?

Serai is the digital B2B platform. Creating a profile on Serai is free. However, businesses can pay for premium services such as being promoted as a featured business on its platform or gaining access to data and analytics to help them further grow. Serai’s supply chain solutions, such as Traceability, also come at an added cost.

What is Serai's tagline?

Serai's tagline, ‘Your Advantage in Apparel Trade’, clearly represents what Serai wants to deliver to its clients.

Is Serai free?

Creating a profile on Serai is free. However, businesses can pay for premium services such as being promoted as a featured business on its platform or gaining access to data and analytics to help them further grow.

What is Supply Chain Traceability solution?

Serai launched a Traceability solution that allows global apparel brands and manufacturers to trace and map their global supply chain from raw material to finished product. They can easily collect and manage data from their supply chain partners.

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