1. In 2018, I applied to a fintech incubator at IIM Ahmedabad with an idea whose goal was (and still is) to mobilize and protect the savings of 90-95% of Indian households. I was not selected. But what put me off the most was this: One of the important people associated with this program asked me why I didn’t think about adding silver, crude and other raw materials. Or at least ETFs and mutual funds to my proposed app?
2. Later, a mentor with decades of banking and finance experience told me that the loan is an easier product to sell. Why do I choose savings? This is the most difficult of all, not only in terms of sales but also in terms of margins and viability.
3. A professor of business strategy told me that I needed to raise at least $ 5 million first. He said there was no point in launching the product without the money.
4. Then there was this founder of a fintech company, who had lifted the AA series, to the idea stage. He said to me, âBe prepared to go to jail. His reasoning was simple. The market segment I chose was not the richest 5 or 10 percent of the population, but the remaining 90 percent. They won’t be comfortable with 100% online self-service and digital-only payments. I would have to depend on offline distribution partners, who can abuse people’s trust and money, for whom I will most likely end up in jail.
5. A senior official who had retired from a regulatory body asked me, âHow are you going to build trust? How will you ensure security and transparency?
6. I had spoken to some prominent members of the jewelry industry, hoping they would be willing to be my channel partner. After many rounds of discussions, they refused to go ahead and were very candid about the reason. I was not supported by any “big” name.
7. Very early on, the HR manager of a large conglomerate told me that my product would be very interesting for his employees, but that they cannot buy from a startup. To be fair to him, back then we had no relationship with banks and brokers like we do now.
8. I have spoken to many experienced digital marketing agencies (and experts) who work for clients in the financial industry. As I shifted my focus from app installs, user and active user registrations to paying customers and monthly subscribers, their cost estimate for customer acquisition increased in result. From Rs 10, Rs 100 and Rs 500, to Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 respectively. Even that is not guaranteed. So, they tell me, I cannot support a business that earns Rs 250 per year from a client and spend Rs 2,000 on the acquisition. Even if I find investors to support me, I will have to keep coming back to them. It will not be sustainable.
9. Many investors I spoke to thought that the gross margin we earn (even on a large scale) was too low for anyone to care.
10. A brand consultant from Kolkata asked me, âSwiggy and Zomato earn 30-40% on food delivery. Why do you want to waste your life by selling a savings product to earn 1% â?
11. When we first built our MVP (minimum viable product) in 2019 and successfully integrated it with a payment gateway, the company PG refused to give us UAT (acceptance test). users) to the Live server with a brief e-mail and without giving any reasons. .
12. The first bank account I opened was with a private bank. They too worked with us on the API (application programming interface) integration, and when it was time for us to go online, they came back and said no, again for no good reason. .
13. The second bank I spoke to wanted a FD of Rs 15 lakh to embark us as a customer.
14. One of our main back-end requirements is to purchase physical gold of purity 999 and store it securely. To ensure transparency and security for our customers, I had decided from the outset that we will only rely on the SEBI approved MCX exchange for purchase and storage.
I had approached many MCX brokers, small, medium and large, who all said they were busy supporting clients engaged in margin trading and hedging hundreds and thousands of crore on all commodities.
They weren’t interested in supporting us, not only because of our low initial volumes, but because we don’t just hedge, we actually buy. We need a physical gold delivery to the MCX warehouse with a GST invoice for each purchase which has resulted in a significant amount of coordination and back office work for the broker.
Today we are at version 2.1 of our product, with paying customers in both B2C (100% online self-service) and B2B (enterprise products). We have established fruitful relationships with Ventura Securities (MCX broker), Cashfree (PG), HDFC Bank (banker) and ICICI Bank (UPI integration). We are in the process of further integrating with Equitas Bank (rupee savings accounts).
We continue to believe that the only way to build a sustainable business and a trusted brand in âsavingsâ is to find ways to acquire customers at zero cost.
Without depending on ads, cash backs and discounts. The 1 percent we earn; we would like to reinvest in customer service. And create more products and options that make saving easier. All the investor money we raise should be used to build a world class team.
Between our MVP in 2019 and Ver 2.1 in 2021, there is no change in our underlying product, our founding team, our revenue model or our brand goal. But we have successfully overcome so many obstacles, rejections and discouragement.
So, looking back, I wonder, what made the difference?
I think it’s simple. I knock at 10, 100, N doors, N number of times, until one of them opens. I even knock on the walls, hoping for a hidden door.
But does this raise a much deeper question? Why am I persistent about this business? Why not something else? Something simpler? It will evolve faster. Honestly, I do not know.
For any human being, the conviction of a goal is neither an emotion nor a thought, the source of which remains a mystery.
Whenever there is a conflict between our doubting mind and a deeper conviction, something happens that strengthens our conviction and calms our mind.
Recently I did a Financial Literacy Lecture “Savings vs. Investing – What’s the Difference?” – to young employees of a software company. Within an hour, I received WhatsApp feedback from their HR that it was deep and insightful, and everyone found it very helpful.
More than that, she had attached a “Vadivelu same” (Vadivelu memes are famous in Tamilnadu – Vadivelu being a popular comedy actor). One of the employees who attended the conference created the bespoke meme and shared it on their internal Slack channel.
Maybe one of these days you’ll find me at a traffic light holding a sign that says “Record first.” Spend the rest. âDidn’t Greta Thunberg start out as a lonely person sitting outside her school?
I remember this poem I wrote many years ago (in a different context, but very relevant now). It is taken from my poetry book “Breeze” published by Writers Workshop Kolkata. I dedicate this poem to all entrepreneurs who are trying to make a difference in the world.
Oh Lord I asked
Why do you hit me every day?
The lord said
I’m breaking walls
Break my walls my Lord, by all means
But why are you hitting me on the head?
The lord said
I tried to smash their walls with my hammer
It did not work.
So, I take it away little by little.
Before I can ask again,
The lord said
Bear with me
You are my chisel.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)