In this latest feature of the ‘Fintech India‘ series Bipin Preet Singh, Founder & CEO of MobiKwik, tells Fintech Asia about his journey as an entrepreneur and how he has shaped MobiKwik to become one of the best known FinTechs in India.
Please tell us about your background, MobiKwik and the fintech category you serve…
MobiKwik is a digital wallet that enables payments through mobile phone. MobiKwik payments have the potential to replace every transaction that involves give or take of cash. It is India’s first mobile wallet that was founded by me and my co-founder, Upasana in 2009, with a vision to make mobile wallet payments ubiquitous and realise the mission of our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi in making India a cashless society.
In 2009, I was at a crucial stage in my career, where I had to decide, whether to spend on further education or not. I had two options; one to invest in MBA and other to start my own business. Entrepreneurship fascinated me since I was studying at IIT and seemed a natural choice.
Thus, MobiKwik was founded in 2009, with a vision to digitise and simplify payments for mobile recharges. The idea was conceived on the background of the fact that in 2009, even for a Rs. 10 recharge, one had to visit a nearby shop and make the payment. In the age of technology and digitisation, India was still paying primitively. MobiKwik significantly changed this scenario by introducing online recharges and bill payments for both mobile phones and DTH, and subsequently we introduced merchant payments, for both online and offline. We officially received the license from RBI to launch our wallet in 2013 and there has been no looking back since. We have been growing at the rate of 250% year on year. Today, MobiKwik is accepted by over 1.5 million merchants and is trusted by 55 million users.
India’s economy changed forever on November 9, 2016! Cash has become cumbersome and payments are no longer perceived in the same way. There was chaos then, and now there is relief that Indian government is working at making India an improved economy, a lean cash economy leading to reduction of black money and corruption.
Mobile wallets have been in the forefront of this change, promoting cashless payments. MobiKwik is India’s largest independent wallet, that is proud to be trusted by over 55 million users and 1.5 million merchants.
We enable cashless, one-click payments across diverse verticals such as travel, food, shopping, utility bill payments and recharges. Our partner network includes Indian government, where we are supporting India’s smart cities mission with Bhopal Plus and Bangalore One, BEST, Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation, NHAI, BSNL IRCTC etc. and major retailers such as Big Bazaar, Big Basket, Grofers, Swiggy, Indigo, Croma and many other brands that have become an important part of our daily lives.
MobiKwik has also partnered with a large number of restaurants, food chains and entertainment brands such as Zomato, Barista, Dominos, Barbeque Nation, Kingdom of Dreams, Taco Bell etc. Further, MobiKwik is accepted across unorganised retailers like kirana shops, puncture shops, vegetable sellers and even local shopkeepers.
Our users can send or receive money for free to any phone number or bank account. Therefore when cash was scarce, MobiKwik became the defacto payment platform for million of Indians, as people could still send and receive money using our app. So even without cash, one could buy their grocery as usual, eat out as usual, shop and travel as usual, in short, perform all financial transactions.
How did you come about setting your focus on this particular category? Please tell us a little more about the company’s beginnings as well.
Despite the increasing growth of e-Commerce transactions in the country, sluggish payment gateways were one of the biggest deterrents when we started MobiKwik in 2009. There weren’t too many payment choices available, a few players were ruling this segment. Besides, almost all of them had either high sign-up costs or inferior technology, or both. Also, masses at large were dependant on physical cash for something as trivial as Rs. 10 mobile recharges. With MobiKwik, we launched the much needed convenience of an online recharge platform that enabled users to recharge their phones from any location. Today, for a millennial, this is the norm and no one would imagine how people used to make a trip to a local shop for recharges.
MobiKwik has grown exceptionally since our inception. In 2010, MobiKwik hired its first employee. It was challenging to find the right fit with exceptional talent in engineering to join a startup and be ready to take the challenges of a new organisation.
In 2011, we had 4 employees and a total staff of 6, including both of us. We used to work out of 2 rooms of a 4bhk apartment, that was my home too. The society and guard found it funny that we used to step in and out of office anytime and I was not seen outside till after 10 pm. There were also fun times as on most days of the week, we used to cook lunch for everyone. Also, one of the other employees used to make Maggi for everyone in the evening. We would work in a 24×7 culture and even on the day when I got married, we were working from the marriage venue. By late 2011, we rent out our first office in Dwarka that had 5 rooms and we had one room for every person.
Within a year, we were over 25 people and then rented a second office in Dwarka. We used to call one office Tower 1 an and another Tower 2. Fun was of course never ending with the team that we had, so was growth. We were growing at an exceptional pace and were 35 people strong by the beginning of June 2012. In September 2012, we applied for RBI’s PPI license and received it in July 2013, a milestone for us at MobiKwik. By early 2014, we also received our first funding of $5 mn and moved to a bigger office in Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon with 50 plus employees.
We expanded our payments network to many offline and online merchants.
We bootstrapped for the first 3 years and were profitable by the end of first three years with 30 plus employees. This was a remarkable achievement for us. Today, MobiKwik has over 55 million users and 1.5 million merchants on its platform. We expect to be profitable again by early 2019.
We also have offices in 6 cities now including Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Pune.
What transformations have you undergone as a company since starting up?
After launching our wallet in 2013, we have been working tirelessly towards making MobiKwik payments ubiquitous. In addition, MobiKwik is playing a pivotal role in India’s digital future.
India is a growing economy with a population of 1.3 billion – expected to become one of the top 2 economies and the most populous country in the next couple of decades. A fast growing young population, expanding middle class, growing income levels and rapid urbanisation have triggered increased demand for goods and services – more and better consumption. Yet, 233 million Indians do not have access to banks and over 100 million are underbanked, without access to loans and saving instruments.
We are an innovation powered company and believe that true payment solutions will enable us to address the need for better penetration of financial servicing in India; thereby ensuring availability of safe, seamless, easy to access financial services (eliminating the barriers of Indian languages, all smartphones, low data connectivity etc) to masses.
Some of the initiatives that we have pioneered include:
- Partnership with Internet Saathi: Tata Trusts and Google India expand the ‘Internet Saathi’ program by enabling cashless transactions through MobiKwik, with an aim to drive digital economy in rural parts of India. Internet Saathi initiative aims to transform the lives of over 200 million with digital literacy in India. The initiative focuses on training communities to go online, whilst providing them access to internet powered devices and educating them about cashless payments. Pilot roll out in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh to spread awareness about mobile wallets and enable adoption
- M-Gullak: MobiKwik also has an initiative called m-Gullak that allows urban poor to save as little as Rs. 2 a day, which can be used for their mobile recharges and other payments. They can also send this money seamlessly to their friends or family and transfer to their bank accounts. An NGO representative visits houses of 10-15 urban poor at the end of the day and helps them deposit money in their MobiKwik wallet and transact from it.
- MobiKwik Lite: Enabling Indians in paying with ease using a simple to use mobile platform in their native languages (available in 8 languages); eliminating the barriers of low internet access and high performance smartphones
Thoughts on the present Indian fintech landscape? How does it compare to the rest of the fintech majors in the world like Hong Kong, Singapore, United Kingdom, Sweden, etc. according to you?
Digital technologies are disrupting every business worldwide. The financial sector is completely reinventing itself. In India, the landscape includes digital lending, payment services, savings, wealth management, remittances, point-of-sale and insurance. India is not far behind the world, although there’s room for massive growth. In a recent report (by SBI), it has been concluded that demonetisation has brought the nation 3 years ahead in digital payments. The report also states that even though combined debit and credit card transactions through PoS between April 2016 and April 2017 rose 88%, transaction through various prepaid instruments – mobile wallet, PPI cards, and paper vouchers and mobile banking rose 122% in the same period.
According to the latest findings basis a survey conducted by us, it has been recorded that 92 percent people feel that after demonetisation, the usage for mobile wallets has gone up. Consumers strongly believe that secure digital transactions are the only way to sustain India’s habit of cashless payments. The finding also showcases how digital mode of payment is the big change that the country has adopted over a short period of time. Therefore, demonetisation has brought about a change in varied ways be it in terms of consumer behaviour or technical adaptability thereby up scaling the knowledge level of the consumers.
Rapid adoption of technology products, increasing internet penetration, favourable government policies and greater financial inclusion will contribute to a phenomenal growth in the near future. The transaction value for Indian fin-tech sector estimated to be 33 billion dollars in 2016 is forecast to touch 73 billion dollars by 2020, marking a compound annual growth rate of 22 per cent.
India has a highest fintech adoption rate at 52 percent, whereas the rate for UK is 10% less. Hong Kong is 20% less and Singapore has fintech adoption at 23%. (EY 2017 data)
Adoption in India has grown significantly as there was a huge number of underserved and unserved users, who have now been included in the financial services domain through fintech companies.
Which are the sectors in Indian fintech where you think there are untapped opportunities? How does it fit in with your product and growth plans for the immediate future?
MobiKwik is looking forward to provide financial solutions to millions of people across the country who do not have access to banking services. We are looking at venturing into financial services like lending and insurance to shopkeepers and consumers. We will provide auto insurance and cashless medi-claims. We plan to provide users a credit line of Rs 1 lakh in collaboration with banks and non-banking financial companies.
MobiKwik’s vision is to be a smart money app, a one-stop shop for all financial solutions. We want to make hospitals and wellness centres cashless. Our reach and focus has given us an apt platform. We want to spread financial and digital literacy among the masses. MobiKwik wants to increase the user base from 55 million to 150 million this year besides having 10 million merchants on board. We aim to be profitable by the second half of 2018, and is looking at a strong play in financial services.
Please tell us a little about your funding journey – the requirements & objectives in mind when you decided to raise a round/s; the fit you found or were looking for with your investors; what would you be looking for in the future as the business grows?
MobiKwik was bootstrapped for the first 3 years, till the time we acquired over a million users. The fintech environment in the country was warming up at that time and we felt the need to raise investments in order to grow at light-speed, keeping pace with the country’s adoption of fintech.
In 2014, we received our first funding of $5 million, with which we doubled our team to 50 and moved to a bigger office. We expanded our payments network to many offline and online merchants. Sequoia joined us as a financial investor in the round.
In 2015, the second round of funding of $25 million was received from from Sequoia Capital, American Express, Tree Line Asia, and Cisco Investment. And in 2016, the third round of funding worth $50 million was raised from Net1, GMO payment gateway, Mediatek, Sequoia Capital and Treeline Asia.
Most of our investors are strategic, and they bring their technical expertise and experience in payments or fintech that has been helping us in launching new offerings and grow, ahead of the market. Even our financial investors have a keen interest in the fintech ecosystem and they support us in business growth.
As we unleash our new avatar of a financial distribution platform, we are looking at investors that have capabilities and experience in financial services to walk hand in hand in our growth journey.
What advice would you give to other fintech entrepreneurs?
Fintech in India is on steroids and the next 5 years, the industry will shape our country’s evolution into a digital, less-cash economy. Entrepreneurs interested in this field should venture now. However, I advise all budding startup enthusiasts to identify a real challenge that their venture can solve and then take the plunge. Everyone is working hard to make India go digital. Entrepreneurs should believe in themselves and their idea. We are the medium that can lead towards the change hence my advice to my fellow fintech entrepreneur would be to keep their head held high and work towards achieving their dream.
Entrepreneurship is sacrifice and fighting adversity with endurance. It is not cushy, it is TESTING! but it is also THE ULTIMATE MEANS FOR SELF-DISCOVERY AND SELF-FULFILMENT.