Experiment-Learn from Mistakes – Improvise – Scale out
Sony Joy Co-Founded MOBME along with Sanjay Vijayakumar & Vivek Steve Francis back in 2006 when they were in their 3rd year of under-graduation in College of Engineering, Trivandrum. 7 years later In December 2013. Sony Joy also Founded “Chillr” and carved out a core team from MOBME & structured that as a wholly owned subsidiary. Chillr is a mobile payment product that connects directly to the customers’ bank account & would let them do P2P, utility & soon P2M transactions with extreme ease. The transaction is instant & works 24×7. They launched this with HDFC Bank in Feb 2015 and will soon go live with a bunch of other banks too. MOBME has a bunch of other business units other than Chillr mostly catering to the banking & telecom space.
Sony recollects that the idea of a multi-bank eco-system was daring and is usually only done by the likes of governments or bodies like NPCI. Hence there was an assumption that the adoption of this innovation will not be done by the larger banks because of the size of such organisations and possibly high turn around times. Hence the initial feeling was that the team should focus on smaller banks in the beginning as their first partner segment. This was done by assuming that the smaller banks will have higher risk appetite and they planned their marketing to create noise in the market to appeal to the smaller banks. The prior experience of having worked with telecom operators in introducing similar products worked in their favour.
Even though they got very good response from most of the small & medium sized banks they met, the decision making seemed to take forever for a bunch of reasons. They kept analysing why the decisions were delayed and found that many of the smaller banks prefer to follow what the big ones do rather than doing something path breaking in the market on their own for the first time. The initial theory of smaller banks having higher risk appetite was not always true. They figured out that the smaller banks were not in the right space and pivoted to begin focussing on the larger ones. .They experienced much better turn-around times and decisions happened much faster than the smaller banks which were supposed to be more nimble. Sony says that any assumptions that the founding team has needs to be validated and scaled out.
Some of the banks however insisted that they would want the entire solution to be white labelled rather than adopting the solution with CHILLR brand name as they wanted their customers to perceive it as a solution exclusively from the bank. Even though this approach would have been a lot more easier way for the MOBME team to get the first few customers, Sony and team were clear on their stance and did not give in. They were persistent and kept meeting multiple stakeholders within the bank and kept talking about the value that the bank will get out of the solution. HDFC Bank first realised the value in the solution and the importance of the network effect and decided to use the CHILLR brand instead of white labelling and announced the partnership with MOBME.
Since the number of banks were limited in number, they resorted to a combination of emailers, phone calls, face to face meetings as a way to reach out to potential decision makers. MOBME along with HDFC began sending a few e-mailers to end-customers of HDFC and this began giving lots of downloads and people began using it. There was an inherent virality to P2P payments. They found that the ratio of number of people who downloaded the app to number of people transacting was initially lower than expected and thus key members of the team focused on improving the funnel. A lot of small and big changes were done both at the app end and the bank’s end to simplify the registration process as well as to enable mobile banking. More channels were opened up for the customer to claim their MMID & MPIN like NetBanking, Mobile Banking, SMS, USSD & toll-free number, This began increasing the percentage of users who started transacting.
On the sales to the first customer, the stakeholders at HDFC Bank were very cooperative from the moment they began the discussion. Even though it had to pass through a few iterations, the sales cycle was much faster. However, the bank being a bigger one, it had to ensure sign offs from around 5 different departments. It was a lot of learning experience for their team also as this gave a lot of insights into the buying behaviour of banks. The intuitive homework they had done in getting external security audit done supported by proper documentation also helped them navigate through the whole process better.
Sony’s advice to early stage entrepreneurs – Focus & persistence are probably the two most important things a good team should have to succeed. Always experiment, learn from mistakes, improvise and scale out. Your ability in improving the speed and quality of this cycle will be the top factor for your success or failure. An idea in itself is worth nothing, it is how you execute that makes all the difference.
MOBME is around 150+ people and Chillr alone is close to 45 people strong. As of now they are funded by the parent company but they are soon to close a Series-A round to fuel growth. MOBME is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions including NASSCOM 100 Innovators, EMERGE50, EMERGE10 etc. MOBME’s initiative. Startup Village just won the national award for the best technology incubator in the country. Through SV, they support hundreds of startups in the tech space. It is a joint venture between MOBME & Government of India with Government of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala as infrastructure partners.