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Verve Trendsetters
June 10, 2017

Vaibhav Lodha Talks About India’s Thriving Fintech Scene

Text by Zaral Shah

In conversation with Harvard alumnus, 2016 Acumen Fellow and the founder of FTcash

Backed by PayPal, one of the country’s fastest growing fintech ventures, FTcash is changing the way India digitises payments. Established in 2015 by Vaibhav Lodha, Deepak Kothari and Sanjeev Chandak, the platform aims to empower micro-merchants and small business owners. Vaibhav Lodha talks to Verve about his inspirations, working 24 by 7, and the genesis of his company.

What inspired you to start FTcash?
As a corporate executive, I used to work six to seven days of the week and would be exhausted by the end of it. At the start of every month, my milkman Pankaj would come home to collect his bill for the previous month and my first reaction would be to ask him to come back later. With my dues now running late by five months, his dispirited face said much more than he did, and little did I know that with multiple customers just like me, Pankaj needed to loan the money to pay his suppliers. The moneylenders were charging him 40-48 per cent per year for a small loan and none of the banks entertained him. While narrating this story to my co-founders, Sanjeev and Deepak, I learned that they shared similar experiences and that lead to us starting work on FTcash – which now provides cashless payments and loans to micro-merchants just like Pankaj.

What was the most challenging obstacle you faced while FTcash was coming about?
In June 2015, the pilot project started in Powai and lasted for a few months. Since we were dealing with merchants’ hard earned money, they were uncertain about adopting the system considering our limited branding and consumer know-how. Our conviction in the business model and the product was so strong that we never feared failure but were ready to work harder to avoid common pitfalls.
We often spent a full day with the first few merchants, initiating them into the system. They were convinced once they saw that the money had hit their bank account the very next day.  After we established a trustworthy relationship with a handful of merchants, we found it easier to get others on board.

How do you manage to switch off?
In the tech industry and particularly in fintech in India, it’s hard to switch off. After demonetisation, the demand has surged and it has radically changed people’s perception towards cashless payments, and we have to keep an eye out on every move made by the government and relevant stakeholders.

With the rising competition, do you find it necessary to look over your shoulder at all times?
The difficult part about tech industry is that it’s very mentally demanding and requires constant focus. However, unlike a retail store, the best part of the industry is also that it works seamlessly, even when you are sleeping or travelling. Competition is certainly on a rise and the incumbents are also getting geared up. There are over 60 million micro-merchants in India and less than 1.3 million POS (point of sale) machines. Considering the coverage is less than two percent, it allows sufficient market for multiple players to co-exist without the fear of winner-takes-all. Though it is still critical for a start-up to be constantly innovating and creating cutting-edge products that solve real problems.

How has entrepreneurship changed you?
Entrepreneurship comes with a price tag which we pay for by means of a personal life. Working seven days a week, 15 hours a day requires uninterrupted attention which limits my social life. Entrepreneurship has made me a better listener and allowed humility to settle in when faced with challenges that you don’t know the answers to. The profession as an art allows you to test your own abilities and often surprises you with what you didn’t think was possible. Most importantly, it teaches you to keep your focus on what is important over what is urgent.

What is the one thing aside from your profession that you are passionate about?
Learning. It could come from travelling to a new country, reading, listening to podcasts, music, movies and most frequently, a reflective conversation. I strongly believe in the idea of experiential learning which allows me to fulfill my wish of being a storyteller.

What was the experience of being part of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos like?  
Every January, leaders in various fields debate the world’s key social, political and economic challenges at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland. The marquee speaker list featured world leaders such as President Xi Jinping of China, then US Vice President Joseph Biden and Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom. The program covered a breadth of topics ranging from the responsible and responsive leadership, fourth industrial revolution, and future of technology. The ‘elephant’ in the room was the US Presidential Election, Brexit vote, and future of globalisation.
Every year, 50 global shapers of the youngest community of the WEF are selected to represent the voice of millennials across countries and sectors.
From breakfast meetings with Bill Gates to Jimmy Wales singing at the Piano Bar, the experience of participating in Davos truly transforms the mindset to a global one.

What does the future hold for you?
Our vision for FTcash is to empower micro-merchants with services that go above and beyond payments and loans. We see ourselves being a tech company that provides financial services with the help of multiple partners in the space and reaching economies of scale. Post demonetisation, we have reached an inflection point that allows us unprecedented growth. Personally, I relate to what Sergey Brin said about needing to focus more on having fun than making money. Not knowing what the future holds for us shouldn’t stop us from taking chances.

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