Authored By: Debleena Majumdar
Debleena has been a part of the corporate sector for 15 years now and has worked with firms like GE, Prudential, Fidelity, JP Morgan and HP while she was finding her own story. Over the last three years, as part of the Leadership team of BRIDGEi2i Analytics, one of the fastest growing data science firms, and the Head of Sourcing and Marketing at Unitus Seed Fund, an Impact Venture Capital Fund, she was helping identify and build stories. Currently, she is the co-founder of Kahaniyah, where she uses storytelling to improve Strategy and Marketing outcomes in business. A keen writer, stories, music and numbers are her passion.
Even as the Fintech wave sweeps across the country, one firm is quietly building India’s largest B2B SaaS Fintech company. It took 5 years, 2 friends and 1 disruptive idea to build Happay, an all-in-one business expense management company that today manages over Rs. 180 crores in monthly expenses. In FY 2017, the team plans to double their Gross Transaction Value (GTV) from the $58.6 Mn (INR 400 Cr) achieved in 2016. And over 1.5 lakhs customers are already using their Happay cards. Team Tlabs is immensely happy to present the fascinating journey of Happay.
So how did the magic start?
No goodbyes in friendship:
Avid Reader. Movie buff. And now 3rd generation entrepreneur. Meet Varun
Cricket fanatic. Technologist. Computer Scientist. Meet Anshul.
Friends for over a decade. Entrepreneurs and co-founders of Happay for 6.
The year was 2010. Varun and Anshul, friends from IIT Kharagpur, were just graduating, after years of shared tea, jokes and projects. It was time to say goodbye. But they had other plans.They dreamt of something bigger. Their own dream. Their own company. MicrosoftResearch and Tata Power took them in different directions, but just for 2 years. Their “Let’s do it” moment arrived, funnily enough, just before Varun got married.
Cashing in: The first clink of the idea
A chance bus ride was their first Eureka moment for Happay. Looking at the bus conductor and the passengers struggling with loose change, their hardware wired brains started clinking, not with change, but with ideas. What if they could make paying a happier, less messy experience? Cashless payments with an interoperable, RFID card… their minds were racing with solutions. And what if they could solve all peer to peer payments with this solution?
“Where is the money in this idea? Tell me, who is going to pay you?” Varun’s entrepreneur family played the first devil’s advocate role. Indian entrepreneurs have to pass the family hurdle even before they make they make the first VC pitch.
Varun and Anshul decided they needed mentorship. They were not about to give up before they started.
Enter, the Mentor:
Abhishek Gupta, Head, TLabs remembers meeting two very young and very passionate entrepreneurs in Varun and Anshul when they applied for the TLabs 3 months acceleration program. “Imagine a bold and innovative idea to go cashless and paperless for payment! Even before there was a mandate to go in that direction. It was the future. I was in. And the way the Happay founders built their story over the years continues to make us at Tlabs, immensely happy and proud.”
Varun remembers the early days, “Our first pilot at a college canteen, our consumer app going live, realizing we needed an RBI license to operate….there was just so much to learn when we started.”
“Don’t forget our complete lack of payment industry knowledge. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. But then we had endless passion. And we had our intern ambassadors! Almost 60 interns at one point!” Anshul laughs.
By the time demo day arrived, they had over 3,000+ consumer downloads of their app. And some more interested investors as well. The picture below tells the story of Happay from those days.
Splitting the cheque, not hairs:
Target customers: college students
Solution: peer to peer payment solution
To be or not to be – B2B:
And then came the next big day. They got their first bank meeting. Suited and booted, they made their pitch. The banker smiled. The deal was done, they thought. And then they waited. 1 month, 2 months, 6 months. It was a strange time for the two friends.
Product – Check
Consumer app download (over 200,000 at this stage) – check
Investor interest – check
But something was missing. Their business was growing but where were the soaring revenues? The investors offered money. They needed payment partners.
“Giving up could have been easy at this point. Those were the hardest months. But something made us persist. Our dream. And yes, our friendship.”
A closed-door pitch session led to a chance meeting with Angel Prime. And a new step in their journey.
“Looking back, the answer had been staring at our faces. While we thought college students are our customers, we used to get inbound interest from companies looking at improving their payment solutions. And we asked ourselves, why was there no innovation in B2B payments?” Varun says.
“Did you know just the travel and expenses market is pegged at $1.2 B in India? For a CFO of a mid-size to large company, this is the hardest expense to predict. Add to that vendor payments, sales payment, petty cash management, payment for tools and software. Different teams, different payment cycles. We had a new Eureka moment.” Anshul chuckles. Happay turned B2B.
Nothing petty about cash
Target Customers: Business houses
Solution: An end-to-end business expense management solution integrated with Visa card
We have always done it this way:
Was B2B selling easy? For the two friends, the tough part was not developing the B2B version of their product. By now, they were payment pros. But imagine a technologist trying to make the first corporate sale!
Varun shares the hilarious story.“You would find us in a busy area like Koramangala. We had to first cross the security guard. That was our first pitch. Then the receptionist. Then the manager. Then, if we impressed all in this chain of command, the CFO appeared. Our potential customer.”
Many B2B clients were used to doing payments in the old way. And they didn’t really want to change. The team had to really show them the benefit of the Happay way. So gruelling and so successful was this routine that it has now become part of their sales onboarding ritual and company folklore about the first sales stories. Learnings kept coming from unexpected quarters.
“’Call us. 24/7.’We promised our customers. Little did we know that they really would. On our desk phone.” Anshul recalls the customer calls that came around the clock till they discovered cloud telephony. But the biggest learning was that a sale doesn’t end with the sale. Customer engagement held the key.“We had devised marvellous do-it-yourself features to manage the initial onboarding process. Guess what we found? True onboarding happened once we engaged with the customers, to make the onboarding less DIY and more user-focused.”Varun concludes.
Building a strong team with the right culture is the next goal for Anshul and Varun. And they are never short of new ideas. Could companies in Tier II and Tier III cities be benefit from their offering? Or newer areas of payment such as forex, or meal vouchers? Happay is ready for the next stage of their growth.
When I walked in to the office tucked into a quiet corner of Whitefield, I found a hub of activity – teams buzzing with work, lunch boxes arriving at the reception for everyone and a large open area for people to unwind or just soak in the afternoon Bangalore Sun. As the team continues its journey, one thing they are sure of is that they would always ensure that it pays to pay, with Happay.