Abhishek believes in the creation of wealth and degrees of freedom. After a short stint in the telecom division of Satyam, Abhishek discovered that his true calling was entrepreneurship. He co-founded Six DEE Telecom Solutions, a telecom value added services company and grew the business to span nine countries and fifteen operators.
In February 2007, Abhishek exited Six DEE to pursue his vision to promote mobile phones as a financial identity for people at the bottom of the pyramid. He was convinced that the simplest of mobile phones could deliver secure financial transactions to customers who had no formal banking instruments. His passion for simplicity of user experience and zeal for democratizing access through cost-reduction, led to the development of the basic principles on which Eko is based.
Those ideas were validated when he won the TIE-Canaan Entrepreneurial Challenge, 2006. Abhishek continued to learn from Telecom and tailor technology as well as business processes to suit the needs of the financially excluded. The merit of the idea to use mobile technology as a means to achieve scale and cost effectiveness for financial service delivery were re-confirmed during a chance visit by Mr. Bill Gates in November 2008.
Abhishek dreams of a cashless world where every individual could be a merchant and every phone, the equivalent of an ATM.
Abhishek is responsible for the strategy and vision of Eko. His focus areas are regulations, compliance, corporate governance, generating disruptive business ideas, and building the leadership team at Eko. He also plays supportive roles to his colleagues in the areas of business development, product architecture and fund raising.
We had an email interview with Abhishek.
Q1. Tell us something about Eko India. What was the driving point in starting this venture?
Eko is based on the fundamental premise of reducing the cost of secureÂ financial transactions and providing an extremely intuitive user interface such that access to financial service can be democratized.
Currently Eko works as a business correspondent of SBI, ICICI and as a distribution partner of Bharti AXA Life Insurance. We provide people access to a no-frills bank account and an off-the-shelf insurance policy that a customer can acquire in less than 15 minutes from a neighborhood store. We also provide the ability for these customers to deposit cash, withdraw cash, remit funds and pay the insurance premium at these local kirana like stores all in a matter of seconds.
The intent was to create a company that was able to lower the cost of a financial services transaction without lowering the quality of service or the scope.
Q2. With so many banks and financial institutions around, what makes Eko stand out?
Eko is not a bank or insurance provider or even a Micro-finance company. We are providing an infrastructure and servicing layer supported by technology, user-interface and processes that allows traditional financial institutions like banks, insurance companies to extend last mile reach and convenience to small ticket customers – who may be un-served or under-served. The ability to reduce the transaction costs to a level that makes the business of viably serving this customer is what makes Eko stand out.
Q3. Talking about your targeted audience, what market size you are targeting?
Estimates on the size of the target market vary based on sources. We estimate that the market size is close to half-a-billion customers in India alone. We hope to have a share of this market.
Q4. Tell us about the products and services that you want to offer and how are they going to help the consumers?
See response to question 1 for product and services. As for how access to financial services is going to help customers, we have serviced over 100K customers including our banking, insurance and remittance users. It would be vain for us to guess in what ways we have helped customers and if the service has benefited them significantly. But we feel we are providing some benefit due to the growth we see in numbers of customers using our services.
Q5. Is it hard to convince consumers to do business with you because it is a matter of hard-cash? I mean to say how you build the credibility and trust?
Our whole model is based on building on the trust within the community. The customer service point (CSP) that we appoint is in several cases recommended by the village elders as someone they trust. The challenge in rural areas is to establish our credentials as an authorized agent of the bank. We have used local level marketing programs to create financial awareness and service awareness. Our channel managers as well as CSPs spend time explaining the service and its benefits. It takes time, but once there are a certain number of people using the service, word of mouth in rural markets helps overcome entry barriers.
Q6. Do you feel there is space for competition in it?
Based on the size of the market as per our estimates, I think there is no doubt that the pie is huge. There is tremendous scope and competition will bring about awareness, push innovation and in due course even bring cost benefits to end customers.
Q7. What you feel is the value of innovation in your venture?
Innovation is fundamental to our business. Regulation, technology, processes, and customer attitudes are all continuously changing. The pace of change is also very rapid. Innovation is to our business as a steering wheel is to a car. Without it, the car can of course move but you can imagine what will happen!
Q8. What is the scope of expansion and what is your vision about it?
In the short-term (6 months) we are focused on our Delhi-Bihar business well oiled. We will examine expansion plans for other geographies in due course based on business imperatives. We certainly hope that we will be able to go national one day in the not too distant future.
Q9. How you liked the journey till now as an entrepreneur, being able to start an online vertical of such nature?
It has been a long and spiritual journey and the journey has been one of tremendous learning, excitement – as much of ups as of downs, and growth – both professional and personal. I have enjoyed being an entrepreneur so much that I encourage everyone to try it. Starting Eko is a dream come true.
Q10. Any advice for future entrepreneurs from your personal and professional experience?
It is all about perseverance. Just dig-in your heel and stay put. Times change. I would advise entrepreneurs to start early, commit themselves completely to their idea, not be afraid of making a lot of mistakes, never give up and definitely make sure you have a family that will back you financially as well as emotionally