In this interview with MobileAppDaily, We had the pleasure of speaking with an intriguing individual who has successfully navigated through three diverse industries, showcasing his exceptional skills and determination. We are joined today by Rahul Raj, the founder and CEO of FloBiz, India’s leading neobank for small and medium-sized businesses.

Before his tenure at FloBiz, Rahul was the founder and CEO at Koinex, India’s pioneering and largest digital asset exchange. Notably, even during college, Rahul started Zyka, a food delivery startup. His life journey has been nothing short of a thrilling roller coaster, and today, we have the opportunity to delve into his experiences and gain valuable insights from his remarkable trajectory. So, let’s begin…

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1) Can you tell us about your journey from Zyka (a food delivery app) to Koinex (crypto exchange) to now finally FloBiz (neobank)?

Firstly, thank you for letting me walk you through my journey. For me, building products to serve customers and create teams has been a big opportunity. Like any other IIT Kharagpur student, I aspired to have a high-paying job. However, coincidentally, I ended up at the entrepreneurship cell of IIT Kharagpur. This is where I first got exposed to the concept of entrepreneurship and startups.

In my initial two years at IIT Kharagpur, I worked with startups both from inside and outside campus. I have worked with VCs and investors and organized a series of events that helped me understand technology's true potential. In my third year, I started Zyka, the first food delivery business on the campus and in the town. We even raised some money from the Ministry of MSME.

Zyka was a great experience. We learned a lot, from website coordination to working with restaurants and customer support. However, we also understood that it would not scale while we were in college, especially since there were companies like TinyOwl, Zomato, FoodPanda, Ubereats, etc. It was 2014, and multiple food delivery services were emerging, and we were not in a position to skip college. So, we decided to do that in parallel throughout the college and wrap it up after that.

Later on, I got placed in inshorts but it was a brief stint, and after that, I worked for Bizongo. I joined Bizongo as the first product manager in the team and met my co-founders, Aditya and Rakesh, there only. We were interested in crypto and blockchain and spent much time understanding the ecosystem. We found the synergy to work together and launched India’s first crypto exchange, Koinex in August 2017.

Blockchain was a promising technology and a completely new frontier. We also found a massive gap between the platforms available in India and the thriving community outside. The dire need for a similar platform led us to launch the first open book order, multi-currency, and fully KYC-compliant exchange, i.e., Koinex.

In four and a half months, we became the largest in India in December 2017. Coincidently, it was the first major Bitcoin bull run when it touched a $20,000 unit price. We were onboarding 40,000 customers organically, and we were in the top five exchanges for some cryptocurrencies. In fact, we were doing a daily trade volume of $265 million daily. However, this euphoria was short-lived because, in April 2018, RBI came with a directive to block formal bond banking channels related to crypto trades.

It led to a lot of hassle because transactions were getting blocked, notices were being served, and bank accounts were getting entirely shut; therefore, we pivoted from an open book order model to a peer-to-peer trading model and crypto-to-crypto market model.

All of these developments happened within weeks and months. We continued to persist through regulator bottlenecks, but even today, the industry is plagued with a lack of regulations and clarity.

We understood that it would not be a business and would not scale the way we imagined. So, we had to make the hard choice of wrapping up our enterprise and pivoting to something else altogether.

This is where FloBiz came into the picture, and in the first six months of 2019, we laid out the entire fintech landscape of India, and it was a well-articulated and methodically researched enterprise.

We looked at the fintech landscape in India from all perspectives, be it enterprise, B2B, B2C, SMEs, etc. We conducted our first and second-hand research. We identified that it was a huge opportunity in India and something exciting to pursue through the summer of 2019. We announced the closure of Koinex and moved from Bombay to Bangalore, retaining about 85% of our team. Our mission was to empower and help small and medium-sized businesses to grow in India. With technology and digitization, it has been four years, and we are building FloBiz as a neo-bank.

2) Neo-banks are becoming the future of financial services. What, according to you, has been the gap in the market before?

Okay, I’ll break it down for you. Banking services have always existed, and I believe it is one of the oldest industries. However, the gap was primarily on two fronts: access to more people and a better experience where you don’t have to stand in queues.

We are already witnessing technological infusion in Banking. A sector that is tightly moderated and controlled, which is also the reason behind the gap in customer experience and customer delight. The traditional institutions are not to be blamed, though. They are doing their job protecting customer interest, preventing fraud, and mishandling of money. They bid to regulate and maintain the balance between providing access and being compliant to protect everyone’s interest.

This is the space where neo-banks found their opportunity to set up ventures, new platforms, digital interfaces, and products. These services are inclusive, thereby resulting in customer delight. However, I feel neo-banks have found their space bridging the gap between consumer and traditional institutions. Now, with neo-banks' help, customers can access the same services with a lot more ease and delight.

3) What is FloBiz towards, as of today?

See, there are two sides to it, i.e., B2B and B2C. We focus on the B2B aspect. So, we don’t deal with the consumers directly so that MobileAppDaily can become a customer, but you might not.

I’ll give you a glimpse of our tremendous work on the consumer front. I think we are leaps and bounds ahead of our peer countries regarding financial inclusion and digital banking.

With services like UPI, we are at our extent of financial inclusion and providing customer delight. We are catered from both government and traditional institutions’ side. Also, we have startups catering to the consumer front.

I think there has been a lot of interesting development, but it hasn’t translated well on the SMB side of things. This is where FloBiz comes into the picture. For instance, myBillBook is a GST billing and accounting product available on mobile, web, and native desktop. It is available in all vernacular languages and can be used easily by moderately or less tech-savvy entrepreneurs. In fact, business owners in India will find our product very easy to use and digitize their business operations.

So, if we talk about customer satisfaction, it breaks into multiple aspects. First is the deep understanding of the customer itself, i.e., their pain points and aspirations. Second is designing and developing a product that caters to and solves those pain points, and MyBillBook is a perfect solution for that.

After that comes exemplary customer service. We provide chat support, in-person assistance, call support, etc. We will personally visit the customer as our core mantra is to provide customer delight and satisfaction.

We listen to every review on playstore and every feedback that comes through the product. We’ll respond to every email and every suggestion. For us, it has been a consistent practice and a tradition of the organization. It’s ingrained in our cultural principles and values. It has helped us solve the most pressing pain points to develop the right products and services while providing the right hand-holding and assistance.

We are talking about roughly 80% of all small businesses in India that operate on pen and paper. We are becoming the purveyors of change, enabling the transition from complete offline to coming online for the first time, and it requires a little bit of empathy. We can’t force the product onto the customer, and we have to work with them to get them online. This is the foundational reason why FloBiz continues consistently to be the highest-rated product in our category.

4) How has empathy helped you understand and serve your customers better?

It is reflected in our product. For us, it's not a business to be honest. What we are building at FloBiz is much bigger. I told you our mission is to power the growth of SMBs because these businesses make up between one-third to one-half of the entire economy.

We do not impact one small business but their entire families. If we can increase their ability to make more revenue and sales or save cost and become efficient, it translates into a better standard of living for them and their families. If we replicate that change beyond one or hundreds of SMBs, we will see something that looks like a macroeconomic change. It will begin to look like a contribution to nation-building, and in the next 25 years, we hope that the small business section of our society and their economy will look tremendously different.

5) Do you think AI will play a huge role in revolutionizing financial businesses and how they operate? Also, will AI help small businesses with investment and multiply that?

Well, there are two parts to this question. One is AI itself, and the second is all the other aspects. I think AI has made a monumental shift. We have worked for decades with technologies like data science, machine learning, etc., and now we have ChatGPT.

AI is the talk of the town, but we are only looking at the beginning. AI will transform the way we operate things. It will unlock new capabilities. We also need to see how we will leverage this technology for development versus its misuse. However, as a participant in the ecosystem, I think we need to find the right balance.

Coming to the second aspect, I think we will see a lot of development in the financial products sector. However, it is naive to assume that AI answers all questions. I think machines and technology cannot replace humans.

For instance, when it comes to saving taxes and investment, it will not be straightforward. We have to look at things from the context. For example, who we are catering to, what is the law of the land, personal aspirations, behaviors of one individual, etc. Each of these things will be fed to decision-making and outcome.

A prospective customer certainly can take assistance for better decision-making, but we can not completely rely on AI for investment decisions. For example, a person who moves from city to city won’t consider buying a home a great financial decision, and however, for someone who is looking for stability, it can be the best financial decision.

AI will require more knowledge, more background, and more context to build a mathematical model and design financial products and business strategies to allow distribution and delivery. AI will solve portions of the problem at the consumer level. It can make commendations, but ultimately, you decide what you want to invest in.

For a person who saves 10,000 bucks versus someone who saves 100,000K, their financial behavior, aspiration, and investment methodologies will look different. It will depend on the consumer persona, type of investments, tax benefits, etc., that an individual consumer or customer would want.

I firmly believe that AI cannot be a replacement. We’ve had the Industrial Revolution, the printing press, locomotive engines, to now manufacturing which is at an advanced stage. AI might create a little disruption in society, but ultimately, everything begins to level up.

We will begin to value a different skill set in human work and other things. I think there will be a shift, but it won’t completely eliminate jobs because humans are building the world and not machines.

6) You’ve recently been a part of a hackathon where people suggested ways to improve the market and taxes using AI. What can be the different use cases?

I’ll give you an example. So, what does a typical small business customer do on a platform like MyBillBook? They generate their sales records and capture purchase orders. They capture their expenses and, as a result, generate more than 30 business reports.

This is handy and allows business owners to streamline their operations with real-time visibility of the health of their business. They can look at the metrics and begin to generate GSTR reports, which can help with their compliance and filing of monthly, quarterly, and annual GST.

We know the norms for filing GST or returns, and we support e-invoices, e-way bills, delivery challans, etc. We have now rolled out new features for WhatsApp, SMS marketing, staff attendance, payroll to CRM, etc., and loyalty points. Our system works like a mini ERP.

So, now, when you talk about AI, I’ll give you a glimpse of what AI can do if the system could understand the behavior of the small business customer. The kind of data that we record on the product with permissions. We can analyze that information that suggests that in the coming Diwali, these are your top-selling products, and if you stock them up to 2X, 3X, or 4X levels, you might boost your revenue up to two or three times.

Today, business owners are working with intuition and past experiences. However, if you couple it with a macroeconomic understanding of goods, the kind of customer behavior we see will cover the entire spectrum of seasons for delivering services and products to customers.

If we can combine all this intelligence and combine it with the personal aspirations of small business owners, they will be able to make much better decisions, stock up right with the right products, price the products, see discount margins, and a lot more.

If their customer prefers a certain discount, then the system could give them the right offer. These small nudges and insights can really be game-changing for small enterprises because they don’t have macroeconomic data and analytics. AI systems can be used to find problem statements that can really help grow the business.

7) Would you like to share some advice for our young budding entrepreneurs?

It begins with dreaming big. Find something that seems unachievable to you and the people around you. If you dream big, you will probably find all the resources around you. You will employ the right kind of technologies, hire the right people, and use the right resources and capital judiciously. You will spend every penny on the right kind of activity.

Also, I think the obsession with the customer is important. It is because if you are building an enterprise, you are actually building it not for yourself or for your shareholders. The business exists purely because it does something for the customer.

8) How do you perceive technology that offers content for creators, influencers, businesses, and leaders?

Today, we look at content from a completely democratized and technology-enabled distribution. We have TV networks, social media, OTTs, blogs, podcasts, and whatnot. We have come a long way in a short span of time. All this development has literally happened in the last five or seven years. We are seeing so much explosion of content.

I think the biggest trait is the democratization of the industry, as anybody today can become an influencer. Today, anybody can create valuable ideas and content that can be catered to niche audiences. Everybody has the ability to become a celebrity.

When it comes to platforms, I think they have a very important role to play. Let’s say, MobileAppDaily itself is a platform where budding content creators get their first taste of interest, a taste of the kind of authors or the kind of content creators that they want to follow or get inspired from.

There is so much voice around us and access to so many voices today. In my personal experience, I like playing games. I could look at PS game reviews put up by an individual influencer. I will get his individual review of the game which can help me make my purchase. I will get a firsthand de-corporatized review.

Another example would be my wife, whom I met in IIT Kharagpur. We’ve been together for the last 11 years, and for the last two and a half years, she has been developing a platform that caters to women empowerment. The kind of content she puts out is motivational and related to a positive mindset, and talks about challenges that are bodily and societal.

Talking about all this stuff was not possible before, but today, we have an ecosystem. I think it is going to be a digital playground where everyone will have their own sandboxes. Anyone will be able to collaborate with anybody. I believe with the evolution of digitization of content and delivery of content, it has become possible to start small. You don’t need a media house to get your first article published. It has become easy to start small and really tailor your content based on your customer and audience preferences. It is possible to learn on the way and build your community. I think it has been possible only because of the digital revolution in the content industry.

Want to follow the journey of Rahul Raj? Check out his LinkedIn. To read similar MobileAppDaily interviews, click on the link provided. To stay updated on the latest interviews dropping on MobileAppDaily of compelling industry leaders and veterans, subscribe!          


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