Post the rift that occurred after the 2016 demonetization, India has undergone a massive transformation i.e. digital payments. With the inclusion of Paytm in India, several other players, later on, also joined in such as Google Pay, PhonePe, Mobikwik, etc. These systems gave the common population the capability to make transactions without physically going to a bank or using their ATM. In fact, the creation of UPI, or Unified Payment Interface was a revolutionary step taken by the Indian government. A technology that didn’t even exist till date in many countries to date. Adding to this, digital payments became a norm and saw adopters in huge numbers. However, there was a limitation.

These digital payments were reliable on their own accord but didn’t benchmark the trust people have in banks, especially SMEs (small and medium enterprises). In 2017, three guys in their mid-40s saw an opportunity in this market and decided to bridge the gap. Their idea was banks have the capacity to support the SMEs' infrastructure in India but lack in terms of technology. This is how Mintoak came into being on 22nd July 2017.

Today, we will be interviewing, one of those three players i.e. Raman Kanduja, Co-Founder & CEO at Mintoak Innovations Private Limited. Raman is a first-time entrepreneur who had been serving in the Fintech Industry for names like VISA. He has an expertise in portfolio management, analytics, and consulting. In this interview, he’ll be taking us through his exciting journey of how he along with his co-founders created a profitable venture as Mintoak and are helping banks to support SMEs.

Therefore, let’s start this interview…

web web web

webFull Interview

1) What was it about financial services that drew your interest and how did that experience translate into co-founding a SaaS platform?

I was growing up and there were limited career choices not as ample as they are now. Growing up in a small town career limitations pushed me into pursuing engineering, however,  never wanted to pursue that as a career and that's why I went on to do my MBA and started my journey as a consultant.

Through the journey, I discovered a liking for financial services which is when I moved to American Express. I realized that the liking was real so then I joined a small Bank and then worked in a large Bank as well.

It was around the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 when this convergence of technology and finance started to interest me. That is when I joined VISA and in VISA, I've spent about eight years and got a glimpse of how technology can benefit. Financial services and demonetization was a moment of reckoning and that's where we said like in India the opportunity is for real in the next multiple decades.

Since I belong to India and that would be the case, I thought why not create something since payments and financial services were something that me and my co-founders were familiar with, we said this is one of the sunrise sectors so why not create something for ourselves?

2) Prior to being a co-founder for Mintoak, you also spent around nearly 8 years in VISA. Was transitioning from business development to a first-time founder hard?

Well, it's a very exciting space to be in given where India is today, it's a land of opportunity. It is especially when you talk about digital payments which is our domain. India is today the largest cash displacement opportunity available globally so the size of the opportunity is massive.

When it comes to career, it is always our choice. VISA was a pushy job but a high salary but I guess the kind of excitement that you get in a startup more than compensates for the salary that you have possibly sacrificed.

So, it's been quite an exciting journey in the last five-plus years building something and that pride of associating with something that you've built which I don't think is kind of there in a corporate job.

3) How would you define the relationship as well as the friction between fintech and the banking sector?

Let me split it into two parts. Let it be banking versus fintech or vice versa. So, if you look at where it all started largely or where it gained traction was around the global financial crisis.

A slew of startups came into being wanting to disrupt banking. The idea was disruption and everybody wanted to disrupt traditional banks. This was in 2008 and we are in 2023. Finally, banks have only gained aliases whereas fintech while they have built very slick products but somewhere they are struggling for monetization.

When it comes to monetization or proper responsibility and I'm talking not just about safe indexes but some of the largest indexes in the world. Now, the thing is when it comes to financial services, especially in emerging markets like India technology definitely plays a big role which is where fintechs have demonstrated quite a lot.

We tend to understate the role of trust when it comes to money. However, trust is equal or almost higher than technology so it has to be a combination of tech and tasks. However, fintech has been able to solve for tech, the trust part comes with vintage and a host of other factors like regulatory support which is not there in the fintech ecosystem.

The kind of trust that banks have is unparalleled and as I said it's a function of vintage as well as regulatory support. However, banks have a challenge when it comes to tech. They have core infrastructure which is very legacy but you can't blame them because the infrastructure has been built over multiple decades for them. They cannot approve that infrastructure and they can not use that infrastructure because they have a running business. It's like mid-air refueling, it's not easy but not impossible as financial services become more tech on banking become more tech. Therefore, tech becomes critical for a bank’s relevance so how do you have infrastructure which is not aligned with modern technology? Yet, they need to retain this alias.

On the other hand, fintech has the tech but they don't have the trust or the distribution that banks have then why don't marry the two that's what our concept is, making customer the eventual winner so that's our core philosophy.

4) What are the key challenges for SMEs in the present-day economy that you're trying to solve with this platform?

Coming specifically to SMEs, well globally they have two challenges. One is capital and the second is time. They don't have the bandwidth, they don't have large teams to evaluate multiple things or they don't have the bandwidth to toggle across multiple platforms. For them, life is easiest when everything gets delivered on a single platform so what is that one platform, this is not me speaking this is coming across multiple surveys done by the likes of McKenzie.

SMEs are saying they want everything delivered by one player on a single platform. Therefore, what is the one platform that can become the most common denominator that resonates with the majority of SMEs?

The most critical activity for any SME is collecting payments because that defines their survival. Payment acceptance is the one platform that almost every SME needs so that you can build all the other services.

Earlier it was difficult because when you talk about digital payments as they were anchored around those devices called boss terminals. Those boss terminals are not only expensive but they are dumb. It is because you can't interact with them but now look at the way things are shaping up, especially in India.

Over the last five years UPI smartphones everything is happening on a smartphone. Modules are accepting payments on smartphones, customers scan a QR Merchant looks at the app and they see the payment done. This is a big change because once life moves to smartphones or on apps the possibilities are limitless. You can provide what SMEs have been wanting i.e. to provide everything on a single platform on a single app so can you start and that's our idea.

we start with the merchant app, brought engagement because every time a payment happens the merchant is looking at the app engagement. This is equal to interaction because the SMEs is looking at the app multiple times during the day so you can start offering other services because they are using this app and they are engaged on this app.

You want to say crosstalk financial products like loans or credit cards, they are looking at this app. They're not going to bank branches, and they're not looking at or are not as frequently looking at mobile banking apps as they are looking at the payment apps to deliver.

Credit card companies sell cards or loans here. Also, why leave it to payments and financial services they have other requirements, they need to file their tax returns. GST filings can you enable GST files on that, can you enable them to take their business online with apps, you can so that's the idea. That's pretty much what we do on a single app.

We start with payment acceptance and bill engagement then we open up access to financial services. Post that we start adding non-financial services which are our digital services that are relevant to the test and get everything on a single platform.

How we differentiate ourselves is rather than taking our app directly to the SME, we go to our banks because banks have that trust. This SME has a current account with a bank with that particular bank. If the same bank goes and says I will give you everything on a single app starting with payments, financial services, and digital services. It resonates because these guys frustrate the bank with their money so they are likely to listen to this bank much more than any other player. Therefore delivery is through banks whereas we manage the tech end of the day. Here, SME is the winner, they get the best of both worlds nimble tech from a trusted partner.

5) Startups from 2017 were trying to disrupt the banking sector and now you decided to partner with those very banks for SMEs. What inspired you?

Well, everybody recognizes SMEs are significantly underserved when it comes to financial services. Everybody wants to target the SME but the challenge is that SMEs don't have the time to come to a branch. They are not accessing their mobile banking apps so how do you reach out to that SME? You can't use traditional modes like a sales team or operation team because SME needs are micro.

The economics through traditional modes would never be viable so how do you reach out? The thing is, they need to accept payments, you offer a merchant payment. Every average SME needs their bank to offer them a merchant payment app which is where they start accepting payments. This is the app they are looking at multiple times during the day this is where interactions start and once there are interactions and engagement you can start offering them crosstalk products like loans or cars that's what banks benefit from.

Now the benefit that banks get is they get to focus on their post strength which is leveraging that trust to get more customers they don't have to bother about technology because that's our domain we ensure that the tech is up to date and competitive versus whatever is available in the market allowing Banks to focus on what they do best which is distribution.

6) What as per you makes Mintoak a major player in the financial service sector while competing against fintech giants such as GPay, Paytm, and others?

The names you've taken Gpay, Paytm, and PhonePe, they've done a good job in creating tech products that are solving problems for the SME. However, as I said the starting point when it comes to financial service, especially in the SME segment which has a much higher trust deficit than other segments.

Trust plays an equal if not a more important role. These guys have started or created a new paradigm. The story is still not complete because till the time the SMEs are financially included, there is still a vast scope. This is where we think banks which lagged initially, when it came to products like payment apps you rarely see banks that's because banks are not wired.

Thanks to or unfortunately because of their infrastructure to create dynamic products like merchandise which is where we are enabling banks to compete with the likes of Paytm, Google Pay, or PhonePe. It is because we believe that there are players who believe they can conquer the world on their own. We believe banks given their trust and distribution are the best place to solve for the SMEs.

The only thing they lack is technology so we are basically enabling them to compete with the likes of  Paytm, Google Pay, etc. Also more importantly they already have a relationship today. These SMEs are using Paytm, Google Pay, etc.

Now these banks are going and saying why don't you use my app? It's likely to resonate because they already have a much longer existence and a much bigger relationship. Thanks to the current account that's the first part and the second is once this gets started on payments through this app as said this guy needs a loan which is very small.

Let's say 20,000 rupees which the bank today can underwrite but they cannot distribute because traditional processes make this 20,000 rupees load unviable. However back to this app now those 20,000 rupees loans that earlier banks are able to underwrite but not distribute are now becoming viable.

It is because it is offered as a sales service. It’s like a do-it-yourself kind of process on the app. Banks don't have to use their traditional channels but are still able to monetize so when we talk to our merchants to see why did they switch over from let's say Google Pay to a bank app, the answer we get is because the trust in the bank is much more.

I mean I'll give you an example, if my money gets stuck, I don't know where Google Pay is, who to call in Google. However, I know where HDFC bank is and which person within its backup and that's a massive or a massively understated element.

We tend to ignore when it comes to financial services that they require tech because Indian needs are micro. You can't use traditional methods but the tech has to be delivered. We believe tech is more powerful if it is delivered through a trusted partner. There's nobody in the ecosystem who commands trust like banks.

I mean look at ourselves today we are willing to experiment with everything for food delivery. We look at Zomato and Swiggy, for our cab rides, we rely on Uber and Ola, and shopping is via Flipkart. However, when it comes to money, you go to a bank because the trust is so much higher in the bank than anybody else.

There are options, I mean there aren't plenty of options in the market but people are still banking their money predominately in advance because of trust. Therefore, when it comes to loans, it's not just technology that is offered, it also plays a very important role and that's why we believe banks are in the best position to solve for the SME.

The idea is empowering banks can and definitely can. We've been able to demonstrate results and make SMEs the eventual winner because they get the best of both worlds. They get the trust of the bank delivering tech which is at par with just about anything that's available in the market so in a nutshell, we are helping bands become competitive in the space reinfect their SME relationship at the same time, and monetize their SME relationships like it never happened before.

7) How can SMEs benefit from Mintoak and what are some of the key solutions that you're trying to offer?

I said the starting point for all engagements is payments. The app allows merchants to accept all forms of payments be it cards, UPI, or cash recording on the app. They get all their report statements on the same app. Now, these two steps ensure that the SME is interacting with the app on a daily basis over a period of time.

Once the vintage builds up and banks have enough data through the transactions. They start qualifying these SMEs for personal products. These products could be loans which could be credit cards or non-lending products like deposits so SMEs can avail of those financial services on the same app, at the same time.

We start offering non-banking services for instance they want to file GST or they want to create a digital presence, a digital catalog from the same app, the idea is to give SMEs everything that need be it financial services or digital services on the same app. They don't have to waste time toggling or managing multiple ads.

8) What would your credit be when you secured 20 million in your first series of funding rounds?

The validation is there, HDFC was an investor previously. Upping their stake in the current round is a validation and HDFC started with us as a client. We were first a client so we became an investor of their investment in the most recent round. The other names that you see are like some of the biggest brands in their respective spaces such as PayPal. Venture people, they can't get bigger than people, when you talk about digital payments globally. Adding to it, you talk about British International Investment, there is the UK Sovereign fund.

They understand banking and tech because they are large investors in a lot of banks globally. HDFC Bank as I said is from India. Also, it is India’s one of the most respected banking brands globally. Pravega was the first institutional investor that bestowed faith in us. Therefore, they will always hold a special status for us so it's I think the focus on creating value.

Other investors believe in the approach we have taken which is working or partnering with banks to deliver solutions to the SMEs. We've been able to demonstrate value when it comes to demonstration of value. It is a function of scale and profitability and which we have achieved.

I mean, we are currently working where some of the largest banks in India, Africa, and the Middle East are working. This is the first validation for us. We have decent scale not at part with some of the names we've taken but we have saved less than 2 million in margins. This is still decent but more importantly, we've been profitable for the last 18 months which is not something that's common in the ecosystem and this is something the investors appreciated well, we are where we are.

9) Did you face any particular challenges in raising the funds perhaps the first time around or in the second fundraising round?

I want to call it setbacks but funding is always challenging. I personally am not a big fan of raising money. The thing is the approach that we have taken is for quite a few vs a contrarian approach.

VCs (venture capitalists) tend to back entities that are trying to disrupt traditional players whereas we on the other hand were trying to empower traditional players. This is where it created challenges.

When those VCs were not willing to acknowledge or align with our thesis that was done and there were so many. There were VCs who would somewhat keep you hustling to figure out who they are, and VCs who are more likely to align with you or understand your philosophy and approach. I mean that's a learning process that comes with time. We also went through that. We started in September of 2017 and our mentor started. We were very clear, we first wanted to build a solution that resonated with SMEs and then later on demonstrate a path to traction.

10) How do you deal with equity negotiations and how should first-time founders approach the same?

In a fundraising discussion, I think their focus should be on creating value rather than chasing valuation. This is especially when the first round, you know the focus should be on getting the money. Money that will take you to a point where you are convinced that you would have created value. However, after that valuation is just a byproduct.

Valuation is an outcome sometimes. I see people get bogged when the starting point is valuation. Valuation is always emotional till you go public. We have seen in the last 12 to 18 years and it has been an eye-opener. We've seen in the earliest cycles as well that valuations make sense or become real only when you go public before that it's only a notion.

To further add, I change its focus on value delivery, ass long as your deliberate value is achieved valuations will come. So first round especially focus should not be on getting too particular or picky about the valuation. They should look at like what value they are creating and how much they need. If they can get an investor who can bring in stuff beyond capital to help them get to that point of value delivery.

There are lots of master classes available on the internet but my experience is there is no set formula. It starts with both parties aligning saying this is mean, the VC agreeing, this is the best team solving the right problem and the investing company or the potential companies seeing the VC has interest. After that, it boils out to who is more desperate which defines the respective positions on the marketing table.

11) What countries are you trying to target next in this expansion?

Right now on our radar are Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, and then later on we graduate from there to someplace else.

12) What are things that surprised you the most about being a first-time founder?

When you are in a corporate job and especially an established corporate, you don't tend to underestimate, the processes for granted that are in place. Whereas, when you start, you don't realize you have to set up the processes right from defining the values to making your own coffee or on your own.

It is something that you don't appreciate when you are in a corporate job. For everything, there is a process, from your vacations to appraisals to everything that is kind of set. We don't pay too much attention to we don't appreciate what went into creating those processes that appreciation is significantly higher. When you start up because you are creating all those processes step by step and bit by bit.

13) What would be your word of advice for first-time founders?

A couple of principles. One is when you start up, it's like a kid in a candy store. Every day, you will start seeing multiple opportunities. Sometimes founders get distracted by those opportunities. Staying focused is required and disciplined.

It is not easy but is super critical as long as you can stay disciplined, stay on track, and stay on your mission. Yes, there you will need to pivot if things don't work out but you can't be experimenting every day. I think that's the most difficult thing in the startup Journey.

The number of opportunities especially in a country like is limitless but you can't solve everything. You need to understand that you are on a mission to focus on that mission and build what you can partner for the rest. Don't try to do everything because time is of the essence if you want to perfect everything and you want to build everything in-house somebody else will take the lead by being a partner. Again if speed is critical then staying focused on your core mission is of immense value.

14) What's the most overrated piece of advice that you've heard in the entrepreneurial circle?

When we started and three of us started in our mid-40s and I'm talking about 2017 where the thesis or the perception was VCs wanted to fund people in their 20s. It is because they thought, these are the guys who can take more risk and we had this mental block saying like, should we? There's this person who has been a serial entrepreneur and we spoke to him. He said something very interesting which has stuck with me till now. He said in India everybody knows how to build a dam but there are very few people who know where to build it. That's the value of experience. He says the experience is underrated but brings in definite value. You will realize over a period of time so that was the most important and underrated piece of advice that I got.

15) Lastly, what's the worst piece of advice you've ever received as a founder in your entrepreneurial journey?

I think overrated advice, well, there are lots of people who raise funds fast and scale up. I don't get this concept raise as much money and then you have enough and more time in the world to think. How you want to utilize it that's not something that’s aligned with the end goal. We were very clear that we wanted a path to scale, with a definite path and a timeline to profitability and we stayed focused on that.

Want to follow on the journey of Raman Khanduja, well, here’s his Linkedin profile. To read similar interesting interviews, stay connected with MobileAppDaily.


Interested in authoring a guest article or narrating your start-up journey for MobileAppDaily?

Write for us
Written by

MobileAppDaily MobileAppDaily

Unveiling the pulse of mobile tech, our expert author at MobileAppDaily is your guide to the latest trends and insights in the app development sphere. With a passion for innovation, they bring you succinct analyses and a keen perspective on the evolving world of mobile technology. Stay tuned for concise updates that decode the future of mobile apps.

Are you one of the disruptors too?

We’d love to feature you.


Featured Interviews


Interview With Coyote Jackson, Director of Product Management, PubNub

MobileAppDaily had a word with Coyote Jackson, Director of Product Management, PubNub. We spoke to him about his journey in the global Data Stream Network and real-time infrastructure-as-a-service company. Learn more about him.

MAD Team 4 min read  

Interview With Laetitia Gazel Anthoine, Founder and CEO, Connecthings

MobileAppDaily had a word with Laetitia Gazel Anthoine, Founder and CEO, Connecthings. We spoke to her about her idea behind Connecthings and thoughts about the company’s services.

MAD Team 4 min read  

Interview With Gregg Temperley, Founder Of ParcelBroker App

MobileAppDaily had a word with Gregg Temperley, Founder. We spoke to him about his idea behind such an excellent app and his whole journey during the development process.

MAD Team 4 min read  

Interview With George Deglin, CEO Of OneSignal

MobileAppDaily had a word with George Deglin, the CEO and co-founder of OneSignal, a leading customer messaging and engagement solution, we learn multiple facets related to customer engagement, personalization, and the future of mobile marketing.

MAD Team 4 min read