Going public is the beginning of a new story for many brands. MobiKwik, one of the early players in the digital payments sector, is set to write a new narrative for its consumers as it gears up for an initial public offering (IPO).
The 12-year-old company which counts Sequoia Capital India, Bajaj Finance, American Express, Cisco, and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority among its investors, is getting ready for its IPO later this year.
In a conversation with Storyboard, Upasana Taku, chairperson, co-founder, and chief operating officer of MobiKwik, shares her views on building brand trust, what startup brands get wrong and where the next round of rocket fuel will come from for the category and the company. Edited excerpts:
As one of the early players in the mobile wallet space, give us the big picture view of how the category has evolved?
We started over 10 years ago with many other companies which were testing the waters. Several companies folded and some found new ways to make this business work and interesting for consumers. Digital payments as a category has a lot of headroom for growth. Only around 300 million Indians are transacting digitally (using credit cards, debit cards, or e-wallets). There are a billion more potential consumers to be tapped. As an ecosystem, collectively, we have managed to bring in the much needed excitement to the category and got about 20% of India to use digital payments.
The next step is to bring in financial inclusion at a massive scale. There is a large-scale demand for credit products. However, this hasn’t been democratised. Credit can grow exponentially via digital products. In the last couple of years, we have been trying to understand our consumers’ daily spend patterns. Our consumer analysis indicates that users will stick with a digital payment product if they are offered new services. MobiKwik's ‘spend now, pay later’ credit offering is already seeing the right kind of traction. 80% of consumers who use our ‘spend now, pay later’ credit product become repeat users. That’s the next wave in the category that will drive growth and help in scaling up.
From a brand and marketing lens, how has MobiKwik evolved over time and what's the current focus?
In our initial first five-six years, we focused on building brand awareness and winning the trust of our users. In the last couple of years, we had campaigns that focused on the fact that we are a homegrown app. All of this was around our digital payment product. As a brand, we now want to focus on marketing our credit product i.e. ‘spend now, pay later’. The target users that we are going after are 22-38-year-olds, and the new ads are tuned to attract them. These are consumers who are digitally savvy and heavily use e-commerce. Currently, users who are opting for our credit product come from tier 1, 2, and 3 cities. Many self-employed Indians don’t easily get credit cards from traditional banks and that’s where we think there is potential for us to target and expand.
How has ‘unicorn’ status changed your approach towards brand building and marketing?Going forward we are going to be far more aggressive and consistent with our brand-building exercises. We have increased our marketing spends by 5X compared to what we were doing last year. We also constantly look at our strategies from a consumer trend lens. As we add newer capabilities, we will also invest in the areas of data sciences and machine learning.
Branding experts believe many startups are just “burning cash” on sporadic aggressive marketing and advertising gimmicks. Brands, they say, aren't built in this fashion. What's your take on this critique of their approach to brand building?
There are new-age companies that do burn money. While being consistent with marketing activities is important, the timing of it is crucial. For instance, even if you have millions of marketing dollars, using it during a depressed economy may not make sense for a lot of brands. I have also seen brands blowing up marketing spends on one ad piece. Is it an effort to attract investors? Maybe. However, from a long-term perspective, this will not work.
For consumer recall to build in, brands always need to be around consumers. Enough startups have burnt cash on momentary campaigns. These brands need to do work on advertising that’s valuable. There has to be some level of maturity that has to come into the ecosystem. Sometimes there is an excess availability of capital, and then there is a dry spell. Many first-time startup founders get influenced when there is more money in hand and due to the nudges from their investors. Enough money gets wasted that way. It’s a matter of a few years when the startup ecosystem will understand the tricks of optimising media spends.
How are you addressing the constantly changing needs of consumers in an increasingly complex environment? How do you stay focused on their needs?
Indian consumers are always looking for products that will make their life simpler. It doesn’t matter how much marketing you have done, the core of your brand will always be the product or service, and you can’t neglect to improve it as per new consumer demands. For instance, we constantly look at our user ratings on app stores to understand what they are liking and what they want us to change. It is as basic as that.India is a diverse market. Consumers use our products on various types of devices and data plans, we need to consider these factors to keep tweaking the user experience. Considering this, we release a new version of our app every 15 days. This helps to create uninterrupted user experiences.