Satyen Kothari founded Citrus Payments, leading its overall strategy, product, UX and marketing, to drive the platform to a $2.5 billion payment processing leader within 4 years, and paved the way towards a successful exit. He now runs Cube Wealth, a unique mobile banking service for urban professionals, entrepreneurs, creative professionals and the "new rich".
Cube Wealth is a modern-day economic arsenal for the evolved Indian urban professional. The platform curates high quality investment options with unmatched exclusivity and precision, and Satyen is at the helm of this new investment revolution.
This is an exclusive interview with Satyen, as a part of The Times Blog - Stories initiative. Here, he shares valuable insights from his journey both as an entrepreneur and as an investor, and provides critical advice to aspiring businesses on how to evolve from idea to product successfully without compromising with the general ethics of being a service provider, above all.
So we know the Citrus story by now, and we've been marvelling at it for quite some time. What brought about Cube Wealth, and what are your intentions with the new platform?
It (Cube Wealth) was a logical decision after founding Citrus, and it kind of guided our (Citrus's) eventual independence. We learnt so much about the Indian consumer’s digital and spending habits with Citrus! One thing that stood out was the fact that the same user was transacting on various services for recurring payments.
This led to the money-management simplification platform around bills and expenses. On the wealth side, we had our own experience as individuals, and therein we had begun to understand the pain of finding trustworthy advisors, the time wasted in this pursuit, and the general lack of service quality. We realized that we needed to build a full-stack solution, and provide the urban Indian professional with the opportunity to take care of all of their financial needs in one place, and make it simple. The platform had to do all of the in-depth research beforehand, so that investors could learn to trust the advice shelled out. After all, everyone works hard for their money, and poor investment decisions can be devastating.
We knew what we needed, and we created the product to help others like us. Thus, Cube Wealth was born!
When did you launch Cube Wealth, and what challenges did you face at the outset?
Our ‘Go to Market’ launch was on June 1st, 2018. We started with 'beta launches' in January and April. Our initial challenge was educating, positioning and building trust. No one has a full-service offering like ours, and the concept is a novel one, as it combines what banks and wealth managers are doing, but all on a single app.
We are addressing a very complex problem statement, and people struggle to believe how simple we’ve made it. Our betas gave us the perfect opportunity to refine our app and test the kind of communication that clicks with potential users. Our members can see how their feedback has directly improved what we do, and how we do it.
And as challenging as the journey has been, it (the launch sequence) is one of my favourite times in the startup lifecycle, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
How did your family react when you told them you wanted to run your own business?
No surprises there! I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. It was only natural for me to do what I ended up doing.
If you don't mind us prying, how did you go about finding the right audience for Cube Wealth?
Mantras are cliched, but I had a simple one.
Start with a hypothesis, try it, fail, learn, try again, fail, try – repeat!
Let me elaborate.
"Cube Wealth" started initially as a niche bill payments and expense service. Cube’s original bill payments app successfully grew to accommodate 350,000 users who managed over 35 Crores in payments through the app, and we picked up a few awards along the way.
The addition of goal-based savings and investment products led to today’s full-service wealth + money service, i.e. Cube Wealth. Today, our members enjoy access to premium wealth creation advisors and modern asset classes through a simple UI that has one app, by spending a minute each month (that's the promise we've made to users and intend to keep). It took us a while to realize that we needed to be bold to tackle the Indian urban professional's problem statement and evolve into a complete solution. Each step that we took along the way enhanced out tech stack, and helped us build what is now equivalent to arguably the best bank + wealth solution in the world.
In your journey as an entrepreneur, was there ever a time when you felt overwhelmed and unable to continue? What made you continue? What kept you motivated at your worst moments?
I thank my early mistakes from my first startup in 1999 (Satyen co-founded Trapezo, a marketing automation firm way ahead of its time, much before Marketo and Hubspot had begun defining automation systems for marketers as we know them today).
It taught me a few lessons. I recognized that I needed more skills and thereon I actively planned to learn every aspect of the business– from product to strategy to investor management. I actively addressed each area in all my subsequent startups. There are no shortcuts in this journey, for sure.
Who are you most influenced by, and what is your takeaway from their words/actions?
I'm inspired by Elon Musk – to really think beyond limits.
I admire Steve Jobs, for his ability to imagine a world that remains beautiful amidst its otherwise innate mundaneness.
I have faith in the vision of Barack Obama – who in turn has told us, time and again, to have faith in the sheer value of intelligence alone, irrespective of what appears fashionable.
I like the teachings of the Dalai Lama who has shown that there is fortitude despite every odd.
What are the Top 3 Business Takeaways that you did not know when you first started out?
1. Timing is everything in startups. Being at the right time in the right place, gives you a huge advantage.
2. Understanding what constitutes a great user experience and then delivering it with precision, is the most critical aspect to your business and must not be compromised.
3. Operate with ethics, and take tough decisions to stay true to them. It always works out better in the long term, and most importantly, you will feel good getting out of bed every day.
What advice would you give to your ten-year younger self, if given an opportunity?
Dear Satyen Then,
Focus on learning and levelling up to set yourself up for success. Surround yourself with honest, positive people who can help you grow. Try and work for successful and established people in order to learn every aspect of product development, marketing, stakeholder management, budgeting and so on.
You will save a lot of pain and fast-track yourself to learn from the right mistakes, specific to what you need to experience yourself instead of making all possible mistakes by yourself. Don’t have the mindset that you are delaying the process of becoming an entrepreneur.
Are you raising funds for Cube Wealth?
Cube Wealth is bootstrapped till date, with a few well-wishers who have pitched in, and a great team that has come together to build a service that we are all very excited about.
How much of a role does consumer marketing/publicity play for you? What challenges do you see here?
We’re at the stage where it is critical now. For us, it comes back to building trust, because being trusted by our members to help them create wealth and manage their money is very personal to them and is something we commit to getting right for them.
We’re not rushing to growth stage just for the sake of being there. We are very clear about our value proposition as this is a long-term play, unlike Citrus - which was a limited time-and-scope opportunity.
Any advice to aspiring startup founders and entrepreneurs who want to make it big in 2018 and beyond?
A couple of things -
- Please think about your messaging when you reach out to others for advice. (e.g. no ‘Hey help me’ or ‘HRU?’ messages!) I’m constantly shocked and disappointed by the way I am approached. I’m by no means hierarchical, however a little professionalism and being clear with your objectives goes a long way. A structured pitch backed by solid research (read: snappy, crisp executive summary and appropriate details to back it up) is the bare minimum.
- Startups aren’t easy and they aren’t for everyone, despite the popularity of the pursuit. Spend time working with those more established to build your capability before going out on your own. It’s the best thing I ever did, and it set me up to get where I am today.
- Do your research, and if there is no data available, then make assumptions and quickly validate them to see if your intuition is correct. Let go of your ego and don’t be too proud to change if you aren’t getting the right traction right away.
- Values above all! Demand it from yourself, and your people. Make no compromises on values, ever.
What kind of businesses do you wish were out there, that aren't there today?
I’m making the businesses that I wished were available! I also invest with startups that are visibly solving problems that I've experienced personally. SpotDraft is a perfect example of this, because the team is addressing pain points that all businesses experience with legal documentation. It is brilliant how they have simplified contract creation and management through lawyer-vetted templates.
GyanDhan is another investment that I am proud of, as I personally faced the problem of raising money for my education abroad. Unacademy is another confident and solid investment, as it aims to make guided education available for free across India.
This won't be the last time we talk to you on The Times Blog (fingers crossed at our end!). But this being our first interaction, is there anyone you want to thank?
Of course my team at Cube Wealth. A thousand times, my team! I want to shout out...
"You guys are awesome. You make me excited and proud to come to work every day!"
Any parting words for now, Satyen? To everyone who's reading at this point.
Start investing! Don’t procrastinate and allow room for regrets. The longer you give yourself to grow your wealth, the better are your chances to live a life without worrying about money.
Obviously, I want everyone to become a Cube Wealth Member. But more than that, I want people to live a happy life and to have enough money to pursue their passions.
Most of us can’t do that through the salaries we draw, and I'm saying this again, but it isn't just for effect. Remember - we all work too hard to just leave our money rotting away in a bank account. Make something out of it.
The Times RapidFire
Name One book that you would recommend today, without blinking.
Answer: Siddhartha - By Herman Hesse
An original quote for your loyal customers?
“Everything should be as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”
Do you operate with goals, or systems? Pick one.
Cricket, or no Cricket?
Answer: No Cricket.
Print, or Digital?
And finally... what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘The Times Blog’?