Bhagaban Behera has seen it all.
From having good money in the bank during his first job at Barclays, to being a cash-strapped entrepreneur when he couldn’t even afford to take a bus, the CEO of fintech startup Walrus has seen and done everything.
He has earned money, spent all of it, and made every financial mistake in the book.
One thing became clear to him by way of his own journey: young Indians don’t know how to manage their money. “In India, money is a hush hush topic,” says Bhagaban. “So, suddenly you start earning and you don’t know what to do with it.”
Recounting his mathematics teacher’s wise words, Bhagaban explains how driving a vehicle is similar to managing money. “If you are not able to do calculations quickly, on a day to day basis, you get into financial disasters. And no one teaches you about this. There is no curriculum,” he says.
This is why, over two years ago, he decided to take matters into his own hands and launch Walrus: a neo-banking platform and community for young Indians.
The initial conundrum he faced was whether to build a course around financial literacy, or a product which youth could use to learn about personal finance. He thought about this a bit and realised that if you want to teach someone cricket, you had to give them a bat. Walrus decided to build the latter.
“We ditched the idea of building a course or a curriculum, which would just burden kids with one more subject to study. Instead, we decided to give them an easy to use product — here they don’t really have to think; if they use this tool they will learn automatically,” explains Bhagaban.
Every minimum viable product needs to start with market research. That’s what Bhagaban did, too. During this process, he discovered that a lot of young Indians deal in cash (despite the ease of digital payments) because they did not have a bank account. Plus, most youth they spoke to found the task of heading to a bank, filling up forms, and opening a bank account almost herculean.
The Walrus team realised that if they made this process fun and cool for the Instagram generation, and if they bring their friends too, a community could be formed. And they were right. “Our product is the Instagram version of a bank account,” says Bhagaban.
The product went through iterations along the way and the company spent almost nine months just building. This time was also spent on deep surveys to understand what customers really wanted. The target audience shifted from their initial age group of 13-18 year olds to 18-24 year olds.
The result of all this work was a first-of-its-kind platform in India where the user gets a UPI ID and a debit card without opening a bank account.
While surveys helped them shape the product, launching an invite-only version helped confirm the need for such a platform. “We were in an invite-only mode for some time, and people used to bombard us with messages. Everyday we used to get video calls and WhatsApp messages asking for an invite code,” recalls Baghaban.
After six months of piloting with around 1,000 users, they opened the platform up to everyone in October 2020.
Since then, 200,000 people have registered with Walrus, and users are doubling every month.
This was when an online post about Seed To Scale — Accel’s accelerator program for early stage founders — and the attraction of being able to interact with other entrepreneurs got Bhagaban interested.
“Meeting similar people who have had a similar journey was kind of the pull for me. And obviously Accel is a strong brand,” he says. And even though the pandemic moved the sessions online, Bhagaban says that the involvement by Accel folks on a regular basis was helpful and kept the momentum going.
Apart from having in-depth discussions with fellow entrepreneurs and investors during the program, Bhagaban is now excited about the alumni community that was formed post Seed To Scale — connections akin to an MBA school network.
“Whatsapp groups have been created. So in future when someone wants to raise funds or hire a key employee, they can reach out to this group and ask if they can help,” he says. “I’m actually currently fundraising and I have reached out to some people.”
The company’s first fundraise was right before the product launch, because as Bhagaban found out, building a fintech product is expensive. But now with users and revenue flowing in, he has a clear path ahead.
The platform is ready, and there is a clear target audience whose need has been established. “We want to take it to the next stage where it fulfills all user needs. It currently fulfills say 60%. We want to take it to say 80-90%,” explains Bhagaban.
He is confident that if they keep the users happy, revenue would be a byproduct of that. So his clear focus for the coming year is to keep building while acquiring and retaining customers.
We at Seed To Scale have been thrilled to have Walrus as part of the cohort and wish the company immense success in the coming years.