Investing in India has remained largely traditional owing to lack of trust and awareness on the part of consumers. However, with the increasing digitisation in many aspects of everyday lives, things have changed. Online investment platforms have not only made investing easy but have also opened up the knowledge on investing tools which were hitherto unknown to consumers.
Mutual funds even with all its scepticism is one such tool which has gained massive attention of users. Retail AUM (assets under management) in mutual funds have grown by 16% in 2019 as compared to 2018 and currently stand at INR 6.53 Lakh Cr. On the other hand, direct mutual funds have been driving retail AUM with 40% growth. Direct contribution to retail AUM has also increased by 210 basis points in the last year. In other words, digital investing is growing and growing well.
There are few startups who have hopped onto this digital investment opportunity and are making investing easier especially for millennials in India. One such startup which has captured not just a good consumer pool but marquee investors such as Y Combinator and Sequoia Capital is Groww. Founded in 2017 by four former Flipkart employees, Lalit Keshre, Harsh Jain, Neeraj Singh and Ishan Bansal, Groww has become one of the go-to names in digital investment in the Indian context.
Keshre and Jain started working together at a startup soon after graduating from IIT and even though they went their separate ways after a while, they met again at Flipkart and coincidentally were part of the same team.
While brainstorming ideas, the duo approached Singh, another employee of Flipkart, to take it forward. Bansal, who used to look at Corporate Development at Flipkart, became a part of Groww over lunch one day and confessed to Keshre that he had been thinking about a similar idea.
“Once out of Flipkart, we started working deeper on the problem and we took almost one year to launch Groww because we spent a lot of much time on the ground,” Keshre told us.
Inc42 caught up with Keshre recently to understand the journey of Groww and how it is simplifying investments for Indian millennials.
Inc42: Tell us about the inception of Groww and how you are helping individuals make smarter investments?
Lalit Keshre: During our stint at Flipkart we realised that though the financial services industry is very large, there is a big gap. There are millions of users who use traditional assets to save money such as fixed deposits. The wealth in India is growing, it is moving from traditional assets to financial assets and everything is moving online, and being from the online background we understood customers very well, that is when we realised the need to build a product that could ride on this.
Inc42: How did your stint at Flipkart impact the journey of Groww?
Lalit Keshre: Flipkart experience was one with a lot of learning. Two of the best learnings from Flipkart were:
One, customer obsession. I was amazed by how customer obsession is so intrinsic to every decision making at the company, and this is something we have carried forth at Groww as well.
The second thing was the scale. I have never seen that kind of scale before. And most of my colleagues around me had never seen that kind of scale either. Overall, you start small and then grow very fast.
Inc42: How have platforms such as Groww helped in changing how investments work? What more needs to be done?
Lalit Keshre: The first focus should be around creating simplicity for users and second should be around educating them. So far what has been happening in the financial services industry is that financial products are sold and not bought. Basically, nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks that let me buy mutual funds. People will call you and then they will sell you mutual funds and so on. That is how it used to happen, but then with platforms like Groww, all the information that you need is available to you just like what you have on ecommerce platforms like Flipkart or Amazon and so on. So it becomes very transparent. This makes it very simple as earlier it was a big hassle to get started.
For us, education also plays a big role. And if you look at our blog, YouTube channel or our content channels, we keep spreading the right message; we don’t advise usually, but we give the right content that users should know like what mutual funds are or what any other investment products are. So anything related to their financial lives we try and help them with.
Inc42: Can you touch upon the technology at algorithms at play for customising investment insights for each individual user?
Lalit Keshre: We are techies and a lot of technology goes under the hood. We use a lot of intelligence. If you look at the onboarding for the investment size, and everything else you would see a major difference in the experience. If you go to our app and you check out any fund, we lay out the information in the best, most user-friendly manner for the user, which does not scare them away. So that is the softer aspect of how it is done.
From the tech perspective, there are multiple processes that we have streamlined. The data science that goes behind presenting the right tools to the users, user onboarding, investment insights are the main components.
Inc42: What makes Groww stand out in the tight digital investments market?
Lalit Keshre: Right from day zero our philosophy has been to not focus on competition at all. We focus on our customer as we realised that it’s not competition that is the problem, it’s the customer awareness. What sets us apart, I think, is our tech-based platform and Groww uses technology to make things as simple as possible. So if you look at the UI/UX it is really simple and it takes just a few minutes for even a first-time investor to just log in and start investing. A lot of tech goes towards AI and ML to reduce friction where the customer is concerned. So wherever a customer may find a problem using the app, Groww’s intention is to be able to reduce that to minimal.
So even when you’re uploading your photo, how the system matches the photo with the person or identifies signatures, everything with respect to pre-investment as well as post-investment, has a lot of tech that goes into making things very easy for a customer.
Inc42: How did Groww attract investments from Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator? How have they made a difference to Groww?
Lalit Keshre: I think it is the customer focus that we bring to the table. So there are two things in our business, consumers and financial services. For customers, it makes a big difference in multiple ways. One is capital so if you have capital, you get more confidence. Secondly, both of these have backed very renowned startups, and thus they have the experience to help a company like ours grow from a very early stage. They carry a lot of wisdom and experience with them and I believe, as an entrepreneur, we get a lot of help and learning from their experiences of backing other startups.
Inc42: Tell us about your team strength and hiring plans. What are the new geographies and products that you are looking to leverage in the near future?
Lalit Keshre: We are building team strength in tech and finance by hiring aggressively for both areas. We are currently hiring for multiple positions in engineering, product, and growth.
For the next few years, we are focused on India. In terms of products, our goal is to become the one-stop destination for all investing products. So, when users think about investing, Groww should come to their mind. And today we have all mutual funds that exist in India. We are launching stocks in the coming months and soon after we would be entering more product categories.