The Roller Coaster Ride Of Innoviti From Wireless Hardware To Digital Payments And SME Lending: A Chat With Founder Rajeev Agrawal
In a world inundated with overnight successes and viral hits, the story of Innoviti founder Rajeev Agrawal is refreshingly real. His long-meandering career as an entrepreneur has encompassed several milestones over the course of 15 years. From its inception as a wireless hardware systems manufacturer in 2002, Innoviti has steered its course into digital payments and SME lending, with its flagship product UniPAY which as per the company, is currently processing more than $3 Bn worth of transactions in over 700 cities each year.
A Ph.D. graduate from IIT Bombay, Agrawal exudes the quiet confidence of a man who knows what he is doing. Speaking about UniPAY’s core technology, Rajeev uses an interesting analogy involving Google Maps. He explains, “We have adopted a similar approach as Google maps, which looks ahead and tells you which road has less traffic. It also points out the alternative roads that can be taken. This is exactly what we do with a transaction.”
When a transaction leaves a machine, the UniPAY technology tries to look ahead to check the reliability and speed of the route along which the transaction is supposed to happen. It also attempts to find out if there’s any better route available. At any given time, the algorithm keeps on analytically switching the process to make sure that it will happen the fastest and in the most reliable manner.
Over the last 12 months, Innoviti has branched out into SME lending as well. Although seemingly disjointed, the move, Innoviti CEO Rajeev Agrawal assures, was the natural outcome of the company’s sustained efforts to look at problems across the digital payments supply chain, and not just at the consumer level. While UniPAY aims to facilitate the movement of money and the transfer of information, the SME lending service is intended for supplying working capital to the growing population of small merchants in the country.
To a great extent, Innoviti’s success can be attributed to the founder’s love for numbers. In our hour-long conversation, Rajeev Agrawal shared several numbers that are indicative of Innoviti’s inspirational voyage from 2002 to the present. So, let’s take a peek at some of these numbers:
Despite changing its course several times in the last decade, Rajeev maintains that Innoviti was started with the perspective of building a robust product business in India. The idea was to create a non-linear revenue model that is dependent not on the number of customers, but on the value of the product. The venture-backed fintech firmm made its debut with short-range wireless hardware that allowed users to set up portable wireless networks (WiFi) in homes, hotels, restaurants, and petrol pumps for payments.
According to Rajeev Agrawal, Innoviti’s foray into digital payments was the result of a happy accident. In 2007-08, there was a need for a wireless payments terminal technology that could be brought to the customers, instead of the customer having to go to the terminal. Developed specifically for the consumer market, the hardware product was envisioned as a solution for making payment terminals wireless. This eventually paved the way for UniPAY, as we know it today.
Rajeev recalls, “At that time, there was also a security concern surrounding the usage of card swipe machines, especially in restaurants and hotels. Web PIN wasn’t in use then. The product we developed allowed business owners to securely bring the terminal to customers.”
It was around the same time that India’s fledgling digital payments sector received its first major boost with the arrival of large retail chains like Reliance Retail, Future Group, and others. The birth of Innoviti’s UniPAY product line can be traced back to 2008, when the company partnered with Reliance Retail to build a dynamic payments platform that would allow users to not only transfer money, but also transmit the information associated with the transaction, in terms of who’s paying, the amount, and the invoice number.
UniPAY = Google Maps Of Digital Payments
The payments platform was originally meant for offline organised retail, especially larger retailers like Reliance Retail, Inox, Tanishq, etc. With further development of the core technology, UniPAY was soon able to process a particular transaction with a bank that would charge the least amount of fee.