To say that Rohit Taneja has built a strong forte in the field of entrepreneurship won’t even bear a semblance of exaggeration. Taneja’s first startup Mypoolin was India’s first social payment platform and was successfully acquired by California based Wibmo in 2018. Mypoolin’s runaway success certainly enhanced Taneja’s reputation. But it offered something more invaluable to this spirited entrepreneur. His nearly four year stint with Mypoolin helped in laying the genesis of his latest venture, Decentro.
Decentro tries to address one of the archaic problems of the Indian banking system, its antique and outdated technology that never allows faster rolling out of retail products into the market. Taneja’s latest startup seeks to redefine the way banks and financial institutions launch their products, bringing an unprecedented efficiency in this traditionally sluggish process.
Decentro has already made a good headway in this daunting quest. From getting a backing from the world’s most popular accelerator program Y Combinator, its recent seed funding round to snaping up strategic partnership with leading banks including ICICI Bank.
Techpluto caught up with Decentro’s Co-founder and CEO Rohit Taneja in an exclusive interview. In this exclusive interview, Taneja bares all the important facts about Decentro – inception of the idea, early days, recent fundraising, impact of COVID-19 and the road ahead.
Q) How would you like to sum up Decentro’s journey, right from inception to its recent seed funding round?
I co-founded Mypoolin in 2015, and it was the country’s first social payments platform, similar to Venmo from the US. After raising two rounds of funding, the company was acquired by a California-based global payments player Wibmo in 2017, which in turn was acquired by Naspers-backed PayU in 2019.
As part of this journey, I experienced first-hand how painfully long and intricate working with a bank can be, both for a small start-up as well as a huge corporation with a workforce of 1000+. In 2017-2019, when I was working with Wibmo and PayU as the Director of Payments, I encountered the exact same hurdles while leading the India and SEA markets in terms of their financial and banking integrations. These experiences got me thinking and inspired me to build a venture to address this problem. The market for it was wide, and the solution seemed intuitive to me, having the relevant expertise in the field. And, that’s how Decentro came to life.
Q) From a layman’s perspective, how would you like to define Decentro and its long-term
Decentro is a full-stack API banking platform where any company can come, select their desired modules, integrate into the sandbox, and launch a product with just a few lines of code, and in a couple of weeks. Not only that, but we also take care of all fixes, iterations, and updates without breaking any ﬂow.
With us, businesses save valuable man-months and capital spent in integrating with legacy infrastructure & broken API documentations of the banks. The improvement is more than 10X in terms of saving both time and money. Ultimately, our platform enables experimentation and financial innovation at an unprecedented scale for fintechs, enterprises as well as big marketplaces.
Q) What are some of the fundamental pain-points that Decentro’s API platform is seeking to address as it engages in improving the product cycle of banks and other financial institutions?
You would agree on how fast the world has changed in terms of technology. From bulky desktop devices with ﬂoppy & CD drives to the thinnest tablets enabling powerful personal computing. From snail-like network speeds to the blazingly fast protocols allowing multiplayer high-definition gaming across diﬀerent parts of the globe. Overall, it would be fair enough to say that this does feel like the 21st century in the true sense.
Now, let’s take the same lens and try to see the world of financial services and banking. We are moving from cash to cheques to digital banking across a span of decades (not a few years) and many of us have not moved at all! Also, most of us would recall that our experience whether in account opening, availing credit, or even simple money transfers, is still almost the same as a decade ago.
The revolution and democratisation that cloud infrastructure like AWS has brought to the world of the internet, is going to come to the world of financial services. However, with one major change- this time it will be via multiple platforms since the world of money is much more complex. Ultimately, these platforms will enable experimentation of financial innovation at an unprecedented scale from the obvious fin-techs to the existing enterprises and big marketplaces.
We at Decentro, aspire to be one of those platforms and do our bit for the world! The ultimate beneficiaries will, of course, be the billions of consumers and millions of companies all around.
Q) Can you briefly explain why today API assumes such a great importance for India’s banking system?
APIs act as connectors between banks and fintechs so that both parties can benefit from each other and offer modern solutions to their customers. For banks, API solutions can help older financial institutions find the right fintech partners to offer innovative solutions for their customers. For FinTechs, APIs can get these startups working more effectively with banks’ legacy systems instead of building new systems on their own.
They act like a glue to bring together any business with their partner ecosystem. It helps in eliminating barriers between businesses and banks as all of them have access to the same data. Ultimately, this helps in the overall growth of the financial industry, along with improving the quality of services available.
Q) Compared to other countries, where does India’s banking industry really stand when it comes to digitization?
The banking ecosystem of India has seen some interesting changes in terms of the availability of digital channels in the last few years. Embedding banking services on SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) based accounting platforms is a good example of how the availability of APIs and digital channels is potentially benefiting the entire ecosystem.
India has taken some key steps in the right direction by partially standardising and opening certain financial services (using UPI, account aggregators, India Stack, etc.); and with a vibrant fintech ecosystem, we are likely to witness a huge disruption led by open banking.
This availability of APIs is leading to the decoupling of products from distribution in a ‘marketplace’ model where we as customers can choose any non-banking entity to perform financial functions, avail benefits, apply for instruments like credit/cards, etc.
Q) Decentro is a Y Combinator backed startup. How was the experience of participating in Y Combinator’s summer batch?
YCombinator has been incredibly helpful on all the fronts, be it the connections, or the guidance, feedback, fundraising and more. Their network is quite powerful across the world and getting introductions becomes a breeze via their partners, alumni or peer companies.
The summer batch of 2020 was the first fully remote batch that they organised for the first time, and the structure was simply amazing. Not only did we get the chance to be close to our customers in India, but also attended all the sessions and workshops late at night. Needless to say, it was hectic but one of the best experiences for any founder.
Q) Given that most startups struggle to raise funds, how difficult or easy it was for Decentro to raise the latest seed funding round?
Yes, in our case, the seed round closed fairly quickly in a matter of few weeks. A couple of things helped a lot in the same –
- Being a second time founder with an exit empowered my previous angels to join in.
- Having scaled and built a fin-tech venture previously in India
- YCombinator’s validation and their investor network via demo day
- Our business growth and validation of the BaaS space across.
Q) What has been the impact of COVID-19 on Decentro’s business?
The pandemic has made a few more things abundantly clear. One of them is that remote verification, digital money movement, on-demand financial services, and automated reconciliation as use cases are growing exponentially every day. Another one is that the integration of financial services and instruments inside an existing app or platform creates massive monetization opportunities for both sides.
Except for the downside of fewer people availing credit in 2020 due to loss of income and related reasons, the fintech sector and platform banking space itself have attracted huge tailwinds. Interestingly, as a company, we took birth, were incubated by YCombinator, launched 3 major products, raised angel and seed capital, as well as grew by 40% month over month during the pandemic last year.
I believe the market is opening up much faster than people anticipated when it comes to banking APIs, both in terms of supply and demand. The banks realize that firstly, product and API delivery is not their forte at all, and secondly, it is just so hard for them to change their business processes to fast-track even a single customer.
Q) What is next for Decentro? Where do you see Decentro two or three years from now. Would you like to provide any rough growth or revenue projections for future?
We plan on focusing on strengthening our partnerships with banks and are on track to increasing our existing customer base by 4 – 5X by the end of 2021 across our existing products, as compared to EOY 2020. And a transactional growth of 20X or more.
Another key aspect is the launch of new products. One of the key products that we are launching is ‘embedded finance’ APIs for enabling credit workflows in a few high-growth consumer and business facing applications. More details will be coming soon.
We are also looking at expanding our team strength during this financial year. While hiring, we consider their hunger, drive, proven contribution, analytical skills, and ability to tackle integration and service issues at a holistic level. Few of the principles that guide us as a team are-
- Radical truth and honesty towards each other, even if it is uncomfortable.
- Empathy towards our customers (companies) and walking in their shoes at all times.
- Execute and manage your task as someone operating a machine, which means both zooming out at the high level as well as zooming in for attention to detail.
Q) You are one of the veterans in India’s startup industry. Your last startup Mypoolin was acquired by Wibmo in 2017 in a cash and stock deal. Personally, how would you like to define your journey as a serial startup entrepreneur?
I am here to solve the most impactful problems that I face personally, and money/fintech happened to be the vertical where I saw the scope and existing challenges at a larger level.
It is still early days but I see Decentro becoming a much larger venture in the country’s ecosystem. Looking forward to building an even bigger moat by solving hard problems and moving fast on the same.