This CA co-founded a fintech lending startup that disbursed loans worth $1 Bn. He encourages non-techies to enter the tech space.

How this chartered accountant cofounded fintech lending startup EarlySalary

  • Hi, I am Ashish Goyal, a Chartered Accountant (CA) and co-founder of Fibe (previously EarlySalary), a financial ecosystem for mid-income individuals in India
  • In 2015, after a successful corporate run, I was keen to do something that could make a difference and ended up riding the fintech wave.
  • Luckily, I discovered a co-founder in a dear friend and we took the leap, leaving our comfort zone.
  • In 2015 VCs market was not as vibrant to invest in startups as they are today, here’s how we thrived it all. 

After a decade of portfolio management...time to rethink my career choices

Physics, chemistry, and biology were not my cups of tea. But having a very strong mathematical background I always had an interest in accounting or the financial services sector.

I believed that’s how I’d be able to make an impact on society all the while growing in my career. I eventually went on to pursue Chartered Accountancy and qualified as a CA in 2001.

Around that time the Insurance Sector was starting to take off. I thought “Why don’t I get into this sector? There must be a lot of things to learn and gather experience from.” 

I joined Bajaj Allianz General Insurance as a manager. I was one of the first 100 employees to join their office in Pune, India. 

Because of the close-knit work environment, I had the opportunity to dip my toes in various fields, especially business. It doesn’t usually happen in established organizations but I was fortunate. 

In 2006, I decided to pick portfolio management as my core field and after 2 years got promoted to Chief Investment Officer. I was managing fixed-income Investments for the group.

Yes, over the course of 13 years I built quite a successful corporate career... But I wanted to start something of my own, that could have a bigger impact on society.

Akshay Mehrotra (now my co-founder) shared a similar vision. I have known him for almost 20 years now, and we started our careers together. I was the finance guy and he was in marketing at Bajaj Allianz.

Also, the good thing about Akshay is that his energy level is extremely high. So, both of us in that sense are chalk and cheese.

What now?

Leap in the digital financial space 

By 2015, Akshay and I were looking for an idea to start with. 

After quite a bit of brainstorming we came up with some guidelines to help us select our startup idea; 

Our startup should be customer space. We thought that if we are going to build something, it shall cater to individuals, rather than big businesses. We opted for a B2C model.

Secondly, it should be in the Financial Services industry

And thirdly, it should have the potential to become a large business. As I said, we needed to come up with a business idea that creates an impact on society. 

Keeping these in mind we started our market research and the FinTech sector caught our attention... Specifically the digital lending space. The timing couldn’t be better.

We noticed that while larger institutions lend INR 2 lakh, very few of them would lend INR 5,000 (USD 100). 

What if somebody needs a certain amount of money for a medical emergency, to pay rent, or buy something that they have always wanted?

Coming from a small city in Rajasthan and then moving to a big city like Pune, I could resonate with the idea that many salaried employees were short of small amounts and do not have access to banks. 

Can we be the ones who help people live their best life and fulfill their goals? But doing so, we decided that Tech and Analytics will be the backbone to achieve our objectives.

In 2015, Venture Capitalists weren’t as willing to pour a heap of funds into startups, as they are today. 

Despite that, we listened to our intuition and felt that this was something where our capabilities would make it a success story. (Before we quit our jobs and started out on this journey we did our homework on various aspects and objectives of our startup.) 

EarlySalry (now Fibe) was born - a FinTech start-up that provides tech-enabled faster and better financial services to salaried employees for loans as small as Rs. 5,000 to up to Rs 5 lakhs with quick processing.

Also Read

CA Suneel, founded the FinTech startup Mera Cashier to help small merchants. But fundraising and other challenges compelled him to discontinue his startup journey. He returned to the corporate world.

Building EarlySalary... as non-tech founders

Thinking about our early days gives me goosebumps! 

From looking for an office in Pune, hiring a CA to do our audits, to finding a security guard and chaiwala (Tea seller) myself; I realized that if one wants to build a startup, one has to get their hands dirty.

Since both Akshay and I came from non-tech backgrounds, we needed someone with a solid tech background. We got a good set of techies on board to help us build the first model of the product. The journey started with six people. We built our minimum viable product and lots of feedback came in.

We started working on the mobile application in October 2015, and we launched it in February 2016; a record time of 4 months. 

I remember when we launched our product, one of our customers who was a tech guy called us up and said. 'Hey, I am unable to access this page. I suggest you fix this.' We have always kept ourselves open to feedback to keep building the product according to consumer needs.

As time progressed we kept on building the tech stack and the entire company around it. I learned what goes behind building a customer-centric product, what kind of technology makes it possible, how to improve customer experience etc.

In 2015, we raised $1.5M in a seed round, however as you can understand it wasn’t enough for us to scale. Unlike any other business, money is the raw material for EarlySalary. We raise money to lend money.

We faced the usual challenges of any early startup, whether it is about raising the next round of funds, or ensuring that we get clients - We demonstrated the proof of concepts of early products and kept building growth momentum. 

We believed that if we are building a profitable business and keep generating revenue, it might take some time but it will happen eventually. 

Our financial prudence and keen sense of purpose kept EarlySalary continuing to grow.

In 2017 we raised $4 million, which was a big validation and motivated our team to do more. Most importantly we were strategic about utilizing the money. We made sure that it wasn’t spent on something irrelevant. 

By mid-2022, we had disbursed nearly 2.8 million loans worth $1 Billion. Many of our customers are first-time borrowers. 

In August 2022, we raised $110 mn in Series D. 

Persistence and focus on the consumer paid off.

Also Read

Vaibhav is a banker who made a transition into the world of entrepreneurship and fintech. He co-founded Easy Pay which helps MSMEs and aims to become the largest MSME Neobank in India.

Closing...

My time at Bajaj Allianz helped me look at the Risk–return spectrum from multiple angles. Today our analytics teams have built best-in-class scorecards and models, which allow us to take decisions on a real-time basis while ensuring risk remains under control. 

We believe “Scale is paramount but risk management is critical in finance business”. My risk management team has created a Model Risk Management (MRM) Framework that got us through Covid-related situations.

CA degree undoubtedly laid the foundation for whatever I have achieved. Unfortunately, CAs are always seen as Finance and Accounting professionals but in reality, I think many of us have evolved and are managing businesses. 

Today, at our company, there are so many Finance Professionals including CAs, working in risk management, underwriting, analytics, products and ofcourse, Finance and treasury. 

And if you want to start a business, I think this is one of the best times in India to start one. 

India is on its way to becoming one of the biggest economies and we can play a big part in it. Great companies are coming out of India and many more will come in the future. I believe "Doing it is not a risk. Not doing it, is a risk. "

And remember, one should never be afraid of asking for help because bringing an idea to life all by yourself could be slightly harder. One will always need well-wishers and mentors throughout the Startup journey. I still reach out to my mentors who guided me in the initial days of my entrepreneurial journey. 

Lastly, I come from a strong finance background and Akshay comes from a strong marketing background but we always believed that if you are running a business, what is most critical? Execution. So irrespective of your qualification you can make the leap in the tech space. 

 

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