July 03, 2014

Interview: Indian duo’s business venture revolutionizing cross border payments

Original piece by Bidisha Roy appeared in the July 2014 issue of The South Asian (PDF here)

Four years back, Anurag Jain and Ajay Goyal, two immigrants from India like many immigrants in the United States sought to help their friends and families back home financially.

But they discovered that sending money cross-border is a very expensive, inconvenient and time consuming process-especially for low income groups, like most immigrants, who are not internet savvy or are cash-preferred. They also faced problem with conventional money remittance methods, as they had no cost-effective option to send amounts less than $50. So they struggled to find ways to send small values home to their families here and there, to help with bills and costs of living, and their options were extremely limited. This idea of enabling immigrants to assist their families abroad by sending small values, on an instantaneous basis, without any fees and for specific purposes was the genesis of the Indian duo’s joint business venture – Prepay Nation.

Prepay Nation, a value transfer company that has done more than $1/4 Billion in transactions so far. Prepay Nation has built an exponentially growing business by fulfilling the needs of an immigrant to be able to buy products & services for their families back home in small values, without fees and on a real time basis. The company’s growth & business model has won several accolades including the nomination for the “Best Cash Innovation Award” for the PYMNTS Innovation Project 2014, was Featured in Forbes as one of the “Most Promising Companies in America”, was declared the “fastest growing company” in the Philadelphia Region by Wharton Business School & Entrepreneurs Forum and was the winner of TiE 50 Award for Mobile Category in 2013. In a conversation with The Insider, Anurag Jain shared their success story.

The Insider: Don’t you think you took a huge risk by starting your own business?

Anurag: Obviously, with any start-up, there is an element of risk involved, and that was the case with Prepay Nation as well. But our deep understanding of diaspora markets, technology, and the mobile ecosystem coupled with past experiences gave us the confidence to take on a calculated risk. And we got fortunate in that very early on, a few very talented people got associated with the company as employees or board members; this helped us create a solid foundation, and contributed to the amazing growth we’ve had to date.

The Insider: Did you face any difficulty? How did you overcome them?

Anurag: We went through all the usual start-up venture challenges… Things like limited resources, acquiring our first paying customers, cash flow, etc. But one of the most unique issues, which we didn’t anticipate at the outset, was working with partners around the globe in different time zones and languages. I remember that in the early days, when we were trying to integrate our systems with mobile operators in the Philippines and Afghanistan or Pakistan, we would work till 3 or 4 AM and then have the next full working day starting 9AM. In the majority of those cases we would find people who spoke English, but there were instances where the technical people on the other side were not fluent in English or would prefer to use their native language. And that became a very unique challenge for us.

The Insider: How is Prepay Nation different from other such companies?

Anurag: We are very sensitive to the fact that we are serving customers who have come to a foreign land, and saved their hard-earned money to send it to help their families back home. And because we keep that in mind, it is so important to us that we deliver the best value to our customers. Profitability on these transactions is secondary to us. We believe that it is this mindset which has helped us grow as fast as we have grown in the last 4 years.

We have also built our platform to be uniquely flexible, more so than other companies trying to address this under-served population. We are able to use it to transfer all kinds of values, starting out as cash in a shop and ending up on the other side of the world as airtime, or a tank of gas, or a gift card for groceries. That flexibility lets us dream up new options that we would have loved when we were starting out as immigrants, and work to make them a reality.

The Insider: Your future plans?

Anurag: We plan to extend our services into other geographies such as Canada, UK, Spain, France and the Middle East… basically, wherever immigrant workers are. Besides that, we plan to launch other use cases of productized remittance, ultimately allowing immigrants to buy specific products and services for their family members back home for as low as $2 without any fees.

The Insider: Any suggestion for immigrants who want to start their own business here?

Anurag: Surround yourself with smarter people, and don’t be afraid to discuss your ideas with others. Chances are that you will get sincere feedback on your ideas, and that feedback will help you plan better and build a stronger business.