The Incredibles: Behind the Kunal Shah You Know
After exiting FreeCharge, Shah dabbled into various things, but the entrepreneurial itch made him come back and create CRED. He believes if one has built and created all his life, the idea of not creating does not work.
What is it that brings entrepreneurs back into the grind once they have created a successful start-up and followed that up with a fine exit for those involved?
“If you have built and created all your life, the idea of not creating is never a good idea,” says Kunal Shah, founder of FreeCharge and CRED.
Having dabbled into the cashless economy with FreeCharge, long before the digital payments landscape had become what it is now, Shah sold the company to e-commerce firm Snapdeal for $400 million in 2015. Thereafter, filled with choices, he made a foray into investments (something he still does in personal capacity) and advising companies.
“One does not realize the complexity of having choices till one has it,” Shah told Entrepreneur India.
According to him, for someone who has lived the high-intensity life that entrepreneurs have to, it is frustrating not to.
CRED is a platform that lets people with a credit score of 750 or above join and rewards them for paying their credit card bills on time.
At a time when major corporations from across the world are trying to build products for the next generation of internet users in India, Shah and CRED are targeting a completely different demographic. “Global companies, when they come to India...they love getting 500-600 million customers,” he says.
But nobody was really trying to build something for the small cohort of customers who are creditworthy.
In a large country like India, it is especially tough to punish the bad actors, says Shah. “Every human society has been shaped where systematically good actors have been rewarded.”
Considering that CRED’s target demographic is much smaller than those building fintech products for everyone, would scaling be a problem?
“Yes, and no,” says Shah. “If I was trying to create a company that has 500 million customers for the sake of having it, then yes but if you look at pure consumption, 50-60 per cent of consumption of India comes from 10-15 million households, so the question then remains, am I really going for a market that is small or I am actually going for a market that is a market.”
A year after Shah sold Freecharge, the central government banned the use of INR 500 and INR 1000 notes, drastically changing the entire payments landscape.
Post demonetization, existing players such as Paytm saw massive traction with more and more people trying to go cashless. But Shah doesn’t have any regrets.
One can either sit down and regret about the misses or be thankful about doing the right thing.
“I’m glad that at least the thesis that we were way ahead of others to pick worked out.”
Shah has invested in several start-ups over the last few years including the likes of Razorpay, Unacademy and Shuttl. Having been on both sides of the table, has he seen a change in the start-up ecosystem in India?
“I think the whole sexiness of trying to do start-ups has disappeared and people have realized it’s a dark journey,” says Shah.
According to him, there was a slew of start-ups in the first wave that felt like “college festivals” but that seems to have changed. “The second batch seems like a lot more serious set of people out there to really prove their point.”
He says the fact that there are numerous second or third time entrepreneurs in the ecosystem now has helped the cause.
“We (at CRED) have grown to the scale or beyond that in few months that we took five years in FreeCharge,” he explains.
There are multiple avenues of growth going forward for CRED, says Shah.
“We made a choice that we will do everything that helps improve financial progress for our customers and every such step we help them take is a potential monetization step,” he says.
In a few years, Shah sees CRED as a community of 10-12 million customers who don’t just use the product or service being offered but also interact with each other, improving their lives.