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'Building a startup is a marathon, not a sprint'

March 03, 2009 09:04 IST

Necessity is certainly the mother of invention. Gone are the days when we used to stand in long queues to pay our utility bills. In came Internet and along with it the online payment mode that has eased our lives to a great extent.

Taking this convenience to the next level, soon mobile payment options were invented so that one could now pay through one's handset without even having to log into the Internet.

Bangalore-based mChek India Payment Systems Pvt Ltd, a mobile payments and security company, ensures that you can pay your mobile bills, insurance premiums, buy air tickets and movie tickets by just pressing a few buttons on your phone.

At the EmTech India 2009 Conference in New Delhi, Sanjay Swamy, CEO of mChek, spoke to Assistant Managing Editor Indrani Roy Mitra on mobile bill payment technology, his participation at the IT conclave, his journey as an entrepreneur, global downturn and other issues.

Having launched its product '2 factor authentication using mobile' in September 2006, mCheck registered remarkable growth in a short span of time.

Prior to mChek, Swamy was general manager of Ketera India, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kleiner Venture-backed Ketera Inc. He set up and ran India operations for mPortal, a Virginia-based startup in the Wireless Data services arena.

Swamy has worked in the online/mobile content at Portal Software, Xerox PARC and in embedded systems at Wind River for 12.

Please tell us about your session on Secure Instant Courier at the EmTech 09.

The session is to unveil something we have been working on for a while.

We come across several situations where a piece of information needs to be sent in a manner that ensures nobody else can read the information in transit.

Classic examples are ATM PIN or Internet PIN/Passwords for financial services -- currently these are delivered typically in 48-72 hours using a physical courier delivery process.

mChek's Secure Instant Courier service allows such information to be delivered instantaneously to an end-user's mobile phone using our patent-pending encryption and delivery capability.

Today the facility is available to Airtel subscribers, who have the mChek-enabled SIM card or any mobile phone user with a Java phone.

What does mChek stand for?

mChek stands for Mobile Cheque or Mobile Check (verification). We are able to securely authenticate a user and get an instantaneous remote authorisation for any transaction, including a payment using the mobile phone.

Thanks to mChek, one can now pay mobile bills, insurance premiums; buy air tickets and movie tickets through mobile phones. How did this idea generate?

Banking, bill payments, travel and commerce are services that all of us need to use -- and convenience appeals to everybody.

The idea originated in 2003 when I was vacationing in India and asked an auto-rickshaw driver the time -- when he pulled out his mobile to read out the time. Something clicked then.

I realised here was a device that can do so much. It can send and receive messages and that could be payment messages as well.

By using this device, we could bring the masses into the banking industry.

Do you think the people of our country are tech-savvy enough to use this?

Every pilot we do tells me that people are more tech-savvy than we give them credit for.

Fortunately, for a service like mChek all you need is to enter a 6 digit mChekPIN. We have found that the concept is easily understood by women lying even at the bottom of the pyramid. That should answer your question!

How different is it from 'Paypal' in India?

mChek is a service for banked customers -- and our vision is that this becomes a platform to bring the masses into the banking population.

What is the estimated market in India?

The market space in India is hard to gauge -- anytime money is exchanged, one would argue that a service like mChek could have been (or should have been) used.

In three years, India is estimated to have 750 million users doing Rs 200 per month of ARPU (average revenue per user).

Add electricity and water bills and you get about Rs 500 of monthly spends. This, in other words, is a massive market opportunity.

ngpay, known to be 'India's largest mall on mobile' was recently honoured with the Technoloy Pioneer 2009 award from the World Economic Forum. Please share with us your views on the same. Do you foresee any chance of collaboration between mChek and ngPay or companies of similar stature?

mChek is a secure payment platform -- while there is overlap with some of the other companies in this space, there is absolutely an opportunity for collaboration and we welcome any and all players to partner with us to leverage our secure payment platform.

The world at present is reeling under meltdown. What effect, do you think will it have on the IT industry?

Looking at the industry at a macro-level, there will be some short-term hiccups but in the long-run, investments in IT will take place.

From the Indian perspective, off-shoring to India will only grow. As the world takes stock of the meltdown, the IT industry will continue to thrive. The dollar becoming stronger is another factor that will make India more competitive.

From mChek's perspective, we think it is as good a time as any to build a startup.

We believe we have a very strong solution and value proposition to telecom operators, banks and brokerage firms, merchants and consumers -- we lower costs, we increase revenues and we bring tremendous convenience to consumers.

With these core value propositions, we are very busy!

How are you countering the downturn?

We have always been very careful and prudent about our cost structure -- this will continue to be our philosophy.

What are your company's expansion plans?

Right now our focus is on the basics -- keep plugging away and build a reputation of a reliable and customer-friendly service that offers strong and lasting value to everyone we touch.

This keeps us very busy.

We will continue to focus on innovation and excellence.

Do you see a ray of hope amid this dark cloud of global crisis?

Absolutely. There are tremendous opportunities in the world right now; one just needs to get out of one's comfort zone and look for solutions.

We have to accept that post September 2008, there is a new world order. We must work with the constraints and opportunities that it threw up.

What will be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs?

Three simple messages:

  • If you have something you are passionate about -- just do it!
  • There has never been a better time to build a startup -- and the strongest companies have historically been built in this environment.
  • Nothing comes easy in life: if you jump in now and work on a startup, you'll be ready with your product at about the best time, just when the economy looks up.

Building a startup is a marathon -- not a sprint --  and you need to dig in for the long term.