In 2011 product innovation specialist Satyen Kothari and finance and sales specialist Jitendra Gupta fought to think different. They wanted to create a payment experience which would be simple, easy and efficient for merchants and customers and thus was founded Citrus Payments Solutions (Citrus Pay) that year. “Our products were primarily pitched to technology dependent companies rather than ones which went with an old world banking mindset,” shares Amrish Rau, the current CEO of Citrus Pay.
When the company was founded its market positioning was; how can Citrus Pay improve on the user experience of merchants and end-users? In other words, how can the company help merchants improve success rate of transactions and make the checkout experience hassle-free and intuitive for customers? Then, over the next three years, it moved from improving the payment experience to controlling every aspect of the payment infrastructure. “This was the inflection point for us. This is when we began focusing on technology and software and developed various payment methods,” states Rau.
Developing viable products
Citrus Pay’s product range, which currently records a gross transaction run rate of US $1.5 billion, offers significant but often unnoticed advantages to both ends of the value chain.
For example, on the merchant side, when a customer is making a payment and the payment doesn’t get processed, Citrus Pay ensures that it redirects the customer to the checkout page and suggests alternate payment methods. As a second, with many SMEs selling products on group sites such as Flipkart and Snapdeal there is a requirement for the host company to segregate the payments made for each merchant and distribute it on a timely basis. To tackle this, the company has developed a product software, which automatically transfers each payment to the respective merchants, thus avoiding any middle management.
From a customer perspective, given that many customers today would like their card details to be readily available at the checkout page, it has developed a service called Turbo Checkout wherein the customer has to only log into the Citrus account, select the pre-entered card details and make the payment. Currently, this product has over 50 million users and can be used with over 1,500 merchants. Other products it has developed are Citrus Cash (person to person payments) and Citrus Cube (bill payments system). While the first product does as it says (enables one individual to transfer money to another individual through the Citrus Pay platform), the second product acts as an integrated platform for customers to pay bills, instead of having them download an app for each payment. “What I have learnt from this industry is, the Indian payment system enjoys close to 100 per cent protection from fraud and theft. As a result, we are seeing a lot of customers resorting to electronic payments through mobile or Internet. While this is a huge advantage for us, it also has its fair share of challenges,” points out Rau. For example, as companies constantly evolve, Citrus Pay needs to innovate to ensure that at every level, it offers consistency in payment solutions and delivers the same level of authentication and security.
Today, the company claims to have on board over 2,500 merchants and 11 million customers using its varied products and its competitors include companies such as Paytm, PayPal, CCAvenues and ibibo Group’s PayU.
The go-to market strategy
Citrus Pay has carefully charted out a marketing strategy to cater to each of its customers; the small business merchants, the large enterprises and the end customers. In the first segment, a typical challenge SMEs face is the lack of adequate support from banking and financial institutions (due to the latter’s inability to service them) and a cumbersome working partnership with web developers due to difficulty in interacting with large banks to integrate platform, technology and product. To address this, Citrus Pay has developed a DIY kit on its website, where small business merchants and web developers can register on the website and within the hour, go live in accepting payments.
Secondly, its sales strategy for large merchants is getting the enterprise sales teams to pitch the various products and services it offers on its platforms. As for end customers, on one hand, it uses social media and SEO to place targeted ads (to download apps) and it also partners with banks which don’t have bill payment or person to person payment services and co-brands with them to deliver its products to the bank’s customer base.
Entering the growth phase
Since founding, Citrus Pay has raised a Series A and Series B totaling US $7.3 million from Sequoia Capital, eContext Asia Ltd., a Japanese online payments company and Beenos Asia Pte. Ltd, a subsidiary of Japanese -based ecommerce company Netprice. “All the investments were and are being channelised into infrastructure development, building sales capabilities and innovating on the product front,” indicates Rau.
Going forward, he notes that the company has an interesting challenge ahead of it. “We have two factories working within the company; one that focuses on streamlining the payment process and the other which makes payments more approachable and user-friendly for customers. Our challenge, going forward, will be in maintaining this positioning and following the rigour and sturdiness of a payments company,” he shares. With a current employee base of 200 all over India, in close to 24 months, the company aims to sign 25,000 merchants on board and increase its end-user base to 17 million. “We are no more a startup. As we enter the growth phase, our aim is to be a market leader in the Indian payments space in the next three years,” says Rau as he signs off.
CUSTOMER ACQUISITION IN YEAR ONE: 5 KEY LESSONS FOR ENTREPRENEURS
A) DEVELOPING AN MVP:
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a key approach to the market and is better than building a full blown product; Often product and technology teams are excited to deliver ample features but in this fast changing world , either customer expectations move to the next level or the competition ramps up. In such cases, it is wiser to launch an MVP and then keep building.
B) AGILE TEAM APPROACH:
Teams should be effective and agile to move as per recent market trends and iterate the product. It is clear that customers don’t wait for anyone to finish their roadmap and then deliver as per their expectations.
C) STICK TO THE CORE PHILOSOPHY OF BUSINESS:
When you are starting up, it is easy to get swayed by small wins with big customers and then tweak the product. In most cases, startups turn themselves into services mode rather than sticking to product mode. Product tweaks should be made only if the product can be marketed to a large customer base and it enhances the overall product proposition.
D) DON’T TRY TO MAKE ALL THE MONEY FROM YOUR FIRST CUSTOMER:
Sometimes, entrepreneurs want to recover full/substantial product cost from first few customers itself. This in fact makes sales difficult; it is better to provide privileged pricing to early adopters. It is critical to let those customers explicitly know that they are the early adopters. Otherwise, it may lead to a huge expectation mismatch when the product has initial glitches, which is bound to happen.
E) COMMUNICATE WITH CUSTOMERS MORE OFTEN:
It is very critical to update early adopters about the future of the product, its roadmap and seek their feedback early on. It helps to think in a holistic manner and is better than gambling with conference room ideas.