Delhi based fintech startup, Kite, is focused on creating an ecosystem of financial services for businesses. Priyanka Kanwar, Co-Founder and CEO, Kite on why a strong channel partner strategy is one of the most powerful and cost effective ways for a young startup to scale across India
Fintech startup Kite was founded by Priyanka Kanwar and Prabhtej Bhatia, who shared a common mission of expanding access to modern finance to everyone. Believing in the power of BFSI to create large-scale impact, they realised that although regulations and India’s payments infrastructure were changing fast, the country’s 50 million odd SMBs that form the backbone of the economy needed a stronger last mile to truly become part of the new digital economy. According to KPMG, only 2 per cent of these businesses, employing 120 MM Indians, are digitally enabled.
Kanwar and Bhatia founded Kite in 2017 to specifically build a viable, affordable, and innovative solution to solve the lack of financial support and payment tools these SMBs desperately need to form a solid foundation for their businesses. “Since its founding, Kite has partnered with some of India’s oldest and largest banks that have given them access to both their infrastructure and the trust they’ve built over decades. In these partnerships, Kite is bringing its focus on creating native products for the Indian market and its scalable distribution model to help businesses switch to digital payments, file GST claims on time, save on leakages, provide employee benefits, and more,” says Kanwar, adding that Kite strives to create an entire ecosystem of financial services for these businesses and their young workforce – a platform that will enable a more equitable digital economy.
Kite has processed over 2 million transactions worth over INR 500 crores, serving 120,000-plus users from over 1500 cities. The company caters to businesses of all sizes – from startups to companies with an annual turnover of more than INR 2,500 crore. “But our target segment is mid-sized businesses with up to 750-1000 employees in rapidly growing and operations-intensive industries, such as FMCG, retail, logistics, and pharma,” states Kanwar, pointing out that Kite’s holistic solution includes an entire toolkit to help businesses automate processes on a day-to-day basis and to thrive in the long-term with affordable, modern financial services.
Kite’s flagship product, Kite Tab, is an expense tracking and reimbursements solution featuring fully-customisable corporate cards, powered by Mastercard and RuPay. These cards offer full control to employers—according to region, time, merchant category, spend limit, and more. Kanwar explains that through Kite Tab’s web interface, clients gain access to features such as automated GST filing and advanced analytics. In addition to this, Kite Tab offers an end-to-end travel solution that passes corporate deals to startups and SMBs through the company’s partnerships with top travel companies. Bundled with Kite Tab is Mastercard-powered Kite Grub, a physical meal card that can be used at any food outlet that accepts a debit card. Through the tax-free food allowance, Kite Grub can save employees up to INR 12,500 in tax per year.
According to Kanwar, both Kite Tab & Kite Grub directly impact these businesses’ bottom lines by saving them lakhs on leakages, reducing approval cycles, improving cash flow, saving GST on expenses, freeing up liquidity, and saving taxes. In the background, Kite is also constantly helping these users, be it micro-entrepreneurs or family-run enterprises, create digital identities for the first time and begin responsibly using modern credit to rapidly move up the economic ladder.
Channel partner strategy
Kanwar believes that a strong channel partner strategy is one of the most powerful and cost effective ways for a young startup to scale across India, acknowledging that with India being a country built on personal relationships, online sales still contribute to less than 5 per cent of deals. This means a SaaS startup needs a robust sales force, which for an early-stage company is extremely difficult to build rapidly, considering the high cost of onboarding full-time employees. “This is where the channel partner network comes into the picture – you have passionate individuals selling your product in person to clients they already have existing relationships with, and you only pay based on conversions and retention. With the success of networks like Tally’s and SAP’s, the potential channel partner network for SaaS companies has grown rapidly in India, which translates into new opportunities even in the highly underpenetrated Tier-II and Tier-III cities,” she explains.
It is also imperative for tech startups to ensure that their channel partner network in no way dilutes the quality of product delivery or messaging for the client. “It is important to pick your target segments and geographical regions in order to efficiently onboard the right partners early on rather than having a spray and pray approach. Double down on what’s working best for conversions and de-prioritise the segments of partners that are not contributing to your sales goals,” she affirms.
Kite has already expanded its footprint to more than 10 cities in India in its first couple of quarters of sales via an effective network of channel partners. By 2020, the company is targeting 1000+ channel partners in 30+ Indian cities and industrial clusters, both metros and Tier-II. “We’re excited about bringing these partners on board, not merely to expand our geographical reach, but to also enrich our financial ecosystem and product suite for SMBs with their experience and expertise,” points out Kanwar.
Focus on innovation
In keeping with the mission of the company, all of its offerings are centered on its primary principle and focus, which is innovation. “We’re obsessed with ensuring we’re building native products that specifically cater to the pain points of Indian businesses. Our distribution model is designed to reach every pin code in India and our business model ensures our solutions are affordable for any business size,” mentions Kanwar.
The unique aspect about the product is that SaaS solutions are built integrated with payments and the financial ecosystem. This provides a more seamless experience for users, multiplies the impact on their bottom line, and truly bridges the gap for them to access even more powerful financial solutions.
“All our efforts in the next few years will be directed towards creating long-term, measurable impact for our users, be it businesses or individuals. In keeping with this, we will be launching more innovative solutions and hope to serve one million SMBs and 10 million employees in five years,” shares Kanwar.
The company has since the beginning been focused on building the right ecosystem of channel partners for sales and marketing. “This means our channel partners not only understand our mission, but also share similar values in how they build their own products or interact with their clients. Some of our channel partners include new-age accounting firms run by millennials, boutique law firms for startups, coworking spaces in metros and tier-II cities, and other modern fintech and HR tech companies,” says Kanwar, reminding that this ensures that everyone pitching Kite is truly a product evangelist, which helps make the communication of proposition and values a lot more consistent, and as a result, helps with stronger conversion rates. “Not to mention, it also helps us improve our product suite with immensely valuable feedback both from the highly involved channel partners and their clients,” she remarks.
Key milestones of the company include big wins on the customer front. Kite has been delivering smarter finance to startups and established businesses across India such as Future Supply Chains, Radisson Blu, Simba Beer, V2 Retail, IB Group, Delhi Public School, Indiano, and more.