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Satyen Kothari

Satyen Kothari is founder of fintech startups Citrus Pay and Cube. A Stanford alumni in computer science, he spent 15 years in Silicon Valley learning his craft with Apple and Frog design before moving to his own startups in the US and India.

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Citrus Pay Founder Discusses Entrepreneur Lessons that Helped in New Venture, Cube

“Knowing when to launch to market is also critical…Similarly, knowing when to sell a company is also critical”

Every startup I’ve done has taught me a lot. Citrus Pay was a big financial success and taught me some key lessons. It’s shaped how I’ve set up Cube and my approach to how I advise startups. Here I share the big ticket learnings from Citrus.

Timing, timing, timing.

The cliche is true - Timing is everything. Being at the right time at the right place gives you a huge advantage. Sure you have to execute the concept hard and socialize it with the market but when you are solving real customer problems, your product will ultimately sell itself - if timed right.

In the case of Citrus, it was a perfect storm as I had just returned from Silicon Valley and seen the power of Paypal in action out there, the Indian digital payments ecosystem was at the tip of maturing, and the Indian consumer’s increasing love for smartphones and better experiences. All of these combined to position Citrus from day 0 to the ultimate exit in the right ways.

Hold, hold, hold - fire!

Knowing when to launch to market is also critical. When is your product good enough without the never-ending quest for perfection? When is the quality right for early adopters? When do you have enough essential features that customers won’t want to live without?  You want to be fast-to-market but also make sure you have proven your right to exist before launching.

In the case of Citrus, v1 was a perfect complement to our initial partner, IMS, as it provided the easy checkout layer, intelligent transaction routing, and complementary payment options to the partner. Once we had all these elements, I knew we were ready to do a full launch in the summer of 2012.

Show me the money

Similarly, knowing when to sell a company is also critical. There is always the founder and board room dilemma of balancing ambition with practicality.

We were the market darling in payments when we decided to sell Citrus. We could’ve held on and then had to hustle against all well-capitalised companies as well as fight against market altering (and economically unprofitable) protocols like UPI. We sold when on top and the decision still holds up well in hindsight as it was right for that business and the Citrus team members and shareholders.

The hard thing about hard things

I love this book by Ben Horowitz. And highly recommend all entrepreneurs read it over the usual management material out there. Because every business has its own unique nuances and challenges. And each has to be dealt with on its own merits - no shortcuts.

Towards the end of 2015, it became obvious that we needed to separate Cube and Citrus in order to give each company the best opportunity to succeed. Each business had its own unique challenges, opportunities, DNA, and value system. We have since been able to build out Cube towards its audacious vision to transform consumer wealth and money without the constraints of what we had built for Citrus. Separation gave us the best of both worlds. It meant we were able to sell Citrus without impact to Cube. However, this was an emotional decision at many levels including with many of the Citrus investors as we had built a personal bond and friendship and they had bet on the vision for both companies.

User Experience (UX) Design

For me, UX is everything. It is easy to over-complicate things, especially when it comes to already complex financial products. You have to work hard to take that pain away from your customers. Always take it back to first principles and resist temptation to over-complicate things.

We spent time and invested in creating the best user design possible with Citrus in the first 2 years. The sales engine took over in the latter years and we made some compromises that were right for the business, but not the best for users. We’ve been strict on this principle of user-first with Cube, and we are eager to show the world the results when we launch in a few weeks.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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