His very first venture found a halt due to COVID-19. Instead of giving up, he carried on with his dream, pivoted, and set up another startup. Hailing from a small town near Varanasi where an IIT dream is a luxury, Akshay Jaiswal, the founder of Astu Credit, has reached his goal through prowess and perseverance.
Let us read through his story on how he pursues success with Astu Credit.
YC: A person’s life is deeply influenced by their childhood days. How was yours?
Akshay: My early days were spent in Ghazipur near Varanasi. I did my schooling at St. Johns School till matriculation. My parents were mostly very loving and supportive, but strict at times. My father runs a medical business. My mother is a homemaker.
My parents believed that I should do everything I was interested in. They were also very particular that education was of prime importance. Our relatives lived nearby, and we all grew up together. My elder sister introduced me to all those ‘Engineering’, IITs, NITs, etc.
YC: What followed next?
A Moment to Cherish!
Akshay – I didn’t clear IITs in my first attempt. Although others insisted I get into NITs to avoid losing a year, I decided otherwise. During my coaching days, I learned how IIT shapes a person. I knew the Alumni network too, would be quite helpful for my professional life. I knew IIT was worth it, so I gave it another try.
In the second attempt, I got through IIT-JEE!
The next big question was IIT v/s Branch – I somehow got hold of a bhaiya from our school, a senior from IIT Kharagpur. He advised me to select an IIT, for better peers. My coaching tutor suggested that if I wasn’t sure of which branch to choose, it would be better to take Computer Science. I took Computer Science at IIT (BHU) Varanasi. I was one among the very few who secured an IIT admission from our area, and it was indeed a proud moment!
YC: IIT vs Branch? What would you suggest?
Akshay: It depends. I have seen things constantly changing over time. I would suggest:
- It is how you study that matters, not what you study. The course doesn’t matter much. If you don’t incline towards a particular job or a course, choose any subject and do it well. You can go for any job regardless of your background.
- Explore – Read, find out, talk to people and explore options. Use platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to connect. All of these might help in better decision making.
YC: How were the four years of college? What was the placement season like?
Akshay: Mostly, we drop-outs chill out the first year. It owes to the immense work done to get into the IITs for the preceding years. But we usually pick up in the second year. Likewise, I too had a better CGPA.
Real Learning Time
The first internship – I did an internship at IIM Lucknow. It was a market research internship. It focused on brand perception through surveys and then algorithmically finding the meaning behind those survey data. It was a great learning experience. I got to interact with people from other IITs like Delhi, Kanpur, Guwahati, etc, very sharp and great guys. It was the time when I developed an inclination towards entrepreneurship.
The second internship – In my third year, I went to Hyderabad to work at IDRBT (Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology), which is the RBI’s research centre. It was my first time learning how the banking system works. There, I worked on cloud services and also published the research later on.
Voilà got through Goldman Sachs!
YC: How did you conclude leaving the job?
Existential crisis …
Akshay: Goldman Sachs was a great platform for self-enhancement. My major take-home was the soft skills I learned there.
Life was going all sorted for the first year, great colleagues, nice salary, great work-life balance. But slowly the existential crisis was creeping in. Gradually an urge to help out people and improve their life was becoming stronger. So one fine day I decided “I wanted to create an impact!”
Daddy is the Best!
My mother was almost shocked hearing this. It was my father who convinced her. He said, “He took the decisions till date, let him handle this too.” Thus I decided to go for it and started the company AirTap – a cardless credit system.
Rise and fall of AirTap …
There’s an interesting story behind it. When I was in my fifth or sixth standard at school, my father wanted to take a loan. He didn’t have a credit history or even the slightest idea of such loans. We had only collateralized loans those days. I always felt bad about such loans.
Later in my life, I saw this again in the Bangalore market. People wanted to buy home appliances but were unable to unless they put some collateral in for a loan. We realised that people do not have a credit purchase instrument that they can use repeatedly and build a repayment history for themselves. Providing a credit card was also not a solution as most places had no POS machine. So we tried to build a credit layer over UPI, and thus AirTap was formed.
AirTap scaled to 10K+ instals without any marketing cost! But due to COVID-19 most of the purchases shifted online. We knew we had to tweak the model.
One journey leads to another!
There was a very interesting observation from AirTap’s data. AirTap was not just used for a credit limit, but also for building a credit history/score. This was our hypothesis, we researched and decided to run some ads to test it. We ran ads on Instagram. We were right! We figured out that building credit score from recurring expenses was something the users wanted from us, and thus formed Astu Credit.
YC: What is Astu Credit? Can you simplify for my readers?
Akshay: We want to help people build their credit score without having to take a credit card. People need loans to fund their education or business. We help them in building the required credit score. So we incorporated their monthly expenditure into credit history. People pay their monthly rents and bills using Astu’s app, instead of directly paying it through GPay or PhonePe. We report these payments to the bureaus to help them build a credit score without actually having lending involved.
We have been pretty successful in this attempt. Having not done any aggressive marketing, we are still getting enough traction through word of mouth. We are working on expanding our team. We are also planning to raise more funds in February and March.
YC: What were the major challenges you faced? What will be your suggestions to avoid the same?
Tryst with Trust!
Challenge 1 – The biggest challenge for any Fintech company is to develop trust among the users. You might create a world-class solution for credit management, but people won’t trust you with their money. So continuously communicating with the customers and keeping building trust is important.
Challenge 2 – Another major hindrance was we never focused on SEO. People used to search for Astu Credit but found no results for it on Google. We were on LinkedIn, but our end-user was not. People even doubted if we were a scam. The general users opt for Google search results. Being in the Google search results and focusing on SEO shall help in credibility as well as traffic.
Developing a community before launching big time is important. This community will help you grow organically and also contribute a lot toward finding the right product-market fit.
YC: Journey to right product-market fit?
- User insights. We should focus on the requirements and feedback of the customers to constantly adapt and evolve.
- Keep iterating. You may have a product, but there is always a scope for improvements. It’s not that once we achieve a target revenue, we stick to that product.
- Dedication. You should be able to give your time and energy to the product. Only then will you sort out the right product-market fit.
YC: What are your suggestions to the budding entrepreneurs?
Akshay: It isn’t easy to be an entrepreneur. It requires a lot of grit and perseverance to pursue a career in it. People usually talk a lot about the successful part of the journey. There are days of depression, anxiety and panic attacks too. Those are never part of their stories. So think through, prepare well both financially and mentally before taking the plunge.
YC: You said of the days of struggle. Is there something that keeps you going at times of distress?
Carpe Diem …
Akshay: I don’t know if I could grow my company into a hundred million firm. But every day I wake up, I want to work hard, I want to give my full. The quote from Gita that says that ‘keep working without yearning for the fruit’ has been a motto of my life. Working hard can increase your chances of being successful at entrepreneurship by 90%. You may also fall in the 10% even after working hard. You still would have learned a lot, can get hired and still live a happy life!
YC: Have you any role models? What would you like to share with the young minds out there?
Akshay: A company I admire is Swiggy. They have been constantly adapting and evolving even after becoming a success. I believe that is the way to go.
In my fourth year of college, I started a company. It was just out of a hobby, and it failed. Even then, I learned a lot from it. I would like to say that one should try to build something of his own from the college itself. You may or may not succeed, but you will learn!
A founder, according to me, should never be in the limelight. He/she needs to keep building silently. I have never been attracted by the glamour part of entrepreneurship, and believe that hard work is what finally pays off!
It was great talking to you and we are inspired by your words. Yellow Chapter wishes you a great future ahead!
Interviewer: Divya Jain