We had a nice chat with Mr. “Johnson Charles”, C0-Founder of the India-based start-up “Buddyinterest” about his Company.
Below is the interview :
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
Buddyinterest is all about contributing to the ‘common good’ in a financial sector that thrives on luring individuals with usury rates.
By connecting individuals to one another, we help them create a social financial network to discover loans at lower interest rates within their network. This means that individuals lend and borrow within their trusted network, thereby helping them avoid high bank rates and saving them from the clutches of payday loans. Cluing folks in on hidden bank charges and hidden fees and enabling them to save 12% more on a monthly basis through soft loans from their Buddyinterest network.
Buddyinterest takes out the hassle in procuring low cost loans from your network by providing a secure and transparent platform.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
Buddyinterest is an early stage startup and was founded on Sep 08 2013, in Chennai India. We have launched the Beta version of the platform and have many international companies and individuals running their social and financial campaigns respectively on our platform. Some of the companies are testing the product for the Corporate Social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. We are currently looking forward to establish offices in USA and Europe where we believe there is a great opportunity. Our developers are continuously working on improving the user experience on our platform and we are also building a cross-platform mobile app for Buddyinterest to be launched in the near future.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
Buddyinterest is an absolutely free platform for social campaigns, financial campaigns and pledges. Users can collaborate and reach out to anyone within their network. If users want to reach to a larger audience beyond their network then they have to pay a small fee for promoting their campaigns and pledges. Also companies can use this platform to promote their corporate social responsibility through featured campaigns. We may also cautiously monetize the website in the future.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Most of my team members are friends at workplace. We came up with this idea in 2013 and kept discussing about it over coffee over and over again till we were all convinced that the solution would be of great use to everyone. I head the business development, Jacob – handles PR, Marketing etc. Abhilash, Pradeep and karthik handle technology. We also have a voluntary advisor in our team Dr. Unnikrishnan from Tokyo university.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
Loans are available to people from Banks, Non Banking Financial Companies (NBFC), and loan sharks etc. All these loans come at a very high interest rates and may go upto even 400% and above in the case of payday loans keeping students, parents, and elders permanently in debt. Buddyinterest is your social financial net_work (financial net that works to your benefit). It is your safety net in times of financial trouble, emergency or for whatever need that you may have such as business, technology, projects etc. You can proactively add and connect up with dependable and trustworthy friends and family, create that real and trustworthy safety net. Buddy interest is secure, safe, transparent and absolutely free platform; does not charge high interest rates, processing fee etc to its users. Buddyinterest is Social Financial Network 2.0 and not a crowdfunding platform.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
We have launched the Beta version on March 2014 of the product and have overwhelming support from companies that use this platform for collaborating with their employees for all corporate social activities such as corporate functions and corporate social activities. Our users see great value in this application and hope that millions would join and create their financial networks.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
Our competitors are companies that offer crowdfunding, peer-2-peer lending, banks and other financial institutions that charge their customers high interest rates. Our competitive advantage is that we are the worlds first online Social Financial Network that is absolutely free and transparent. We just provide the platform unlike other who act as middlemen in transactions. Our users can even campaign for 0% interest rates from their network, the lowest interest rates for personal loans in the world.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Like most startups we faced issues in spreading the word about buddyinterest marketing and PR. Users initially had difficulty in understanding the concept as it was very different from their existing loan habits. It required a cultural change, it required that people look at loans from a different perspective. We had to do a lot of PR activities and marketing which was very expensive. At times we had difficulty in keeping the company afloat, but as the saying goes what goes around comes around. We received great support from our benefactors who provided us capital and helped us reach to the masses. We resorted to taking soft loans from friends, colleagues and family. We are also in talks with some VCs for funding to take us to the next level.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Buddyinterest is the first Social Financial Network and in many ways similar to Linkedin or Facebook. For first time users the online financial networks and offline transactions is sometimes difficult to understand. For instance most of our users ask us this question ”If I want a loan I would ask my friend and if he/she does not have it then I always have financial institutions or banks that are always ready to help”. Well our answer is “ you may approach 1 friend, maybe 2 or even 3 ; but if they all turn you down then you are disappointed and approach these financial institutions which charge you very high interest rates and you have to pay through your nose. Through Buddyinterest you have not reached 1, 2 or 3 friends in 3 minutes but your entire network. Now that’s what we call as innovation.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We believe in the power of one, even if one user finds it useful, then we have succeeded. We have a strong technical and business development team to take this application to all users in the world. We also have a very pertinent offering that will change the way people will network, communicate and transact with each other. Buddy interest is all about making it easy, enjoyable and stress-free, even in stressful financial situations by providing affordable and transparent loans from friends. So that you seize the moment and accomplish all that you set your heart to and never burdened by financial interest. We have an innovative solution that will open up new frontiers and revolutionize the credit system.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
We have set our milestones and as we achieve each milestone we will expand to other areas. Our first milestone is to have a million users, once we reach this milestone, we would immediately launch mobile apps for iOS and android devices. We also would like to reach to colleges, schools, and other institutions besides companies and individuals all over the world.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
The idea for this product comes from several life experiences of our co-founders. One of our cofounders was traveling by bike for work and planning to buy a car but was not able to save up for the initial down payment and had to put aside his desire to purchase a car. June 2011, this co-founder met with a terrible bike accident and was in hospital for about a year. He lost his job, his company insurance was of little use, banks were unwilling to give a personal loan because he did not have a job and he had to empty out his savings. His friends came to know about his terrible situation and decided to pool in cash and help out. His friends and colleagues were able to bail him out financially by supporting him and paying for all of his hospital and medical bills. This got him thinking about social financial network.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
Having a personal story is one and taking it to the market that will touch lives of billions of people is another. We realized that it is crucial to make people aware of this platform and that it is meaningful to be part of a social financial network. We learnt that it is just not enough to have a powerful story but it needs the support of VCs and mentors to guide us as most of the team comprised of first time entrepreneurs.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Six months from now we will have to upgrade our servers going by the influx of users to our site. We also have plans to launch country specific sites. We will also have to move to a larger office and hire more associates globally. Most importantly we need to find the right VC to fund all the above mentioned aspects.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
As mentioned earlier, Buddyinterest is an easy, fast, intuitive way to connect, communicate and transact with the people you trust. Within 2 minutes users can create a free campaign/free advertisement and publish it to their entire network of hundreds of trustworthy people to attract financial or social contributions. Buddyinterest charges no fees for its service unlike all the platforms and financial institutions out there.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Our users find out about us from viral sources, blogs, media, facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest. Most of our users know about us through word of mouth marketing. We are growing at a steady pace because the network has an exponential effect. Also we have received unprecedented support from the media because they are so much in love with it and use every opportunity to talk or write about us.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our users range, vary from 18-50 years. Our target users are students planning to get a college education at low cost through their network, friends wanting to go on a vacation, parties, community service, people in need of medical care, starting a new business or for any other personal needs. We have about 15 and more categories and would like our users to explore which category best suits them for solving their financial needs through their network.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Our users are predominantly from USA, Europe and Asia. There are many reasons why people come to buddyinterest, but the one reason we think is that they see the intrinsic value it offers to the entire network, besides its absolutely safe, secure and transparent to deal with the people you trust. Our users are really curious to know how it could help them financially and clue them on ways to circumvent all those financial institutions that charge high interest rates.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Some of the comments we received from our users are “Finally a meaningful social network”. “Absolutely disruptive”. “Awesome way to save on loans”.” Perfect platform for community work”. “Buddyinterest is really interesting buddy” I need to be familiar with. We are so happy that our users love Buddyinterest. Actually our users are breaking ground from the traditional credit systems and adopting this awesome platform that’s what makes it so awesome.
20. How are you going to scale?
We are planning on big bang marketing campaigns such as television and radio advertisements to spread the word about buddyinterest. In terms of recruitment we would like to keep it simple initially and recruit only if things get unmanageable. Also we may be moving to a new and better hosting service by the end of 2014.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
This is such a novel concept and we really have a lot of features to be added to enrich our product. We believe in continuous improvement and taking feedback from our users. We would be glad to hear from our users any cool feature to be added to our platform, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
We have already done an international beta launch for our platform. We now have to look at having offices in mature markets such as US and Europe. We would like to hire local talent so that we clearly know local needs of our users but this is most likely to happen depending on our growth. We are also trying to raise funds through VC and debt funds. We have already raised 50,000 USD through debt.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We are as big as our network is. We want to be the biggest financial network in the world. We want to focus all our energy on user experience and ensure that our customers are happy and they in turn would bring in more users to the network. The consumer loan market is very huge and worth billions of dollars, we want to make a big dent in it. We understand that most of our users would be in the mobile space and want to respond to this need by quickly launching or buddyinterest app.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
Well at the moment we are adequately staffed and also have a technology vendor to help us at the moment. However as we expand in the near future we would be hiring talent in tech and business development. We have a lot of internship positions vacant for college grads. This would be an ideal opportunity for interns to understand our work culture and maybe even offered a position in ur company as it scales up.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We’re talking with many large to small companies interested in taking their Employee initiatives and CSR activities more social. Also anyone who would like to explore partnerships with us are welcome to email us at email@example.com.
Also Angels and VCs interested in us are welcome to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Believe in your idea. Believe in prayer because it keeps you calm and mentally tough. I am a first time entrepreneur myself and I love working on my ideas, it is such a liberating feeling, it makes you feel alive.
27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Yes before we conclude this interview, we would like to say that even if one user benefits from their network, it is a big step towards making a tangible change in the way people leverage their networks for financial freedom from all those financial institutions that charge people high interest rates. Start discovering loans at low interest rates within your network and live worry free.