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Get quick loans worth up to INR 2.5 lakhs sanctioned within 24 hours, via Upwards! Yes, it is that simple. Founded by Nimesh Verma and Abhishek Soni, Upwards is intended to be a one-stop solution for all credit-wellness needs, especially for the lower-income, underserved segment of the population who are unable to avail credit from formal financing institutions. Upwards has a wider geographical reach due to its entirely digital loan application and approval process.
As Upwards is growing at a rapid pace of 20-30% month-on-month growth, ListMyStartUp exclusively interviewed Nimesh Verma (Co-founder & CTO) of Upwards to know its Growth Story, Upwards business and revenue model, funding, how it started, marketing campaigns & more. Know more in the post ahead!
Upwards - Company Highlights
- Startup Name-Upwards
- Founders-Nimesh Verma (CTO), Abhishek Soni (CEO)
- Total Funding-USD 5 Million
Upwards - About and Vision
Upwards is intended to be a one-stop solution for all credit-wellness needs, especially for the lower-income, underserved segment of the population who are unable to avail credit from formal financing institutions. Since Upwards is in the lending segment, the product is essentially cash. At the PAN India level, access to credit continues to be a major challenge, especially amongst the lower-income segment of the population which constitutes at least 60% of the population.
Upwards addresses the problem of lack of access to credit to the underserved population of the country by offering quick loans worth up to INR 2.5 lakhs sanctioned within 24 hours to salaried individuals across the country. As an RBI-registered NBFC, Upwards has a wider geographical reach due to its entirely digital loan application and approval process.
In the short term, Upwards is targeting a month-on-month growth rate of 20-30%. On a year-on-year basis, it is aiming for 3x-5x growth. Upwards is also planning to raise funding later this year (2021) and scale its business further, to penetrate the underserved population of the country and enable easier access to credit.
Upwards - Industry/Market Details
At a broader level, a large chunk of India remains unpenetrated when it comes to credit access as most formal institutions cater to the crème de la crème of the society which is either the upper middle class or the rich. This leaves the lower-income segment, the salaried individuals turning to informal sources of credit such as money lenders who charge unreasonably high rates of interest, resulting in the borrowers being stuck in a debt trap.
The lending industry is a rapidly growing one with quick loan option available at reasonable interest rates for a long tenure. Upwards target market comprises of nearly 60% of the population that belongs to the lower-income segment. Over the next five years, the lending sector is bound to witness rapid growth. With respect to Upwards, it is aiming for a 3x-5x growth year-on-year.
Upwards - Founders, Team & Hiring Approach
Nimesh Verma and Abhishek Soni are the founders of Upwards.
Nimesh Verma (CTO), Abhishek Soni (CEO) - Founder, Upwards
It was initially Abhishek who presented Nimesh with a few ideas for potential business models. He initially didn’t have a finance background but his stint with a leading fintech organization helped him learn more about the domain. As Upwards started and began to grow, the founders gained a strong understanding of the lending segment, target market, etc. Both Abhishek and Nimesh are IIT, Delhi graduates.
Abhishek Soni (Co-founder & CEO, Upwards)
Abhishek holds a dual degree in Chemical Engineering and is a CFA Level-2 candidate specializing in Finance. He has worked with distinguished organizations including PwC, The Parthenon Group, and Indifi. At present, he is the CEO and Co-Founder of Upwards.
Nimesh Verma (Co-founder & CTO, Upwards)
Nimesh holds an integrated M.Tech in Mathematics and Computing. He has always been a core techie and have previously been associated with LinkedIn, Housing.com, and Crafstvilla. During his college days, Nimesh began 2 ventures and those marked the start of his entrepreneurial journey.
Role and Responsibilities
Being a CEO, Abhishek is in a way responsible for every person who is a part of the Upwards team and the business as a whole. In the umbrella of the organization, he comes at the top level as he is to an extent responsible for Nimesh's end as well.
Nimesh's responsibilities lie in looking after the tech-based products and data. They also divide certain common responsibilities such as HR activities, sales, etc., among them.
At present Upwards has 60-70 people who work from various cities across the country.
Upwards - Hiring and Work Culture
With respect to hiring, Nimesh & Abhishek tend to take time and avoid rushing into hiring potential candidates as they look for highly driven, passionate people who can contribute to the company’s growth. The approach to hiring also changes with each team as every team has varying requirements.
"For instance, when we hire someone for the underwriting team, the requirements are different, and they would need to have at least a few years of experience in the finance domain. When we hire for tech-based roles, we consider different criteria as the job demands a different set of skills and knowledge base" says Nimesh.
Upwards work culture is overall quite flexible, and employees can work according to their convenience as long as they are meeting the requirements and deadlines.
Upwards - Ideation Journey
"During college, I began a couple of ventures, those ideas were primarily the ones that had engagement but the revenue models weren’t strong with merely engagement and traction aren’t enough to sustain a business" says Nimesh, Co-founder, Upwards
Hence, Nimesh was determined that his next venture would be in the fintech domain, as the business and revenue model had to be strong. Then he met his co-founder Abhishek. They pondered over several ideas and finally, decided to start Upwards. Since Abhishek has had a previous stint with a distinguished organization in the fintech domain, he suggested a few concepts and ideas. Nimesh and Abhishek landed on the same page and that’s how the Upwards journey began!
"With a business like Upwards, you also tend to know beforehand a fair estimate of your revenue, profit, and other such things needed to keep the company growing" Nimesh added
Upwards - Product USP
Upwards is intended to be a one-stop solution for all credit-wellness needs, especially for the lower-income, underserved segment of the population who are unable to avail credit from formal financing institutions. It offers quick loans worth up to INR 2.5 lakhs that are sanctioned within 24 hours and have a long tenure of repayment, that eases pressure and burden on the borrowers.
Since the loan application and approval process is entirely digital, Upwards has a wider geographical reach and is able to penetrate regions of the country that were previously inaccessible for other institutions due to a compulsion of physical visits.
"With every journey, there are several learnings, and these make you modify and improvise your concepts and ideas to grow further and improve your products and services. This is precisely what happened with Upwards" says Nimesh.
While Upwards has been in the lending segment since the ideating level, its services have evolved over the years. Upwards team continuously worked on refining it, digitizing the end-to-end process, method to onboard customers, and even the roles of the employees. There have also been other minor pivots in which it understands how to gather data, etc. Upwards hasn't majorly pivoted from its core business, but its has realigned the approach and strategy now & then to develop the business and improve services.
Upwards - Name, Tagline and Logo
Upwards offers credit for customers at the right time which can progressively transform their lives and takes them upwards. That was the basic idea when the founders came up with the name and the logo.
Upwards tagline is ‘Quick personal loans online' which is quite a simple and straightforward one as it is self-explanatory with regards to what Upwards does – enhancing lifestyles through easy access to credit in times of need.
Upwards - Business Model and Revenue Model
Upwards has a standard revenue model where it earns via interest which is as conventional as businesses in the lending segment have always earned.
Upwards business model is also a straightforward one that offers quick personal loans to the lower-income segment and salaried individuals across the country. Since the entire process is done digitally, they are able to gain a wider reach across the country.
Upwards - Startup Launch
"On day one, as with any business, there would be no users. Initially, we did enterprise sales where we approached wholesalers and blue-collar platforms and that’s how we completed our first 50 lakhs of loan disbursal which was for approximately the first 300 customers" Nimesh added.
Alongside this, the team also launched Upwards app on the Google Play store and that began to gain some organic traction. Combined, these helped Upwards build and improvise its services, app, and tech segments further, and Upwards grew.
Upwards - Customer Retention Strategies
As per Nimesh (Co-founder & CTO, Upwards) - There is no single answer to attracting and retaining customers. It is a constant journey where one has to try and optimize everything right from the core product and services to the unit economics, sales efforts and then begin scaling the company. It is then that you are able to recover your fined costs and increase revenue while offering best-in-class service to customers. This ongoing process plays a major role in attracting and retaining customers.
Upwards - Startup Challenges Faced
No venture comes without its fair share of challenges as they come in different magnitudes every day. They are a part and parcel of any entrepreneurial journey. Since both the founders hail from non-finance backgrounds, gaining an in-depth understanding of how the lending sector works at an operational level required extensive research and work accompanied by day-to-day learnings.
"Also, initially, we faced a significant amount of delinquencies. We were focusing on building a diverse portfolio which helped us tackle delinquencies but for a particular period of around 6 months, the delinquencies spiked" says Nimesh
The team then revisited the strategy and approach at the grassroots level and learned that they had to be more aggressive in its approach to erase bad books. "As long as we can overcome these challenges and navigate its way through them, it helps us learn faster and progress in the longer run" Nimesh added.
Upwards - Marketing Strategies
"From our observations and experience, when it comes to lending, it is never about one single channel. You always need to diversify the channels you adopt for marketing strategies and be present in multiple channels to connect with customers" Nimesh Stated
For Upwards, Facebook has been a significant channel and has worked well. Social media marketing and word of mouth are deemed to be excellent marketing tools that can really give a boost to sales as per the founders of Upwards. The team at Upwards used Facebook right from inception to date apart from other online and offline partners who contribute to its sales. At the moment, it is involved in enterprise sales and planning to collaborate with corporates.
Upwards - Growth Plans
At present, Upwards is growing at a rapid pace, with a 20-30% month-on-month growth. Later in 2021, Upwards is planning to raise a round of funding. For the next couple of years, it will be focusing on expansion, enhancing its services, and growing 3x-5x year-on-year.
Upwards - Funding and Investors
Upwards commenced as a bootstrapped company and closed its seed funding at the idea level post, and raised the Series A round in late 2018. Upwards is fortunate to be funded by marquee investors such as Shunwei Capital, India Quotient, and Mayfield Fund. So far, it has raised a total of USD 5 million and will be raising another round of funding later this year (2021)
Upwards - Advisors/Mentors
Upwards Investors - India Quotient, Mayfield & Shunwei provide valuable inputs from time to time.
Upwards - Top Competitors
Given that fintech and the lending spaces are becoming crowded markets, there are quite a lot of competitors. Amongst these, Upwards consider Money View, Early Salary, and CASHe, to be its main competitors
Upwards - Achievements
"Abhishek and I are some of the youngest founders in the lending segment in the country today. We haven’t received any awards per se" says Nimesh
Regarding achievements, the team believes that the growth and the validation it received from its investors and customers along with receiving the NBFC license - are some significant milestones. In terms of volume and reach to customers, Upwards has had an impressive uptake in a short period.
Upwards - Future Plans
Upwards looks at expansion as a part of its business growth. The plan is to grow 3x-5x on a year-on-year basis while continuing to retain its focus on the product and services that Upwards offer. The team is also aiming for better penetration in the semi-urban and rural areas of the country to reach the underserved segments and offer them easy, quick access to credit in the upcoming months/years.