This week on Finovate Global we feature an interview with Beerud Sheth, co-founder and CEO of smart messaging platform, Gupshup. We talked with Mr. Sheth about the smart messaging business and its relationship to driving payments in India. We also discussed the current state of Indian fintech more broadly, including an update on Prime Minister Modi’s goal to improve financial services through a combination of better payments technology and new digital identity solutions.
Finovate: Tell us about Gupshup and the role of smart messaging in enabling payments in India.
Beerud Sheth: Gupshup is a smart messaging platform. We use messaging as a platform to make it easier to use other services such as e-commerce, payments, and more. Messaging enables one-click payments, which makes it easier for consumers to keep up with their busy financial lives. For example, they can pay bills instantly without missing deadlines, manage recurring payments, make a digital payment to an offline merchant, or pay friends quickly and easily.
Finovate: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. Why did you decide to launch the company?
Sheth: My name is Beerud Sheth – co-founder and CEO of messaging and AI-building company Gupshup, based in Silicon Valley. We are primarily focused on automating enterprises’ messaging processes across multiple channels using a single API. I am responsible for the overall strategy, execution, and growth of Gupshup.
I also founded Elance, the world’s largest online services marketplace, and also have played various leadership roles at different stages of the company’s growth.
Before founding Elance, I worked in the financial services industry, modeling, structuring, and trading fixed income securities and derivatives at Merrill Lynch and, before that, at Citicorp Securities. My graduate research, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, involved developing autonomous learning software agents for personalized news filtering.
I earned an M.S. in computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.Tech in Computer Science from IIT Bombay, where I was awarded the Institute Silver Medal. I am a frequent speaker at industry events as well as a holder of two technology patents.
Finovate: You recently won a $100,000 Grand Challenge competition sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Can you tell us about this contest? Why did you get involved in this event and how do you think it will help promote your technology and solution?
Sheth: The Gates Foundation in partnership with National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) sponsored a competition to discover new ideas to enable payments for the next billion users – who use low-end feature-phone devices. It attracted over 750 participant companies from around the world. They announced a couple of weeks ago that Gupshup won the 1st prize. Our key insight was that for payments to work well, the primary focus has to be on the user experience. If users have to remember and type in numerous digits, it will never work for users that may not be tech-savvy or have low-end devices.
Gupshup used its expertise in messaging to enable a one-click payment experience. The message contains the entire context about the payment, freeing up the user to do nothing else except authorizing the payment. Gupshup is now working with enterprises and device manufacturers to roll this out to consumers.
Finovate: Your winning entry was a solution called the Smart Feature Phone. What does the phone do and who is the primary market for it?
Sheth: The Smart Feature Phone brings smartphone like capabilities to the feature phone. The target users are the next billion feature-phone users in emerging markets that are left out of the digital ecosystem.
The key feature is the use of messaging to enable chatbots and payments on the feature phone. Chatbots and the Bot Store have the same impact on feature phones as Apps and App Stores did on smartphones. It opens up a wide range of use cases including commerce, gaming, entertainment, sports, etc. Payments enable the monetization of these activities.
Finovate: Can you tell us a little about your partnership with Amazon?
Sheth: Gupshup partnered with Amazon Registry Services to enable customers to validate their bots and register a domain name with Amazon’s BOT Registry.
Without getting too technical, this means users who own, operate, or manage bots published using Gupshup’s tool will be able to be found by end-users no matter what platform or framework they use now or in the future, something previously unavailable for bot owners.
Finovate: You’ve also leveraged your technology to help during the global coronavirus public health crisis. Can you tell us a little about the “COVID bot” you’ve created?
Sheth: CareMe Health, a Chennai-based tele-health company, the National Health Mission of Tamil Nadu and American company Gupshup, worked together in implementing a multi-language WhatsApp-based chatbot readily accessible by millions of citizens in Tamil Nadu and the world over.
The bot, named Careme Bot, is designed to:
- Educate the users on the health hazards of COVID-19
- Provide emergency helplines and information on testing centers
- Facilitate self-reporting
- Provide up-to-the-minute updates on the COVID pandemic
The creators of Careme Bot are Dr. Arun Babu and Dr. Vasanth Kattalai Kailasam- Chief Medical Officer, Interventional Pain Physician at Northern Light Health, Maine, USAGK, CTO of the company. Check out screenshots of the Careme Bot here.
Finovate: What do you find most interesting about the Indian fintech scene right now? What is it about the fintech scene in India that you think would surprise people outside of India?
Sheth: The scale of a billion-user market would surprise people outside India. India is leapfrogging its way to advanced fintech services since the consumer has been capital-starved for a long time. Indians tend to be conservative about debt which makes them generally creditworthy. However, the financial delivery systems have been lacking, which is now changing because of new technology and startups.
Finovate: You mentioned that one goal of your solution is to help realize the JAM initiative proposed by Indian Prime Minister Modi. Could you elaborate a little on this vision and why it is important?
Sheth: Prime Minister Modi’s vision is to transform India by making sure no citizen is left behind. Three initiatives, in particular, are critical enablers: Jan-dhan (a layer of free, basic financial and payment services for every citizen), Aadhar (unique, biometric-linked identity, like SSN + fingerprints, for every individual) and Mobile (delivery of government services through ubiquitous mobile phones).
The missing piece was the enablement of financial services on low-end feature phones. This problem has now been solved by the Gupshup solution.
Finovate: What can we expect from Gupshup over the balance of 2020 and into the next year?
Sheth: Gupshup is singularly focused on its vision of “smart messaging” i.e., leveraging the power of messaging tools to enable richer services. As people’s lives get increasingly busy and complex, messaging apps, with their ubiquity, simplicity, and richness, are uniquely positioned to be the glue that ties it all together. Gupshup will keep rolling out new components of this over-arching vision.