A year after demonetisation, startups that rose to prominence last November for providing innovative solutions to help cash-strapped users are continuing to ride on the popularity and lessons learnt to grow their business.
While Paytm became a household name during the period because of its mobile wallet business model, there were also smaller startups that took up the challenge to offer userfriendly services with their existing capacity and strength.
"Until demonetisation, some people knew about our venture. We were trying to get the word out, but note ban gave us a good push. Standing in queues became a big hit for us," said Book My Chotu co-founder Satjeet Singh Bedi. The Delhi-based startup, which began a year-and a-half ago as a provider of cleaners, allowed users to hire hourly helpers to stand in ATM queues during demonetisation.
The idea was that the 'chotu', a commonly used term for a household help, would stand in the line for you until your turn to withdraw money came, at which point you take his place.
Prime Minister Narendra Modis' surprise announcement to ban Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes left people standing in serpentine queues for hours outside banks and ATMs to withdraw the newly introduced notes.
"Though demonetisation is long over, we have since had multiple referrals and orders. People also use our services in unique ways like getting our men to stand in hospital lines and to deliver small items. That's how we have been growing."
Bedi, who is looking to start a franchise model to expand his business outside Delhi, said 30 per cent of their business is still about standing in queues. During demonetisation, this was 90 per cent, he added.
Bedi also wanted to use his 'standing-in-a-queue' idea for the Apple iPhone 8 launch in India. However, he dropped it because the event, which usually finds people queuing up the previous night itself, had little hype this time. User feedback has also given the bootstrapped company ideas like providing dog petting and dog walking services, which they discontinued after a while because it came with too many responsibilities. Another startup that was quick to offer a user-friendly and timely service with existing capacity and strength was expense tracker app Walnut. Within a couple of days of demonetisation, the app rolled out a 'find an ATM with cash' feature.
Founder Patanjali Somayaji said they had nearly 1.5 million users at the time and most of them were using it for this feature alone. "It started off as a good discovering point for users in their financial journey. Then, they found the expense tracking useful, and stumbled on to other features on the app," he said.
THE team thought it would be a great idea to help people out, and they had the data required to do so. Ever since, Walnut has kept the feature alive because it costs nothing and has its uses occasionally for people looking for an item in an unfamiliar area.
The exercise also gave Walnut a friendly image among the users, Patanjali said. "Now when we offer financial advice, it is also taken in the same spirit. We have much more trust among users." Today, the app has 5 million downloads. Almost 70 per cent of the original users must have stuck on, Patanjali estimated. While the Android app hasn't changed its implementation largely, Patanjali said they will be rolling out a bunch of financial products in the next few months. Online classifieds company Quikr also built a similar crowdsourced website 'CashNoCash' in collaboration with Nasscom to help users to find ATMs. While the website no longer exists, it brought the startup plenty of goodwill on social media. "We had launched it to help people during demonetisation and will make it available again later as necessary. At its peak, we had about 9 million user visits on the site," a Quikr spokesperson said.