Paying attention to e-commerceblsnm

N. Ramakrishnan | Updated on March 10, 2018

Satyen Kothari of Citrus Payment

Citrus Payment aims to make transactions online smoother, faster

“The University of Bombay tried its very best to ruin my love for computers. But it survived somehow, inside.” Satyen Kothari, 40, shocks you with this candid observation. His complaint was that the university followed the old, rigid way of learning … “antiquated code, about memorising at the bachelor’s level how to code …”

That, he says, was not his idea of learning computer science. For him, computer science was all about being able to create something. While most others in his class saw the course as a good career option, he opted for the subject because he loved it.

But, then, he admits that for all the criticism, the university system taught him how to optimise time, what to study. He believes he became a good manager – managing time and processes. This was to stand him in good stead later, when he went abroad to do a Master’s programme and also when he became an entrepreneur.

A Lego set that his father gave him when he was a child and a computer he got later helped Satyen, who hails from a family of entrepreneurs, realise that there was no limit to what he could create. His love for creation and computers grew, sowing the seeds in him for wanting to build something.

After graduating in computer science, Satyen worked on a project on artificial intelligence at the IIT-Bombay before getting into Stanford for a Master’s programme. “I had the great fortune of getting into an amazing university in the US, which rekindled my love for designing and making things,” says Satyen. His plan was to pursue artificial intelligence as a subject in his Master’s, but then he switched to something called user centric design and technology entrepreneurship.

Silicon Valley stint

After his Master’s he worked at Apple Computers and a couple of other places before turning an entrepreneur in the Silicon Valley in 1999.

His first venture when he was 26 years old was an online software company, doing marketing automation. He and his partner ran the company for three years, raised multiple rounds of funding and managed to sell the company even when the tech bubble had burst, returning money to the investors. Those three years, he says, taught him a lot about how to run companies.

He analysed all that he loved doing – creating things, doing the exact things that he learnt at school and which he did at Apple. So, he decided to do just that. The next business he started was a consulting practice on how to build businesses around design and technology. Satyen decided in 2010 that it was time to move back to India. He first worked in the payments space for an American company based in India. This laid the foundation for his present venture – Citrus Payment Solutions Pvt Ltd, based in Mumbai.

“I have always been a start-up guy, so I quit after a year,” says Satyen. He had met Jitendra, who had experience in the financial services sector with varied roles in ICICI Bank. The two decided to combine their expertise – Jitendra’s in online payments processing and Satyen’s in being able to design and create products. “The partnership has really worked because we have built these two businesses in parallel,” says Satyen.

Citrus, Satyen says, has understood the whole process better and built it on a better, newer platform. What it offers those who shop or transact online is a simple, fast, two-step process to complete the transaction. Citrus stores all the information a buyer online provides, with his or her permission. So, the next time he or she goes to a site to buy something, the transaction is completed in just two steps.

Problematic payments

According to Satyen, nearly 30 per cent of all transactions online in India fail for various reasons – the user tires of entering so much information, distraction, a slow Internet connection, or the payment gateway. To prevent all this, Citrus has developed a software that protects a transaction at four different levels. Citrus tells its merchant customers that they have spent so much time and money in getting their customers on to their site, before the transaction fails. “We analysed each part of this and we have removed all the factors that contribute to any of these stops. The only reason it will not work is because the user is determined to cancel it,” says Satyen. “We have removed every other technical reason, reduced the psychological steps needed to finish it. And our merchants love it. They are seeing a 10-15 per cent uptick on their topline because of the number of transactions we save.”

“We have built these two components and they are also reflective of the personalities Jiten and I bring to the table,” says Satyen. He is the designer and builder, picky about each element that goes in, while Jiten, with his banking industry background, knows how to make things work. “It is a great partnership,” says Satyen, underlining the importance of the team for the success of a start-up. If you look at the history of entrepreneurship, he says, most of the times it is multiple individuals with complementary skills who come together.

What Citrus has been able to do since it launched its first product – the payment gateway – in November 2011 and full software solution in July 2012, is rope in about 550 customers for the payment gateway and about 250 merchant customers for the software. In the signed-up user base, it has lakhs of users in the four months the company has made that the focus.

For the merchant customer who has to deal with several entities for the payment needs (credit card company, debit card company, Net banking company, somebody who did e-commerce, the software provider), Citrus takes care of all those requirements, bringing in the merchant’s preferred partners online. It also makes the service available on the latest device that comes into the market. For individual customers, by preserving the data (including credit card number and associated details), Citrus reduces the number of steps.

Citrus gets its revenues from its merchant customers – a fixed percentage of the transaction as fee and a payment for using the software.

Citrus, which is a 35-member team now, started off, according to Satyen, in the basement of a building that somebody gave them for free for two months. It then moved to an office in an industrial estate. The challenge for Citrus is to convince more merchant customers to buy its products. It has got a few game-changing accounts and hopes to bag a few more to make a big splash in the online payments space. Over the next five years, Citrus hopes to become a global payments innovation company. “The aspiration is to build something that makes things better..”

Published on May 19, 2013

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