Episode 99 / January 11, 2021

Kunal Kapoor on building Ketto, the largest Crowdsourcing platform in India

26 min

Episode 99 / January 11, 2021

Kunal Kapoor on building Ketto, the largest Crowdsourcing platform in India

26 min
Listen on

Kunal Kapoor is someone who dons many hats – an actor, director, and entrepreneur. Some of the well-known movies he has been a part of – Rang De Basanti, Don 2, and Dear Zindagi among others.

In 2012, he joined hands with Varun Sheth & Zaheer Adenwala with a mission to create a change in society and connect people to access healthcare and share happiness and co-founded Ketto.

Over the years, Ketto has emerged as Asia’s most trusted crowdfunding platform with a network of over 55 lakh donors who have funded around 2 lakh, online fundraisers. So Ketto as a platform has successfully raised over ₹1100 crore in online donations since its debut in 2012.

In this episode, catch Kunal talking about becoming an entrepreneur, what’s it like running an online crowd-funding platform, gaining the trust of investors in the vision, and much more. To anyone looking to get into the crowdfunding space, this conversation is a great place to start. From making the right use of technology to building a sustainable business model for investors, this podcast will guide you through all.

Notes –

01:30 – Intro of Kunal Kapoor & Ketto

02:16 – Becoming an Entrepreneur & Co-founding Ketto

03:27 – Democratization of Capital

04:12 – Initial challenges with Ketto

05:17 – Building an online presence for NGOs

09:41 – Future plans at Ketto around medical & health services

12:15 – Ketto’s impact during the pandemic

14:20 – Business model at Ketto (As a Profit venture)

16:46 – “Building a tech company is like bodybuilding, but building a tech company with a celebrity is like bodybuilding on steroids.”

18:47 – Growth & Scaling-up plans at Ketto

23:24 – Essential mental models for Kunal as an entrepreneur

25:31 – “Whether it’s acting or entrepreneurship, it’s not as glamorous as it looks.”

Read the full transcript here:

Siddhartha 0:00

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the 100x Entrepreneur podcast. Today we have with us Kunal Kapoor, who is a very well known Indian actor, Director and an entrepreneur. With an acting career spanning over a decade and a half, Kunaal has been featured in Hindi movies like Rang De Basanti, Don2, Gold, Dear Zindagi, and many more. In 2012, Kunal co-founded Ketto along with Varun Sheth, and Zaheer Adenwala, which is a crowdfunding platform based in India that allows individuals and NGOs to raise money for social, creative and personal causes. Till today Ketto has raised more than 1000 crores and continues to support those in need. Welcome, Kunal to the podcast.


Kunal 0:46

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.


Siddhartha 0:48

It’s a pleasure, Kunal, you have a very diverse background and you know, somebody like you chose to be a founder of a company, which is impacting so many people in India as I think one of the largest causes. What made you found Ketto or what was the thought, the inspiration to build it?


Kunal 1:09

Well, you know, the thought behind this was, I was actually working very closely with a number of NGOs in the social space. And I found that there were a number of challenges that these NGOs were facing. Fundraising, of course, was one of the challenges. The other was how do you find new donors, most of these NGOs were operating offline. And I felt like it would be very powerful if we could somehow build, build a system that could shift these NGOs, from the offline fundraising, to online. And the idea really, was to build a bridge between people that need help, and people that can help using technology. I mean, I came across so many people that wanted to help and wanted to do the right thing and you know, make a difference in someone’s life. But they didn’t know how to go about it. They were not sure whether the money is reaching the right place. They were not sure where to contribute. So I felt like if you could build something that was easy to use, that was transparent. And where you could really sort of get feedback and track where the money’s gone. I felt like that could be something that was powerful. And I happen to meet Varun Sheth and Zaheer at the same time. And they were thinking about similar ideas. So we got together, and that’s how Ketto happened. And Ketto is actually an abbreviation for key to tomorrow. Because we believe that the democratization of capital really is the key to tomorrow. Because we live in a world where capital was accessible to such few people, whether it’s for medical leads, or whether it’s to start a company, whether it’s to make a social change, very few people had access to capital. And if he could sort of democratize capital, we felt like that could be something that was really powerful.


Siddhartha 2:53

And what were the initial challenges you faced when you started Ketto, like, how has the journey been in the last seven years?


Kunal 3:02

I think one of the biggest challenges, when you start something like Ketto, is that there’s very few, you know, in India, there were no crowdfunding platforms really. And it was very sort of difficult to make people understand the potential, you know, people, how investors usually work is that if something is doing well, then you know, everybody wants to invest in that area. But to convince them that something that that is starting off, is actually worth investing in is very difficult and challenging. The other thing is that a lot of people have this mindset that Indians are not charitable. Whereas we disagreed with that. Our belief is that Indians are actually very charitable. It’s just that we give in very different ways. And if we meet that, something that was streamlined, and we bought that online, then you would see a lot more Indians coming forward and doing charity. The third thing, of course, was beyond the investors was education, we had to not only educate people that were donating, but we also had to educate the NGOs that were going to raise the money. Because like I said, most of these NGOs were offline. Very few of them had an online presence. So we had to convince them that if they shifted from offline to online, you know, it could make a big impact in their fundraising, or reaching out to people. So it was about educating and creating a whole new market really, where something didn’t exist at all. So that was that was very challenging for us. The thing that was very interesting, though, was was something that one of the investors told me, he said, Look, I don’t believe in this idea. But what is very important is that you believe in this idea. And if you believe in this, then you know, six years later, seven years later, I look back and I’ll say, I think to myself, I should have believed in that idea. And he actually invested in the company in the last round. So I think that for every entrepreneur is very important to self belief. Especially when you’re you know, trying to disrupt something that is existed in a certain way, and especially when there’s no sort of precedent in the country, not to create something like that. I think it’s very challenging. But what gets you through is self belief. And that’s really what has got us through.


Siddhartha 5:14

What are the moments in this journey where you felt that, you know, is becoming very tough? Maybe I should quit? Was there any such moment?


Kunal 5:26

I mean, there were hurdles, of course, you know, you’re running out of money, when you’re starting off, like I said, you know, creating a market, it is very difficult. Because, initially, it was just me and Varun. So we had to actually, we had no employees, and we had nobody else and we didn’t have a sales team. So we had to go personally and meet each and every NGO. That’s how we started, you know, try to convince them that something like this can work. For us, fortunately, what really happened is that organically, we started getting a lot of traffic, because a lot of people that were contributing on the platform, were then actually going and telling other people about the platform. So there was no advertising or marketing, or, you know, that we had to do in the initial years. It all just sort of grew organically. So it was challenging, but I don’t think there was ever a time where we thought to ourselves that man, what have we got ourselves into? You know, maybe, maybe it’s the best time to close this and move on to something else. No, that was not something that ever crossed our minds.


Siddhartha 6:31

So, the cause was so powerful that it didn’t let you quit. So as you know, Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning has said, anyone who has a why, to continue, will figure out how.


Kunal 6:48

lovely, it’s true. And I mean, for me, actually, personally, I’ve always been drawn to social business, I came from a family of business people. But I always saw, I always felt like business should be a lot more than just profit. And it should be about social impact. And I think with Ketto, I just found the perfect opportunity. It was an opportunity to not only obviously, create profits for the investors that were involved in it, but was also an opportunity to not only make a social impact, but also change a mindset. For us, when we were starting off, we were like, how do we change the mindset of people to become more charitable, to be more giving to realize that there’s more avenues through which you can give? How do we sort of get many more young people involved in the social space. Because at that point of time, even eight, nine years back, I came across a lot of young people who wanted to be involved, but felt like this is not for them, you know, you needed to be a certain kind of person to be able to make a social difference. And I sort of disagreed with that. I felt like a lot of young people needed to be involved in the social sector. So for us, it was not only about creating a business, it was about changing a mindset. And I think, because that drive was so powerful, there was never a time where we felt like, let’s let this go.


Siddhartha 8:14

So today, can you tell us about the scale? Like how many employees do the team have? How much funding that you have raised and it’s a for profit venture? So how do you see, you know, in future, giving exit to the stakeholders?


Kunal 8:29

Well, we’ve actually employed more people in the last couple of months. I know a lot of people are letting go of people. But we’ve actually employed a lot more people, we have about 120 people working at Ketto right now. And I feel like, you know, when it comes to giving an exit to investors is, you know, is what you’re asking. For us, we’ve just what we’re looking to build is not just we’re building, of course, a crowdfunding platform. And I feel like we’ve just only scratched the surface, because it’s only now that there’s so much awareness about crowdfunding, we’ve just started going into the small towns in smaller cities. Up until now, it was mainly the urban center. So we’ve only scratched the surface. So the idea is to build one of the biggest crowdfunding platforms in the world. That is what we’re attempting to do. But besides that, we’re also not looking at Ketto as just a crowdfunding company. We’re also looking at it as a medical solution company health solution company, building products in that area. Because over the last eight and a half years, we’ve got so many insights into the medical and health space in the country, that we want to use those insights to create something to create tools. And I feel like especially in a country like India, where the whole medical and health space is so underserved. So many people are pushed into poverty because of just medical bills. We have an opportunity to create something which is very, very powerful. So You know, like, this is the beginning, I think as far as crowdfunding is concerned, I feel like we’re just at the beginning of the journey, it’s only now that you will see a very, very incremental growth. And the other thing is, of course, to build other products in the medical and health space.


Siddhartha 10:18

And, you’re tackling one of the most disorganized markets which have ever existed in India, and which have a trust deficit. So you are, on point, getting them to organize, like organizing with the market, by lending technology to it. And the second thing which you are able to bring is the trust in the ecosystem? Because people are concerned, will my money go to the right cause? And what’s the impact that I will see? So you have been able to solve these problems? And you mentioned in future you are going to solve, you know, problems in the health space also. So, what are the key, you know, if this pandemic has brought any positives to Ketto?


Kunal 11:06

Well the positives, of course, is that, you know, I see a lot of lot more people that want to make a difference now. I mean, we’ve had so many people we’ve raised over about 130 crores just for Coronavirus. You know, for the pandemic for doctors, for migrants that wanted to go back home for the underprivileged that don’t have access to food. So we’ve actually raised a lot of money specifically for that on the platform. But what I’ve seen and which is amazing, and which I hope we don’t lose, not only as a platform, but as a society is a lot of people wanting to step up and making a difference. I mean, we’ve had so many people that have started crowdfunding platform, fundraisers that have contributed. And these have been people that have done it for the first time. In fact, we had a 10 year old girl who was watching TV with her dad. And she saw the migrant situation, the migrant worker situation. And she said that I don’t want to just stand around and watch, I want to do something. So he reached out to me, she started a fundraiser on Ketto and raised 14 lakhs. So you know, you have somebody that young, somebody who’s 10 years old, that wants to come forward and make a difference. And I think I’ve seen a lot of that across the country is people really, you know, stepping up and taking responsibility and saying, look, we don’t want to just stand by and watch, we want to make a difference. And I think that’s where a platform like Ketto becomes really important, because we’ve provided the avenue to make it easier. You know, in the past, there would have been a lot of people that wanted to make a difference, but would have not known how I think a platform like this just provides avenues to people to step up and make the difference. Because they know that first of all the money that is being raised is being raised in a way they know that the platform itself is easy and transparent. And you can set up a campaign in less than two hours, you know. So I think that for us has been bottom line is that people want to step up and our responsibility for providing that avenue to people to step up.


Siddhartha 13:12

And being a for profit venture in the social space, what is the business model of Ketto like.


Kunal 13:19

So, right now we work on a fee. But over the last couple of months, we’ve now moved into a 0% fee for campaigns that you start on your own, we have another model where a lot, you know the team gets involved in sets up things for you, and advertises for you and all that, that has a certain percentage still involved. But we are working, we are trying to move to a tip model, which is that, you know, people when they’re leaving the platform can tip. And if they’re happy with what we’re doing, and if they’re happy with what we are creating, then they can you know, leave a tip behind. And so right now we’ve actually moved in certain areas to 0% platform fee and moving towards a tipping sort of system and


Siddhartha 14:07

Is it currently a profitable venture or is about to go profitable?


Kunal 14:12

It’s a profitable venture. We broke even about a year and a half back. And we’ve been profitable ever since.


Siddhartha 14:19

That’s an amazing feat, Kunal. Congratulations.


Kunal 14:23

Yeah, that is. I mean in today’s time where tech companies have to spend and burn a lot of money before they become profitable. I think we’re in a great space. You know, the fact that we don’t have to be necessarily dependent on money to keep us afloat from outside. I think that’s a great space to be in.


Siddhartha 14:44

Kunal, how did being a well known face across you know, 130 crore Indians help you in starting Ketto?


Kunal 14:55

You know, it, it definitely helps. First of all, like I said, you know, awareness was really important in this case. So to reach out to people becomes so much easier. The second thing is that your accessibility to people that are important, whether they’re investors, or whether they’re NGOs or their, you know, HNI’s, it becomes much easier because I think, you know, as an actor, when you call somebody and say, Look, I’m trying to start something, I would like to have a meeting with you, they are far more likely to respond to you than they are to somebody that’s, you know, not well known. So I think that was a really important thing for us. I mean, a friend of mine, who’s an investor described it very, very interestingly, he said that, building a tech companies like bodybuilding, you know, it takes a lot of effort and hard work. But building a tech company with celebrities like bodybuilding on steroids, it just happens a lot quicker.


Siddhartha 15:50

And you would have, you know, certain expectation also that, you know, that you can’t let it down, because you are already a very well known face in the entire industry. Was it a kind of burden when you started Ketto, you know, you can’t let this fail,


Kunal 16:08

I mean, more than fail, I think it was not letting people’s trust fail, because, you know, your personal brand is also attached to the brand of the company. Yeah. So if people aren’t happy with the company, then that starts reflecting on your personal brand as well. So on a personal level, it was that, but secondly, on a bigger level, it was also about, like I said, it was you know, I fought to try and change your mindset. And when you’re trying to do that, you really don’t want to sort of let people down or you don’t want to let their trust in you. Feel. So? Yeah, I think that was something that played on my mind, for sure.


Siddhartha 16:46

And what was more tougher, you know, to get the first break in acting, or the first break in business,


Kunal 16:51

Well I think of business was harder. Though, you know, I often say there’s a lot of similarities between the movies and being an entrepreneur. One is that you have to be very creative, you know, whether the movies, or to disrupt something as an entrepreneur, you have to be creative, it can’t happen without creativity. The second is you got to really listen to your audience, as an actor, as an entrepreneur. Thirdly, is that, you know, you got to have self belief, like I said, you know, as an actor, you’re facing the camera alone, every Friday decides whether you’re a successful actor or not a successful actor, as an entrepreneur, you need a lot of self belief, because you’re backing this idea, which maybe nobody else believes in. So I find a lot of commonalities between actually being an entrepreneur and being an actor, but I think getting my first acting break was far simpler than, you know, breaking through as an entrepreneur.


Siddhartha 17:45

And what are the lessons that you know, you learned in your long career in acting that you applied to business?


Kunal 17:54

Well, that’s hard. But you know, like I’m saying is that you got to the similarities is that you really have to sort of listen to the audience. You know, you can’t say that the audience is wrong. I mean, as an actor, when you do a movie releases on Friday, it may fail on Saturday. And if you turn around and say, the audience is stupid, they don’t understand this movie, then you’re not really listening to the audience, you have to understand why that movie didn’t work and what you can do to change that. Even as an entrepreneur, you got to do that you got to take feedback from people, not say, Oh, God, people don’t understand this. You’ve got to understand what people are thinking, and then apply that. And we’ve done that constantly. We’ve constantly taken feedback and said, Okay, this is not working. How do we change this? How do we make it easier? How do we make it more transparent? How do we incorporate more ideas from people? So you really have to listen to your audience. I think that’s, that’s really important.


Siddhartha 18:47

And I think one thing which all people underestimate, both, you know, as a career in acting, or an entrepreneurship is they thing is all about creative skills, but they forget the power of distribution or being able to market yourself.


Kunal 19:02

Yeah, it’s very important, I think, you know, social media and WhatsApp has really changed the game as far as distribution goes. I can imagine I mean, when we started, Twitter was popular, but not as popular as it is today, or Facebook was, of course, popular. WhatsApp was available but wasn’t as widely available as it is today. So you know, it’s been a real game changer has been the distribution. I think. just creating a product is not enough. Reaching out to an audience is really important, like you said, and I think social media is really sort of changed that. That’s one of the few good things about social media really, actually.


Siddhartha 19:47

In today’s world, social media can topple countries it can win elections. So


Kunal 19:52

yeah, yeah. So that something is one of the few good things that has come out of social media is distribution.


Siddhartha 20:00

How do you position your brand as Ketto to the outside world now it’s been seven years people have known about it. For example, now from raising till now 1000 crores you want to reach the next milestone of raising 10,000 crores through the platform? So, in what way, are you building the brand or when you are going to to achieve the next milestone in Ketto’s journey?


Kunal 20:30

Well, firstly, we’ve been doing some very big hirings so that we can have more minds that come on to our company to build the company first. Secondly, like I said, is that, you know, our attempt is not only up until now has been restricted to urban cities. Now, we’re moving into smaller cities, we’ve done hirings there, we’re moving into the smaller towns eaten a lot of hirings there, we’re also looking at making our presence felt internationally now. So we are looking at a couple of partnerships there. So you know, the growth has, you know, in the last three, three and a half years, we’ve gone from how much we were raising in a year, we were raising that in a month. Now, we are raising that in a week. So the growth has been very incremental. And you know, we want to keep that growth going. And also at a social level, I think we really want to sort of reach out to the smaller villages, where there’s the most underprivileged people, because, you know, we live in a world where there’s so much medical advancement, are we talking about robotic surgeries? We’re talking about gene replacement cell therapy, you know, we’re talking about genome editing, are we talking about nanoparticles going through the blood? But the question is, we still live in a country where people don’t even have access to basic medical facilities. So I feel like at a social level, we’ll really have made a difference when we reached out to the most underprivileged people. Because, you know, we still live in a country where it’s estimated that some 200 million people have been pushed into debts only because of the medical bills. So we really want to change that. And we, over the next couple of years, we really going to sort of start going into tier two, tier three, India, and also sort of expanding our presence across the world.


Siddhartha 22:20

As a businessman, what is the mental models, or beliefs, you know, you live by?


Kunal 22:28

I think integrity is a big one for me. I think, you know, it is a cutthroat world. But within that cutthroat world, if you can, you can retain some amount of integrity, I think that’s really important. The second is, like I’ve been saying is that I’ve always been drawn to something that makes a difference. And I think, for me, it’s not really about investing time in something that’s going to become a big business. But it’s also something, whether it’s really impacting people, whether it’s really making a difference, I think that’s really important to me. So contribution is a important factor. And thirdly, of course, is that, you know, if you’re looking to build a huge company, there are people that have trusted you. There are people that have invested in the company. So it’s very important that you make sure that, you know, they are making returns as well. So I think those are things that are really important to me. The responsibility towards your investors, I think is important.


Siddhartha 23:28

Also, you mentioned that you’ll also be taking Ketto International. So are you planning for developed markets or like, undeveloped markets for similar countries like India, which are in developing phase?


Kunal 23:41

We’re looking at countries that are very similar to India. I think those are the countries that have a lot of potential. So that’s where we are going to focus. But right now our focus is is primarily India. Like I said, we’ve just we’ve been operating in only the tier one cities. But you know, we really want to reach out to the grassroot level. And that really is our focus right now.


Siddhartha 24:06

And when entrepreneurs approached you for advice, you have a career spanning acting and now business? What advice do you give to them?


Kunal 24:21

It’s not as glamorous as it looks. Whether it’s acting or being an entrepreneur, it’s really not as glamorous as I know, a lot of people who have great jobs and, you know, they’ve spoken to me about giving up their jobs and starting a startup. Because they think, I mean, it’s not like they’re foolish, but you know, there is a certain glamour that sort of attracts you to the startup world. And I’ve often told them that, you know, to really sort of weigh what they’re doing. I have a lot of friends that called me that want to invest in startups. Yeah. Because they feel like your money is going to multiply and become 100x in the next five years. And you know, it’s really not like that it’s a world full of challenges and it’s a world full of a lot of hard work. And so yeah, I mean don’t romanticize the the whole idea of being an entrepreneur. It’s, of course, very satisfying especially what we’re doing is feels very satisfying. But don’t think that this is all glamour and it’s all fun. There’s a lot of work that goes into it.


Siddhartha 25:28

Thank you for much Kunal. It’s been a pleasure to host you on the 100x Entrepreneur podcast and all the best for Kitto. May it one day reach for the 10,000 crores amount raised milestone.


Kunal 25:41

Thank you. Thank you so much.


Vector Graphic Vector Graphic

Know when new episodes are released. Subscribe to our newsletter!

Please enter a valid email id