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Six Lessons From The Financial Inclusion Lab’s Third Bootcamp



“A startup is all about PPT — plan, perseverance and team. Once a startup becomes a company, it is still about PPT — people, process and technology.”

— shared by Atul Mehta, Razorpay, during a session on Sales Strategy at the Bootcamp.


9 new startups were onboarded under the Financial Inclusion Lab’s third cohort early this year. While we have had deep conversations with all of them since, they officially kickstarted their journey with us on the 23rd of February with an intensive five-day bootcamp on the IIM Ahmedabad (IIMA) campus. The startups are working in the verticals of Credit, Savings, Agriculture Finance, Financial Wellness & Literacy and Rural Last Mile Delivery and are at different stages right from prototype development to revenue generation and growth stage. The startups have diverse needs and challenges and the bootcamp was curated accordingly by IIMA professors, CIIE.CO’s in-house experts and MicroSave consultants.


The bootcamp was designed to enable startups to integrate customer-centricity in their models and go-to-market strategies, and build skills and mental schema for scaling up. We delved into topics around building customer journey maps, unit economics, decoding the term-sheets, consumer behavior and decision-making, among others. We tried to keep the sessions hands-on and constantly urged the cohort to apply the learnings. The sessions on negotiation, storytelling, pricing and strategizing for scaling up particularly got the entrepreneurs to roll up their sleeves and get working. Faculty from IIMA and IIM Indore led the sessions. We also had experts from Dalberg, MicroSave Consulting and Razorpay sharing their learnings and insights with the startups.


In our quest to ensure translation of the classroom discussions into practice, we brought in exemplary entrepreneurs such as Puneet Gupta of Kaleidofin, Abhishek Sinha of Eko, M Chakrawarty of 1Bridge and Vaibhav Lodha of FTCash to share their learnings and help the cohort solve some their biggest challenges. The last day of the bootcamp concluded with the startups presenting to potential clients and partner organizations such as Saksham Gram Credit, 1Bridge, ESAF Small Finance Bank, Swadhar Finserv, Fino Payment Bank, Processware Systems Inc, and Vidiyal were invited. The presentations were followed by deeper conversations between the interested participants.


Here are the six key lessons from the bootcamp that will help the startups in their journey ahead:

  1. To understand the customer needs, you need to first understand their ‘Kashtt’ (pain point) Professor Abhinandan Kumar Jain and Professor Manoj Motiani from IIM Ahmedabad and Indore respectively, took the founders on a ride to better understand how to select the right market, what their customers need and how to create value for their customers. Concepts like ‘customer perceived value advantage’ were explored deeply to help startups validate their hypothesis on low-income customer needs and build their customer journey map. The case on Kaleidofin provided a highly relatable situation for the startups. Vineet Bhandari from Dalberg shared a study on customer insights, segmentation and positioning and how to design human centered financial products.

  2. Strong team and market attractiveness are the two key funding criteria in the early stage Bharat Inclusion Seed Fund’s Saras Agarwal and CIIE.CO’s Sanea Vakaliya talked about how venture capitalists and investors make funding decisions, what actually matters in the early years of the startups lifecycle and how does the investment process work. Complementing these were talks by in-house expert Ram Motwani on unit economics and IIMA Professor Mukesh Sud on startup valuation, which assisted startup founders to develop financial projections and refine their business model assumptions. In short, it is an art that is deep-rooted in science and bolstered (or busted) by numbers!

  3. People are very sensitive to words that are used in making their choices and decisions Underlying all the calculations for Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) are fundamental concepts that explain “how” consumers make decisions when faced with risk and financial constraints. Professor Aruna Divya, IIMA, threw light on how low-income customers make trade-offs and choices, and the strategies to be employed for better engagement and stickiness of your product or service.

  4. Best of pitches and stories don’t work if your delivery is poor At any given stage in the startup life cycle, you need to communicate with impact to attract customers, investors, partners and employees. In an interactive approach, IIMA Professor Vaibhavi Kulkarni struck a conversation on how startups can craft and deliver a persuasive pitch. Participants were pushed to define their core message. It was harder than you think. Participants were asked to create pitching videos for their startups, which were critiqued by not just the professors but also their peers.

  5. In negotiation, one party’s needs can only be served if the other party’s needs are also met In order to maximise learning for the startups and increase involvement, the sessions were customized to fit the context of the startups, giving them in-class exercises and assignments. A mock deal between two ventures was devised where founders were asked to enter into a negotiation and come up with solutions. Professor Neharika Vohra of IIMA illustrated the negotiation process and how it is not a bargain that benefits only one entity but an exchange that takes into account welfare of both parties. Think long-term.

  6. Effectual mindset, rather than a managerial one, is the hallmark of an expert entrepreneur Entrepreneurs were prompted to develop an effectual logic/approach to become blue ocean players. A case on Eko was discussed which helped the startups delve into the business life cycle and challenges at different stages in the financial inclusion space.


The bootcamp was a spiffing opportunity for the startups to address and test their thesis/premise — from testing MVPs to expanding their existing product portfolio, from trying to understand the ‘right’ target audience to assessing the ‘right’ need of their customers or building the ‘right’ product. It helped the startups drill down their key challenges and refine their ask from the Financial Inclusion Lab. The startups, along with CIIE.CO and MSC Consulting will now work towards solving these challenges and reaching the desired milestones over the course of the next few months.

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