ERIC: Hey guys, it’s Eric from FoundersBeta.com and I’m delighted to have Sandeep from Remitr! Remitr is one of the fastest growing companies out there, simplifying business payments solutions for businesses. Sandeep, thanks so much for joining.
SANDEEP: Absolutely delighted to be here, Eric. Thanks for having me.
ERIC: I’m looking forward to hearing your story from the early days. So, let’s dive in now. How did the idea for Remitr come about?
SANDEEP: My co-founder, Kanchan and I, previously co-founded a SaaS company, which was in India, and we had several customers abroad at that time. Receiving payments from those customers was not only a huge friction point, we also lost a large portion of our revenue in fees. Now, we are both software developers and we knew that we could find a better experience for folks like us who had the same issue. Having worked on building accounting software in the past for small businesses, we understood the persona of business owners who face the exact same challenge every single day and with Remitr, we wanted to give them a better option.
ERIC: I see. So, so, I guess this was the problem you experienced yourself, right?
SANDEEP: That’s right, yeah. It was something that we were experiencing and living through every single day.
ERIC: Yeah, I think that’s where the best businesses come from. Right? It’s kind of like solving your own problem. Sometimes I see founders building the solution for themselves first, right?
SANDEEP: So, in many ways, we did think of the solution because of the problem that we faced ourselves. We kind of built it based on the problem that we faced; and the advantage of experiencing it, firsthand, yourself, is that you can actually get to the crux of the problem and what’s the best way to solve it.
ERIC: Right. Right. So what was the next step after? You experienced this problem and what was the next step? What did you immediately do?
SANDEEP: We actually went about kind of digging deeper into it, talking to several people both in the banking domain and across other domains to really understand: A. Is this problem as widespread as we thought that it was? Secondly, what are the kind of inherent friction points and challenges within the existing banking framework that gives rise to this problem?. That way we could understand the nature of the beast pretty much upfront and up close.
ERIC: I see. So, then I guess you did some user interviews. You did a lot of research user interviews. Then what was the process in terms of finding your co-founder? Was that easy?
SANDEEP: Yeah. You know, that’s a great question. I guess we were lucky and we found each other almost, uh, automagically, if I can use that term. It turns out that we were both learning programming together and, as luck would have it, we landed our first jobs at the same company. We ended up working for that company for almost 10 years. During that time, we quickly became friends. At work, we developed a great working relationship and Remitr is actually our third venture together.
So, you know, you’ll hear a lot of mixed advice about working with a friend, but the core of what’s important in having a co-founder relationship – you must have trust and see how clearly and honestly you can communicate with each other.
Being able to keep the interest of the business in mind above everything else. That’s, you know, that’s super important. I cannot overemphasize that enough, also, having each other’s back. So, I guess, that’s what we’ve been able to kind of enjoy as a relationship between me and my co-founder.
ERIC: I see. Yeah. I think that’s actually one of the good ways because you know the person for a long time, right. You also know their working style, which I think is important.
SANDEEP: Exactly. It’s really important to get to know each other and understand ‘what works for me, what works for him’. As I said, there will be situations where you need to get each other’s back and know you’re just there for each other.
ERIC: Right. That’s great. So, what was the conversation like when you had the conversation with him? What was it like? Was it like, ‘Hey, I got this idea? Why don’t we pursue this? This could be something’. What was it like?
SANDEEP: It was those early days. When you are hit with a problem that you have always accepted, you know, as part of life – people sending and receiving international payment – you tend to accept what you have because, hey, who goes up against the banking system?
Then when this idea was kind of floated about like ‘can we solve this problem’? The first thing was, ‘you must be crazy – this is insane’. But then from there on, when we started, like I was saying earlier, when we started talking to different people in the banking industry, different other stakeholders, customers (like ourselves), we realized that this is crazy, but ‘let’s do crazy’, you know? And that was just the beginning.
ERIC: Wow. That’s great. Because I mean, you look at the banking and, I mean, for FinTech – I’m sure there are many regulations involved as well, right? That must have been tough to navigate, right?
SANDEEP: It is. It is and this was one of the biggest challenges that we faced because of regulatory challenges…licensing restrictions…We had to deal with all of these. So what we built is something popularly known as hard FinTech, which is that you are actually dealing with money on your platform and that made it that much harder for us to build everything around making sure that our product is good. That’s the kind of table stakes. And then we are fully compliant with all regulatory laws everywhere in the world. So that was, that was really tough. And this was not something that we were used to, but, you know, we learnt as we went along and, I guess, that’s part of building the startup.
ERIC: Right, right. Definitely. Moving onto the next question. Let’s talk about the first version of the product. How did that come about? The first MVP – What did the website look like for Remitr?
SANDEEP: Haha. That’s almost embarrassing if I look back at what our first website was. I wouldn’t say I would be embarrassed about what our first product was. I’m really proud about it, but it’s almost like you look back upon your childhood photographs and say, ‘what is that me’. That’s what I would say. We’ve come a pretty long way from what our product was at launch, or our website, and where we are today.
We did the classical thing about building an MVP and kind of testing out what is the response from our initial customers and then kind of going from there. When we were building this, our core thing was ‘how can we do something which really solves a big, unmet problem’. It was not about just removing friction in the process. So what we discovered was – the biggest thing that customers are facing is how do they make an exact value payment to a contractor or a supplier in another country. So, for example, if you need to pay an invoice of $4,550, right? U.S. dollars. It’s almost impossible to do it with a bank wire given that the bank charges fees on both sides. So your supplier in the U. S. might end up receiving probably like $20 or $30 less than what they invoiced you.
We created this as a core value proposition and this became a big hit with our customers. If you’ve found a problem that’s worth fixing, I would say, and this is what we did, find the most unique way to solve it. Too often you see products that look like clones of each other and do not offer a remarkable differentiator. Doing it better than the other person, it’s just not good enough nowadays. People notice when you do things differently and when you decide about what goes into the MVP, it’s important to have your pulse on the ground. Talk to folks that are experiencing the pain point firsthand. Get into the psyche of what they’d like to see and how they see the problem, so you can understand how to solve it best.
ERIC: Right, right. Because I think it’s so important to be in touch with the users or customers, right? Get some early feedback and make sure you’re building the right thing.
SANDEEP: Absolutely. This actually helps you kill two birds with one stone. First, you get a tremendous validation of the problem-solution that you are fixing and you also get a lot of valuable market research. Second, you know exactly what is the persona of the early users – what does that look like, on what kind of channels and what kind of messaging will work best for them.
ERIC: Right, right. That makes sense because I think a lot of startups – I’ve been there too – you keep on building and building without even going out there and actually talking to users, which can be detrimental because what happens is they end up spending so much time and resources building the wrong thing, you know, so nobody wants to use that.
Right. So, I think these are great pointers for our audience in terms of MVP. Was there any particular, let’s say framework or things that you might recommend, for let’s say if I’m building an MVP tomorrow. What are your thoughts on that?
SANDEEP: A good way…and, I guess, there’s no perfect answer to this, but a good way and something that’s worked for us well, is doing a lot of user research – building a user persona. Then even before you build or even write your first line of code – if you’re able to do wireframes and prototypes – go back to the customers, and not tell them that this is a product that we are building, but just ask them for feedback about the jobs that they do and if they were able to do it with your product the way you visualize it. You would come back with a lot of insights into how they see the solution to the problem from their lens.
What does a typical workday look like for them? I say “workday” because, you know, we are in the B2B space, so our best customer is a small business owner. So that’s why I say ‘what does a workday look like for them’. Getting those answers can give you a lot of insight into what really will make your MVP click when you finally launch it. Like I said, these answers could be different. If you’re building for the consumer market, you want to do it differently. There are many different tools out there that will help you to validate your assumptions and validate your initial product itself – building that out.
It’s very tempting initially to try and build out everything. So having a framework in place, which says, ‘This is a must-have feature’ and ‘If I can do this, does this satisfy a need’ – number one. Number two, ‘what is addressable?’, ‘How many users out of my target addressable market actually required this?’. And the third thing is something which, again, I cannot overemphasize this – look at what part of your product will help the product itself to grow. What I mean by that is if there are things that create a network effect or create an inbuilt virality. I know those are overused words, but look at how those things can become actualized in your MVP because that can go a big way in making it successful.
ERIC: Right. I think, like you said, the biggest issue I see with startups is just building too many features. Right?
SANDEEP: It is. It’s very tempting.
ERIC: Oftentimes I see some startups, you know, they send their MVP and I look at it. I’ve been there, too, myself. You know, the first product is so big and bloated and nobody’s even using it and I think that becomes a big problem. Like you said, I think it’s good to know which are the essentials and then just put it out there for the start before just going full out on it because an MVP is not a full-blown product by any means. Right.
SANDEEP: Exactly right.
ERIC: Great. So, moving onto the next questions. I hear Remitr keeps growing and growing; so, what do you look for in your new team members – in terms of skills, in terms of traits, even things like attitude, approach. What are your ideas on that?
SANDEEP: Sure. Building a startup with your initial founding team and your vision – as crucial is that phase about having your founding team and vision, equally, if not more is ‘how do you build for growth’. How do you hire your team?
The first employee is someone who understands your vision and who solves for the most critical skills gap in your startup. So, you know what I mean by that is, for example, if your product needs sales, you should be hiring the best salesperson for your particular segment – for your target market.
If, for example, your product or your startup is a marketing-driven-startup and a lot of acquisition is going to be driven by marketing then focus on bringing on somebody who is passionate about marketing-driven growth. If you, for example, are the marketing person and technology is your weak spot, then get an engineer who understands your market segment really well and can build for the product.
So, you know, hiring for skills is also dependent upon where your startup is. If you’re at an early stage or if you’re at a growth stage, those skills need to be aligned with the outcomes, which you then need to articulate very clearly in your mind. You should be able to visualize that the person whom you are hiring or potentially hiring is someone who can get you there and get those outcomes that you have in mind.
I will tell you, at Remitr, I have often struggled when faced with putting together a job description because oftentimes you tend to first define outcomes and build the JD backwards from those outcomes. Not, not the other way around.
Other factors that I think are super important, is resilience and something which probably can be termed as a “can-do attitude”. So, you know, startup roads are not paved. It’s the early team that’s often responsible for helping to lay the groundwork and you cannot let the lack of formal processes and structures weigh you down.
A “can do” attitude is super important and super critical. At a startup, nobody knows everything, but you should be willing to try. So these are folks who think not just about solutions but also find opportunities to grow, to improve, and whatnot. They’re self-starters. They can work through and find the answers.
I’ll give you an example. Last year we started a partnerships program at Remitr and initially, we had no clue how this would be run. Absolutely no clue.
SANDEEP: We knew that there was a market opportunity and we also had, I would say it myself, we had a vague idea of how to go about it and scale up the opportunity. As we went along, we kept discovering newer ways to create partnerships and newer segments where partnerships could work. While we originally started with a hypothesis, today we have three distinct types of partnerships that we run and that just happened because we were thinking on our feet and being creative about solving the problem or kind of leveraging the opportunity.
ERIC: Right. And I think sometimes in a startup, too, many times things evolve. Also maybe the role may change depending on the experiment you’re running or different requirements of the business as well, right?
SANDEEP: A hundred percent and, you know, that’s something which is important, not only for the founding team, it’s also important for the team that you hire.
[FOR FOUNDERS] For example, between me and my co-founder Kanchan, we have often swapped roles – that you do based on what the business needs. You should be able to kind of adapt yourself to what the business demands and if that’s a skill that you do not have, then going back to your previous question, fill in those gaps by hiring people who are the best suited to close that skill gap in the company.
ERIC: Right. That’s great. Let’s talk about – obviously, you had remote team members prior to the pandemic. How is it now and how does everything work remotely? I mean, I think it definitely must be quite a bit of a switch, right? Or how was it?
SANDEEP: Yeah. I guess, 2020 has been an interesting year for all of us in many different ways. When we’re hiring and this goes for whether you’re hiring remote or in the same city – same place – getting a good culture fit is really, really important. We probably place an overemphasis on getting the culture fit: understanding the working relationship, getting to loop in the team with a new hire, having probably a few rounds of meetings with them.
For example, when we were hiring for our first sales role…We are a predominantly marketing-driven company and earlier this year, we decided that we need to build a sales function within our company. So that first sales role that we hired, they actually went through five or six meetings – I like to call them meetings and not interviews – before we actually went ahead with the offer. This really worked well for the person coming on board, and also for the team, because they already knew each other pretty well from Day One.
And the second part is onboarding. The difference between strengthening a team that you already have versus hiring for a completely new role that is one important distinction to make. The example that I was giving earlier, about hiring for the first salesperson in the company, was kind of a different step that we took because we were creating a new function within the company. We were already in double digits (of employees) at that time. So, it was a small thing, but not very small. We were creating a new role within an existing team. So when you do that, the process that you follow is slightly different compared to if you’re adding a team to an existing function or a department.
When it’s a new role or function, you actually have to set the entire framework in place – set them up for success, especially when it’s a new role. How do they interplay with the rest of the team? Defining that upfront and setting expectations, both with the existing team members as well as the new hire, that ‘hey, they’re the first person in this seat – in this job – and they have to define and navigate a lot of things which are unknown for the organization’. Those are the kinds of things that one must be thinking about when you’re hiring for a position like this.
Further in terms of onboarding, if they are not a direct report in – in the early days most likely they will be a direct report to you or to the founding team – but if they are not, then it’s important to schedule a periodic check-in so that you can gauge how they are learning about the new job and if they need more support within the company: setting clear expectations, setting them up for success, even anticipating what tools they might need in advance, if possible, and keeping those things available.
Also, setting the context in terms of when do we expect to start seeing results and what is the measurement? How do we agree to measure those results? Those are few other things which, uh, sometimes tend to get overlooked and you kind of say, you know, ‘let’s get the people on the job and we’ll figure it out later’, but it’s important to know when to do that.
The other thing, which is – because you mentioned remote hiring – how do you replace those water cooler chats? It’s hard, right? How do you get yourself to know the new team member well and how do other people in your team get to know them? Creating mechanisms and interventions where people can get together informally, that’s something that squarely sits on your shoulder as a founder because you have to create situations and mechanisms where you can create team bonding. It’s always good to start that off early and not keep it up for later.
I mean, it’s hard to have a team lunch when the new hire is remote, but there are creative ways in which you could get together for a virtual coffee or a beer. Maybe send them a surprise lunch through UberEats or anything else that fits your culture.
ERIC: I think those are great ideas because I think building that culture remotely is a challenge, right? Because I mean, back in the office days, it was much easier to get together, but now it’s like you almost have to plan out and get creative like you said.
SANDEEP: Yeah and when you’re doing that planning, some of it might look a little too well orchestrated. In real life, or ‘IRL’ as they say, some of the things are impromptu at the best. So, how do you replace those impromptu bonding opportunities? That really is the key.
Of course, there are tools available nowadays. Make the best use of it. We use a bunch of them. Some successfully. Some not so successfully. You have to try it out and see whatever works best within your organization and within your team.
If it’s a distributed team across time zones, how do you balance all of those issues? What’s the best fit for your culture? Like I said, you know, no one shoe fits all. You just have to find what works best for you.
ERIC: Right. Let’s talk about the work-life balance. You know, I call it the work-life blend these days. You can pretty much, as a founder, work anytime and those things, but how do you go about balancing things and just kind of keeping it together, you know?
SANDEEP: This can be a very easy one to answer and it can also be a really tough one to answer. I’m wondering, *(laughs)* which route I should take.
ERIC: Let’s go with the easy route *(laughs)*.
SANDEEP: I think, you know, I think I’ll just be the way I am – totally transparent. I think, really, startup life it’s like a cycle, you know. There will be sprints and it’s okay to be completely heads down for long periods of time, but finding a balance is important. I’ve run a couple of ventures earlier and I could not believe in this more than I do with every single day. Both for your own health and for the purposes of being there for your family, it’s really important to take time off and find that balance.
I find something new to learn and I would say find something new to do, which is not related to the business. It’s not about like, ‘hey, how do I implement that new tool for the company?’. It has to be something completely kind of divorced from what you do at work.
I quite used to enjoy hiking until last year. I used to do it pretty regularly. My goal is to get started again in the winter and not to get daunted by it. One way to keep sharp is to find something new to challenge yourself every so often. Pretty late into my career, at some time, I decided that I want to learn martial arts and I actually did it for three years. I took three years of training.
I have something else that’s coming up and I’ve been toying with it. So, I learned the guitar, again, many, many years back, but I never mastered it and I want to give myself a second chance. So, you know, these are the ways in which – everybody finds their own space – but finding something new to do at a personal level which is both challenging yourself and a learning opportunity – that’s how I find my balance.
Also, I spend time with my family as much as I can. There are some parts of the week which are completely non-negotiable; they’re dedicated and reserved for family time. Doing those kinds of things, I guess, keeps you going along, going strong.
ERIC: Great. Awesome. I always ask the founders on our video chats, what’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten, whether it’s a startups’ philosophy – anything.
SANDEEP: That’s a great question. I would say and this comes from my own life lesson…This is almost counter-intuitive, but I would say, give your team the courage to make mistakes. My personal outlook was shaped by not one, but several incidents, where I made mistakes and I was never reprimanded for them. This spanned things at work and also at home. I think I was incredibly lucky to have that kind of implicit trust. I, now, personally try and live up to those same standards. That’s really what I would offer.
Another thing, which I learned from a mentor several years back, is that we should have strong opinions that are weakly held. What I mean by that is – you start with the thesis and you believe in it passionately. They’re almost like your guideposts, but you cannot and should not be rigid. There’s never one truth. You have to navigate the path and when you have strong opinions that are weakly held, you know where you want to go, but you’re willing to learn and you’re willing to navigate that path.
ERIC: Right. That’s great. And for our audience that wants to learn about Remitr, what’s the best way: websites, social?
SANDEEP: Yeah. The best place, absolutely, to learn more about Remitr is to go to our website. We have on our website not just product information for customers, but tons of information about our team, our culture. You can see our Instagram stuff there, as well…open job positions, and a lot more.
If anybody would like to connect with me, just hit me up on Twitter. My DMs are open and I look forward to conversations with the community.
ERIC: Awesome. Great. Well, Sandeep, thank you so much for coming out today and sharing your thoughts and wisdom for our audience. It’s been great to have your story on FoundersBeta. Thanks so much for all your support and we look forward to future collaboration and exciting stuff coming out from Remitr and what’s going to be coming out in the new year!
SANDEEP: Eric, thank you so much. I really enjoyed this conversation and thank you for having me!
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