Innovation and change drive Akanksha Hazari’s vision for m.PaaniRekha Balakrishnan
Launched in 2014, m.Paani designs and implements mobile-based loyalty programmes.
Akanksha Hazari, CEO and Founder of m.Paani believes businesses have unlimited potential to make a positive difference in the world at scale if they choose to.
She should know. “I have been founding clubs, organisations and small ventures since I was a teenager, and built my first successful company when I was 21. I have the commitment to create a better world, a love for innovating new ideas, and a passion for building teams that can make these a reality,” says the intrepid entrepreneur.
Raised in Pune and Hong Kong, Akanksha is an alumnus of Princeton University and the University of Cambridge, where she pursued her undergraduate and Masters’ studies.
Collecting diverse skills
“My professional journey has been a calculated exercise in gaining the skills and experience necessary to innovate and build a business that can contribute to creating a better world. After Princeton, I chose to turn down investment banking offers to build my first venture and was part of the founding team of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, the first policy think tank for young people based in Washington DC.”
Akanksha helped scale the think tank to 200 staff, and nine offices internationally. She also strengthened her business skills and exposure to emerging markets by managing and developing five major economic initiatives in Gaza and the West Bank, and living in the region during the 2007 war; engaging in clean technology strategy and investments with Booz Allen in the US and the UAE; and working on agritech solutions in India with TechnoServe.
Touching the next billion
Soon, the entrepreneurship bug bit her again, only this time in a totally different direction. In 2014, she started m.Paani in India, the first and only mass-market loyalty programme focused on advancing the next billion users in the country.
“We connect brands directly to the next billion users and offline merchants with real-time data and analytics, driving loyalty and engagement, while changing our users' lives,” she explains.
“Our vision is to enable users to earn points for every consumer action and transaction, creating a second wallet of points they can use for everything from recharging their phone, to paying school fees and doctors to bills. The proprietary data we build via our platform enables us to deliver unparalleled loyalty and intelligence to brands with the next billion users and small business owners,” she adds.
m.Paani’s platform has a brand engagement and data product that enables brands to build personalised, data-driven relationships with every consumer and retailer. ‘Aap Ka Business Saathi’ is the company’s retailer marketing and loyalty SaaS platform that digitises small businesses, and has been proven to grow revenue by up to 30 percent, while the ‘Shop Smart’ consumer loyalty programme rewards consumers with benefits for engaging and transacting with in-network brands and retailers.
The company also plans to soon launch m.Paani Dream - a donor transparency tool that will help foundations, CSR teams, and non-government organisations to track the funds spent along with programme analytics.
Facing challenges and moving forward
Initially bootstrapped, m.Paani raised two rounds of financing, the most recent a Pre-series A round of $1.35 million led by IDG Ventures and Blume Ventures. The funds, however, came with their own set of challenges.
“One of my toughest moments was when we raised our first round and an investor pulled out at the last minute after signing the term sheet. We had been bootstrapping and were running out of money, which included my personal savings,” Akanksha recalls.
A survivor in the entrepreneurship game, she went on to win many accolades. A highlight was being awarded the Global Leadership and Economic Empowerment Award by Hillary Clinton, with her work and vision being recognised by the US Congress in Senate Resolution 418, in 2017.
m.Paani has seen a steady growth over the years. It has a team of 35, and hopes to reach 60 by the end of this year.
Powering the next billion
Akanksha’s vision for m.Paani is to become the social currency that powers the next billion for future users and small business owners in India, and the next four billion across emerging markets.
“We are architecting our platform to incorporate Blockchain by the end of this fiscal year. We will not only be known as a large successful business, but part of India’s economic development as the Blockchain-based loyalty programme that changes peoples’ lives,” she says.
She also credits Google for giving m.Paani significant mentorship across core business and product functions that guided its next iteration of offerings and product suite.
Our final question to her is whether it is difficult to be a woman entrepreneur? “A recent global investment report found that only three percent of venture dollars were invested in solo female founders in Q1 2018. This is appalling, and only one of many data points that shows how much work we have left to do in creating a level playing field for women entrepreneurs. I’m very proud to say at m.Paani we have a strong female leadership across the company - me as the CEO and Founder, our CXO, our head of retail sales, and in our business development team,” she says.