[TechSparks 2020] Lights, camera, entrepreneurship: how Kunal Kapoor translated his dream of a social-tech startup into reality
At the 11th edition of YourStory’s TechSparks, actor-turned-entrepreneur Kunal Kapoor talks about the challenges of starting a crowdfunding startup, building a social-tech product, and why regular updates and transparency are vital to the success of a crowdfunding platform.
He's known for his intense roles, but in a shift Bollywood actor-turned-entrepreneur Kunal Kapoor co-founded Mumbai-based crowdfunding startup Ketto.org in December 2012, along with Varun Sheth.
Starting at a time when the concept of crowdfunding was still nascent in the Indian startup community, Kunal said he had finally cracked the secret to a successful crowdfunding startup: providing regular updates to donors and maintaining transparency.
At the 11th edition of YourStory’s flagship event TechSparks 2020, in a fireside chat on ‘Lights, camera, entrepreneurship: delivering a founder’s role’, Kunal spilt the beans on building a social-tech platform, the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs, and the future of crowdfunding in India.
Using technology to bridge gaps
Most famously known for his roles as Aslam from Rang De Basanti and Aatif from Lamhaa, Kunal’s talent is not just limited to the silver screen. A trained pilot, a rally car driver, a director, and more recently, a social-tech entrepreneur, Kunal’s inclination towards entrepreneurship was innate.
“I always wanted to be involved in a business that made a social impact,” Kunal said during the fireside chat. He co-founded Ketto - an abbreviation for Key To Tomorrow - in an attempt to bring together people who wanted to help and people who needed help with technology.
Kunal says, “Democratisation to capital is the key to tomorrow and that’s what crowdfunding does.” The crowdfunding platform organises fund-raising for social, creative, and personal causes.
However, building a social-tech platform was not a cakewalk.
Kunal said there were three key challenges in building Ketto: the concept of crowdfunding was very new in India; explaining to investors what the platform aimed to do was difficult; and the concept of social entrepreneurship was still nascent.
“People assumed that something for social good should be free; it shouldn’t be a business,” Kunal added.
Product improvement is key
Since inception, Ketto’s aim has been working on the product to make the donating experience seamless for people.
Kunal and his team quickly realised that the fact that donors did not know where their money was going was a challenge. “Our aim is to make the experience easier and transparent. That is what our product team is constantly working on.”
The focus seems to have worked. In the last year, Ketto’s donor retention has gone up by 50 percent.
“Last year, a donor was likely to donate 1.6 times. This year the figure stands at up to 2.6 times. The feedback we got is that the product has become far easier to use -- the updates and transparency are far greater now,” Kunal added.
COVID-19 effect: A charitable India
In July this year, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Ketto raised Rs 109 crore to support more than three lakh individuals in various capacities.
Speaking about some of the COVID-induced crises that Ketto is supporting, Kunal said that it had raised funds for various causes -- for migrant workers, to feed the underprivileged and stray animals, to help doctors with equipment and PPE kits, among others.
“What’s interesting is that people who have never made any sort of contribution have come forward to make a difference. As a society, this crisis (COVID-19) has brought out a side of us that not everyone knew existed,” Kunal said.
Ketto has provided an avenue to people who wanted to contribute to society.
Kunal revealed that a 10-year old daughter of his friend, after having seen and heard about the migrant crisis on television, wanted to do something. “She started a campaign on Ketto and raised Rs 14 lakh for migrant workers.”
Crowdfunding trends amidst the pandemic
Speaking on trends in the crowdfunding space during the pandemic, Kunal revealed that most money is being raised for medical causes. Two factors have facilitated this trend - the underserved healthcare industry and the urgency of medical causes.
One of the important campaigns led by Ketto during the pandemic was ‘Milkar for COVID-19’. The campaign, in association with the Mumbai government, had a separate product that brought together the government, NGOs, corporates, and individuals.
The product - built and designed with a map of Mumbai – let individuals see and locate NGOs working in that particular area. People could contribute to their nearest NGOs through Ketto’s platform. The Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) also put out updates on areas that needed the most support.
“We found that there were some areas where people assumed the most help was needed, such as Dharavi. But, a lot of other areas that needed more help were being left out. BMC provided us updates on such areas,” Kunal said.
What comes next?
Ketto is now building a healthcare vertical. Still in its beta phase, the vertical will have products for hospitals, a cost calculator for treatments and procedures, and a patient wellness and care product.
“It has taken us so many years to educate people that a platform like Ketto exists,” Kunal said.
Going forward, Ketto aims to be the alternative for people who end up taking bank loans or mortgage their property and jewellery. It aims to do this by allowing people to raise funds through crowdfunding campaigns.
“We have only scratched the surface. Right now, we are only operating in urban centres. We have started to move to smaller towns and villages now… that is where we can have a huge impact,” Kunal said.
TechSparks - YourStory's annual flagship event - has been India's largest and most important technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship summit for over a decade, bringing together entrepreneurs, policymakers, technologists, investors, mentors, and business leaders for stories, conversations, collaborations, and connections that matter. As TechSparks 2020 goes all virtual and global in its 11th edition, we want to thank you for the tremendous support we've received from all of you throughout our journey and give a huge shoutout to our sponsors of TechSparks 2020.
Edited by Teja Lele