Nithin Kamath and Zerodha: Playing the long game

In this episode of Prime Venture Partners Podcast, Nithin Kamath, Founder and CEO of Zerodha, shares his entrepreneurial journey and a few words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs.
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Nithin Kamath, Founder and CEO of Zerodha, doesn’t believe in hopping on to any bandwagon. Growing from 70,000 customers in 2016 to 10 million in 2022, his bootstrapped startup is the poster child of doing things differently.

“Some of these things, I think, would have been very tough to follow through if we were kind of funded,” Nithin says.

While Nithin didn’t launch Zerodha until 2010, his tryst with trading began a decade earlier. Growing up in a Marwadi neighborhood, he was surrounded by people who were keen to try their hands at stock trading.

It was the late 90s, and he used his mother’s offline trading account to get started. Exploring the world of trading at a young age helped him develop a firm understanding of the market.

Nithin briefly worked at a call centre before starting his own advisory business in 2005. Alongside, he created groups on Yahoo Messenger and Orkut to share his knowledge and insights. That was followed by the NSE’s launch of a free trading platform, which laid the foundation for Zerodha’s inception.

“So that’s really what led to the launch of Zerodha in 2010; we were trying to go after two problems. One was, of course, reducing trading costs for very active traders, and the second was to bring in transparency to the business. Because in the business of money, businesses are generally very opaque in the way they work,” Nithin adds.

Zerodha’s rise and rise

It took Zerodha six years to attract 70,000 customers and another four years to hit two million customers. But in the last couple of years, the company has witnessed phenomenal growth, reaching 10 million customers in 2022.

Some of the key milestones in Zerodha’s rise include the arrival of CTO Kailash Nadh in 2013 and the launch of Varsity in 2014. With Varsity, the company shares in-depth stock market and financial lessons for traders and investors. It helped Zerodha expand its target audience beyond the core demographic of active traders.

However, the tipping point was when the company introduced zero brokerage equity investing in December 2015.

“So we said, why don’t we go zero for equity investing, because anyway we are not making any money from equity investors. And that kind of played out really well because we got a lot of press because of this,” Nithin recalls.

Off the beaten track

Zerodha’s mantra has always been to deliver the best experience to existing customers and win their trust, so that they feel compelled to spread the word about the company. Their philosophy is to “do well for a customer, and the customer will also want you to do well”.

“I think in Zerodha, for example, we have 10 million customers, not a single advertisement to date, and everyone coming from word of mouth… that’s happened because your customer has wanted you to do well,” he says.

Word to the wise

Looking back at his entrepreneurial journey and Zerodha’s phenomenal rise, Nithin believes he was at the right place at the right time. He doesn’t regret not going all out on marketing or raising funds.

His biggest advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to “sharpen the axe before you go chopping wood”.

In other words, attempt a variety of things, find something you’re passionate about, and spend time pursuing it before building a business.

And once you’ve taken the plunge, put the customer at the centre of everything you do.

“You can actually build a large business without having to actually go, kind of do all the marketing and advertising,” Nithin says.

Listen to the full episode here

Time stamps:

01:00 - Zerodha’s founding story

06:30 - From 2M to 10M customers

15:00 - User behaviour, IPO markets, and young money

26:00 – ‘You can’t just spend money to gain credibility’

37:00 - Doing what’s right for the customer

Edited by Teja Lele

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