The house in central India where I grew up had just one room and a kitchen. My father, my brother and I slept in the room, while my mother and sister slept on the kitchen floor. I always wanted my own business. When I was 10, I used to sell stickers to my classmates for a small profit. But my parents said it’s not for us. We get well educated and find jobs.
When I was 23, I was offered a position in London by the CEO of a boutique Forex firm that I’d sold some research to. It was a great opportunity, but I didn’t have any money to get there, so I sold my cherished Hero Honda motorbike and bought a one-way ticket.
It was the first time I’d ever been on a plane, let alone left the country. I’d expected skyscrapers like New York, but ended up in Harrow. The office itself was shocking. I’d thought London would be far more advanced, but in this company of 20 people there were just two computers. I made it much more tech savvy, but I became frustrated that my boss was rejecting my ideas. So in 2005, I resigned and started my own Forex company, RationalFX.
It was a while before I was ready to tell my parents. To begin with there was just me and my business partner, the son of the accountant who’d prepared my visa, and we didn’t have any money. I went to the bank for a £10,000 business loan but they turned me down. The next day I went back and said ‘you’re right, I’ll just stick with my job, but now I want a car’, and they gave me £20,000. I didn’t even have a driving licence.
We lived off that and our maxed-out credit cards for a while but convincing customers to trust us proved tough. At one point my partner said maybe it was time to quit, but I was convinced it was going to work. Things turned when we started targeting the overseas property market. There was a boom at the time in Spain, France and Dubai, and our strategy of using an affiliate network of estate agents overcame the trust issue. In 2008 though, the overseas market nosedived. Fortunately, we’d started targeting SMEs as well as property buyers. By 2014, RationalFX was handling £1.4bn in transactions, and was growing at 100% a year. But right now I’m excited about my second business, Xendpay.
It’s the Ryanair of money transfer, except it has more soul. I used to get calls from friends asking me to send £200 back to their family in India to pay for their kids’ school fees. They knew I could get better rates. Globally, the cost of money transfer is 9% of the $600bn-$1 trillion total, and that money makes a big difference to developing countries. So I created Xendpay as a self-service platform where customers pay what they like, without a spread on the prices. My team said I was crazy, but people are paying enough to cover the costs. It’s growing at 30% a month by word of mouth alone, and it’s forcing the fees down across the sector.