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How fintech startup Ezeepay is enabling access to formal financial services in rural areas

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In a queue one day, to exchange his old, demonetised notes back in 2016, Shams Tabrej noticed how most people around him were daily wage earners and day labourers. He struck up a conversation with a couple of folks and discerned that they had all been standing there since early morning, at the cost of earning a living that day.

This was nothing new though.

Shams, who hails from a rural village in Bihar, knew that for most people in his village, accessing financial services for the smallest of things took an entire day, or at least a majority of one’s working hours. Trudging all the way to the next village, often 20-30 kilometres away where the nearest bank is located is not unheard of in rural India – and that was the case with Shams as well.

After demonetisation, Shams decided this lack of access to banking in rural areas was not a problem he could live with, and got together with his childhood friends and family members, Rashid Ali and Dilkash Ara, to set up Ezeepay.

Ezeepay is a financial-technology startup that primarily serves the rural segment. The New Delhi-based venture provides digital banking services such as microloans, insurance, investment buying, AEPS, money transfer, and bank account opening; utility services such as bill payments, mobile recharge, hotel and travel booking; and compliance services such as ITR filing, GST registration, MSME registration, among others.

It provides all these services at its micro-ATMs and Ezeepay Touchpoint stores across the country, apart from its app. The Ezeepay stores not only enable people to conduct digital banking, but also help users renew their documentation and pay all sorts of bills without having to waste time travelling to different places.

“Our mission is to take banking to every rural household and solve the issue of banking in rural areas across the country. We offer convenience to our customers,” Shams tells YourStory.

The startup also offers doorstep digital services via a large network of on-ground agents. These agents not only help people access digital banking, but also help them conduct online transactions such as bill payments.

Revenue model and traction

One of the main issues Shams recalls running into in the initial days of setting up Ezeepay was adoption by its target audience, which was digitally illiterate. Low literacy levels and a lack of understanding of finances and financial technology made it hard for the startup to penetrate rural areas meaningfully.

“Working in smaller areas with comparatively lesser exposure and low literacy has some drawbacks. We had difficulty in building trust and familiarising people with digitalisation. Language also became a barrier in our journey sometimes,” Shams says.

The founders took on the responsibility of not only educating their target audience on financial matters, but also helped them understand how to use technology. The language barrier too was easy to overcome once they started offering multi-language support.

Ezeepay has built up a user base of about 2.7 lakh people since its inception in 2018. It has seen over one lakh downloads of its app, and its retail customer reach is nearly one crore.

The startup mainly earns its money from the banks it has tied up with, on every transaction it helps to conduct on its platform.

Shams says nearly 80 percent of its earnings are allocated to helping its customers by improving the company’s offering; only 20 percent is retained as profit. Users don’t bear any costs to use Ezeepay’s services.

The self-funded startup will be going for its first round of funding this year, capital from which it hopes to use to scale up. It also plans to deploy 2.5 lakh micro-ATMs in rural areas over the next three years to enable more transactions.

Its competitors in India include the likes of Spice Money (which enables rural banking by partnering with local kiranas and businesses), BANKIT, JaiKisan, and Fincare SFB, among others. Bigger startups like Razorpay and Cashfree Payments are also making a bid to tap underserved users in rural India, where the next billion internet users are widely expected to hail from.

Valued at nearly $60 billion in FY20, the Indian fintech industry is expected to grow multifold to $150 billion by 2025, according to Invest India. Of this, rural fintech services are expected to account for a 30-40 percent share, especially as financial literacy improves. For startups like Ezeepay, this not only translates into a bigger TAM and more business, but also means better and improved access to formal financial services in rural areas.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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Airtable chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are out • TechCrunch

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As part of Airtable’s decision to cut 20% of staff, or 254 employees, three executives are “parting ways” with the company as well, a spokesperson confirmed over email. The chief revenue officer, chief people officer and chief product officer are no longer with the company.

Airtable’s chief revenue officer, Seth Shaw, joined in November 2020 just one month before Airtable’s chief producer officer Peter Deng came on board. Airtable’s chief people officer, Johanna Jackman, joined Airtable in May 2021 with an ambitious goal to double the company’s headcount to 1,000 in 12 months. The three executives are departing today as a mutual decision with Airtable, but will advise the company through the next phase of transition, the company says. All three executives were reached out to for further comment and this story will be updated with their responses if given.

An Airtable spokesperson declined to comment on if the executives were offered severance pay. The positions will be succeeded by internal employees, introduced at an all-hands meeting to be held this Friday.

Executive departures at this scale are rare, even if the overall company is going through a heavy round of cuts. But CEO and founder Howie Liu emphasized, in an email sent to staff but seen by TechCrunch, that the decision – Airtable’s first-ever lay off in its decade-long history – was made following Airtable’s choice to pivot to a more “narrowly focused mode of execution.”

In the email, Liu described Airtable’s goal – first unveiled in October – to capture enterprise clients with connected apps. Now, instead of the bottom-up adoption that first fueled Airtable’s rise, the company wants to be more focused in this new direction. Liu’s e-mail indicates that the startup will devote a majority of its resources toward “landing and expanding large enterprise companies with at least 1k FTEs – where our connected apps vision will deliver the most differentiated value.”

The lean mindset comes after Airtable reduced spend in marketing media, real estate, business technology and infrastructure, the e-mail indicates. “In trying to do too many things at once, we have grown our organization at a breakneck pace over the past few years. We will continue to emphasize growth, but do so by investing heavily in the levers that yield the highest growth relative to their cost,” Liu wrote.

Airtable seems to be emphasizing that its reduced spend doesn’t come with less ambition, or ability to execute. A spokesperson added over e-mail that all of Airtable’s funds from its $735 million Series F are “still intact.” They also said that the startup’s enterprise side, which makes up the majority of Airtable’s revenue, is growing more than 100% year over year; the product move today just doubles down on that exact cohort.

Current and former Airtable employees can reach out to Natasha Mascarenhas on Signal, a secure encrypted messaging app, at 925 271 0912. You can also DM her on Twitter, @nmasc_. 



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Kubernetes Gateway API reality check: Ingress controller is still needed

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No doubt the new Kubernetes excitement is the Gateway API. One of the more significant changes in the Kubernetes project, the Gateway API is sorely needed. More granular and robust control over Kubernetes service networking better addresses the growing number of use cases and roles within the cloud-native paradigm.

Shared architecture — at all scales — requires flexible, scalable and extensible means to manage, observe and secure that infrastructure. The Gateway API is designed for those tasks. Once fully matured, it will help developers, SREs, platform teams, architects and CTOs by making Kubernetes infrastructure tooling and governance more modular and less bespoke.

But let’s be sure the hype does not get ahead of today’s needs.

The past and future Kubernetes gateway API

There remains a gap between present and future states of Ingress control in Kubernetes. This has led to a common misconception that the Gateway API will replace the Kubernetes Ingress Controller (KIC) in the near term or make it less useful over the longer term. This view is incorrect for multiple reasons.

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Ingress controllers are now embedded in the functional architecture of most Kubernetes deployments. They have become de facto. At some point, the Gateway API will be sufficiently mature to replace all functionality of the Ingress API and even the implementation-specific annotations and custom resources that many of the Ingress implementations use, but that day remains far off.

Today, most IT organizations are still either in the early adoption or the testing stage with Kubernetes. For many, just getting comfortable with the new architecture, networking constructs, and application and service management requirements requires considerable internal education and digestion.

Gateway API and Ingress controllers are not mutually exclusive

As we’ve done at NGINX, other Ingress maintainers will presumably implement the Gateway API in their products to take advantage of the new functionality and stay current with the Kubernetes API and project. Just as RESTful APIs are useful for many tasks, the Kubernetes API underpins many products and services, all built on the foundation of its powerful container orchestration engine.

The Gateway API is designed to be a universal component layer for managing service connectivity and behaviors within Kubernetes. It is expressive and extensible, making it useful for many roles, from DevOps to security to NetOps.

As a team that has invested considerable resources into an open source Ingress controller, NGINX could have chosen to integrate the Gateway API into our existing work. Instead, we elected to leverage the Gateway API as a standalone, more open-ended project. We chose this path so as not to project the existing constraints of our Ingress controller implementation onto ways we might hope to use the Gateway API or NGINX in the future. With fewer constraints, it is easier to fail faster or to explore new designs and concepts. Like most cloud-native technology, the Gateway API construct is designed for loose coupling and modularity ­— even more so than the Ingress controller, in fact.

We are also hopeful that some of our new work around the Gateway API is taken back into the open-source community. We have been present in the Kubernetes community for quite some time and are increasing our open-source efforts around the Gateway API.

It could be interpreted that the evolving API provides an invaluable insertion point and opportunity for a “do-over” on service networking. But that does not mean that everyone is quick to toss out years of investment in other projects. Ingress will continue to be important as Gateway API matures and develops, and the two are not mutually exclusive.

Plan for a hybrid future

Does it sound like we think the Kubernetes world should have its Gateway API cake and eat its Ingress controller too? Well, we do. Guilty as charged. Bottom line: We believe Kubernetes is a big tent with plenty of room for both new constructs and older categories. Improving on existing Ingress controllers —which were tethered to a limited annotation capability that induced complexity and reduced modularity — remains critical for organizations for the foreseeable future.

Yes, the Gateway API will help us improve Ingress controllers and unleash innovation, but it’s an API, not a product category. This new API is not a magic wand nor a silver bullet. Smart teams are planning for this hybrid future, learning about the improvements the Gateway API will bring while continuing to plan around ongoing Ingress controller improvement. The beauty of this hybrid reality is that everyone can run clusters in the way they know and desire. Every team gets what they want and need.

Brian Ehlert is director of product management at NGINX.

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4 Ways to Use Social Media for Market Research

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Social media has undoubtedly changed the way brands think about digital marketing. Just a few years ago, networks like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn only played a small part in global marketing strategies. But as their user numbers have grown, so has their importance for digital marketing. Today, social media channels offer digital marketers excellent market research opportunities.

How market research sets brands apart

Market research has always been an integral part of building a brand. Conducting market research means gathering information and learning more about your target market, establishing potential customer personas, and evaluating how successful your product could be.

Market research also helps quantify product-market fit. Once your product or service has been launched, research allows brand teams to check whether customers receive the messages they want to communicate.

With a company’s marketing goals, market research forms the foundation of successful brand marketing strategies. In short, it is hard to overstate the importance of market research. Still, there are drawbacks. Traditional market research techniques, such as interviews and focus groups, can be time-consuming. These tools can also be tough on resources if the research is done thoroughly, forcing some brands to launch a marketing strategy built on hunches rather than data. Others limit the scope of their study in the hope that findings may still be valid. Both of these options are putting brands at risk.

Related: The 7 Secrets of Truly Successful Personal Brands

Social media lifts market research limitations

Social media platforms have all the tools necessary to provide brands with answers to market research questions. Social media can offer insights into branding, content messaging and creative design, as well as improve awareness of competitor activity and industry trends.

Much of this is made possible by the sheer number of potential customers brands can access via social media. Facebook alone has nearly three billion active users every month, which has been growing for nearly a decade. Instagram continues to gain ground, with currently around two billion active users.

Social media usage figures are projected to grow for at least the next few years. More than 4.26 billion people spent time on social media in 2021. Statisticians believe that figure will rise to nearly six billion within five years.

But social media can do more than provide user numbers. The companies behind Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok know a great amount of information about their users, starting with demographics and including lifestyle preferences. These insights enable brands to access the right audience faster than ever before and at lower costs.

Related: In a Crowded Field of Emerging Franchises, Only the Strongest Brands Thrive

How to use social media for market research

Social media channels allow brands to access several layers of information about their industry, the brand itself, competitors, messaging and creative design.

1. Industry insights

Using social media channels is an efficient way to assess industry trends in real-time. Channels like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram make it easy to spot and isolate leading trends and changes in those trends. A few years ago, images captured consumer attention. More recently, however, video-based channels like TikTok have cemented the importance of video as a tool to connect with customers. Of course, brand teams can choose to ignore certain trends, but it is still important to understand the drivers behind the industry.

In this context, industry drivers are not only topics or tools. Social media has created a relatively new digital marketing phenomenon — working with influencers. Identifying and working with the right influencers can be a critical driver of business growth.

Before the advent of social media channels, gathering similar information required more time and in-depth analysis simply because the information was not as easily accessible.

2. Competitor research

Social media has made it easier to conduct competitor research. Companies from virtually every industry sector have started embracing social media channels to connect with customers and partners. As a result, it is far easier to understand your competitors’ marketing strategies and analyze which marketing tactics and channels work best for them.

Following a competitor’s social media channels helps brands understand what audiences engage with and which content they ignore. Brand teams gain a deeper insight into the mindset of their competitors’ clients. Following these channels regularly allows you to clearly understand your competitors, their audiences, and their marketing approach.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Competitive Research for Small Businesses

3. Brand positioning

Are your target audiences perceiving your brand the way you would like to be perceived? Monitoring social media allows your marketing team to answer this question quickly. Hashtags and search functions make it easy to assess how a brand is being discussed without any delay associated with traditional market research methods.

As a result of gaining instant insights, your team can adjust and correct its brand messaging quicker than ever.

4. Content messaging and design

A traditional approach to determining advertising messages might involve A/B testing, among other methods. While these types of market research are important for developing successful (traditional) advertising campaigns, they can be expensive and delay the campaign.

Social media channels allow brands to test their content messaging and design directly with minimal costs. Through likes and comments, brands gain instant customer feedback. Throughout a few posts, it will become clear whether customers are more likely to engage with images, videos or webinars, for example.

If a brand uses social media to generate sales, conversion figures will quickly deliver more tangible insights than A/B testing can. Those insights can immediately be applied to the advertising content, allowing brands to conduct market research and put their findings into practice simultaneously.

Using social media channels for market research lets brands learn about industry trends and competitor activity in real-time. Brand teams can also assess brand perception, messaging and content design without delay, optimizing market research results and overall campaign performance.

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