Upwards' Abhishek Soni Discusses Fintech Triumphs, Challenges, and Future Strategies

Upwards' Abhishek Soni Discusses Fintech Triumphs, Challenges, and Future Strategies
Abhishek Soni, Co-Founder and CEO of Upwards
StartupTalky is back with its Year-End Stories, presenting Recap'23. This is a series of interviews in which we conduct in-depth discussions with founders and industry leaders to understand their growth in 2023 and their predictions for the future.

Today, our focus is on fintech and financial services. The fintech industry has become a powerhouse, providing innovative solutions that transform how we manage money, invest, and access financial services.

Projections indicate that the Indian fintech market is expected to reach an impressive $1.3 trillion by 2025. Looking further ahead, the estimated growth in Assets Under Management and Revenue is significant, with estimates hitting $1 trillion and $200 billion by 2030, respectively. These numbers highlight the huge potential and significant impact the fintech industry can have on the future.

In our recent interview for Recap'23, we connected with Abhishek Soni, the Co-Founder and CEO of Upwards. We discussed how Upwards is growing, the challenges it faces, what they've learned, and what's coming up in the future. We also explored how Upwards is making a difference in the fintech world. 

StartupTalky: Abhishek, what does Upwards do? What was the motivation/vision with which you started?

Abhishek Soni: We offer the best-in-class user experience, access to credit to underprivileged sections of society, and a fully real-time and paperless process. Solving the large & underserved credit opportunity in India by leveraging tech and data is the key motivator for us.

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StartupTalky: What are some noteworthy achievements in Upwards' journey?

Abhishek Soni: Our business has received significant validation from the end user, investors, and various ecosystem stakeholders with:

  • 10 million customer sign-ups.
  • $5 million of equity infusion by top global VCs & ~$40M of institutional debt.
  • Deep partnerships with all key institutional lenders like HDB, ABFL, Vivriti, Fullerton, etc.
  • Acquisition by Lendingkart in Jan 2023 in a deal valued at $15 million and numerous industry accolades in 2023.

StartupTalky: How has the fintech industry changed in recent years, and how has Upwards adapted to these changes?

Abhishek Soni: While technology has penetrated all aspects of financial services and fintechs continue to grow at an unprecedented pace, a key underlying trend is proactive collaboration between conventional institutions (like banks, NBFCs) and fintechs. In the context of lending, co-lending, joint product creation, and deep tech integrations between banks and fintechs have been key enablers. Upwards has benefitted massively from this trend, and 80% of all loans we disburse are via a co-lending partnership.

StartupTalky: Could you share how Upwards adjusted its entrepreneurial strategy to navigate the evolving business environment against all odds.

Abhishek Soni: In the face of an evolving business environment and formidable odds, especially with COVID and various BFSI sector crises, Upwards remained frugal, flexible, and adaptable in our entrepreneurial strategy. When unforeseen challenges (like COVID) arose, we embraced change and leveraged adversity as a catalyst for innovation.

StartupTalky: What key metrics do you track to check Upwards’ growth and performance?

Abhishek Soni: We rely on a robust automated dashboard and data lakes to stay on top of all KPIs. Some of the key ones are disbursal and AUM growth, collection resolution rates and delinquencies, customer satisfaction scores, app rating, and tech downtimes among others.

StartupTalky: What were the most significant challenges Upwards faced in the past year and how did you overcome them?

Abhishek Soni: Post our acquisition, there was a massive push on growth, and given our vision to stay operationally lean and tech-first, we needed to quickly get to the product market fit. To achieve that, we launched 7 pilots in the last 12 months, and 2 of them worked and received phenomenal customer validation.

StartupTalky: What are the different strategies Upwards uses for marketing? Tell us about any growth hack that you pulled off.

Abhishek Soni: We bet big on iterating to product market fit and listening to the voice of the customers. As mentioned above, we develop a thesis around customer pain points and then 'win a stay, lose shift.' Our focus, almost never in our journey of 6 years, has been on paid marketing.

StartupTalky: What opportunities do you see for future growth in the fintech industry in India and the world? What kind of difference in market behavior have you seen within states in India?

Abhishek Soni: Credit penetration in India is still <5%, so just the domestic opportunity is massive, and with rising consumption, it is growing fast as well. Across states, we have not seen much difference in consumer behavior.

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StartupTalky: What lessons did the Upwards team learn in the past year and how will these inform your future plans and strategies?

Abhishek Soni: Customer-centric products and avoiding short-term gratification for long-term value creation are some of the key lessons. These enable us to lay a strong foundation for the future and ensure that as our numbers keep growing, financials stay green.

StartupTalky: How does Upwards plan to expand the customers, product, and team base in the future?

Abhishek Soni: We plan to hit Rs 1500 crore AUM in the next 24 months. Our focus (same as today) will be on fully digital loans to underserved segments across salaried and self-employed segments.

StartupTalky: One tip that you would like to share with budding entrepreneurs.

Abhishek Soni: Embrace failure as a stepping stone to success, stay relentlessly curious, and prioritize a problem-solving mindset. Build a strong network, value integrity, and maintain a clear, unwavering vision. Be adaptable, listen to your customers, and never stop learning. Your journey will be challenging, but the rewards are worth it.

StartupTalky extends its gratitude to Mr. Abhishek Soni for dedicating his valuable time and generously sharing his insights with all of us.

Explore more Recap'23 Interviews here.

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