Arish Khajotia, Co-founder of The Wallet Engine

What’s your story?

My entrepreneurial journey like many other entrepreneurs started from a very young age. I was fortunate to be born into a family of entrepreneurs (even my mum had two businesses of her own, along with three kids) and my earliest lessons into the business world was seeing my father’s charisma in building his ship management business and then becoming a ship owner in the UK — from scratch. Seeing his fearless nature and instinct in business set me on a path of wanting to emulate the same in my life’s journey.

It was clear to me at an early age that my attitude towards a ‘career’ differed from that of my friends from high school right through to my MBA. From age 18, and now 22 years later, I have spent only 2 years in a corporate job, immediately following my MBA in the UK (great lessons learnt, btw). I have invested in and founded fine-dining Italian restaurants, patented infectious waste treatment technology and consulted with start-ups and e-commerce companies in developing their businesses. But the most exciting opportunity for me came after I got married and moved to Singapore in 2016.

Gregor (Left) and Barry (right), Co-founders of The Wallet Engine

When I moved, I made a conscious decision to leave behind old-economy businesses. I was keen to stay in the technology space; Fintech in particular was where I saw an opportunity to have the maximum impact on the world around me. So it was quite fortuitous when a friend of mine made a casual introduction to my Swiss co-founder, Gregor — who had been in the payments space since 2014 and was already building the business that has developed into the Cheers Wallet Engine. Along with our third co-founder, Barry, we have been doggedly focused on filling what we see as a large and obvious gap in the market of mobile payments, creating a single plug point for any app in the world to embed their own in-app wallets into their platform; similar to what WeChat and Alipay have for their ecosystem, except we connect app communities globally, not just for the Chinese consumer.

What were some of the obstacles that your company faced during its initial years and how did your team overcome it?

When building a company that takes a completely fresh and new look at what is the norm, you meet many more sceptics and nay-sayers than a typical startup. As much as innovation and disruption are the buzz words of the startup world, it tends to be very different when raising funds for a regulated business! The way we ultimately overcame this was two-fold:

  1. We began to build an early adopter community, with great app founders whose businesses would see an exponential benefit in having their own in-app wallets to power financial transactions across their apps.
  2. We built a proof of concept that enabled small-value transfers between 22 different wallets across the world, instantly. This had never been possible before and it helped us to find great investors big and small who could now clearly see a future that needed The Wallet Engine in it!

How does your company separate itself from other companies? (Eg: Alipay and WeChat pay)

WeChat and Alipay are great examples of how in-app wallets can take apps from being marketplaces to genuine ecosystems. But the dilemma for apps without wallets, is do they really want another branded wallet executing payments within their platform? Some app customers of ours have over 12million Monthly Active Users (MAUs). They want a wallet to enable payments, but don’t want the headache of getting regulated, hiring talent to build and maintain their wallets and tirelessly onboard local last-mile payment integration partners like cash agents, banks, and local wallets. Solving this is what makes us the best payment partner any app, big or small, can have. We provide a B2B, custom-branded wallet platform that is compliant in over 100 countries, with bank-grade scalable technology, and local integration across multiple jurisdictions, including cash for the unbanked.

Given the large growth in China’s mobile payment in recent years, do you foresee any difficulties or advantage for The Wallet Engine?

We cannot wait to work with more Chinese companies. We attended TechCrunch in Shenzhen in late 2018, and I was blown away by the openness and willingness that companies had to talk, learn, explore and engage. China today has great wallet solutions, but they are focused on Chinese users. As Super-apps born in China look to expand globally, the Wallet Engine is the springboard to help them along their journeys with the least amount of friction.

Name one of the most memorable learning experience of your entrepreneurial journey

There are two of equal relevance actually.

First, it’s not about the idea — it’s about the execution. Delivering on that dream is the hardest part of the journey. I have heard so many people say, “oh, I had that same idea 5 years ago”. That is not entrepreneurship. The entrepreneur sees the idea and can then go out and execute and produce high quality work. People need to believe that you can do it.

The second part of this journey for me was being a daddy-founder! My daughter is now 18 months old, and as exhausting as a startup can be, it’s at another level with an infant at home that not only needs you, but you want to spend every moment with too. I learnt to survive and then thrive in the coping zone. These two most important parts of my life now feed off each other’s energy.

What do you think should be the most important characteristic for a startup and its team to possess?

Diversity across the team, and responsibility for your own work. Extreme ownership is key.

Between my co-founders and I, we come together for a lot of discussions, investor meetings, customer discussions, and planning sessions for the business. But thereafter, everyone focuses on what they are responsible for. Extreme ownership is so very important when building any business, but particularly with a startup, because if you don’t execute, there is no fall-back.

What are you working on right now that motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

I am so excited by some of the customers and partnerships we have been working with that will go live in the next few months. They give us the opportunity to really test our Wallet-As-A-Service business model. We also don’t have an exhaustive customer pipeline. We cherry-pick our customers and are addicted to seeing them succeed. Perhaps the most telling success story of ours will be when we enable the companies that help alleviate poverty around the world. Smartphones have reached where aid foundations and other charitable organisations have struggled to get to. There are more smartphones in the world than toothbrushes. Enabling wallets into smartphone apps that bring those people into the global digital economy is one of the goals we have etched into our company’s DNA. Time will tell as to how close we get to that goal.

What is your company’s five-year plan? Any market expansion plan in the pipeline?

The Wallet Engine is a global play from day one. So traditional market expansion isn’t really a thing for us. We have focused our attention initially on customers in Europe and South East Asia, but when we embed wallets into the global super apps that people use on a daily basis, we will have reached a significant tipping point for our business.

Looking back, what advice would you tell your younger self?

Say yes to every opportunity. Try everything out. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong. It was only in my late 20s that I changed my attitude to businesses from why — to why not…

It’s true, the more times you fail, you fall, get rejected, the faster you recover, learn, adapt and thrive.