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Varun Sheth, 32, started crowdfunding platform Ketto in 2012. (Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)
Varun Sheth, 32, started crowdfunding platform Ketto in 2012. (Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

How crowdfunding becomes a cause

  • With an initial investment of 2.5 lakh, the plan was to raise money for non-profits, since it is not a heavily regulated industry
  • Things fell into place when Varun Sheth first heard of the idea of crowdfunding in 2010

The power of internet always fascinated Varun Sheth. Though his education drove him towards finance, he longed to make an impact through the world of technology.

The solution came in 2012, when Sheth, now 32, co-founded the crowdfunding platform, Ketto. After years of research, he had found the perfect balance to use his financial expertize and interest in technology.

“This was a time when Facebook had picked up, iPhones were selling well and there were applications for absolutely anything. I wanted to do something entrepreneurial around the skills that I had gathered," Sheth says.

The starting plan

Sheth’s first job after graduation in 2008 took him to a derivative broking firm, and alongside, he pursued certificate courses to qualify as a chartered financial analyst and financial risk manager. But when he saw more experienced employees executing the same tasks as him, he realized it was time for introspection.

“I was the youngest at the organization and didn’t see myself doing the same thing decades later. So, I started researching on how technology worked and tried to understand how I could leverage finance into doing something more impactful."

Things fell into place when he first heard of the idea of crowdfunding in 2010. For the next couple of years, he delved into research around the concept and connected with existing platforms abroad to understanding their work. He came across different proposals—some were crowdfunding just for ideas, some were using it to produce movies and music, and some for social causes and non-profits.

“There was a gap in terms of how money could be raised by individuals, entrepreneurs and non-profits, especially when it came to small amounts. Going to banks or investors was a long and difficult procedure and that’s where crowdfunding comes in. It cannot raise a million dollars but can help raise $10,000," Sheth says.

Though Sheth didn’t have the necessary skills to start a crowdfunding website, he knew “it was just going to be a site with a few functionalities".

“I didn’t think it would be very difficult. I outsourced the development to an agency and the product was to go live in three months, but it took a year because nobody had an idea of what exactly needed to be done," he says.

With an initial investment of 2.5 lakh, the plan was to raise money for non-profits, since it is not a heavily regulated industry. Six months into it, he connected with actor Kunal Kapoor through the charity Akshara Foundation, who was looking to work on a similar concept and soon came on board.

As Kapoor was busy with other commitments, Sheth was a one-man army during the early days. From getting people to try out the platform to meeting corporates and even writing content, he had his hands full most times. Though the model these days involves a 10% service fee on the money raised, back in the day, there was no such cost so that more people could use it.

The early successes were few. The highlights were funds raised for the education of a sex worker’s daughter and helping Luger Shiva Keshavan reach the 2014 Winter Olympics.

However, there wasn’t enough volume in terms of donation. The bigger problem was raising funds for Ketto, where Sheth faced over 140 rejections. “The concept was new in India and there were no global benchmarks to highlight. I had to deal with some testing weeks in 2013," Sheth says.

Things looked up towards the end of the year when Ketto landed an investment of $100,000 and met his now chief technical officer, Zaheer Adenwala. The two worked on a new prototype during their spare time. By June 2014, they launched Ketto 2.0.

“Everything was different—architecture, design, how people engaged with the platform. But the model was the same. We started seeing more interest in our campaigns," Sheth says.

Over the years, Ketto has run about 100,000 campaigns and raised 500 crore. The number of people coming back to donate has risen to 45%, up from 15% two years ago. “About 500 million people in India donate every year, but the way they do it is different. With the transparent system that we’ve created, I see more people coming online to donate in the future," he says.

Work Shift is a series on professions that didn’t exist a decade ago.

Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com

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