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Expat Lens: My Indian Startup Journey

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Charlie LeeCEOTrue BalanceTrue Balance is a Gurgaon-based online platform that enables users to check their mobile call & data balance even without an active internet connection, and also allows quick and hassle-free recharge options through superior UI and UX designs.

My tryst with India began in 2002 when working with Real Networks, operating under the brand WiderThan. Being a partner at Real network - HelloTunes which was one of the successful initiatives for telecom service providers to increase their revenue per user, we were able to expand the services quickly to other countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and The Philippines. My understanding of ‘Real India’ came during my first decade in India, when I realized that a lot of Indian companies were underestimating and under-investing in the country's digital potential.

As the Indian audience adopted Smartphones, usage of services and applications became a way of life. This also gave rise to diverse behaviors and needs of users, thus creating a strong opportunity to address and cater to their challenges in the most simplistic way possible. The key thing that struck me when I was researching more on this particular subject was that an increasing number of users were facing differing mobile data issues. Studies in the market had also indicated that only 10 percent of Indian mobile internet users felt they understood their plan perfectly, and were able to make an accurate judgment when deciding on a plan. This is the time when I first realized the country’s fast rising digital demand and the possibility of doing something interesting and innovating in this sphere.
Hence in 2006, I quit Real Networks and started Access Mobile, a business built on my experience in creating successful Mobile VAS offerings. While it was a successful business and is in existence even now, parallel the formal rise of smartphones started in 2008-09, and the mobile ecosystem changed completely. In our constant quest to innovate for catering to the needs of the Indian users in 2014, we decided to launch a very different product called ‘True Balance’ under a brand new legal entity called ‘Balance Hero’. Our main aim behind launching True Balance was to empower Indian users with an option to save money and solve key problems related to balance check and payments related to smartphone usage in India.

However, every startup journey comes with its own set of challenges. I have been spending a significant amount of time every year in India since 2002 and I feel more Indian as I am able to see through the daily issue faced by the users in the remote parts of India. India is an open market when compared with a lot of other Asian countries which I realized I was selling Mobile VAS offerings, and the Telecom Service Providers were very professional in their dealings. But given the size of the country, and with each telco operating almost independently within each circle, it took a lot of time to coordinate with every circle on multiple issues along with payment collection and so on. It was almost like working on completely different companies even though they are just different circles within the same company.

My journey of being an entrepreneur in India to my experience as a startup founder in India were completely different, and it was a huge learning curve for both me as well as my company. With my understanding and respect for the market, I aim to evolve True Balance to a ‘one-stop shop’ platform which brings affordability and ease to users who are in the lower part of the digital transaction pyramid.

India is an exciting proposition for me as a market and I think is a huge landing ground for innovation. The country's 1.3 billion citizens are spread across across a vast geographic area — from modern urban hubs to poor rural villages; which has made delivering services like payments, recharges and lending very challenging for both the public and private sector. There is a very real need for extending financial inclusion to over 1 Billion Indians and by providing a solution in this category, I envision a country where users can communicate freely with each other at a reasonable cost.