Foreign inward remittances to India have surged significantly in recent years as Indian diaspora expands globally. The past five years have seen a 30% increase, with remittances rising to $89.13 billion in 2021-22 from $69.13 billion in 2017-18, according to official government data. Naturally, a growing number of startups have been quick to spot this upward trend, tailoring their services for Indian expatriates to win them over banks and incumbents such as Western Union, PayPal and MoneyGram. A former media executive is joining the fray.
Nishkaam Mehta, who worked at Hulu as head of its mobile strategy and growth for over four years, is working with India’s media conglomerate Times Internet to build an app for Indian expats and offer them a single solution for all their money-transfer needs. Formerly called Times Club, the app has been rebranded as Abound this month to serve non-resident Indians living around the globe, starting with the U.S.
Abound, available for download on both iOS and Android devices, lets users transfer money to over 130 Indian banks or shop at over 4,000 Indian grocery stores. It also offers its members loyalty and card-linked rewards and discounts on purchases and access to curated content.
Mehta decided to enter the fintech market after running some of his “best performing” campaigns at Hulu to bring viewers from competing platforms such as HBO and Netflix, he told TechCrunch in an interview. Like media streaming companies, embedded finance is a lot about moving an audience from one platform to another, he said.
“Video industry folks are among the best ones when it comes to how you deliver a personalized experience. And that’s what we’re bringing to the table with Abound, too,” said Mehta, who serves as the chief executive of the Times Internet-incubated startup.
Abound offers a “deeply personalized experience” by anticipating upcoming needs for money remittance of its users and serving them accordingly, alongside giving cashbacks and rewards, he said.
A conversation between Times Internet vice chairman Satyan Gajwani and Mehta sparked the creation of a ‘super app’ for non-resident Indians, he said, subsequently resulting in the launch of Times Club. “I always had an affinity for India,” Mehta said.
Within weeks of its rebrand, Abound is recording daily transaction volumes of $500,000, with the startup setting a target to double this figure in the coming months. Since Times Club’s launch in February 2020, the app has generated a gross merchandise value (GMV) of $65 million through partner rewards and remittances, and Abound estimates the figure to reach a GMV of $90 million by the quarter’s end.
Mehta says that rebranding of Times Club to Abound has not deterred the original product strategy, but has ensured that Abound is a standalone business.
In the Indian neobank space, startups such as Hummingbird Ventures-backed Vance and Y Combinator-backed Swadesh already serve Indian expats. Abound is hoping to leverage its business alliances, primarily derived from the Times Internet’s network, to offer competitive incentives and rewards.
According to Mehta, Abound’s appeal is further amplified by its competitive exchange rates and nominal transaction fees. The firm has carved out a distinctive presence with its user-friendly interface, akin to a “Silicon Valley product”, and speedy transfers. Abound provides free sign-up via Plaid or card issuer rails. Features such as joint accounts and an inclusive membership model for Indian residents are in the works, he said. Premium cards with cross-border usage rights are also slated for future release, extending privileges to users’ kin and acquaintances in India.
Abound employs a dual-revenue model, partnering with various advertisers for income generation while offering user benefits in the form of cashbacks and rewards. The company is also contemplating introducing additional monetisation strategies, including subscriptions. The motivation for spinning off Abound, according to Mehta, was to entertain strategic investments over time.
Times Internet has invested $10 million into Abound for the initial journey. The funds are earmarked for team expansion from its current strength of 38, increasing marketing efforts to attract a wider audience, and facilitating a geographical reach beyond the U.S. to encompass Canada, the U.K., and the Middle East in the ensuing months.