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Nikhil Kamath, Co-Founder and CIO, Zerodha and True BeaconZerodha
Zerodha has been focusing more on the product, making the end-user’s experience seamless
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Zerodha has been growing 100% month-on-month during the lockdown without any direct marketing, Nikhil Kamath tells us how

Zerodha has been focusing more on the product, making the end-user’s experience seamless
  • Without any direct marketing and advertising costs, the platform has been investing on creating awareness about itself through knowledge sharing platforms like Varsity.
  • Currently, Zerodha facilitates over 5 million orders daily, which accounts for about 10-15% of the daily equity volume in India, according to the platform.
  • During the months of the lockdown, the company claims to have seen a 100% month-on-month growth.
  • Nikhil Kamath, Co-Founder and CIO Zerodha and True Beacon, tells us their magic growth mantra and vision for the Zerodha of the future.

Back in 2010, when Nikhil Kamath along with his brother Nithin Kamath founded Zerodha, an online brokerage platform, the duo spent almost nothing on advertising the platform. Since then, their strategy to target consumers has been simple, they have been growing the brand by focusing more on the product, making the end-user’s experience seamless and democratizing participation.

Without any direct marketing and advertising costs, the platform has been investing on creating awareness about itself through knowledge sharing platforms like Varsity.

The strategy seems to have worked well. Currently, Zerodha facilitates over 5 million orders daily, which accounts for about 10-15% of the daily equity volume in India, according to the platform. During the months of the lockdown, the company claims to have seen a 100% month-on-month growth.

We recently caught up with Nikhil Kamath, so understand how the brand has been expanding its offering and how, with zero marketing and advertising spends, the brand has been succeeded in bringing more and more users to its platform.

Excerpts:

Q) While the Covid-19 lockdown brought about gloom for most organizations, Zerodha has been witnessing substantial growth. Tell us a bit about how the last few months have been and the factors that you feel have led to this growth.

We, along with most online businesses, have been lucky through the corona cycle. Work from home has expedited the trend towards moving to mobile and doing most transactions online, which were prevalent pre-crisis. Zerodha, along with the rest of the broking industry has witnessed considerable growth, as a younger breed of millennial investor, is entering the financial markets. Falling interest rates and flattening real yields have also aided in this surge.

Historically in a bull market, equity participation rises. But this time around we are witnessing very mature behavior. During a bear market valuations are low, and the market corrects itself, it is an excellent time to make long-term investments. Usually, that is the behavior of seasoned traders. Still, we are experiencing a surge from first-time investors who are looking for viable alternatives to investment than real estate and other forms of investments that have declining yields. The pandemic has heightened this trend as people have more time on their hands to educate themselves and make informed decisions.

Q) With so many new people now entering the fray, what steps are you taking to educate them so that they can make informed decisions and trades?

We continuously have been building our education ecosystem around the stock market and the fintech space. We do this through educational tools such as varsity, constant engagement on social media platforms and speaking engagements.

Karthik Rangappa, who leads the Varsity programme at Zerodha, has been working towards vernacular languages to make the free educational tool accessible to those not well-versed in English. One of the companies we have invested in through our incubator, Finshots, simplifies financial concepts and macroeconomic concepts for the benefit of new participants in capital markets or even incumbents less familiar with business concepts.

Q) You say you have zero ad spends. Walk us through the strategy you employed to grow the brand.

Our belief to grow the brand is to make the end-users experience seamless and democratize participation. We do this in a couple of different ways. Continually evolving our product to create the end-user experience seamless is one. The most significant growth factor for us is a product that is continually changing. The other is to raise awareness and enable products in the wealth management and fintech space through our incubator, which has led to making the financial ecosystem more robust with companies such as Finshots to Small Case.

The ethos behind us investing in startups is to ensure that more people understand the capital markets ecosystem and have a better user experience. To that end, we have varsity to educate and Rainmatter that builds products in the fintech and wealth management space.

Q) In your line of business, trust plays a major role as investors are trusting you with their money. How are you building that trust in the minds of your consumers?

Most of our new customers hear about both Zerodha and True Beacon through word of mouth and existing clientele. In marketing, testimonials are the highest trust evoking factor.

Transparency has been at the forefront of our ethos from the beginning; we continue in our pursuit of simplifying and reducing the opacity around stock markets.

For example, in our asset management company True Beacon, we don't have management fees or lock-in periods or even entry and exit fees, which is an industry practice. Instead, we only charge a performance fee that brings greater accountability, and hopefully will align fund management and client interests going forward.

Q) Varsity has seen a good uptake among users. What are your plans for expanding on that offering?

Yes, we have had great traction with Varsity since its inception and more so during the lockdown. We had over 8 million page views and over 9 lakh app install since March 23, 2020. The number of user-submitted queries have crossed 8,000. Karthik Rangappa, Head of Varsity at Zerodha’s current focus is to continue adding more quality content and cover a wider variety of topics related to capital markets. The slightly longer-term focus is to create a series of high-quality certificate programs. We are even open to the idea of collaborating with the academia (Domestic or International) for accreditation.

Q) When you launched, one of your USP was pricing. But now in the discount broking segment, there are many other players too. How are you offering a differentiated product?

Zerodha was originally founded with the idea of being a brokerage firm for traders built by traders, and we disrupted the existing pricing structure by introducing a deeply discounted flat fee-per-trade model.

Deeply discounted flat fee -per trade model gave us a significant boost, but to stay ahead of the curve, we realized that technology could disrupt the existing models. Traders were using legacy platforms with poor user experiences. Building our proprietary technology to make a trade as seamless as possible kept us ahead of the curve.

We continue to invest in technology to keep finding new ways of building investment and trading applications that make the use case for end-users, be it a seasoned trader or a first-time capital market participant, to simplify investments. Kailash Nadh, our CTO who specializes in building products for mass use has selectively built a resilient innovative team who continue to push the boundaries of what can be achieved.

Q) You’ve spoken about how your childhood played a defining role in you having a unique outlook towards traditional marketing models. Tell me a bit more.

From playing chess professionally as a teenager to all the other pursuits, I might have followed since. The one thing that has always remained relevant is creating a set of rules and staying disciplined within that. This, along with diversification and delaying gratification, has been essential life lessons that might apply to most spheres of life.

Stoicism has been a guiding paradigm in my life and a skill that I had to develop as a professional trader. Trading at a very fundamental level is making decisions that would deal with obstacles in a volatile market, stoicism guides you to perceive and react to obstacles rationally and not make emotional decisions.

Q) While you aren't advertising now, is there a scope of you doing some sort of advertising/marketing in the near future? Are you willing to explore something like influencer or content marketing in the future?

We are not opposed to marketing. However, it should solve a challenge or have some value other than just brand recognition. Influencer marketing is a viable option, provided it teaches something to capital markets participants in an informative way.

Q) What is your vision for Zerodha?

It is our continuous endeavor to create a platform that can offer differentiated products. Given the high levels of under-penetration in India, there is a huge scope for growth in the capital markets ecosystem.

On another front, we have started an asset management firm called True Beacon that caters to the other end of the spectrum than retail users. We have also launched an FPI that enables global investors and not just institutional players to participate in the Indian equity market - thereby encouraging the foreign inflow of investments in the Indian equity market. The response to the True Beacon domestic and global entity has been positive, and we will continue to roll out new products on that first catering to HNIs in India and abroad.