Slam Dunk: Can Rajan Bajaj grab a big slice of the fintech pie?

New unicorn Slice is fast becoming a darling of millennials, Gen Z, and Tiger Global. Can the credit card challenger live up to its billing?

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In 2015, Rajan Bajaj suddenly forgot the basics of dribbling. The young lad, who represented his home state Rajasthan in the basketball nationals during his school days, started playing like a rookie. After working for Flipkart for just 10 months, the IIT-Kharagpur grad quit his maiden job and started a fintech venture in January.
“I loved my job at Flipkart,” he confesses. What, though, he loved most was starting a business. Coming from a middle-class family in Alwar, Bajaj’s father was an engineer and mother a teacher. “Nobody in the family ever had any business background,” he recalls. The idea of turning an entrepreneur germinated during college. And for four long years, he kept mulling. “If I didn’t leave and start then, probably, I would have never done it,” he says, explaining why he short-circuited his stint at the product team of Flipkart. It was high time to make a shot rather than keep aiming at it. And he knew he could do it.

Till early 2015, Bajaj had excelled in studies, and sports. He had perfected the art of running while dribbling; scoring three-point baskets was done without any fuss; and speed and control over the ball gave him immense confidence. Back in 2015, when he was ready to take the plunge, he expected a rub-off in entrepreneurship. The game was on.
In April 2015, a month after leaving Flipkart, Bajaj started a rental startup called Mesh. While the name was inspired by a book—The Mesh by Lisa Gansky—that he read during the second year of his college, the business idea was influenced by the Airbnb kind of startups which were driven by the idea of sharing economy. “Houses have been lying around for ages. Nobody noticed it. And Airbnb just made something out of nothing,” he says.
Mesh, too, was trying to build something out of nothing. Bajaj started with gaming consoles, camera, bicycles and DVD rentals in Bengaluru; built a website, promoted it on platforms like OLX, and started delivering the orders on his bike. “It was a very hacky thing to do,” he says. The business proposition was great: Why buy second hand when you can have it on rent? The business, too, gathered decent pace—after two months or so, Bajaj had to hire a delivery boy to take care of the rising orders.

Though the business grew, so did the problems. After a few months of dribbling, Bajaj realised that he was not able to score. He forgot the basics: One must use fingers, not palm, to control the ball. In a fast-paced game like basketball, the trick is control. Bajaj, though, didn’t have any control from Day 1. Reasons were many. The market for rentals was not big. Second, insurance, logistics and damage were difficult to track. And last, he might have been too early with the rental business.
Bajaj then quickly pivoted to car and bike rental, another shared economy business model. By September 2015, the business did show some promise. Mesh used to get 20-30 orders every day, but it brought along with a mess of a different kind: Managing cars and accidents. The young founder again pressed the pivot button and moved to a marketplace model. After a few months, it, too, started losing steam. “The business couldn’t scale,” he rues. In fact, none of the previous ventures he dabbled into scaled. Now Bajaj made a last desperate attempt. He shifted to furniture rental. Unfortunately, it too, bombed.

Digital credit startups like Slice also have an edge over biggies like Paytm. While, for Paytm, the lending business is not big, Slice has always led a digital credit existence, says Gutgutia. The big plus to investors, he underlines, is the pace at which it is growing as well as monetising. “The future looks promising,” he says.
He is quick to add a word of caution, though. The credit lending market is getting hyper cluttered, with every player chasing the same set of consumers. While Slice has differentiated itself in building a robust underwriting method of growing its business, the magic sauce is customer stickiness. Catching them early is not the game. Staying with the young catch, cross-selling a host of services and remaining with the user for a longer period will decide the winners. Can Slice do it?
Bajaj reckons he has got a firm hand on the pulse of the Gen Z users. “We are focusing on creating a huge impact,” he says. What the young founder needs to remember, though, is again one of the basic rules of dribbling: Don’t bounce the ball too high.  

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