Shreyas Kulkarni

“Our view is that people donate money, but they do it a bit differently”: Ketto’s Varun Sheth

A brief chat with Ketto’s co-founder and CEO on India’s crowdfunding scene, the challenges he faces, and if Indians really donate.

“Domestic philanthropy has significantly evolved in the past decade… philanthropic funding grew from Rs 12.5K crore in 2010 to Rs 55K crore in 2018, with the share of individual contributions growing from 26 to 60 per cent of total private funding,” says the India Philanthropy Report 2020 from Bain & Company, a leading global management consultancy.

Yes, people are donating more than ever before, but “… the way we donate is different,” says Varun Sheth, co-founder and CEO of Ketto, a Mumbai-based online crowdfunding platform. He went on to tell us (afaqs!) that people donate money at temples, religious organisations, railway stations…

The COVID-induced lockdown, however, negated all the means to raise funds. So, people moved to online crowdfunding platforms, such as Ketto, ImpactGuru, Milaap, Wishberry, among others… As per Statista, a market and consumer data company, India’s crowdfunding segment is “projected to reach $9.1 million in 2020 and a projected total amount of $9.7 million by 2024.”

In a brief chat with afaqs!, Sheth talks about how his platform moved towards medical crowdfunding, the average profile of an Indian donor and, yes, the pre-YouTube video ads where Ketto solicits for donations after showing us the plight of those in need for funds.

Edited excerpts:

Ketto has moved from crowdfunding for startups and business ideas to non-profit and medical causes. Was it an intentional change from the platform, or an organic one from fundraisers?

It was more of an organic change and something we didn’t plan. I feel that it is what the market wanted and, like any startup, you always look for a product-market fit.

How has crowdfunding changed from March (2020), when the lockdown was announced, till now?

A lot of people wanted to help, but they couldn’t go out or travel to any place, and there were very few ways you could do it online. So, a platform such as Ketto automatically became useful during the lockdown. We became the focus, where everybody could come together and raise money.

Who is your average donor?

It’s still Tier-I cities, where our biggest audience comes from. Speaking about age groups, I would say it is largely between 25 and 35 years of age. We were surprised to see such a large number of people come forward to donate during lockdown.

Marketing to potential donors, or the product (the Ketto platform), what’s more challenging?

I think it was managing the audience (it spiked during lockdown). We (Ketto) were never geared up to work from home (WFH). Yes, we had a WFH policy, but it was only for the senior people, until then. On a normal day, we would get 100 calls. Now, we receive 500 calls.

We made sure people’s questions were answered, they received support, trust issues in first-timers were resolved... We ensured that we are constantly online, answering the questions…

And yes, we are dependent on other services too. There are payment gateways. We host our website on Amazon Web Services… There are third-party services we use to make our website run. We use them for chat support… And because it was the lockdown period, even we didn’t receive any answers when we faced downtime because those people (third-party services) were working from home as well.

Everyone went through that shift (switching to WFH) in the first two weeks and our team managed well. People worked ad-hoc, we went from five working days (in a week) to seven. Some people got leaves on Monday and Tuesday, instead of the weekend… We tried to ensure that the customer experience doesn’t get ruined.

How do you choose which campaign to push to potential donors?

There are two factors. One, our basic model has a zero per cent fee and it’s a completely Do-It-Yourself (DIY) campaign, where we don’t push the campaign. We also have another model, where we charge a five per cent fee and that is where we push a campaign and also do an additional layer of diligence internally. Say, it’s a medical case... We speak to the patient, doctor, hospital…

The preferred medium is largely online: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, sometimes mailers… The usual mediums of push communications.

A Ketto ad before a YouTube video plays.
A Ketto ad before a YouTube video plays.

We also see a lot of Ketto campaigns in the form of a pre-YouTube video film. Many people aren't comfortable watching them. Do you think it hampers your objectives?

From what the data tells us, we get a lot of people from YouTube. It is one of our biggest referral mediums. We did a survey with Google on this and the results reaffirmed this fact about YouTube.

How difficult is it for you to convince someone to donate? India, after all, isn’t known for “donating”…

I disagree. Our view is that people donate, but they do it a bit differently. If you look at the Bain India Philanthropy Report 2020, there are close to around 300 million Indians who donate, it’s the largest in the world.

The way we donate is usually at a temple, going to a religious organisation, to people at the railway station. We give it to people around us, like a building watchman. People abroad don’t do this – they don’t give money to their household help or the watchman.

What we (Ketto) are trying to do is to create a new format of giving. Something which is completely digital, transparent, allows you to start at as low as Re 1. And also something which keeps you updated about the progress (of the crowdfunding campaign).

At all other places and offline mediums, you never know what happens to your money. That is one big problem we are trying to solve.

(On Ketto campaigns, if you choose to pay via a card, the minimum amount is Rs 300. But if you choose other options, such as NEFT, UPI, QR codes, you can donate as low as Re 1.)

Take us through how you partner with brands.

We recently did a campaign with HDFC Life, a life insurance company, and also RBL Bank. If brands are doing any activation, it could be internal (within employees), or external (with customers). And if there’s a giving aspect involved, we come in as a crowdfunding partner.

Say, The Times of India is doing a campaign with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). We will partner with both on the crowdfunding aspect and soliciting donations.

Are you, as a brand, planning to market yourself?

Our key goal is to help others. We’ve really not done any brand activations in the past eight years (Ketto was founded in 2012), but it is something on top of our mind. Given our limited time, we have spent it to focus on other aspects, than on our branding. Maybe, sometime next year (2021), we will hire a brand manager to take up this responsibility.