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Dhirendra Mahyavanshi has been making big strides in one of the fastest-growing sectors, in one of the biggest markets in the world. His company, Turtlemint has recently raised more than $67 million from top-tier investors like Trifecta Capital Advisors, InnoVen Capital, Brand Capital, and Coatue.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Picking the right cofounder, and the skills they should have
  • Digitizing insurance
  • The insurance market in India
  • Scaling your business

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About Dhirendra Mahyavanshi:

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi is the co-founder of insurtech company Turtlemint. Dhirendra Mahyavanshi has over 16 years of experience in the insurance, e-commerce and fintech sector.

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi previous stints include Quikr where he served as Head of Sales. Before joining the Ecommerce sector Dhirendra Mahyavanshi worked with one of the biggest insurance companies ICICI Lombard across various levels.

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi is an alumnus of IIM- Calcutta and has a Bachelors degree in Engineering from DJ Sanghvi College of Engineering.

Connect with Dhirendra Mahyavanshi:

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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:

Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we’re going to be talking about the insurance market in India, that’s for sure. We have a very exciting founder that is going to tell us about his journey and building, scaling, and financing, so all of the above. And I don’t want to make anyone wait any longer, so without further ado, let’s welcome our guest today, Dhirendra Mahyavanshi. Welcome to the show.

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: Thank you, Alejandro. Thank you for inviting me to the show.

Alejandro: Born and raised in Mumbai. How was life growing up in Mumbai?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: We had a very modest upbringing. Mumbai was like any other regular middle-class life for us. The school was nearby; father was nearby. It was really great growing up here.

Alejandro: Your father worked in a factory, so I’m sure you were able to see the hard work and the dedication of your parents, and I’m wondering how did you get the entrepreneurial bug? Was that something that developed over the course of time, or maybe there was someone in your family that influenced you in that direction?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: Since childhood, I always thought that I would have a business of my own, and I would have a startup. Coming from a background where we wanted to improve the quality of our life, I always thought I would work hard and come out of the financial situation we were in growing up. One of the primary things for me was, I thought of business as one way to rise up in life, and that’s why I always wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Alejandro: Also, in India, there is a lot of pressure around studies and education. Would you say that was a trigger for you to go into engineering?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: Yeah. In my house, education was very important and was focused a lot. My parents could not study, so they were not able to go to school. So for them, it was very important that their children studied. We were three brothers growing up. There was a lot of focus on education for us, and that’s why every Indian parent wants their child to become a doctor or an engineer. We grew up with the same target and that we were to grow up to become an engineer, and that’s what I did.

Alejandro: So, what happened after you got your degree in engineering?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: During my engineering, I did my course training in a factory, and I decided that I did not want to do that, and I thought that in one way, for me, I worked to be a marketing person. I wanted to spend my time in business development, so I thought of doing an MBA. I appeared for an exam called CAT here, and joined the Indian Institute of Management, in Calcutta, and studied there for two years.

Alejandro: That’s very interesting because on the engineering side, typically, there is an interesting transition for entrepreneurs that go from engineers to business people. But it seems that here in your case, you understood that transition very early on, so at what point do you decide, “My thing is more business versus engineering”?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: I was training in [4:28]. During my training, I had some opportunity to participate in some business development activity by accident, and I enjoyed that a lot, although I was a very junior person just participating in the process at that time and to be a support to the sales manager. The experience was very awesome, and I realized that is something that I want to do, and a great way to get into that would be to do a classic MBA in marketing, and then join a [5:01] company, which is what I thought I would do and get into marketing.

Alejandro: Then, talking about marketing and then also sales after you got your degree and especially your post-graduation, you went into ICICI Lombard where you were doing corporate sales, but that was segue that got you into the startup world because then you joined Quicker. How was that transition from the corporate world to the world of startups?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: ICICI Lombard was a startup when I joined. I was part of the first few employees who joined because ICICI Lombard had just received its license from the Regulatory Startup Insurance Company, and by joining fairly early, I had the opportunity to walk across different roads, different functions in a constantly changing company. It was very exciting [5:54]. As the company scaled, it became a billion-dollar revenue company in the last year that I was there, and it had corporatized itself. It was part of the large bank that had started operating and functioning like a large corporate, and I started missing the action that was there in the early days of ICICI Lombard, and I wanted to get back into a startup ecosystem, and this time, I wanted to get into technology. This was around 2010, 2011. Startups were coming up. This was Flip Cards, [6:24], and those kinds of companies were just getting heard of, and there were many new companies that were starting up, so I thought that I wanted to be in the space of technology, and if I could spend some time there in a very small startup, it would be a good experience for me. That’s how I decided to take the leap of faith and join Quikr, which was just setting up at that time.

Alejandro: What prompted that? What prompted your wanting to get into startups? What got you hooked into the world of startups?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: I think the constant challenge of getting to experience by working in a startup. There were several problems to be solved, and initially, I did enjoy that at a part of Lombard, although I was one of the junior team members to be working at ICICI Lombard in the initial days. But later, I thought that if I could join at the senior level in a new startup with more rules and responsibilities, I would be able to get the hands-on experience of scaling a startup, sitting on the team, and building a new business. That’s what I thought I would look forward to at Quikr, and that’s why I decided to join Quikr. There was this thing in my mind that if I had to start my own company, Quikr would be a great experience for me because that’s where I would get connections with senior investors. I would get hands-on experience of building a business from scratch. If I were to start up on my own, then this experience would be very useful for me. I was really alive at that time, and I thought that I would join the company, and I had this business background. I would pick up [8:03], and I would pick up digital marketing, and I would learn all of it, and I would become smarter, and then I would start my business. One good thing that I managed to do was to build very strong relationships with the board, which was very useful for me. I also met my co-founder, Anand Prabhudesai, who came from a technology background. That became the phenomenal steps that we took in order to start the business after that.

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Alejandro: How many people were in Quikr when you joined?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: About 11 or 12 when I joined.

Alejandro: Wow, and now they have over 2,000 employees. Is that right?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: Yeah. Now they have more than 2,000 employees.

Alejandro: That gave you exposure to understand how to hit product/market fit, how to grow, how to get the right people, and you saw certain turning points there where you were able to realize what it takes to build something that is meaningful, and that ends up being successful. What were your key lessons from working at Quickr?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: One key learning for me was that at Quickr, the platform was a consumer platform. But as I looked at the activity on the platform very closely, I saw that about 60-70% of the smartphone was being used by SMBs, small to medium businesses. These were people who came from very poor backgrounds. They were working from small B-class or A-class cities, all religious. They had high aspirations, and they were using technology for the first time to grow and increase their income and to charge their business, and get more customers and scale. I was very surprised to see that because back in 2011, even [10:00] were just being launched, smartphone usage in India was very low. The internet charges were very high, and penetration was very low. These were people who did not understand English, and the characters on the phone were 40 keypads, so they were in English characters, but they were working hard and trying hard to figure out how to use technology for their benefit and to use the tools that it offers to be able to do their business. There was a key inside that that played a key role in our business model at Turtlemint.

Alejandro: At what point do you realize, “This idea that I just came across is interesting; it’s perhaps time to give my notice and go at it on my own and build this thing.” What was that process or that journey from coming across a specific problem that right now you guys are addressing with Turtlemint to the point that you and your co-founder decide that it’s time to bring it to life?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: It was not one day or one point where we had several rounds of discussion. There was a realization that technology could play a key role in insurance the way I saw it because I was able to connect the gaps that existed in the insurance industry with what we were trying to do at Quikr and to be able to figure out how this combination could work very well. Our process was several rounds of discussion, and I think, at one point, I realized that we are over-analyzing it. It makes sense. We have enough understanding of both the technology side with Anand and then on the business side with me. We also built something at Quikr that we started doing very, very well. We thought it would make sense to now take that leap of faith and start the process of building our own company.

Alejandro: What were some of those early days like?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: Early days were challenging but were much more fun. Initially, there were only the two of us. We had a wireframe and a plan that we had put together when we had started reaching out to the investors to raise capital for our business, and we were operating out of a terrace that we were able to get at a very low rent. We had two or three people, a smart team, that joined us in the early days, and they had come from Quikr, and they wanted to work with us. So, lots of action at that time. [12:57 – 13:04]. We were not very sure whether we would raise money that we would try and build something. We would try and bootstrap, and if we got lucky, we would also be able to do this. Those were the initial days and how we started the company.

Alejandro: In this case, with you guys, what ended up being the business model of Turtlemint, especially for the people that are listening to get it.

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: Turtlemint is an insurance platform. Our first tools and technology are to financial advisors who use this platform to distribute insurance to their in-community network. Why this platform works well here is because, in India, insurance is an early product. It was prioritized about 15 years back, and since then, insurance has been increased as a product to the larger customer base. However, the penetration was in a very low area. It’s one of the lowest in the world [14:05]. Hence, consumers are not fully aware about insurance. One of the key roles of an advisor is to make a customer aware of the need of buying insurance. And that plays a key role in that distribution. Also, India consists of many countries in the sense that every part of the country is a very different culture, and the needs of each community are uniquely explained and understood by the insurance advisor. Empowering those advisors is what we do using our platform. We, today, have over 100,000+ insurance advisors, and we’ve sold worth a million policies on the platform right now.

Alejandro: Very nice. How much capital have you guys raised to date?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: We have raised $67 million so far. We have Sequoia, Nexus Ventures, GGV, SIG, American Family Ventures, MassMutual Ventures, and Blume Ventures.

Alejandro: Those are all great investors. At what point did you realize that it was getting a little bit easier to raise money?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: I don’t think we went through an easy experience in raising money other than maybe the first round when it was more about our idea and the concept. But as the company progressed, it moved from idea to product/market fit to unit economics to scale. At each point, we had to allocate the relevant questions at that time. Only recently, what had happened is that [15:56] accelerated some of the product change that we were trying to bring into the ecosystem. One big change is that insurance has become important, and the consumers have realized that insurance is important. The expense at the time of the incident, hospitalization could be putting the family in a very adverse situation, and they could go bankrupt, and that’s why insurance is important. Earlier, the concept was the family would support each other, and they would be worried about the expenses. And as it accelerated, the demand for the product – also, we are bearers of digitization of Insurance as a Solution. We were working with these large insurance companies in the ecosystem, and the process of digitization was pretty slow. It was a big challenge that we were facing where we had to work with these slow-moving insurance companies, and we had to align with them because their products are available on our platform, API indications, and we were dependent on them moving fast. But [17:14] changed that. The insurance companies have realized digitization is very critical, and hence, they have started working closely with us. This has led to [17:27] for the business and also for government because now we are able to not only distribute the right in delivering products to [17:36] but also is accelerated by the entire digitization of the product distribution. And hence, recently, we started seeing a high level of interest from investors coming in who are wanting to participate in the insurance distribution during [17:57].

Alejandro: How big is the insurance market there? We’re talking about a country that has 1.3 billion people, so how big is the market?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: That is the biggest point. It’s a large population and growing. Insurance is a new product. The total market is $100 million. It is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, expected to touch $600 million in the next five years [18:28]. Plus, there is a significant amount of [local aide18:36], so people take an insurance policy at a very low [insure 18:39] so that itself is a big gap. The middle-income groups are not [18:45] at all. The penetration levels are less than a percent. Hence, these factors combined, and the opportunity is very large in insurance ratio.

Alejandro: It seems that it’s a big market that is opening up. I’m sure that there are also a bunch of people that are looking at monetizing and competitors here, so how do you go about executing fast and capitalizing on riding this wave? And also, being able to be focused and keep your team aligned toward executing on the roadmap in the next 18 to 24 months? What have you learned on operating in a market that is opening up and that is also at a fast pace?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: One of the key approaches that we’ve had is that we use technology to drive business, and our approach to adding financial advisors has been creating a fully digitized onboarding journey, which in the classic format would have been in an offline format. To give you one example, we have acquired 100,000 agents of financial advisors on our platform who are licensed. On the app, they passed an exam on the app and have now become successful sellers of insurance policies. An insurance company would have taken about 20 years to do all of this. We [20:17] three-and-a-half years back, and the 100,000+. In fact, we are larger than the top three or four insurance companies combined [20:27] partners that are there in the country. So it has happened because of the entire onboarding process as we fully digitized. As we speak today, I think the insurance goes up as 70% of the territory of India, which is about 12,000 [20:47]. It has been possible because of the solving of the problems [20:56] acquiring new tuition partners using our app. The initial thing that we did was, India has several languages. There are about 4,000 dialects and major languages, so we launched our product in about nine languages other than English and Hindi. [21:18] in a small market who did not know any other language, but he could now work with our platform because it’s in his own language, and he could now sell insurance to his community by having access to our app. The second enabler has been that data on the internet and mobile has become very cheap. That has allowed them to consume internet services on the phone itself, and this has led to this boom of budding entrepreneurs who are either doing insurance and then also other products, and wanting to accelerate their income, wanting to rise up in life, and opting into platforms like us, and that is what is accelerating growth in our space.

Alejandro: Very nice. Imagine if you go to bed tonight, and you wake up in a world where the vision of Turtlemint is fully realized, what does that world look like?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: Every person in India is insured [22:20]. That’s what the world looks like. And it’s been hard. In India [ 95%22:25] distribution happens through in-person consulting. [75% 22:29] through these financial advisors and 25% is also to banks. So our technology has an enterprise version, which is also used by banks, and hence, we are the only player that has an enterprise solution and a retail solution willing to be an advisor market. Banks, we have just recently launched. If you were to execute well in the next eight years, you would see a large amount of business being issued on our platform.

Alejandro: Nice. Imagine that we put you into a time machine, Dhirendra, and we put you in a time machine where you have the ability to go back in time and have a chat with that younger Dhirendra that is looking at making the jump from Quikr to building Turtlemint. If you were able to have a chat with your younger self and give yourself one piece of advice before launching a business, what would that be and why based on what you know now?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: Obviously, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and all the learning has happened because I made those mistakes, so I wouldn’t do anything differently, but my advice to anybody who would be starting off would be that selecting your co-founder is very, very important, and you cannot go wrong in that. I hear some new entrepreneurs say that if I’m looking for a co-founder who is willing to work with me – my advice to them is that you already met your co-founder five years back, so you go back through those friendships that you have, and that’s where you figure out what kind of a co-founder you want to work with because that is going to be one of the most important decisions because have to be comfortable fighting in the evening, and then the next day, you are shaking hands and working together to solve and create an exciting company. That’s one of the most critical decisions I think that makes or breaks a startup, and my advice for anybody starting up would be to be very careful with whom you choose.

Alejandro: What would be some of those tips to identify or validate that individual is the right one to join you in the journey of building the company?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: In our case, we had a complementary skillset where I had business-orientation, and I had existing relationships and partnerships, whereas my co-founder, Anand, came from a very product and technology background, and that combination helped us have a 360-degree view of the business. The one other thing that I think is very important is that there has to be integrity where you know that your word matters and there will never be any deviation from what you have agreed or discussed. One more thing, your co-founder has to be a good man, and there might be pressures in the business, but at the end of it, you have to work with each other as friends, and that’s why it’s very important that you respect him, and you consider him as being one of the best who raises the bar in terms of execution.

Alejandro: I love that you touch on integrity because ultimately, without integrity, nothing works. Integrity is being able to deliver on your word. That’s what ultimately creates trust and respect, and that’s applied to everything, from the way that you find your co-founder and interact with your co-founder to the way that you interact with your investors and your customers. I’m very happy, Dhirendra, that you touched on that. So, for the folks that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: My email is dhirendra@turtlemint.com. Sending an email is the best way to reach out to me. I also have my Twitter ID: @DhirendraMahyavanshi, but mostly email is the best way to reach out.

Alejandro: Fantastic. Well, Dhirendra, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi: Thank you, Alejandro. It was a pleasure talking to you.

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