Nov 24, 2021
book icon
 min read

Airtel - My First Corporate experience

Airtel has been a household name since the early 21st century in India thanks to its superior network and branding. As I mentioned earlier, my dad had a mobile shop, so I had been exposed to Airtel since childhood. Airtel had recently launched Airtel Payments Bank recently well before Paytm and I had done some research on them when I was reached out by them. Curiously, I accepted the call and went to meet them. It was there when I met Dhiraj Sharda, the then CDO of Airtel Payments Bank. He is a smart guy, who was very calm and while talking to him, I was immediately impressed by his thoughts on tech products. I felt I can learn from him a lot and the challenge he was taking on to take on banking services in tier 3 cities in India sounded interesting. Working in Paytm, I had already solved the problem for tier 1 and tier 2 cities, but the penetration and distribution of Airtel enabled it to reach tier 3 cities. I agreed to join Airtel Payments Bank in March of 2017.

Airtel Payments Bank had been lacking the consumer focus before I joined and thus, my first task was to improve user experience and solve basic customer pain points in the app. It was a good experience, to talk to people, call them, listen to them and see what pain points they had. The customers of Airtel Payments Bank (henceforward referred to as APB), were mostly lower income, less educated and housewives. It was interesting to see that they were using APB for savings. They were moved by factors like free insurance and remittance across the country. People were able to send money from New Delhi to Bihar easily. One of the first things I vowed to solve was getting the PIN screen removed from APB home screen. The PIN is needed as per RBI regulation if you accessing any customer information, but in the current state, a user was unable to see the features of the app without entering the PIN and most people forgot the PIN after setting. So, I called a lot of customers and did user research, I also checked the data and saw the drop in due to the PIN screen. Then presented the case to management and got the PIN screen removed, this small change uplifted our DAU and conversion rate. While working on APB, it was interesting to meet the My Airtel team also, since the app real estate was shared among the three verticals -Teleco, Entertainment, and Bank. We had weekly sync up meeting among product and engineering head of these verticals. In these meetings, I met Harmeen Mehta, one of the most inspiring people I have met so far in my life. She manages entire Airtel Innovation across all different countries. It was great interacting with her since her focus was always on getting things done and no-nonsense.I met some great people at Airtel, both from Teleco and Bank, they were from different domains like business, marketing, product, design, and tech. Dhiraj as a super boss was really supportive of all the initiatives I took and also having discussions with him always taught something which otherwise I would have missed. My next project at APB was to get GST implemented for consumer side, GST was to be implemented by all the payment institutes on 30th June and thus, the whole team worked together to launch the GST successfully. I also worked on getting tracking and reports implemented for consumer journey at APB. Since I strongly believe, you cannot improve what you cannot measure. Thus, we identified various user funnels and started fixing and improving those journeys like registration count was improved by reducing the drop in SMS delivery. The number of transactions was improved by promoting APB as a payment option for Teleco. We also improved the reset PIN flow,  since that was the biggest hurdle people faced while using the APB. These efforts combined improved our new users, DAU, and transactions.

“If you don’t collect any metrics, you’re flying blind. If you collect and focus on too many, they may be obstructing your field of view.”

Airtel Payment Bank App

While working at APB, Dhiraj decided to leave and go back to California in August 2017. That was a huge set back for me since most of the people in APB were from telecom background and not technology as per se. During the same time, Ankur Malhotra, who was AVP of Marketing at Paytm and a good friend and mentor of mine had joined Tokopedia, he called me to ask me to join Tokopedia as Product Manager for Marketing Products. I had always wanted to live independently in a foreign country. Also, this gave me a chance to work in e-commerce, a new market, marketing products and a new country of which I had no experience. All these were new from consumer payment products which I had worked on for more than 2 years by then. So I said yes to Tokopedia and left APB in September 2017 and joined Tokopedia in Indonesia in 2017.

Overall working at Airtel was an experience in itself. It is one of the biggest company and employer in India. The culture was too formal for someone like me coming from Paytm, a startup. It’s not bad, it’s just different and suits their work domain. I am glad I had that experience, since I believe a person should have various experiences and then only he can decide if they like it or not and never have preconceived perceptions. I am still obliged to Harmeen Mehta, for helping me during my exit and asking me to stay at Airtel. I still am inspired by how big Airtel is, the distribution channels, the brand value, and perception are immense. People who are working there have been hired from the best MBA colleges in the country. It is a great place for work-life balance and employee satisfaction,  but I think for me at my age, I would like to challenge myself to limits and have more learning and experiences. Therefore I choose to go forward with Tokopedia and wish APB and Airtel team all the best.