Interview with Mr.Kunal Shah, CEO of, on the future of online recharge in India

Mobile telephony has come a long way in India. From those costly days in 1996 to 1/2 paisa per second calls today, Indian mobile telephony industry has grown to be one of the biggest in India and has revolutionized the way Indians connect. With the advent of mobile internet, this has become a part and parcel of our lifestyle.

Recharging is an essential part of prepaid mobile telephony and its widely dominated by physical shops that sell recharge coupons to customers. Seeing a business opportunity in this hassle of offline recharge, Mr.Kunal Shah came up with the idea of, an online portal that recharges a customer of the desired value and gives him/her discount vouchers from various brands of same value, thereby making the recharge effectively free of cost.

In an exclusive chat with TradeBriefs, Kunal shares his journey with Freecharge and his views on the prepaid market in India. Some excerpts from the interview


Q- Tell us about the thought process behind coming up with Freecharge?

We started around the same time when the Indian market saw a flurry of 'deal' sites. We believed that deal sites aren't scalable as an average user isn't on the lookout for deals 24/7. Deals have to be accidental, we thought. But need, which is the reason why most businesses exist should be the pulling factor for any business. We have seen sites like Groupon struggling to stand its ground in India.

India is still an early market for such exclusive deal based business and we felt that we should concentrate on the basic need of the average Indian mobile user - recharging. Hence the idea of Freecharge was born


Q- How much % of Indians use prepaid as opposed to postpaid?. How big is your target market?

98% of the Indian mobile telephony market is prepaid. As per data, about 15-20 million people recharge their phones everyday, mostly through offline channels. We sense huge opportunity here as internet penetration in increasing and about 5% of people use internet banking for transactional purposes.


Q- The future of re-charge business in Indian market. Your views?

We feel that recharge is a basic need and would remain to exist as long as people use prepaid mobile phones. We don't believe in giving sweeping discounts. We let the customer pick and choose the coupons they want. Instead of a retail brand incentivizing a customer every time to come back to them to purchase, we give the customer a platter of offers from which the customer selects the one needed by him/her. This market would thrive and is poised to grow in the next few years


Q-  How coupons are helping to attract customers to ROI and Value addition to retail business those tie up with 

Coupons are incentives for brands to make customers come to them to try out their products/services. They intend to create a need out of nowhere and giving a coupon serves this purpose well. It's a smart ecosystem where brands consistently get new customers and customers get to experiment new brands


Q- How do u plan to go up value chain?. With people moving from prepaid to postpaid?

We aren't really looking at the post paid sector as of now. Prepaid is a huge untapped market and we would like to penetrate the market fully before thinking of venturing into the post paid space


Q- Any plans to add service organizations in the list?. We see mainly product companies in the site

We let our customers choose what coupons they want. Its like crowd sourcing suggestions from them to add a particular brand to our existing list. Instead of us introducing a brand and testing waters, we let our customers decide what they want. This way, we give immense freedom to our customers and let them have a major say in the offers they get

Most new brands we promote aren't on the home page. We promote them separately in later pages depending on customer response.


Q- Your views on future of free charge market?    

Recharge market would see many players in the coming years. Its not a winner-takes it all market. There is enough space for many more and all would have their own share of this ever growing market. This is pretty much like the petrol pump business. No matter how many new pumps come in an area, all of them would see fair amount of demand.

Continuous innovation is the key here. Need drives our business, not greed. We satiate the need part and makes sure the customer gets something in return too.

On a concluding note, e-commerce is a widely western concept and when we intend to introduce it in India, we need to think Indian because the problems we face here are Indian. Look at IRCTC. Its by a far distance, India's largest e-commerce portal. The underlying need is strong and they have capitalized on that. Unless brands think Indian, they would find it tough to survive in the long run