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What We Learned From AamarPay CEO Ishtiaque Sarwar's Interview

Recently we have interviewed Ishtiaque Sarwar, the founder and CEO of the online payment gateway aamarPay.

In the interview, Ishtiaque Sarwar shared the story of how aamarPay was founded, its evolution, and how aamarPay has grown from a small operation to one of the leading platforms in the payment gateway space. 

The interview offers an insider view of the payment gateway business and the future of digital payment in Bangladesh as well as a peek into the personal journey of  Mr. Ishtiaque and the lessons he has learned as an entrepreneur so far.

Here are some key takeaways from the interview:

1.When it comes to running a business, you have to be persistent towards your goal

The journey of aamarPay is a fascinating example of how far you can come if you are persistent.

Mr. Ishtiaque first came up with the idea of aamarPay in 2012. As he did not have much knowledge about the payment gateway domain, he spent the next two years, from 2012 to 2014, gathering resources and developing an understanding of the domain.

In 2014, Ishtiaque Sarwar hired a web developer to build a website for aamarPay. But the website did not work as expected. But he did not give up.

The following year, 2015, he raised a small amount of seed funding, rebuilt the aamarPay platform, and finally launched aamarPay in 2015. But as the platform was not well built, that year aamarPay did not get any traction.

In 2016, after raising another round of seed money, the second version of the website of aamarPay was built and launched. From the mid of 2017, aamarPay started to get some traction. It had around 50 merchants on the platform in the first year. By the end of the second year, it grew to 200 merchants. In 2019, the number of transactions on aamarPay grew threefold. 

Now the team of aamarPay consists of 22 people, of which 8 people are in tech, about 8 people in sales and partnership, and the remainder of the teamwork in finance and management, and logistics. At present, there are 892 merchants on aamarPay’s platform. The platform handles between tk. 60 lakh to one crore worth of transactions per month with annual transactions worth approximately BDT 7-8 crores.

When asked what were the major challenges for aamarPay in the early days, Ishtiaque Sarwar replied, “In the beginning, one of the major challenges was pricing. We were a small player with quite insignificant transactions. Banks used to charge us more than the other established payment gateways. As a result, the price we were offering to our users was higher than other established players in the market. It was a challenge in the early days.”

But as the transaction volume increased, banks lowered their charge gradually allowing aamarPay to bring their rate for users down as well. 

Today, they offer competitive rates similar to every other established player in the market and are among the top three players in the payment gateway space at present.

AamarPay started off as a small platform for payment gateway and it took a lot of time and trials and errors to come where it is today. The success did not come overnight.

The journey of Ishtiaque Sarwar shows in business there will be ups and downs and it takes qualities like diligence and persistence to make a business successful.

2. With the growth of e-commerec, the payment gateway market likely to grow bigger and be more competitive

According to Ishtiaque Sarwar, annually transactions worth approximately BDT 20,000cr occur through the payment gateways, and around BDT 15000cr of it comes from the e-commerce sector. Then there is the utility payment, which is around BDT 6500cr per year.

He believes the e-commerce market is likely to grow in the coming days as more people come online and get used to shopping online. 

“Though we have quite a bit of competition, it is good for both the companies and the market. Competition accelerates growth and innovation.”, Ishtiaque Sarwar said, “There are 4-5 top players in the market right now and new players are entering the market. Competitive pressure is likely to grow in the coming months and you have to offer something unique to survive.”

He thinks there needs to be regulatory clarity in terms of the role of payment gateways as well as the role of individual payment services like bKash, etc so that the payment gateway platforms can play their role in the market.

When asked about the future of the payment gateway market Ishtiaque Sarwar replied: “The market will grow super competitive. Innovation will be critical. Unless you innovate as a company, you will not survive. Instead of confining yourself within the traditional payment gateway services, it would be useful to introduce new services and features such as vendor payment, mass payment, etc. Indian market could offer an interesting case study for us in terms of innovating in the payment gateway space”.

3. For growing your business you need to be open to opportunities

For running a business the founder needs to be open minded to cope with the dynamic world of business. This mindset helps a founder not only to learn new things, but also to leverage the opportunities to grow his/her business.

Ishtiaque Sarwar considers one of the major mistakes he made in the past is not being open minded.

When asked about his mistakes he replied “I have been quite defensive when it comes to growth and pushing our ventures. As a result, I didn’t give much effort.”

4. Be a people person

When asked about the lessons he has learned so far as an entrepreneur Ishtiaque Sarwar replied “I’ve become more of a people person. I spend time with people. Instead of making them work, I try to inspire and motivate them to work.”

In aamarPay, the employees enjoy a lot of freedom and they are offered quite a bit of flexibility in terms of designing their work. 

“My approach is rather working together, mentoring, and guiding people instead of pushing people to do things.” Ishtiaque Sarwar said, “I try to motivate people and help them navigate the challenges of work and be productive. I think when people are motivated, they will do anything. If they are not motivated, nothing will work. I also think incentives are critical for human motivation. We give rewards to the best performers, we hang out and celebrate events.” 

“When your people own their job, you don’t have to manage them anymore”, concludes Mr. Ishtiaque. 

Tithi Chowdhury is an undergraduate student majoring in Botany at the University of Dhaka. She is a Trainee Analyst at Future Startup and looks after our Collective Knowledge initiative where she prepares interviews and writes articles on interesting topics. She is a voracious reader and loves listening to podcasts in her spare time.

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