It was effectively two weeks' notice for Byas Nambisan, interim chief executive officer and member of the board at mobile payments firm Ezetap, to prepare for co-founder Abhijit Bose’s departure. Bose, or ‘Bobby’ as he is known by his colleagues, called the CFO, and his neighbour, Nambisan at 2.30 am on a Sunday from the US to tell him about the decision. It had been a smooth exit for Bose—from building a company with a team in 2011 to becoming the first country head of instant messaging platform WhatsApp outside of California.
“It was easy for Bobby to take up this offer as we have stabilised the team and management over the last 18 months. The fact that Bobby could take up the opportunity is a mark that the company is in a healthy situation,” said Nambisan.
He added that while their style of execution may differ, the vision Bobby and he share for the company are the same. “The Middle East market has ramped up. Retail and government businesses are growing. We want to keep the organic momentum going through organic and inorganic growth,” added Nambisan.
He did not reveal details about the company’s search for a new CEO.
While employee morale is not low, Nambisan said he has been addressing the ‘unusual change’ by meeting and communicating with key clients, the company leadership and employees. The company is focused on breaking even over the next six months.
Ezetap has raised $51 million in external funding so far, the last round being from Jonathan Soros’ JS Capital in August 2017. For a startup, the departure of a co-founder or appointment of a new CEO at the helm is usually a cause for concern but for Ezetap, the transition so far has been smooth.
“Ezetap is doing very well and growing nicely. The company has a clear vision and should continue to do well. Bose is not going too far. This (his exit) was not a concern to any of us investors. As a CEO, Bose needs to take a few decisions at Ezetap, and hence, the interim arrangement,” said Sanjay Swamy, managing partner at Prime Ventures. He who co-founded Ezetap with Bose and Shripati Acharya who quit the company in 2013 to join Priven Advisors LLP, advisors to Prime Ventures.
Bose will continue to hold his stake in the company and will continue to be a non-executive member of the board. He has developed the company’s through various iterations and pivoted it from a card reader to a larger payments solutions for businesses.
The company currently enables 200,000 merchants and processes transactions of $135 million per month. For the financial year 2017-18, the company reported a marginal increase of 3% in its operating revenues to Rs 45.06 crore while its losses widened to Rs 40.47 crore from Rs 30.71 crore in the previous year.
Email questions on potential competition from WhatsApp’s payments business did not elicit a response from Bose.
With businesses maturing over time, the role of co-founders diminishes, said Anil Joshi, managing partner at venture capital firm Unicorn India Ventures. He adds that this has happened previously at companies like InMobi where the co-founders have moved on to new roles, continuing their engagement as strategic shareholders.
“Ezetap has also evolved, and being the first mover, I think they will figure out their way forward and try to remain among the top three players as the point of sale (PoS) model. We haven't even scratched the surface and it’s just the beginning of the growth cycle,” said Joshi. According to him, PoS will continue to grow for the next four to five years and better technology and connectivity will replace hardware. Ezetap, like its peers in the payment space, will continue to evolve, he added.
For the time being, Nambisan has to double down on targets for the coming year. “It is also an opportunity for people to step up to the roles I was previously overseeing and to grow,” he said, adding that he will continue to pop over to Bose’s place to discuss the business.