At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on members of the thriving UK tech startup scene.
This week, we spoke to Paresh Davdra, co-founder of Xendpay, about perseverance, mindfulness and the importance of risk taking in the early stages of building a business.
Tech vertical: Remittance market
Funding: Privately owned
Staff count: Over 80 people
Q: Where did the idea for Xendpay come from?
Xendpay came from an idea Rajesh (Agrawal, my business partner) and I had resulting from friends’ complaints over the costs of sending money back home to India. We did some research into the fees money transfer companies charge and were astounded by the additional amounts they requested. So we decided to try and solve the money transfer issue for good, creating the world’s first free money transfer service, Xendpay.
Our approach promoting transparency and effectively reducing the costs surrounding money transfers has earned us the support of Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, as well as seeing our mission to be recognised as a “social cause” and a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action.
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Q: What’s your background? What were you doing before?
I grew up in Harrow, London, in a close-knit family. Whilst at university, I worked at a brokerage firm and went onto work there for a year after graduating. That’s where I got my first taste for foreign exchange and after a year, Rajesh Agrawal (now deputy Mayor of London for business) and I quit our jobs and moved to Brighton. With our background in the field, we had spotted a gap in the market for an online foreign exchange service and decided to take the leap. It was in 2005 that we launched Xendpay’s older sibling, RationalFX, with Xendpay to follow 7 years later.
We started the Rational Group journey with as little as one phone, one computer and £20,000 (a small ‘car loan’ Rajesh had taken out). We have now served over 80,000 private clients and business customers and transferred over $10bn in payments, dealing in 48 currencies and 173 countries.
Q: What has been the most challenging part about setting up your company?
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The hardest thing was navigating through the recession – we were becoming increasingly successful in the three years leading up to it and then everything suddenly slowed down. In an industry like ours, the recession made a monumental difference to business but it taught Rajesh and I some valuable lessons and in turn helped the business grow stronger.
The recession taught us that haphazard spending is not the way to go – we learned to be clever with money, as one can never predict what it would suddenly be needed for in the future. Businesses should always have a ‘rainy day fund’. During 2008, I matured significantly both personally and as a businessman.
Saying that, it is also important to maintain a balance if you want to grow your company. Growth costs money and takes risk – so when times are tough don’t get totally risk averse, don’t forget that the tough get going.
Q: What’s been your proudest moment, so far?
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This is something that you don’t really think about. You are so caught up in the business that it is very rare to look back and reflect. There have been so many proud moments, from hiring our first member of staff to sponsoring a football team!
Nonetheless, I think the moment that tops it for me is seeing my dad talk about me to people he knows – to see that he is proud makes everything worthwhile.
Q: Have you had any mentors along the way, if so, what have they helped with?
I was very fortunate to meet a person like Rajesh. I was only 24 when I met him and he was only three years older than me, but already had so much knowledge about so many different topics. He could talk to anyone, in any field, about any subject and could always hold a great conversation.
He has been an exceptional mentor and I have learnt a lot. He is still my go to person from a personal standpoint and business.
How many people do you know that can come to a country where they don’t know anyone, with no money in their pocket and become the Deputy Mayor of London within 15 years?
Q: Do you have any regrets?
Looking back on how I would do something differently, I would have made the fantastic hires of Chris Humphrey our COO and Derek Playford our CFO a long time ago. In particular, it is very easy to underestimate the benefits of hiring a CFO and I now can’t believe that we went so many years without one!
No regrets, but perhaps I need to take out some time for mindfulness! I know that over the years I have become a little stressed and worried when things have got difficult, but this is to do with ambition kicking in, not being satisfied and continually driving for bigger and better goals – there isn’t a time to relax, especially in the industry I am in – and if you take your foot off the pedal, you pave the way for your competitors to get in front.
Business, just like life, is a journey and a learning curve – as an entrepreneur I am naturally optimistic and generally tend to see the positive and the potential opportunity in whatever we do.
Q: What’s your top advice for any budding tech entrepreneurs out there?
Tech is ever evolving so you need to keep your finger on the pulse and know your industry.
Perseverance is also crucial to being an entrepreneur. Life is challenging, and starting your own business is equally so – if you believe in what you’re offering, stick with it and others are sure to believe in it too.
Another piece of advice, in the same vein, is to be brave and take risks. We took some gambles when RationalFX was starting out – we had no money and no salary for the first few years – but it eventually all paid off. When a good opportunity comes your way, grab it with both hands. Don’t worry about being perfectly prepared because you’ll learn a lot along the way.
Finally and most importantly – never give up. Stick to your values and you can’t go wrong – this isn’t to mean you won’t fail, but it’s worth a try if you’re fighting for something you really want!