How to acquire over 100,000 Gen-Z investors in 6 days of launching a game-based investment app

Posted: 16 December, 2021

Getting early users for a consumer finance startup is not easy, much more so with Generation Z users, those born from 1997 to 2012. They are not millennials and have very different interests and outlooks about savings and investments. 

But for Manish Maryada, an ex-HSBC, Koinex, and Flobiz alumnus, and Shourya Lala, a computer science engineer with expertise in building financial tools for global institutions like BlackRock, this was a huge opportunity, too big to miss – India is a very young country, with a whopping 27% of the population who are Gen-Zers

They left their cushy jobs, joined Entrepreneur First Bangalore where they met, and decided to take the challenge head-on to build India’s first gaming and finance application, Fello. The duo recently took their early success up another notch with a new product launch, registering more than 100,000 new Gen-Z sign-ups in the first 6 days. 

The success of their launch, however, was no fluke. Manish and Shourya were extremely clear that they had to meticulously and rigorously research their customers right from the onset. 

“We set out knowing we were going to delve into the finance space, but as to what exactly to build, what problem sets to solve, we knew it had to start from getting solid market feedback,” said Manish.

“We wanted to build a truly customer-centric solution for our customers.” 

User research during the pandemic

The team knew that having a solid user research process was vital to their product design. However, with the ongoing pandemic, in-person interviews were not possible. Undeterred, they moved swiftly to conduct them virtually. And the minute they could travel, Manish and Shourya quickly sprung into action, traveling to meet their target audience in person. 

“Our entrepreneurial journey actually started right smack in the thick of the pandemic, and that means the early part of our user research process had to be done virtually, mainly by sending Google Forms and setting up online meetings.

We spent plenty of time shaping our questions, keeping them as generic and as vague as possible. By avoiding pointing people to any specified train of thoughts, we wanted to be laser-focused on getting raw, real feedback from those we interviewed,” shares Manish.

“At the heart of it all, we were looking for unbiased data points to guide our product roadmap. 

And what we first found was that there has been a sharp shift among Gen-Zs. From being inherent spenders, with no interest in saving money or making investments of any form, they are increasingly being persuaded on the importance of growing their savings for rainy days with India’s economy on the brink of a coronavirus-led crisis. 

The problem now is: it’s hard for them to make drastic changes to their deep-seated habits. Learning to save and invest is still seen as something old-school, boring, and laborious to the young.” 

“Despite the sheer volume of content on investing and alternative assets, less than 3% of all of India actually invests in stocks,” adds Shourya.

When the pandemic sort of mellowed down, at least a little, the duo flew to Bangalore to start their second round of interviews in person. 

“For our second stage of interviews, we moved from going broad to going deep.

We wanted to learn about Gen-Zs’ psychology and behaviour. We wanted to know what they spend their time on, the apps they use daily, their triggers, and more,” shares Manish. 

“The data revealed that 90% of them use Google Pay as their main mode of payment, and about 70-80% of them are into online games.

And suddenly, it hit us, we knew what makes Gen-Zs tick: instant, immediate gratification that games and Google Pay’s “scratch to get your reward” feature offer.

We only have to fit this in together, designing a gaming platform that enables the Gen-Zs to play a game while investing.” 

Cultivating savings habits among Gen-Zs for the home run

There is already an impetus for Gen-Zs to be more financially savvy given the pandemic and the duo is riding on that wave, looking to take it one step further, turning savings and investments into a good habit through their platform.

We were confident in our idea to build a gaming platform that allows users to invest at the same time,” says Shourya.

“This wasn’t a new idea; it existed in the market since the 1950s.

Back then, the UK government was facing a similar problem: their people weren’t saving enough. And to encourage savings, the government issued the ‘Premium Bond’, a lottery bond where people invest a few pounds into the bond to get a ticket that holds a chance of winning the lottery. 

The government will buy back the bonds for their original price, while the interest will be paid to the monthly winner of the lottery where all bondholders stand an equal chance of winning.

It worked and was a way to entice the masses to start saving, and we are bringing that concept to India to change the narrative of savings and how Gen-Z users interact with finance.” 


It’s all about the user and moving fast

In the build-up to their launch, the team was relentlessly focused on the customer and their needs. Post-launch, they have continued this single-minded focus, constantly looking to keep their finger on the pulse of their users and iterating their product to address their needs. 

“When building the platform, we kept the user in mind as our top priority every step of the way.

To do that, we interact with all new signups and work quickly to identify what’s working, what’s not to swiftly implement the changes to make the platform more appealing to the user,” explains Manish.

“Functionally, we help distribute various financial products from the big financial institutions to access the new Gen-Z group by gamifying the investment process.

Our users invest in funds, earning higher returns than what their savings accrue in typical savings accounts while getting a chance to play interactive, community-driven online games.

Our games are highly curated and made just for our users. For example, the first two games we have are two community-based games that are hugely popular in India – Tambola* and Cricket.

Winners also get to win prizes in the form of Amazon vouchers or an opportunity to reinvest for bigger profits.” 

As these are community-driven games, the news will spread among the Indian communities, and naturally, there will be that viral effect, and the floodgate of new users will flock in.

“What’s important to focus on is the constant obsession with the user and being fast to ship the fun and useful product to them. 

Just the other day, I received an invite from a friend to try something new and fun on Fello when I told him I am the founder of that app.” 

On the biggest challenges in their launch, Manish says, “It goes back to being relentless on focusing on customer needs. It’s not easy but so far we have been keeping up with the pace, constantly looking to understand the pulse of users and then coming up with incredible solutions quickly.

For the record, we probably had like five different versions of the app over a 6-month period. 

The speed needed to win cannot be understated in a consumer-facing market.” 

“At the moment, we have over 200,000 users using our platform since our launch four weeks ago and 85% of those investments are from first-time investors,” reveals Manish. “94% of them were through referrals.”


Fello’s roadmap to join the ranks of India’s Neo Bank

These early wins are just stepping stones for the founders. 

“The gap that we are filling is far bigger, it’s beyond just investments.

We will adopt the same strategy: enabling users to play games and have fun on our platform whilst also saving and investing in a healthy way.

Therefore, the immediate next step for us is to ramp up and partner with several leading gaming giants and financial institutions to broaden the array of investment products and games as we grow our users.

And then we want to grow with our users, first constructing a credit scoring system to enable users to access loans as the Gen-Zs move into different phases of their lives, and hopefully even insurance.” 


*Tambola is a popular version of Bingo and Housie which is played widely across India and Pakistan.