Ganesh Balakrishnan and Utkarsh Biradar became friends during their time at IIT-Bombay in the 1990s. While Biradar moved on to product design roles, Balakrishnan went on to do an MS from Pennsylvania State University, US, and then worked with companies like Ingersoll Rand and Bain & Co.
The two found themselves together again in 2011, when Balakrishnan joined Honeywell in Bengaluru, where Biradar had been working since 2004. In Honeywell, the two were involved in a lot of intrapreneurial opportunities that excited them.
“But it took nearly one and a half months for an idea to take off,” Balakrishnan says. So the two, rather than manoeuvre through the corporate hierarchy, decided to start off on their own.
They were fond of the consumer space, and in 2013, they founded Windsleeve Technology , a retail technology company. The venture was selected to Nasscom’s 10,000 startups programme. However, within seven months, they realized it would be difficult to monetize the venture.
So they started looking for other ideas. A friend happened to tell them about Square, the US-based payment startup. “Square had tied up with Starbucks in the US and everyone seemed excited by what they were doing,” Balakrishnan says.
The two decided to do something similar in India. In April 2014, they roped in their friends Karthik Vaidyanathan, Neelesh Bam and Aiman Ashraf, and started Momoe as an app that let customers view bills in real time.
The initial days were tough. Although they got three restaurants on board, their app crashed the restaurants’ IT systems several times, forcing the founders on some occasions to even deliver orders to the kitchen themselves. Four months into Momoe, they noticed that despite having tied up with 50 merchants, Momoe wasn’t get many customers.
“Customers would take the discounts we offered to make them try the app, but would then never use the app again,” Balakrishnan says. At that point they almost i gave up. “I had an 8-month-old daughter when I decided to quit my job. We all were also at a stage where we had mortgages and EMIs to pay,” recalls Balakrishnan. His who was on maternity leave at the time, even offered to start working again to keep some income coming.
The five decided, almost as a last resort, to go to the customers to get feedback. Many said if Momoe added more merchants and provided the option to also pay the bill, they might use the app regularly. The founders did precisely that. Today, Momoe has 2,500 merchants in Bengaluru and Pune using it. The Android and iOS apps have seen around 2 lakh downloads.
And just when their families had offered to do a “friends and family round” of seed funding, Momoe found interest among investors. Venture funds IDG and Jungle Ventures invested $1.2 million in August 2015.