06 Feb 2018 15:56 IST

Finding cash for a cause

Photo credit: Rocio Lara/Flickr

Crowd-funding platform Ketto helps campaigns and projects raise money through donations

Varun Sheth had contemplated a career in the financial services. He had graduated in commerce and qualified in financial risk management and was working as an interest rate swap trader. His ambition was to get into a large financial services company, go abroad for an MBA and work abroad for a few years. However, life had other plans for him. He lost his job, which turned out to be a turning point in his life. He decided to spend time in the Himalayas, “more of a soul-searching trip,” he says.

He met a woman who was running a small school in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, and she suggested that Varun help out at the school. The school needed to raise some money, for which they created a simple web page. “We were surprised that so many people came forward and started giving money. They donated online and offline,” says Varun, 30. The school was able to raise nearly ₹10 lakh in less than a month.

This was the trigger for Varun to become an entrepreneur on his return to Mumbai. He realised that people, especially Indians living abroad, were willing to donate money to good causes and good projects. He launched Ketto, short for Key to Tomorow, in 2011 end. “After looking at the donations space for almost six months, I realised the space was right for a big disruption. That is where the journey started,” he says.

Social cause

Ketto went live on August 15, 2012. He recalls that there was no traction in the first few months. Varun clearly remembers the first cause for which Ketto helped raise funds. The daughter of a commercial sex worker in Mumbai had connected with a social service organisation called Kranti, which had helped the girl apply to go to college in the US. The college had offered the girl full scholarship, including her fees and cover all her costs. She still needed money for other expenses. Ketto helped raise ₹6.5 lakh for the girl.

Varun recalls with pride that he met the girl at a recent event and found that she was now giving public talks and helping girls from similar backgrounds get started in life. That first fund raise kicked off Ketto’s journey as a crowd-funding platform to raise donations. “Our objective and motive is to create a marketplace or an exchange where individuals and organisations that are looking for funds in the rewards-based donations space come and list their requirements. On the other side are the individuals across the world who want to donate to specific projects or causes. They do it through our exchange,” says Varun.

According to him, Ketto has done about 40,000 campaigns so far, of which 70 per cent managed to raise funds. Ketto retains a fee of 6 per cent of the funds raised. It is a success fee model, explains Varun. The fund flows through Ketto, which provides the payment system on the platform.

Ketto has raised two rounds of funds — $120,000 in December 2013 and $700,000 in August 2015. The investors include Calcutta Angels, MNS Partners, Singapore Angel Network and India Internet Fund. Ketto is moving towards break even and looking to raise a larger round of fund.

Challenges ahead

Varun says Ketto’s challenge is to get more projects listed on it, especially in regional languages and from smaller cities and towns. Ketto handles about 30 projects a day now and its challenge is to increase this to 300. This jump can come from only the non-English speaking audience, for which Ketto has to create the market from scratch.

“We believe a platform like this is a key to tomorrow, for a greater tomorrow, to give people an opportunity to fulfil something that they are not able to do today,” says Varun.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)