Designing Online Payments for Indian Businesses –

Lessons & challenges in designing a digital product experience for underserved businesses.

In the past, a simple computer would need an entire room. Today, you can wear 100 times that power on your wrist. Thanks to technology and the disruption it brings, computers have evolved from enterprise undertakings to consumer products.

Back in 2012, when Instamojo started, online payments & ecommerce infrastructure were still enterprise services/departments. They were beyond the financial and technical reach of micro, small, and medium-sized businesses.

If you wanted to get an online payment gateway, you’d need to negotiate with the banks & gateways. You’ll need a team of engineers to integrate with terrible APIs. None of them would even talk to you, unless you commit to lakhs worth of transaction a month. Only big companies could afford to give their customers an option to pay online.

There were no wallets, no #DigitalIndia, and our government wasn’t launching a new payments app every month. Most businesses relied on cash & cheques. NEFT was a city-folks thing. Even PayTM was a mere recharge website.

Today’s Popular Fin-tech startups, back in 2012

Instamojo started with an aim to simplify payments and ecommerce. We wanted to make payments as simple as sharing a link.

Upload your file, put a price, and you will get a link. Put that link in your email, blog, SMS, practically anywhere. Your customers can click & pay. You’d get the money directly in your bank account. It was that simple! There was no paperwork involved anywhere in the process.

Instamojo, Early 2012

At that point people compared our product to Gumroad & PayPal. We admired both. Gumroad did the same thing — sell digital files. PayPal was the king of online payments back in the day.

But over the years we learnt that what works for the western audiences doesn’t necessarily work for Indian audience. The demographic, abilities, tech, language, mental models, regulations — everything changes.

We gradually expanded beyond payments for digital files and now we manage more than just payments for over 300k businesses (at the time of writing). Each day our customers teach us how to make our product and business better. While most learnings are domain specific; some had big impact, three stand out the most:

  1. Language & Mental Models
  2. Structuring the product to keep it lean and future safe.
  3. Usability vs. Aesthetics, priorities for a young startup.

Mind Your Language

In early versions of the product, you’d create an ‘Offer’ to sell on Instamojo. The Offer could be a digital file, event ticket, or a service. You’d get a link for your offer to share with your customers. Your customers could pay with their cards or net-banking.

We were careless with words, but our early adopters were forgiving. Most were looking for a solution like Instamojo desperately and were happy that we existed. But we hit a ceiling when we tried to reach beyond the tech-savvy audience and grow our user base to beyond 20,000 merchants.

For some we worked out fine, but a lot of people were expecting us to bring them customers. They were comparing us to Amazon & Flipkart. We weren’t that. We made several attempts to fix our ‘pitch’ — “Your customers”, “turn your audience to customers”, etc. Nothing changed.

After talking to several existing & potential customers, we realised:

  1. People who were using us said that they were using Instamojo to ‘collect payments’.
  2. People who mistook us for a marketplace like Amazon or Flipkart. They were unhappy that we were not bringing them ‘sales’ and not ‘selling’ their products.

“Sell” & “Payment” have different meanings. Words are important.

You’re not going to be present in person to explain what your product does, words do it for you. From landing pages, to forms & buttons, words tell the user what’s going on. Words tell the user what the product is about and what it can do.

Our iterations with functional copy worked the best. After several iterations over the months, this is what Instamojo looked like:

‘Offers’ changed to ‘Payment Links’

Offers became ‘Payment Links’. You create & share ‘Payment Links’ to collect payments. Simple! Yet took us over 20,000 customers and 2 years to reach here.

This was a small change in product and a big paradigm shift that altered our customers’ experience. How do we know? We never again had to explain why we were not bringing them sales and why there wasn’t a ‘Search’ option on Instamojo. No one asked anymore.

It changed how we pitched our product, and what people expected of it. Today, our customers teach us how Payment Links can be used. ? ❤️

Author: @kingsidharth

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