Career & Success

The Business of Ending Generational Poverty in India

How one social enterprise built a successful revenue model while having a large-scale, positive impact.

August 29, 2023

Creating a compelling strategy is step number one for every business. But almost no one gets it right on the first try. Aniket Doegar and “Guns” Ganapathy, co-founders of the Indian social enterprise Haqdarshak, pivoted multiple times while remaining focused on financial sustainability and their mission: eliminating generational poverty in India through access to social security.

India, with a population of 1.4 billion, has about a billion people dependent on some form of social security, according to Aniket Doegar. And India has over 20,000 government programs. But most families are accessing only a tiny percentage of the programs they’re eligible for. “An urban family living in cities like Delhi and Bombay is eligible for about 25 to 30 programs, and all these families at any given point of time are not accessing more than 10 percent of them,” explains Doegar. That’s the problem Haqdarshak wants to solve — how to enable people in need to access the life-changing benefits they deserve.

From the very beginning, Haqdarshak’s strategy was focused on generating revenue so the company wouldn’t be dependent on handouts or grants in the traditional nonprofit model. “It was almost an article of faith for me that scale can be achieved and lots of social problems can be addressed by thinking through a revenue model, by having financial sustainability built into the DNA of the organization,” says Ganapathy, who is not only a cofounder of Haqdarshak, but also its first investor, and Stanford Seed’s regional director for South Asia.

The two assumed that building a platform for end users to access benefits would be too expensive and that government contracts would be more financially reliable. Unfortunately, they weren’t, and after not getting paid, they made their first pivot. And the pivots kept coming. But along the way, they learned — and built upon — every setback. “I think this is an important lesson for social enterprises, that you’ve got to remain flexible sometimes and see the way in which the market responds to what you want to do,” advises Ganapathy.

Ganapathy also warns social enterprises of the tension between financial sustainability and risk of mission drift. “It’s a challenge that most social enterprises face at some point in their journey. I think we did face this two or three years in where there was this temptation that we had this network of field agents, and we could have gone the way of adding financial products, insurance sales, things like that to the basket of goods that an agent carried, and made the organization more financially viable, but it would have meant a significant mission drift away from our original focus,” Ganapathy recalls.

Having mission-driven investors can help you stay on track. Throughout the company’s journey, Doegar reminds himself of the big picture: “Do we want to be an organization which runs after capital and does everything, or do we want to be a specialized social security organization and really build an institution?

Hear how Doegar and Ganapathy adjusted their strategy on the fly and stayed true to their foundational values, and learn where the company is headed now.

Grit & Growth is a podcast produced by Stanford Seed, an institute at Stanford Graduate School of Business which partners with entrepreneurs in emerging markets to build thriving enterprises that transform lives.

Hear these entrepreneurs’ stories of trial and triumph, and gain insights and guidance from Stanford University faculty and global business experts on how to transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.

Full Transcript

P R Ganapathy: I think this is an important lesson for social enterprises. You’ve got to remain flexible sometimes and see the way in which the market responds to what you want to do.

Darius Teter: To succeed, you need a strategy, but to survive, you need the ability to change that strategy.

P R Ganapathy: We went in with a certain notion of how we’d build the business and how the revenue model would work, and we had this elaborate Excel spreadsheet that had all the agents and how many schemes and therefore how much we’d done and what-not. But you know, obviously the market taught us something and we pivoted quickly and built a revenue model.

Darius Teter: Welcome to Grit & Growth from Stanford Seed, the podcast where Africa and South Asia’s intrepid entrepreneurs share their trials and triumphs with insights from Stanford faculty and global experts on how to tackle challenges and grow your business.

In the past several episodes, we’ve been exploring how to build a strategy argument with Stanford professor Dr. Jesper Sorensen. We’ve discussed how good strategies are logical arguments for how your company succeeds, built on some bets on an unknowable future. But nobody has a crystal ball. You can’t get it 100 percent right the first time and that means you have to adapt as you go. Jesper calls this process “discovering your strategy,” and it’s an art that combines theory and practice, past and future, persistence, and openness to change. When it comes to social enterprise, iterating on your strategy can vastly increase your impact, allowing you to apply your solutions at scale. It can even uncover new unforeseen benefits that help in ways you might never have predicted. And that’s exactly what happened with our guest today. On today’s episode, we have the story of a company that is discovering its strategy and creating enormous impact along the way. It’s an amazing lesson in updating your assumptions while staying true to your foundational values. The name of this company is Haqdarshak.

Aniket Doegar: Haq in Urdu means “your rights” and Darshak in Sanskrit means the organization or person who shows you the path. So an organization which shows you the path towards your rights.

Darius Teter: This is Aniket Doegar.

Aniket Doegar: I am originally from up in the northern part of the country in India, up in the Himalayas, from a small place called Shimla. And I am the co-founder and CEO of Haqdarshak.

Darius Teter: The other co-founder of Haqdarshak is someone I know well.

P R Ganapathy: I’m P R Ganapathy. People call me Guns, although I’m a peace-loving vegetarian. I’m the regional director for South Asia for Stanford Seed, but I’m also very proud of being able to call myself also a co-founder and one of the first investors in Haqdarshak.

Darius Teter: Guns has since moved on from his role at Stanford Seed in part to focus on projects like Haqdarshak. Both he and Aniket have big dreams for the company.

Aniket Doegar: Our mission overall, of course, is to eliminate generational poverty in India through access to social security. Overall, until 2030, we want to do that by reaching a hundred million people.

Darius Teter: Haqdarshak may well be on the verge of achieving that ambitious goal, but their path hasn’t been easy. They’ve had to adjust on the fly and rethink their whole strategy multiple times. They’ve learned from every setback. And in fact, learning is so integral to Haqdarshak that the story begins with a teacher in a classroom.

Aniket Doegar: My mother and all her sisters, all of them are teachers. So I think when I started teaching, I found new-found respect for my own mother. So I actually went to do my commerce, bachelor’s in commerce and economics, from one of the best colleges in India. And I had no intention of doing commerce. So I joined Teach for India, which is based on the Teach for America model, and taught grade two students, 75 students in a city in Pune, in a low-income school. Today, 68 of them are in college, which is my still, to date, biggest achievement. And till then I was trying to build my resume to get to Stanford or Harvard, one of the colleges, then build my resume. But I think I just fell in love with the work on the ground, with the community, with the people.

Darius Teter: Aniket’s curiosity and care for his students extended beyond the classroom.

Aniket Doegar: So I think it started for me in Teach for India because all my students came from this extremely marginalized background in terms of income, religion, caste. And after the first year, a lot of my interest in the second year of fellowship was primarily to understand: What are the challenges that these students face? Education is one pathway — what are the other pathways? And as I started interacting with the families, I found that there is absolutely no information of government programs, and it stuck with me. And back then of course I never thought that I will start working on this problem, but that kind of stuck with me that they have no information on any kind of government programs. And just for context, India spends about 8 to 9 percent of its GDP on social security. So right now we are about $3.7 trillion. So I think next year we would be spending about $350 billion.

Darius Teter: Aniket had stumbled upon something big, really big.

Aniket Doegar: India, a country of 1.4 billion people, has about a billion people dependent on some form of social security. And there are 20,000 government programs. Data over the last seven years of government screenings essentially shows that a rural family is eligible for about 40 to 50 government programs.

Darius Teter: Wow.

Aniket Doegar: And an urban family living in urban metro cities like Delhi and Bombay is eligible for about 25 to 30 programs. And all these families at any given point of time are not accessing more than 10 percent of the government programs that they are eligible for.

Darius Teter: I mean, you’re talking about doubling or tripling the resources that they have at their disposal. If I’m accessing two or three schemes, but I’m eligible for 20, you’re talking about life-changing benefits.

I want to underscore just how significant this additional income can be. In a 2011 analysis by the Pew Research Center, 97 percent of Indians were classified as low income, living on less than 10 US dollars a day. And 20 percent of the country was considered poor, living on less than $2 a day. Think how much of a difference that extra government assistance would make.

P R Ganapathy: A few days ago, our old maid from Bangalore called us. When my wife used to be at work, she kind of brought up our younger son. She was really like a member of the family and she was in tears because they detected a lump, she was going in for a biopsy. She was really scared because she had really no savings, no insurance, nothing. I called Deepta at Haqdarshak and 24 hours later this lady had been enrolled with a 500,000 rupee cover in the Ayushman Bharat program. She did test positive, it is unfortunately advanced stage, but now at least she has the reassurance that there is this scheme that can help her. And that to me is the power of Haqdarshak, is just people who otherwise are completely at risk for everything that the world throws at them. Now we can make their lives a little more risk free, give them a little more security, and just help them break that cycle that they’re unfortunately trapped in.

Darius Teter: The potential impact was huge, but so was the problem. And it wasn’t just the scale, it was the complexity.

Aniket Doegar: We are an extremely diverse country. We are a continent in itself in terms of the different diversity, right from north to south, east to west. So every little region and caste has its own different programs. There are programs for senior citizens, there are programs for tribal farmers. There are programs for better farming to small businesses. So they add up. And what happens is, if you had a program started in 1917, it never politically shut. So there is a government program, I want to tell you this, when we were researching, there is a government program in India in the state of Delhi where you still have a line item for ink for the clerk of the king. Now we got independence in 1947, but it still stays in the budget line item

Darius Teter: And Aniket, in these rural villages, did people have connectivity power? Literacy? I mean, what were you dealing with?

Aniket Doegar: No, absolutely not. I mean, today India has about 860 million smartphone users, which is still out of 1.4 billion, only 65, 70 percent. So we’re still not there. In 2015-16, we were talking about 300 million smartphone users because the real revolution in smartphones has only come in the last two, three years. So back then only 20-30 percent of India was digitally connected.

Darius Teter: When you’re dealing with challenges on that scale, you have to bring in the big guns. So Guns, how did you meet Aniket?

P R Ganapathy: I think this is how the universe conspires to bring good people together when their intentions are right. The Indian government had launched something called an Innovate for Digital India challenge. It was a little cohort-based incubator at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, my alma mater. And I wrote an application. And you know, one of my friends who was on the other side, he looked at the application, he said, this is a fantastic idea, but I know you have a full-time job, so if we select you, who’s going to be in Pune? And so I put out a call for co-founders and Aniket, his antennae were tuned. He received it, I think, through the Teach for India grapevine. And then he wrote in saying, I’ve tried to do the same thing and this is something that I really want to commit myself to doing. We met and I think within 15 minutes we just hit it off and I said, Aniket, if you’re willing to take this ball and run with it, I’m willing to fund it and support you to get this off the ground. And we shook on that and that’s all. We just went with it.

Darius Teter: From the very beginning, Aniket and Guns agreed that any solution had to be sustainable.

P R Ganapathy: It was almost an article of faith for me that scale can be achieved and lots of social problems can be addressed by thinking through a revenue model, by having financial sustainability built into the DNA of the organization. And so I think out of the box, we were thinking of a revenue model. We were thinking of financial sustainability. We were not thinking nonprofit, grant driven. We were always searching for a revenue model so that we can get financial sustainability at scale, not depend significantly on handouts or grants in the traditional nonprofit model.

Darius Teter: So began the quest to create a life-changing service that would connect millions of Indians to the right government programs while earning enough revenue to grow. If you’ve listened to our previous episodes, you know that strategies are based on assumptions. See if you can identify some of Haqdarshak’s early bets.

So let’s talk about that. What was the first iteration of Haqdarshak?

Aniket Doegar: So our initial thought, and the government also has hundreds and thousands of these last mileages … So what we thought is we should focus on building a product platform, what we would call a SaaS platform so that we would be asset light, we would be people light, and a very lean organization. So our entire platform approach was not thinking of the last customer, the last mile citizen. We had figured in the first six months itself that if you’ve built for the last-mile customer, we’ll have to burn through millions of dollars. And that, again, we didn’t want to do, we wanted to build it like a very value-based organization, not valuation based. So the first phase of Haqdarshak was all about reaching the government. The first step was primarily to think: let’s build a platform and the repository of government programs first, because we were very focused to see that the platform should be accurate more than anything.

Think of the eligibility criteria in government programs like a probability theorem, if-and-or conditions, right? So it’s simply if you belong to a caste and of this income or of this geography and so on and so on and so on. Essentially, you have these 220 concepts built into a library. So we built for accuracy back then. One of our core beliefs as the founding team, all of us, was that we may not be able to initially scale a lot, but we need to be absolutely accurate because we can’t give wrong information to the citizens. So that’s essentially what we were building for, for the first couple of years.

Darius Teter: Guns and Aniket prioritize accuracy over scale. Version 1.0 would be the ultimate database of government programs and their eligibility requirements. They assume that building a system to reach end users directly would be far too expensive and state governments seemed like a natural customer since they had a compelling interest in reaching their own populace with various social welfare programs. There was only one problem.

Aniket Doegar: We, without naming the governments, we reached out to four state governments and we got contracts. We got paid by one by the end of the year. Three never paid us.

Darius Teter: Boy, that’s like the classic story, isn’t it?

Aniket Doegar: So one realization immediately was that government is a great collaborator, but we cannot build a business on government paying us, because we will be dead before we start, and there’ll be no cash flow. So we said, okay, government is out for making money.

P R Ganapathy: I think this is an important lesson for social enterprises. You’ve got to remain flexible sometimes and see the way in which the market responds to what you want to do. And I think that’s what Aniket and his team have done. We went in with a certain notion of how we’d build the business and how the revenue model would work. And we had this elaborate Excel spreadsheet that had all the agents and how many schemes and therefore how much we’d done and what-not. But you know, obviously the market taught us something, and we pivoted quickly and built a revenue model.

Darius Teter: While the revenue model needed a reboot, there was plenty from Haqdarshak’s first strategy that made sense.

P R Ganapathy: I think what is beautiful about the way researchers at Haqdarshak went about this is, they sat down with people in government in their office and they asked them to explain the rules that are specified for processing a particular scheme. Our platform was absolutely perfect in the sense of: What does it take to actually get the benefit of this scheme? So we wanted to assure our participants, our beneficiaries, that if you go through and you have help in putting together your application, your application will be perfect in all regards — there’s no technical basis for it to be rejected. And that research was incredible because this information is not easily available. It’s not on some website, it’s not a standard circular that everybody refers to. So it was documents, it was scheme information, and it was the application process. All of these got digitized in the platform

Darius Teter: With their unique IP in hand. Aniket and Guns revised their strategy. This time they focused on getting a well-known flagship client.

Aniket Doegar: I would say every social enterprise in India has got support from one organization: Tata, the Tata Group. Interesting story: I met Tata Trust’s first person on 25th December, 2015, on Christmas Day in their office. This is before we set up officially registered as a company. I did about a hundred meetings with Tata’s team, a hundred meetings in 15 field locations. And on October 31st, 2016, I signed a contract with them. I used to hear “never a no but never a yes.” So I pursued them for about 10 months because I was very clear in the first year that if you get Tata in India, then I don’t need to prove a contract or credibility in India, because I just used to then say, “Tata, I’m working with Tata Trust.”

Darius Teter: But even with Tata’s endorsement, Haqdarshak still needed a business model that would provide consistent revenue.

P R Ganapathy: Now our assumption at that time was that the citizens would be willing to pay a small service fee because they’re getting a significant benefit from the government as a result of the work that we’re doing. But as Aniket will talk about in due course, I think that would prove to be a little harder than we had anticipated it to be.

Aniket Doegar: Our initial pilots of trying to get citizens to pay really didn’t work because the cost to customer acquisition, that getting them to pay a small fee, we had to offer discounts to them to initially popularize the service. Again, we realize that this will also mean that for the next 10 years we are raising extensive capital and then reaching a kind of a scale or market fit, which again, we didn’t want to pursue in this space. We needed an agent. That was very clear — that to reach these almost a billion people, we need agents in the middle who are using the platform.

Darius Teter: To understand what Aniket means by agent, you’ll need to know about India’s self-help groups of the 1990s. Can you just say a few words about the self-help movement in India? Because I think most of our listeners won’t know about it, but it really was kind of a seismic shift in how governments tried to reach people.

P R Ganapathy: Essentially, the idea was that communities come together and guarantee each other’s borrowing, and that then significantly improved the payment rates to where it was, you know, 98, 99 percent. These were typically women because their reliability, their credit-worthiness, their conscientiousness was significantly greater than the men, and therefore the credit risk was fairly low and people could lend small amounts of money that people could then put towards building a livelihood — setting up a tea shop or a small restaurant or buying a few cows.

Darius Teter: So you’ve got this infrastructure that’s already there and you’ve used the word “agent” many times. Tell us about developing the agent network for Haqdarshak.

Aniket Doegar: We got an opportunity via Acumen to do a quick study on the efficacy of women agents. And that’s how we had data to back the fact that women agents in rural India would be the best to take this information in last-mile delivery ahead because they are locally available, they are more literate in certain cases in rural areas, they can be trained digitally, and once they have a network of other women through the self-help groups where they can pass on this information and application much faster and any incremental learning through this that they will get, they will have enough proof points to show that they will use it for their family much better. They will use it for health care, for education, for the benefits for the children. So it had an added benefit.

Darius Teter: This development opened the door for a new revenue model.

Aniket Doegar: And that’s where our business model changed. So in 2018 this company came to us which had a large construction business and they said that we have these 2,000 construction workers near Delhi. We have been told by the government to get them access to basic two or three programs. We have tried for the last one year with three organizations, we’re not able to do this. We looked at it, we sent our team, and they said, How much time will you take? They were hoping, we’ll say six months, seven months. We got them all the benefits in 45 days because we had this bunch of researchers who had been eating, sleeping, drinking, coming the last years, that’s our IP. So that person at that company basically said, how did you do that? And then one thing led to the other and by the end of that year we’re working with 10 large companies.

Darius Teter: So how does the agent get paid?

Aniket Doegar: So for every worker, a corporate company would pay us, let’s say, $10, and out of that, $7 we would pass on to the agent, and that’s how it became like gig work. So the more they work, the more they earn. And sometimes, depending on the last-mile customer, we also charge them. So to give you an example, just before COVID, we also signed up with Uber in India, where Uber said that, I have these drivers and I want them, their children, access to social security, then access to pension programs, because they are not their employees. So they don’t have access to pension and health insurance from Uber. Uber paid part of the money. But Uber also said these drivers can pay on their own. All they need is information because they’re making. in India’s context, decent money. So we also started these hybrid models, like partly the corporate base, partly the customer base.

Darius Teter: Haqdarshak didn’t have unlimited time to perfect their new strategy, they had to put it into action. But by testing assumptions in the real world, they found that some of their potential weak points were actually strengths.

P R Ganapathy: The bane of the government office in India has always been the tout, what they call the dalal in the local language. The stereotype is this slick, oily, slightly unethical person who takes your bribe and knows how to work the government system and get you the things that you’re otherwise entitled to. Petty corruption is considered a big issue at the local level. And so our big worry when we started the organization was that, are we going to actually create an Uber tout? If the traditional tout had 10 schemes in his back pocket, we’ve now given 7,000 schemes, and it was a serious worry, and we built a lot of protections into the platform.

Aniket Doegar: I think in the first place, the agent who’s in the community itself, the first criteria is the agent has to be from that village. So we do not take anybody from outside that village, or the neighboring village at max. So she has a radius of not more than two miles.

Darius Teter: Wow. So that really is the last mile.

Aniket Doegar: Because she is from the community, we have very low cases of corrupt practices because we are the outsiders, she’s the insider, she can’t run away if she overcharges anyone or she over-promises and doesn’t deliver. They’re just going to stand outside the house and say, what happened to my benefit? So in that sense she was all in. Once you’ve trained an entrepreneur, she will work with our team to ensure this benefit happens.

P R Ganapathy: We had investors who didn’t invest in Haqdarshak and I’m sure they’re kicking themselves because they were worried about this aspect. But I think the clever way in which Aniket recruited local agents has meant that that has not been a problem at all. And so sometimes sitting in our ivory tower, we think about something and we think about problems and they sometimes may not be problems after all. I think that is another useful lesson.

Darius Teter: The new business model also provided some unexpected positive impacts.

Aniket Doegar: As of today, 70 of our women had won panchayat local elections.

P R Ganapathy: So the panchayat for you, Darius, is the village council, and that’s the form of local government in rural areas.

Aniket Doegar: Haqdarshak provided us a form of social capital because essentially you are this woman in the village. Rather than selling anything, you are giving people access to social security. You are this person who has more information than the locally elected representative of the village.

Darius Teter: That is super powerful.

Aniket Doegar: And that’s how by the end of 2017, we had part of the puzzle solved. Now that we had the platform, we had the back-end data of government schemes, we had this big one or two clients for our credibility, and we had also solved for the fact that we needed agents but we needed women agents and they are the ones for whom we need to now start building better platform solutions. So we were not building solutions for the end customer but building it for this woman entrepreneur, her app, her ease of doing work, so that she can, in turn, then guide the citizen who is digitally absolutely illiterate.

Darius Teter: Changing your strategy can create new opportunities, but with that comes risk.

P R Ganapathy: The challenge that most social enterprises face at some point in their journey is the tension between financial sustainability and mission and the risk of mission drift at that point. And I think we did face this two or three years in, where there was this temptation that we had this network of field agents and we could have gone the way of adding profitable financial products, insurance sales, things like that to the basket of goods that an agent carried and made the organization more financially viable. But it would’ve meant a significant mission drift away from our original focus.

Darius Teter: This is why it’s so important to have the right investors. As we’ve discussed on this show before, not all capital is created equal.

P R Ganapathy: My co-investors and I told Aniket that the only question we are going to be asking you is impact. Tell us how many lives you’ve impacted, how much you’ve delivered to them in terms of government benefits, how much are agents earning. Those were the numbers we were looking for. We all looked at our investment not in terms of expectation of a financial return. So I think it’s important to have investors like that. Investors who are focused on the mission, who really buy into what you’re trying to do and support you along the way.

Aniket Doegar: Subsequent to that, also, I remember one of the key things is where to say “no” to investment. I would’ve probably said a lot of times “no” to large family offices, some billionaires in India, and stuck to investors like Acumen and others who come with a very clear, professional, institutional kind of approach of long-term patient capital.

Darius Teter: Of course you can’t know which investors are mission aligned unless you are crystal clear on that mission yourself.

Aniket Doegar: I think in the first few years of an entrepreneur it’s very important to realize, what are you building? Like I said, we were very clear as a founding team, and then the executive team, that we want to create value. We don’t want to run after valuation and our rounds are also priced like that and our focus is always getting the right investor at the right time rather than running after this. And so that way, investor pressure has luckily never been on Haqdarshak that: When am I going to get a return? Why is this not happening? On return impact, like Guns mentioned is always our monthly [inaudible] is focused on how many people are we impacting at the same time. Of course there have been pressures from within, and from within the team sometimes: Oh, this is such a lucrative opportunity to start, let’s say, selling loans. Here we have a network: start doing trainings during COVID. We got an offer of about $2 million to set up a skilling institute. We contemplated, and said, do we want to be an organization which runs after capital and does everything? Or do we want to be a specialized social security organization and really build an institution which outlasts us? There is kind of probably, hopefully, teams who come in and grow Haqdarshak as an institution, and hopefully we become one of the first listed organizations in India as a social enterprise who started off as a social enterprise and things like that. So I think that comes a lot from the confidence that initial investors and groups and teams bring in — that moral check. That also happens. For me personally, I think it’s always being very clear that I want to build an organization which solves this problem in my lifetime. I don’t want to leave this problem when I’m not there and I still think this problem existed.

Darius Teter: Sometimes your assumptions change, but other times the world does.

Aniket Doegar: COVID became a game changer for us because pre-COVID, how the companies looked at this was, one, government mandate; second was branding; third was some form of retention. But they never thought of it as saving them bottom-line money. But COVID happened, and the first six months of lockdown you saw millions of Indian workers walking barefoot, hungry, people migrating back to the villages. By then we had connections with family offices in India directly, and they basically were shocked, because they said, “We do not know who is our worker. We do not know what their needs are, because it’s so far down the supply chain sometimes.” And that’s when they started actually providing somebody government health protection, government pension or food stamp kind of a food card in India. E-Shram card actually will save my business because then that worker is not migrating, then that worker is staying on, then that worker is vouching for this industry. And I think that really pivoted the idea in that year to these companies to say no, social security is just not about doing social good. It actually is really something that can help my business sustainably grow. Because if something like COVID happens again and my workers go back, it’s going to take me so much longer to get these workers back. And that’s where the industry struggled for such a long time.

Darius Teter: After COVID, Haqdarshak was in need of another strategic reboot.

Aniket Doegar: I think in 2021, 2022, last financial year, we also had one of the toughest years. We had the repercussions of COVID like every business. And we were absolutely negative in cash flow at one point. We had no money to pay salaries. We delayed salaries for our team for three to four months in certain cases. Again, for some reason we had single-digit attrition. People didn’t leave us, we never fired anyone, we never did layoffs. We also didn’t cut anyone’s salary. We just asked for time because we had this core belief in our business plan that we’ll turn things around. But that gave us a very clear insight that this business model alone will not work. We cannot depend just on corporates and cyclical business opportunities.

Darius Teter: True to form, that setback has driven the next iteration of Haqdarshak, potentially their biggest yet.

Aniket Doegar: And again we started investing the seed capital a lot in innovating and building this Yojana card platform.

Darius Teter: So what does a Yojana card do for you?

Aniket Doegar: So Yojana card, essentially, is a first-of-its-kind social security and financial inclusion card. So we realized that while we keep building for the agents, now is the time to shift to the end customer, right? So this Yojana card, in a simple sense, think of it like a loyalty card. The end farmer, worker, gets this Haqdarshak Yojana card with your name and everything. And so it’s a QR code, you tap it, if you have a smartphone, if not, through an OTP [one-time password], it can use it through one of our agent networks and it’ll show all your profile, your dashboard, what government programs you are eligible for, what government programs you’re not eligible for, how much benefit you have got, how much you’ve not got. And you can apply through that.

Darius Teter: So you’ve already done the questionnaire, the 40 questions, you’ve built your profile in your database, you know who these people are, you’ve told them what programs, and now it’s all available to them at the tap of a card.

Aniket Doegar: Absolutely. And we have signed up with one of the biggest global card players, which will be announced pretty soon, and that will become a financial inclusion card. So essentially you can also use that same Yojana card to pay for your bills, get your income, get your daily wage, track your savings, get savings products. So it’s a combination of social security and financial inclusion.

Darius Teter: That’s fascinating. I mean that’s amazing. So let’s say your Yojana card says that you qualify for these schemes and you are getting these financial benefits. Is the money from the government scheme digitally available to you on the Yojana card?

Aniket Doegar: Yes. As a farmer, I’ll tell you, you are eligible for these government benefits of a thousand rupees per month. And this benefit can come into the bank account linked to that card. So I can in one click not only apply for the benefit, get the benefit, and then using that amount, we want to push programs like savings because this segment doesn’t have enough savings programs. So how do you use that government benefit program to put part of it in a savings program, create a scorecard so that they can apply for low cost credit, get better health and life insurance programs, not only from the government but other sectors? And then that starts becoming a profile card because a social security score is not available in India. So how do you start creating with this card a social security score for these 900 million people who are not yet there in terms of their profile? Those things give us kind of the belief that we will reach a hundred. So a hundred million is just not a statement.

Darius Teter: Pivoting isn’t easy. What drives Aniket and Guns to keep innovating is the passion they have for their mission.

Darius Teter: What about the longer term impact? I mean„ if somebody is accessing a couple of hundred dollars a month in rural India, which they were not accessing before, I still feel like that could be life changing.

Aniket Doegar: Let’s say those millions of families who would’ve got a scholarship for their children and because of that being able to send someone to school. I mean that’s the reason somebody will get out of generational poverty.

Darius Teter: It’s the same passion that Aniket brought to his students all those years ago.

Aniket Doegar: I think teaching by far is the greatest leadership role you can take. It’s just absolutely day in and day out the most rewarding. It’s tougher, it’s very tough. But also at the end of the day, it’s something that teaches you patience. Like I taught my students in 2010 and like I mentioned, a couple of them are interns at Haqdarshak.

Darius Teter: Oh, that’s so cool. That’s so great.

Aniket Doegar: So I think it’s just rewarding. It just takes time, which teaches you patience.

Darius Teter: Today’s Haqdarshak looks much different than its first iteration. Some of the original assumptions that Guns and Aniket had made didn’t bear out. They’ve had to reset more than once, but they’ve listened to the market and each stage has built on the previous one. Their product developments have informed their revenue models and vice versa. Changing your strategy isn’t an admission of defeat. Nobody gets it 100 percent right on the first try. Pivoting is about adapting to changing markets and new opportunities. Some strategies won’t be viable when you’re just starting out. You may need more credibility or leverage or consumer awareness. Catering to end users with the Yojana card is only possible because of the foundation that Haqdarshak has built. And through it all, Guns and Aniket have stayed patient and kept a clear view of their mission. And that’s why today Haqdarshak is in a position to help 100 million people. Thank you to Aniket Doegar and Guns Ganapathy for sharing their journey.

This has been Grit & Growth from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I’m your host, Darius Teter. If you like this episode, follow us and leave a review on your favorite podcast app. Erika Amoako-Agyei and VeAnne Virgin researched and developed content for this episode. Kendra Gladych is our production coordinator and our executive producer is Tiffany Steeves, with writing and production from Andrew Ganem and sound design and mixing by Alex Bennett at Lower Street Media. Thanks for joining us. We’ll be back soon with another episode.

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