From Ezetap to WhatsApp: The story of a founder’s exit

In what is already a tumultuous journey, founders leaving the companies they started are events that inevitably shake up startups. And the reason they choose to leave also says a lot about the state of the company. Based on why a founder chooses to go, one could say he or she pulled:

Guilty of misconduct

A ‘Travis Kalanick’ or a ‘Binny Bansal’: When a founder has been found guilty of misconduct as in the case of the Uber CEO or the Flipkart CEO

or

A ‘Jack Dorsey’: For non-performance, like when the Twitter CEO was fired in 2008 for spending too much time on his hobbies (he re-joined the company three years later as executive chairman) rather than running the company

or

An ‘Elizabeth Holmes’: A founder whose string of lies and web of fraud gets discovered, leading to their resignation, much like the Theranos CEO.

or

A ‘Rahul Yadav’: For all the time’s founders have had to leave after a conflict with their co-founders or board, much like the housing.com CEO.

While Abhijit Bose’s exit is unlike any of these tabloid-friendly examples, it is unusual, minus the drama. An ‘Abhijit Bose’ would work for when a founder leaves his company—one which still has a lot of growing to do, one that has raised $51 million in venture capital money—for an important position at a top multinational.

In most scenarios, companies have a sense of what is about to come. A growing pile of complaints, flurry of notices and inspections, or just simmering resentment. But that didn’t happen with Bose, the co-founder, and CEO of Ezetap, an offline digital payments company.

Defining the capitals

Over the course of four rounds, Ezetap has brought onboard seven venture capitalists, including blue-blooded investors like Chamath Palihapitiya of Social Capital, Prime Venture Partners, who were early backers of the company, and most recently, Jonathan Soros-owned JS Capital.

It is not common for a founder to even consider going for a job interview. “It is a one-off event. There is no playbook for something like this,” admits Sanjay Swamy, who wears the dual hat of not only being the co-founder of Ezetap, but also the co-founder of investor Prime Venture Partners. The unusual event of Bose’s exit has only one explanation. That it was WhatsApp that was calling. As Bose puts it, “When WhatsApp says let’s just meet, you meet.”

WhatsApp > Ezetap

WhatsApp directly approached Bose. The Facebook-owned messaging app had created the India head post in April 2018, at a time when the messaging app was facing pressure from the government to act, following a spate of mob lynchings that were fuelled by texts on the messaging app.

Amit Lakhotia, former vice president at Indonesian online marketplace Tokopedia, and Kunal Shah, former founder of wallet company Freecharge, were approached for the position. It also assigned a global executive search firm, Egon Zehnder, to scour for other executives.

These executives would have little to do with controlling the product. What WhatsApp was looking for ways to get someone to start ringing the cash registers. It wanted someone who could monetize the millions of users on its platform. By building the payments platform, the ad network and integrating with more enterprises to scale WhatsApp for Business.

“WhatsApp wants to immediately monetize Business. It wants to do this by replacing SMS-es with WhatsApp texts. For every business transaction you get about 4-5 SMS-es, if those are, instead, sent over WhatsApp, it is easy monetization,” says a senior executive who attended the interview. He also added that he did not get a sense that India will have a say in how the Facebook-owned messaging app will have control of the product. “Fake news needs control of the product. India will most likely not have control of the product,” he said.