Startup Spotlight: interview with Mustafa Khanwala CEO of MishiPay

On a warm August afternoon in 2015, after having spent a long time in queue, Mustafa Khanwala came up with an idea for a payment system that provides a more seamless shopping experience and let shoppers spend less time queuing in stores.

Dubbed MishiPay, the system brings the best of the online shopping experience to the physical store so that both shoppers and retailers can make the best of both worlds. The innovative tech lets you simply scan the barcode of an item on your phone, pay on the phone and leave the store with your items, without ever having to queue at a checkout.

We had a chance to talk to Mustafa Khanwala about MishiPay and picked up the following insights.

Inspiration for starting MishiPay

“Like all the best ideas, inspiration came from a problem.” Khanwala explains. “The idea came when I went into a shop and had to queue for 20 minutes just to buy a can of coke. It got me thinking that there must be a solution that was more efficient for everyone, so I set about to build a prototype. Once I saw it working in reality, I decided to start a business and soon brought on my close friend, Tanvi Bhardwaj, who is an expert computer systems engineer, as Co-Founder and CTO.

How MishiPay works

“With the app, shoppers can scan barcodes on items to get all the details that they would normally get online and pay on the spot, without ever needing to go to a counter or waiting in any queue. They can just scan, pay and leave.

At the same time, it’s sustainable for retailers because the system incorporate RFID security that ensures that if somebody tries to walk out without paying, the sensors immediately react and the alarm goes off. So shoppers will save a lot of time and have a much better shopping experience.

From the retailer’s perspective, they provide their customers with an experience that is quicker and more convenient at a time when they’re facing greater competition than ever before. They free their staff up to focus on adding real value to customers through improved service, plus the retailer get much greater insight into their customers’ behaviour within their stores, something which has given online retailers a major competitive advantage in recent years.

Main competitors and how MishiPay stay ahead of the pack

The market for self-checkout applications in retail is very hot right now and so we have a lot of competition with different types of solutions trying to solve the same challenge, either via image recognition, mobile scanning, self-checkout handheld devices or other methods. MishiPay stays ahead of the pack by maintaining advantages in;

(i) Tech – with our ability to stop theft via RFID security that can turned off at the moment of purchase without need for any additional hardware, our web app which means the customer does not need to download any application and our staff dashboard which has real-time analytics and visibility of all in-store operations.

(ii) Integration – via our partners, who are some of the largest players in the retail ecosystem, such as Microsoft, Nedap, Cisco, BNP Paribas, Zebra, Avery Dennison and others, we are able to integrate much faster into retailers’ existing systems while being the best in terms of scalability and reliability.

(iii) Commercial – having deployed with some of the largest retailers in Europe, we have a commercial advantage of experience and credibility that is difficult to replicate and gives us a strong edge over our competitors as we are also able to anticipate the next required features for the market.

Biggest accomplishment MishiPay has had in the last year

In 2018 we launched Europe’s first cashier-less electronics store, in partnership with MediaMarktSaturn where we were the sole method of checkout and there were no cash registers at all. To see our technology live as the sole method of payment in the store of Europe’s biggest electronics retailer was fantastic.

The most important thing the team is working on right now, and how they are making it happen

The most important thing is that we are working on is getting more retailers to roll out MishiPay into their stores while collecting feedback and learning from the market to constantly iterate and improve our technology. Of course, to deliver this we need the best team on our side and so that’s something that stays at the top of our mind always.

Obstacles the company is working through

If you look at other technologies that have changed the way people shop, at first people are inevitably skeptical, but it doesn’t take long before the improved customer experience becomes the expected standard. Look at contactless card payments, for example – at first the customer response was “what’s the point of that” but just a few years later, millions of transactions are being done via contactless cards every day. We’re facing a similar obstacle – we’re a disruptive technology, so we face the challenge of changing existing and known customer behaviour. This is why it’s very important for us to find the right retail partners to start off with, as that will be a huge factor in determining our success towards this goal.

How MishiPay is getting word out about MishiPay to potential clients

We do lots of retail industry trade shows speaking events, and have also been fortunate to win several awards which have helped put us in the spotlight. Of course, the best way to spread the word is through satisfied clients and successful projects, which has proven to be the biggest driver for us thus far.

How the team sees the company changing over time

It’s very important for us to always be trending in the positive direction, whether that be in scalability, revenue, clients, or any other KPI. This eventually means that a lot of things which are natural and right to do as a small tech company need to transition into what’s needed for a medium tech company and then a larger one. Putting in such processes and standardisations, which are necessary, while maintaining an agile and lean approach is quite difficult but continuing on in the same way is fatal.

One example of a big change I personally saw was how we had to progress team roles and functions from more generalist to specialist roles and not everybody was able to or liked the transition.

A bit about the company culture

A team of ordinary people focused towards a single goal can achieve the extraordinary. We truly believe this and that’s why our culture is focused towards our core value and mission, which is that shopping in-store brings people joy and that by taking away the friction at checkout, we can ensure that the high-street survives this next phase of 21st century retail. Around this, a very important element for us is to make sure people are constantly learning, growing and continue to be inspired by what the company and the team as a whole are doing. It’s the best way we believe to build empathy towards the cause and the people you work with and that empathy leads to everybody going the extra mile every day in the pursuit of our mission.

If the company was sold today, what the tone of conversation would be like.

We have worked hard to make MishiPay a reality and it would be great to have someone value that building a strong team with this drive, passion and innovative mindset to work towards a vision of improving customer experience in retail, is an amazing journey and we would avoid losing that.

Plans for the company for the next five years

We see a seismic shift in retail where mobile self-checkout with MishiPay is the new default for in-store checkout. Much like how we no longer even think of putting our hand out for a taxi or calling one, we instinctively take out our phone.

On raising funds

We already successfully raised £1.85 million in a seed-funding round led by pan-European VC Nauta Capital and other institutions and super angels. Looking for financiers wasn’t an easy process – not necessarily because of a lack of options, but because we wanted to find partners who were the right fit and bought into the vision of what we are trying to achieve. Tech start-ups shouldn’t underestimate how important having the right funders can be, but also, shouldn’t fall into the trap of focusing on finance rather than their business.

What advice you would give to startups that are starting out?

Be persistent. You might have the best idea in the world, but that doesn’t mean you will become an overnight success. Even the most successful businesses in the world today have faced problems and challenges and at some point felt like they wouldn’t survive, what counts is the ability to learn and persevere through these hardships. To quote Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

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