If you have experienced the embarrassment of ripping of meal coupons from a booklet or having a merchant reject your coupons, resulting in you paying cash, then you are aware of the limitations of the current offerings of paper-based meal vouchers. Mumbai based startup Cinqo is looking to shake up this paper-based model with its digital offering. Cinqo offers an app and prepaid card for employees and a dashboard for corporates to manage the reimbursements and overcome the administrative challenges. Cinqo’s co-founder Ankush Gupta speaks to Networked India about the exciting journey of developing Cinqo and their unique offerings as well as the future of digital vouchers.
Networked India (NI): What are digital meal vouchers and how do they fundamentally differ from the usual paper meal vouchers?
Ankush Gupta (AG): Digital Meal Vouchers can be spent via a prepaid card or via mobile application using the bill upload feature. Since its digital, storing the digital vouchers requires no space, distribution of vouchers to employees can happen in one click. No admin hassle. No time being wasted. No money being wasted on logistics, courier etc. Eg: If a company has multiple outlets / offices, then paper based food vouchers will have to be couriered everywhere. Digital meal vouchers can be easily distributed using the CINQO dashboard.
NI: How is CINQO unique in its offering of digital meal vouchers?
AG: Cinqo aims to eliminate the administrative hassles for an employer. We initially launched as a digital meal voucher. But as we spoke to corporates on the ground, we realised there were looking for a solution that would help manage the entire range of their reimbursements which involves a lot of paperwork. So this led us to widen the scope to include all tax-free reimbursements like medical, travel, mobile expenses, etc. So we offer a way, a tool or dashboard to manage all of this.
CINQO offers a bouquet of services to companies. CINQO Employee Benefits and Tax Free Perquisites solution, CINQO Expense Management Solution & CINQO Salary Cards. Our unique value proposition for any company is to be able to issue tax free vouchers, gift cards, also redeem the exclusive deals – all through our one CINQO app. CINQO also allows expense management through the same dashboard.
NI: You also run PowerHouse Gym. How did the transition happen from fitness to a fintech startup?
AG: When we were running PowerHouse Gym, Sodexo approached us to and requested a cut for the tie up. This led us to get into details how it would work and we realised there are very few players in the space. So the idea initially struck me and I discussed it with Smeet and together we fleshed out the idea. However, there were barriers to entry like having a PPI license or partnering with a bank to get a PPI license and then building the whole product around it. So the process was also exciting. We approached Yes Bank before we partnered with DCB Bank.
We currently have tie ups with 8 companies. Many of them have moved to Cinqo from Sodexo or other prepaid cards. There are also benefits to moving from paper based products to a digital one.
NI: CINQO has a companion app for its digital meal vouchers. How does this work in conjunction with the vouchers themselves?
AG: CINQO app and prepaid card is completely linked and in sync. Transactions on either platform gets updated to the corresponding platform in real time. Users can use their vouchers via mobile app or via prepaid card.
Employees can track their card balance via the app. There is also an upload bill module which is useful in the case a merchant cannot or does not accept prepaid cards. So the employee can pay in cash and get a voucher or bill from the merchant which can be uploaded via the app and Cinqo will reimburse the employee.
NI: Give us a brief background into CINQO the company and its founders.
AG: CINQO is promoted by Ankush Gupta, founder of Mobox Labs Ltd. Mobox has been in the apps and games business since 2008. Ankush is a serial entrepreneur having started Powerhouse Gym in Mumbai in 2004. Today, Powerhouse has 18 locations across Mumbai being the largest gym chain in the city. Ankush has done his Masters in Information Systems and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.
Co-founder Smeet Modi’s expertise in key technical areas helps CINQO create a great interface to provide pure customer delight. He’s done his graduation from Rutgers University. He has previously worked at Motorola.
NI: How easy or challenging was the process of encouraging corporates to make the shift from paper to digital meal vouchers?
AG: Companies are quite frustrated with paper based food vouchers. Since CINQO is 100% RBI and Income Tax Compliant it is not very difficult to convince companies to adopt CINQO. We offer a dashboard to manage the administrative end of issuing vouchers which eases numerous hassles for corporates. There is also the challenge that employees face of a limited merchant network to redeem meal vouchers. Cinqo offers access to a wide merchant network.
NI: What about merchants and outlets where paper vouchers were already accepted? Any challenges here?
AG: Our open loop cards are powered by Visa. Hence any merchant accepting a POS machine will accept CINQO. Open loop cards work like any other Visa or Mastercard. The provider of the card, in this case Cinqo doesn’t need to have a tie up with the merchant. A closed loop card only works if the card provider has a tie up with the Merchant. The market is actually quite open.
NI: What in your opinion is the future of digital meal vouchers? Which other spheres of daily life can it enter?
AG: There is a bright future for digital vouchers. Sodexo itself claims to have a user base for meal vouchers of 15 lakhs. If digital vouchers became mainstream this could potentially grow to another 80 lakhs. I see adoption happening at all levels. This can happen across Meal vouchers, medical, travel, fuel and even Gift Cards.
NI: Tell us a bit about the future plans for CINQO?
AG: Immediate target is to get 100 clients in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. Cinqo will be using a reseller model to target the long tail of companies with 150 to 500 employees and gradually move our way up the hierarchy to target larger Corporates & MNCs. This includes resellers like tally distributors, CCTV camera distributors, HR software providers etc. We are also looking to tie-up with companies offering gift cards to enable employees to be involved in a more interactive way to utilise their gift cards.