Nikhil Kumar: BHIM's star, now building fintech bridges

Nikhil Kumar has created APIs for Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and led the team that built BHIM. His platform, Setu, helps connect companies to financial services providers

Salil Panchal
Published: Feb 12, 2020 10:17:04 AM IST
Updated: Feb 12, 2020 11:59:03 AM IST

Life is not a template and neither is mine. Like several who have worked as journalists, I am a generalist in my over two decade experience across print, global news wires and dotcom firms. But there has been one underlying theme in each phase; life gave me the chance to observe and tell a story -- from early days tracking a securities scam to terror attacks and some of India's most significant court trials. Besides writing, I have jumped fences to become an entrepreneur, as an investment advisor -- and also taught the finer aspects of business journalism to young minds. At Forbes India, I also keep an eye on some of its proprietary specials like the Rich list, GenNext and Celebrity lists. An alumnus of Xavier Institute of Communications and H.R College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai, I have worked for organisations such as Agence France-Presse, Business Standard, The Financial Express and The Times of India prior to this.

Nikhil Kumar: BHIM's star, now building fintech bridgesImage: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes India

Nikhil Kumar | 29
Co-founder, Setu

The experience of technology experts working with the government has invariably been tense. But for Nikhil Kumar, an engineer working in the technology space, who has developed application programme interfaces (APIs) for India’s ambitious Unified Payments Interface (UPI), it has been an enriching experience. “[Working with the government] is not so difficult,” he says. “Your credibility depends on your delivery [of performance].” 

Kumar, who hails from Karnataka and a family of engineers, was invited by the ministry of finance to organise a workshop of the Goods and Services Tax Network, after being a volunteer at think tank iSPIRT Foundation, which had unveiled IndiaStack—a set of APIs such as Aadhaar authentication, UPI, eKYC, DigiLocker and eSign.

The workshop, which was held in January 2016, was a resounding success. Kumar was then introduced to Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, who wanted someone to organise a similar hackathon and workshop to launch UPI a month later. Kumar successfully organised that as well.
By the end of 2016, post demonetisation, Kumar led the team to create the BHIM app, which was conceived so that UPI could be better adopted. BHIM witnessed 10 million downloads in 10 days.

Kumar met another developer, Sahil Kini, at iSPIRT and in August 2018, they jointly set up Setu, a platform that helps connect companies (which want to serve end customers) to financial services companies so that they can create and build digital financial products across sectors. Setu raised $3.5 million from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Bharat Innovation Fund in April 2019.

Sharad Sharma, co-founder, iSPIRT, says, “The game of entrepreneurship has changed substantially and players have to change. Founders have to be immersed in two messinesses; the messiness of the problem and that of the new infrastructure. Nikhil stands out—by his nature and background… he can tackle both.”

See the full Forbes India 30 Under 30 list for 2020 here

When asked what he sees himself doing a decade down the line, Kumar says, “I would prefer to work at the PMO.” This is because he believes that software and technology can have a societal impact.

Nikhil Kumar: BHIM's star, now building fintech bridges

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(This story appears in the 14 February, 2020 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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