Ahmed F. Karslı is the founder and CEO of Papara. He got his Bachelor of Law and is currently pursuing his LLM at Istanbul University. Ahmed is a serial entrepreneur, that build his first company at the age of 17.
He had his first exit at the age of 19 for +$1M and built numerous companies in a range of sectors, such as Telco, Retail, and Fintech. Frustrated by the unfair fee structure and the lack of transparency of the traditional banks, Ahmed is leading a team to disrupt the industry and help customers experience low cost/free financial services. He is also an avid reader and collector, bolstering more than 1000 antique books.
Ahmed has provided Everly.eu with an exclusive interview in which he shares the values that Papara is built upon.
As mentioned, Ahmed started entrepreneurship from the age of 17. He proposed to lead a Telco store that was about to declare bankruptcy. The problem with the store was that it was on a silent street. Ahmed asked for permission to open some kiosks which can be legally up to 500m from the shop. Ahmed then opened the kiosks on the coastline and allowed people to top up their mobile phones right there. With the same strategy, Ahmed ended up with three different stores which were at the end of the second year listed on top 10 telco stores.
“We did something very similar at the beginning of Papara. The strategy of Papara at first was acquiring unbanked people and provide banking services to them. It‘s always hard to acquire first customers. First, we didn‘t have the license for MasterCard or Visa so we didn‘t have any card products. But we went for a payment process that wasn‘t charging transaction fees unlike banks and although we were losing money on this we managed to acquire first customers,” says Ahmed.
But to get to the point of being listed on ‘Fintech100’, a list of most innovative companies by KPMG you can’t depend on kiosks. We asked Ahmed how did Papara manage to get where it currently is?
“Although we have about 4 million users, we spent almost nothing on marketing. I can say that instead of spending on marketing, we keep investing in the product all the time and try to provide the best experience to our users. I would say that if the value proposition is strong enough, you don‘t need any hardcore marketing. Some challenger banks offer great user experience but don‘t really provide a good value proposition. For example, we were the very first company in Turkey that allows you to send money 24/7 and for free.”
As Ahmed was previously doing business at Telcom we also had to ask him how did he even get to the finance sector and what gave him the idea of Papara?
“Before Papara I did not have any tech experience but I realized that people were willing to pay their bills in shops that were dedicated to paying bills for a fee just because they did not have a bank account. Later the authorities released the data, that about 63% of adults in Turkey were unbanked. So we really focused on providing banking for those people but we also focused on building a profitable customer base. This way we really have proven our value as we managed to hit the breakeven at the end of the first year. And this was mostly because the first goal we set was not to get as many users as possible but to acquire users that really matter.”
With many challenger banks offering various premium models we were curious about what is Ahmed’s take on this and asked if Papara is going to have any premium in the near future.
“We don‘t have a premium model and we are not planning it currently. We are trying to challenge the system where when you have a lower income you pay the fees to the bank whilst when you have a higher income, your bank won‘t charge you anything.”
“This is why we created a pricing model called „Robin Hood“ which works the opposite way, if you transact in a lower amount of money, you can be sure we won‘t charge you anything but if you exceed some thresholds we will start to charge you a small amount. It means that Papara is premium itself.”
User experience has been the key to many successful challengers and neo banks so far. What is the most important aspect of the UX from Ahmed’s point of view?
“First, you should be able to open a Papara account in seconds. On one side everything should be as quick and smooth as possible but on the other side, you have so many regulatory obligations. So keeping the balance is the most important thing. Also, we as neobanks want to appear „cooler than a bank” but there is a thin line between being cool and being a trustable brand.”
“So you need to pay attention to this in terms of the UX. For us, the most important thing is that our users have the best and the most seamless experience to send money. From the login to sending money it takes 3-4 clicks if use Papara, which is the best in Europe, I believe.”
Revolut is trying to build something that is called a “super-app” with all thinkable features combined in one app. What are the features that Papara is going to add to its portfolio?
“We call ourselves a “financial super-app” and act like a bank-as-a-marketplace. In few weeks we will be launching multicurrency accounts, currently, Papara accounts operate only in Turkish lira but in the near future, there will be an option of having a USD, Euro, and bitcoin account. This way it will be free to send foreign currency to anyone which is something really new in Turkey.” (At this point the multicurrency accounts are already live)
“Until the end of summer, we are planning to launch insurance products as many of our customers are asking for this. And till the end of the year, we are planning to launch investment products so our customers are free to invest in stocks. We have also already applied for a license in the EU so we plan to launch Papara in Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Netherlands which are the countries with considerable Turkish minority present. We are also checking options in the Middle East and North Africa right now.” Ahmed F. Karslı is the founder and CEO of Papara concludes the interview.