A man who needs no introduction, someone who is by far one of the most popular entrepreneur in the industry – Pramod Saxena is the founder of Oxigen Services.
Oxigen is known to be one of the pioneer firms in India to have started offering online payment solutions to customers from as early as 2004.
What makes it even more credible is the fact that the company is backed by two of the most reputed firms of their fields – Citi Group and now Microsoft Corp. US
Pramod holds more than 30 years of diversified working experience in the industries including – Chemicals & Fertilizers, Cement, Power, Iron & Steel, Textiles, Telecommunications, etc
And lastly, talking about his qualifications; Pramod has completed his Bachelors in Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (Roorkee).
The Early Beginnings…
Pramod belonged to a typical middle class background with absolutely no entrepreneurial background, where his father was a government servant working with the Indian Railways as a Clerk. But Pramod being the different one, always since his youth days dreamt of becoming a businessman one day.
Now in his whole career of 30 years, obviously he has seen and been through almost everything and it would take more than a book to fit in his complete story, so instead of starting from the very beginning, let’s begin with his days at Essar.
So in 1989, Pramod got appointed as the CEO of the Telecom Business of the Essar group.
During this 9 year stint, Pramod was responsible for managing the group’s entry into the Telecom industry with their GSM mobile networks in Delhi and many northern states.
He was also an integral part of the BPL takeover and the Essar-Hutch Joint Venture which was considered to be of huge strategic importance for their business growth.
In 1998, Pramod got the opportunity to move in with Motorola as their new Asia-Pacific President, to manage their Infrastructure Business under Global Telecom Solution Sector.
As Motorola chief, he drew a salary of approximately $500k per annum, and was known to be among the highest paid executives in India as well.
He successfully managed to transform the company into the No.1 GSM infrastructure supplier and grew it by 400% by 2004.
Six years later in 2004, he decided to quit the company and his own project. He also received a list of highly lucrative offers from big corporate groups as well, but he decided to go otherwise and started Oxigen Services.
Let’s tell you about this interesting story…
The Entrepreneurial Journey Since Oxigen…!
To begin with; Oxigen was not the first venture that Pramod had launched!
This was just before he joined Essar Group. He was working for DCM Group (for a short period), when he was presented with an opportunity.
Even though he held only 10 years of work experience, some unknown NRI Group wanted to set up business in India and had asked him for his help. This is when he decided to leave his secure and stable job, and took the leap.
Now although he left the NRI group when banks raised some doubts on their Source of Funding, but this gave him a brilliant idea.
He decided to start his own consulting firm, which scaled rapidly, and by 1987-88 he was sailing with several contracts from big corporate.
During this phase, Essar (which was not a big group then) had contacted him for some project. They loved his work so much that, after working as a consultant, he was asked to join the group in 1989. And the rest is history!
TRIVIA: – Pramod had also worked for Essar as an advisor, between the gap when he had left Motorola and was launching Oxigen.
Moving on, so how did it all happen?
Well, since he had worked at the management positions of many reputed companies during his recent past, he had deeply been exposed to the entrepreneurial elements of business.
To add to that; Pramod was widely known as the pioneer of mobile telephony in India in the telecom industry, and had successfully managed to build one of the first cellular networks in India from the scratch.
Now his experience in the telecom arena got him to thinking that this industry held immense potential and there were many great opportunities which were yet to be unveiled.
Since in the services the real challenge is to make payments, he wanted to create a platform that could offer single point payment mechanism for all telecom services and other sectors.
They went on to create a business model that could help retailers reduce capital and hassle of working with multiple service providers. And since Telecom was the only space that had prepaid environment at that time, it seemed perfect according to their plans.
The last nail in the coffin was when one of his close friend’s father who had met some South African entrepreneurs named Brett Levy and Michael Levy(promoters of Blue Label Telecoms) in a cruise, were introduced to Pramod.
Having said that; in 2004, with a seed capital of Rs. 4 crores Oxigen Services began!
Oxigen Services was a JV with the Prepaid Company of South Africa, and with a team of 7-8 people, Oxigen was started in a small two room apartment at Safdarjang Enclave. The company is currently owned 36% each by Microsoft Corp US and Blue Label Telecom, South Africa.
Now to build an infrastructure, it is of utmost importance that one has a near-to-exact financial plan penned down and accordingly financial back up ready. Other than that, they must also be prepared with a strong workforce.
Always, in the beginning of any given venture, everything is tough, simply because that phase requires a lot of understanding, patience, sharpness, education and experience. The company too faced similar challenges, in addition to dealing with small retailers, shops and make them understand the concept.
Initially, the company also faced their first yet stern resistance from operators. They were doing marketing through their own distribution channels and weren’t so appreciative towards a neutral platform like that of Oxigen for business. But with time, that challenge too phased out and acceptance stepped in.
In a span of six months, Oxigen from a team of less than 10 people, added more 10-20 employees to it and within a year the company became India’s largest prepaid company.
In 2006, Oxigen (49%) set up a Joint Venture with Chorus Call Inc. USA (51%). Chorus Call is known to be a leading international audio/video conferencing services provider across many countries of the world.
With the help Chorus Call, Oxigen began offering conferencing services to leading Indian and Multinational companies across the country.
To help Oxigen grow stably, Citibank Venture Capital International, made investments in the company in 2006, which was followed by a strategic business & equity alliance with Microsoft Corporation in 2008. Collectively, Oxigen received around a whooping $50 Million in investment.
And since then there has been no looking back for the firm!
In 2010, Oxigen and United Villages Inc. USA came together to assist small rural retailers to order their supplies through a mobile phone application and receive their ordered supplies at the door steps, by the name of United Villages India.
In the same year, Pramod also founded “Green Grameen Microfinance Foundation”. The foundation was an initiative started in a rural region of Rajasthan to provide financial inclusion to unbanked / underserved people of rural India.
Additionally, rural kiosk banking was also launched to offer micro loans and other basic needs such as micro insurance for the benefit of rural poor. Later, many other services were also initiated along with the help of Kiran Foundation to fulfil the most essential needs of the rural poor.
In 2013, the company by way of demerger (from Oxigen Services) created “MPower Softcomm”. MPower is a software and technology solution provider offering IT management and support services which includes O&M to Oxigen, other telecom companies, Banks and other payment solution providers.
The company that had started from scratch, by 2014 had reached to a point where they had 600 people directly employed by them and had a direct or indirect engagement of more than 5,000 people.
In the same year, the company also launched Oxigen USA Inc to provide payment and transfer of fund services for Indian residents in the US, Canada, UK and Europe, to help them with paying for services like for airtime, bill payments, travel, gifts, etc.
Presently, it is led by an accomplished entrepreneur, Amir Alexander Hasson (MIT Sloan Graduate).
With the first $50 Million (out of the total $200 Million) coming in by the year end, the company is looking to transform itself into a payment bank and step up its mobile wallet offerings.
Additionally, it is seen that the new government is also very keen to promote financial inclusion to the rural population. And since the rural population do not have bank accounts; direct benefits, payment and subsidies, pension payments, etc are in pipeline to go electronic. Hence, it only made more sense for them to open a Wallet Account.
This virtual wallet of theirs was named “OxiCash”.
Now in these beginning days the company has developed a mobile wallet for SBI and also supports the bank with their mobile banking, internet banking and phone app with service feed. Other than SBI, the company also provides this service to ICICI, State Bank of India, Citi bank, and HDFC banks.
More recently, the company has also approached the Reserve Bank of India for a “Payments Bank” licence as well.
Oxigen Services, in one of its most ambitious innovations has recently also introduced the ‘Super PoS‘. This device has initially been launched to upgrade the network of 2,00,000 locations that assist the ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’.
This is the world’s first Point of Sale device (PoS) that brings three industries – Financial Inclusion industry, Card Payments industry and Recharge / Bill Pay industry, all under one platform.
The device supports various services like Bill Payments and Recharge Services, Money Transfer, eKYC- for bank account, Insurance and Mutual funds services, Financial Inclusion, Merchant Payments and Mobile Payments, etc and a lot more.
With 1.3 million Jan Dhan Accounts and a annual gross transactional value of Rs. 10,000 crores, Oxigen PoS currently caters to 150 million customers and 600 million transactions annually.
Lastly, with such huge developments the company is also aggressively expanding its employee base across functions such as technology, marketing, business development, design, customer care and operations.
The company today holds the largest retail footprint of small retail outlets which crosses 2,00,000 in numbers, and sees more than 50 million plus transaction every month.
The business which was initially built to service the nations Telecom/DTH Operators, Multiple Services, Providers and Banks, to provide easy access to pay for services, today has expanded its reach to adding many other services as well.
- Awarded with Gold for Best Money Transfer Programme (2015)
- Received the Skoch Financial Inclusion & Deepening Award (2015)
- Received the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) Award (2015)
- Won the NetApp Innovation Award (2012)