In The Turning Point today, we look at the path that Noida-based, a merchant-focussed fintech company, has traversed to become the complete merchant banking and lending company that it is today.
When it was founded in 1998 by Lokvir Kapoor, Pine Labs’ main focus was smartcard-based payment and loyalty solutions for the retail petroleum industry. Eleven years later, in 2009, it entered the world of mainstream payments, offering solutions to merchants and connecting them with banks and financial services providers. In 2012, the company launched payment solutions for large-format organised retailers.
Kush Mehra, Chief Business Officer and President, Pine Labs, tells YS, “We were never deterred by the poor infrastructure challenges existing then and made the most of the onset of organised retail in India, with the launch of payment solutions catering to large-format organised retail.”
Tackling operational problems
After entering the mainstream payments space in 2009, the company worked on enabling swift connections and better performance. Then it created a real-time online dashboard, wherein all transactions and settlements could be seen by logging into the bank’s portal. This helped in saving resources and time and reducing manual errors.
“This was the first phase—solving all operational problems, technology problems, creating more efficiency,” explains Kush.
Lokvir Kapoor, Founder, Pine Labs
Payment solutions provider to commerce partner
Once the base level of infrastructure was in place, Pine Labs was ready for more. Armed with the lessons learnt during the first phase, the company moved to the next phase.
“Our mindset moved from being a payment solutions provider to a commerce partner, and that was the second part of Pine Labs, when we started to pivot,” says Kush.
Meeting merchants’ needs
The turning point for Pine Labs came around 2012 when organised retail was still an under-penetrated industry. Merchants and retailers were facing a host of challenges. Pine Labs saw an opportunity to build a platform that solved their problems related to technology, payments, and data.
“We chalked out all the problems such as operational, technology, and finance, and offered all solutions in one platform,” says Kush.
In 2012, the company launched its first unified point-of-sale (PoS) platform using cloud technology to drive retail revenues and reduce costs. The first customers of the payment platform were Future Group and Shopper’s Stop.
Pine Labs partnered with banks and payment aggregators to make sure the PoS terminal could process all forms of digital payments to enhance the merchant-customer experience.
Since then, the company has expanded its offerings beyond merchant payments. It offers BNPL (buy now, pay later), invoice management, gifting solutions, and ecommerce solutions. Today, Pine Labs is a comprehensive platform that provides merchants with solutions for payments, risk assessment, multi-channel analytics, lending and insurance, brand offers, cashbacks, and integrated billing.
In 2021, the company launched a payment gateway, Plural, to help new-age direct-to-consumer brands accept digital and credit-linked payments.
“Our platform has evolved to address everything—banking, connected banking, lending, working capital, workflows such as employee salary and vendor payouts, online rural gateways, BNPL, and prepaid gift cards,” says Kush.
Acquisitions and funding
In 2021, the merchant-focussed fintech took its first steps towards consumer offerings with the acquisition of Singapore-based loyalty payments startup Fave and expanded into the Southeast Asia market.
In June 2022, Pine Labs acquired Bengaluru-based API (application programming interface) infrastructure startup Setu. This was the third acquisition by the company this year. The company had picked up a majority stake in payments solution provider Mosambee in April 2022 and Mumbai-based online payments startup Qfix in February.
“In the last one or two years, we have started integrating and acquiring … or doing very strategic acqui-hires, as we call them … companies which have very solid platforms to solve certain types of use cases and problems,” says Kush.
In 2021, the Sequoia-Capital-backed firm raised $600 million from US-based asset management firm Fidelity, Blackrock, and others, followed by a $100-million fundraise from US-based Invesco Developing Markets Fund.
“We will become the one and only platform for every kind of requirement that a business needs for it to be highly successful,” says Kush.
The company plans to go public in the US in the near future.