Rajith Shaji: The Persistent Founder

Rajith has the natural gift of making people feel at ease. But we’re not going to lie; this conversation was different. To make it happen, we stretched over three continents: North America, Europe, and Asia. While it was late at night in Vancouver, it was early morning in Rotterdam and noon in Singapore. However, Rajith injected the conversation with good vibes from the first second, making us feel awake and inspired. It was the perfect way to start and end our day!

antler

Author

Antler

The investor backing the world's most driven founders, from day zero to greatness. Enabling thousands of founders every year to launch and scale companies that move the world forward.

What matters is not what you build but whether your customers love it.

Rajith has the natural gift of making people feel at ease. But we're not going to lie; this conversation was different. To make it happen, we stretched over three continents: North America, Europe, and Asia. While it was late at night in Vancouver, it was early morning in Rotterdam and noon in Singapore. However, Rajith injected the conversation with good vibes from the first second, making us feel awake and inspired. It was the perfect way to start and end our day!

Rajith is the co-founder and CEO of Volopay, a Singaporean-based startup building a financial control center for businesses. Rajith founded the company while at Antler, scaled it during Y Combinator, and took it to the next level after raising $2.1M in seed capital. Their vision: to help businesses control spending and organize financial transactions for better visibility and savings. But, it was not always a clear road ahead for Rajith, and his journey is truly one of being persistent and believing that anything is possible.

But that is only one part of the story.

At Venture Insider, we strive to undress the ups and downs, the late nights, the early mornings, the failures, and the victories.

In a few words: we want to share the real stories.

Join our newsletter if you want to get these stories straight in your mailbox üöÄ

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What did you dream of when you were a kid?

I've always been fascinated by space. I grew up in a tiny village in India, and every night I stared at the sky filled with glittering stars. I spent countless nights sleeping on the roof (laughs). Naturally, my dream was to become an astronaut. However, everything changed when I got my hands on a computer for the first time. I started spending all my time creating websites, and my dream quickly changed into becoming a computer guy.

A photograph of Raijith Shaji, co-founder and CEO of Volopay as a child
Rajith as a kid

Where did your passion for computers lead you?

It was pretty hard to get your hands on a computer back then. My dad took me to his office every weekend to let me play with all the machines there. After a couple of years, and as the technology became more affordable, we finally got one at home. That made me pursue a degree in computer sciences.

A photograph of Raijith Shaji, co-founder and CEO of Volopay as a teenager playing a computer game
Rajith playing one of his favourite games

However, as I was pursuing my University degree, my motivation plummeted. I didn't enjoy the way they taught the course, and the competition was brutal. Luckily, I got hooked on e-sports, which ended up catapulting my entrepreneurial journey forward. I actually met the co-founder of my first company while playing DOTA. It was an exciting period of my life.

What happened after graduation?

I got a job at one of the biggest companies in India, TCS. I wasn't particularly excited about it, and I kept on continuously brainstorming ideas with a good friend. I also began teaching myself Photoshop and all-things digital marketing.

We both wanted to start a company, so we would build websites every evening after work. After a couple of months, we convinced a hotel to give us a shot. We created a booking platform for them, and suddenly, we received tons of customers. It was an “oh sh*t” moment, and we both quit our job the following week.

This was the time you started your first company?

Yes, and luckily my parents were very supportive. We started the company in Bangalore, and we had no clue on how to make money. But we were very good at making websites, so we went full steam ahead, and after a while, more and more clients came on board. This was the start of my entrepreneurial journey.

What were the main lessons from this first founder experience?

Interestingly, 95% of all products fail. Therefore, what matters is not what you build but whether your customers love it. That was by far my biggest takeaway.

What happened after your time building the agency?

After working for a couple of years at the agency, I felt like I needed to experience something bigger. I wanted to be part of a fast-growing organization, and see what it takes to build something that impacts millions of people. I managed to land a couple of cool startup positions in FinTech companies in Bangalore, Hong Kong and Singapore. There, I learned all the ins and outs of the industry, and I loved it.

Volopay. Can you provide us with the aha moment and how everything started?

I travelled a lot for business, and I had to sit and file all my business expenses manually at the end of the month. It used to take me a couple of days as I did not have a corporate business card, which was very frustrating.

I investigated the problem deeper and realized it was complicated to issue corporate cards. I created a website with a description, and as soon as it was live, a lot of people reached out asking for the product. The only problem was: I had not built it yet (laughs).

My co-founder Rajesh and I worked at the same company. So, one day I showed him that website, and the next thing we knew, we were working late hours on actually making it live and building an entire product around it.

A photograph of Raijith Shaji and Rajesh, co-founders of Volopay in the early days of their startup
Rajith and Rajesh building Volopay in the early days

What problem does Volopay solve, and what's the vision of the company?

We started solving one niched problem: employee credit cards. But, after speaking to hundreds of finance people, we saw other pain points, such as international payments and accounting. Volopay is a system that solves almost all the financial operational problems of modern business, such as accessing credit, Global payouts, domestic payouts, and pretty much everything in between. The vision of the company is to build a robust financial ecosystem for every company in the world.

An image of a meeting featuring Raijith Shaji, co-founder and CEO of Volopay and his team during a team meeting
A glimpse into a meeting at Volopay

How were the early days of the company?

Just the two of us building the entire platform from end to end in the early days was too taxing. While I worked on the product design, he single-handedly took care of the tech side. That's how we built Volopay in India.

The most challenging part was getting visas to Singapore. Rajesh and I applied many times, and it always came back with a rejection. It was by far the hardest time of our lives. We had this fantastic product, but nothing mattered unless we got to Singapore.

It was not easy at all, I felt very vulnerable. But we learned that it is important to have faith in your vision and not let anything deter it.

One day, I heard about Antler, and their entrepreneurial program. If we managed to get in, we would receive visas. It was the biggest aha moment ever, and we immediately got in touch with them. Luckily, they saw something special in us, gave us visas, and funded our seed round.

It was one of the best moments of my life, and if it weren't for Antler, we would have most likely given up on our dream.

An image taken by Raijith Shaji, co-founder and CEO of Volopay, on his first day in Singapore
Rajith’s first days in Singapore.

Then, you also got into Y-Combinator. What was special about your application, and how was the experience?

What they liked about our application was that we had spoken to hundreds of people. We had unique market insights about all the pain points of the industry. We strongly emphasized that we were the right founding team to solve the problem, and by being honest and transparent, we got in. Note that we did not know anyone at YC, nor did we have a network of founders.

Image of small flat with notes stuck to walls
The small flat where they attended the remote batch of YC.

The program itself was very challenging, primarily because of the 15 hours difference between Asia and San Francisco. We were also the first remote batch and one of the few companies located in Singapore. Yet, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to us. The fact that we didn't have to be there in person saved us tons of money and allowed us to be close to our customers.

I'm not going to lie, the sessions being around 2–3 am, we didn't sleep much (laughs).

What are your main takeaways from the program?

The biggest takeaway was the power of the YC-founders network. It is very strong, and you get access to the most intelligent and most driven folks in the world, period. Everyone also pushes you to become a better version of yourself, keeping you constantly on edge. In short, YC is a pressure cooker environment but in a good way.

How did you convince the co-founder of Tinder to invest in Volopay? How was that conversation?

Justin had already invested in a couple of similar companies. I didn't have to convince him, as he understood what we were building straight away. It was a funny conversation, and it only lasted only for a couple of minutes (laughs).

Singapore. What made you start your company there?

I wanted to test my idea in a small and controlled environment, and I didn't want to repeat the mistakes that I had made in the past. It's also ten times less complex and risky to start a company here than in India. When it comes to starting a company, Singapore is extremely facilitating.

If you're serious about launching your own venture you should consider moving here.

If you could change one thing in your journey, what would it be?

Starting my agency was probably not the wisest of the decisions. I had to figure everything out by myself. Instead, I could have joined an interesting startup earlier on, met great folks, and networked a lot more. The best advice I could give is to get your foot in the entrepreneurial ecosystem as soon as possible.

Image of Rajith CEO of Voloplay enjoying the snowy mountain life
Rajith enjoying the mountain life

How did you manage to overcome it?

I kept myself motivated by keeping in mind that my backup plan was not that bad, even if it felt like it at the time. Also, I stopped comparing myself to others. I had to block all the noise about which companies raised money and what our competitors were doing. As soon as I stopped caring, I felt much better.

What would you do if you only had 30 days to live?

It's a tricky question (laughs). I would go back and thank a lot of people for having been there during my journey. I owe my friends, colleagues and family a lot, and I would be grateful for the next 30 days.

Do you have an inspiring figure?

My grandfather. He was an entrepreneur and started a lot of cool things. He is my biggest inspiration, and one of the main reasons why I am a founder today.

A newsletter we should follow?

Not boring by Packy McCormick

If you were to start another company today, what would be your one-billion-dollar idea?

There are a lot of cool things still to be built in the gaming industry. I would personally look at the emergence of the metaverse and NFTs.

Inspiring story Rajith, thank you very much.

Photo of Voloplay CEO Rajith and his co-founder Rajesh Raikwar
Rajith and his co-founder Rajesh Raikwar

The last few words

Venture Insider would love to hear your voice.

You can be a part of the change.

We strongly believe that everyone has a story to be shared and that there is invariably something to learn from everyone.

If you are on a mission and want to be heard, get in touch with us to get your story featured to a bigger audience.

Join our newsletter if you want to get these stories straight in your mailbox üöÄ

Read more Founder Stories here.

Antler enables exceptional people to create exceptional companies. If you want to become a startup founder, find the perfect co-founder and create impactful companies to shape the future, apply now and begin your Antler journey.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest news and views from Antler’s global community

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Must-read articles from Antler

Browse our collection of founder stories, industry insights and latest startup successes from Antler Australia

See articles
Insights
5 min read
The 2022 Benelux Unicorn Founder Roadmap: How to build unicorns in Benelux

As everyone anticipates the next wave of ultra-successful companies in Benelux, what does it take to get there? What do the successful founders of Benelux unicorns look like? This report is an in-depth look at the Benelux startup ecosystem and its brightest stars. And above all, it is for anyone who is helping build the next 50 unicorns in Benelux.

Insights
5 min read
The Angle: Why the long-term view is the hard but right one

The Angle is a new content series from Antler, featuring perspectives from our team members on the biggest events and trends impacting founders and early-stage investors today. Every article is that person's unique angle on a hot topic—what they see from their vantage point in one of our 25 offices around the globe—not Antler's stance. In our first edition, Jeff Becker draws lessons from the demise of FTX and turbulent tech moments in recent years. This article first appeared in Jeff's Monday Morning Meeting on Substack.

Founder Stories
5 min read
Jamie Bubb: The tech marketing venture developer connecting brands and content creators

Our new content series—"It All Starts with People"—delves into the passions, motivations, and vision of the exceptional founders we have the privilege of partnering wtih around the world. In our second spotlight, we sat down with Jamie Bubb, co-founder of Twirl, a remote content studio powered by top-quality creators that helps brands scale their content engines rapidly and cost-effectively.

Insights
5 min read
Venture investing in the downturn

We are living two simultaneous realities: the uncertainty of the current downturn and the unstoppable wave of innovation disrupting every industry. Against this backdrop, Antler's Kevin Brennan shares perspectives on assessing your position in venture capital for the rest of 2022 and into 2023. Might 2023 be the best vintage for the coming decade?

Founder Stories
5 min read
Emilia Theye: The psychologist using AI to democratize access to mental health solutions

Antler was founded on the belief that people innovating is the key to building a better future. To honor them, we are launching a new content series—”It All Starts with People”—spotlighting the exceptional founders we have the privilege of partnering with around the world. Each story is a window into their passions, motivations, and vision—the reasons they are building and the positive dent they are aiming to make on the world.

In our first spotlight, we sat down with Emilia Theye, the co-founder of clare&me—a mental health app that uses language-based AI to develop an innovative approach to virtual self-help.

News
5 min read
Backing founders from day zero to greatness

Today we are sharing our new brand that reflects that commitment and the reason Antler exists: to stand behind our founders from day zero and to keep backing them on their paths to greatness.

Founder Stories
5 min read
Seven ways founders can prioritize mental well-being as they build

Founders are the life force of the startup ecosystem. They give their all, betting on their seemingly “crazy” convictions and executing on abstract ideas that can potentially make our lives and work easier, faster, healthier, and better optimized.

But sometimes they do this to the detriment of their health. Being a founder means being beholden to customers, employees, and investors while balancing personal life. Often founders trade their stable, well-paying jobs to prioritize the restless inquisitivity of their mind. In the quest to answer the question “what if?”, they sometimes sacrifice their mental and physical health, only realizing the effects on their state of mind once they have impacted their ability to function as a leader. We have also seen how the mental pressure on founders can cause distress to those who depend on them for their livelihood and direction.

Insights
5 min read
A fresh take on early-stage VC: Harvard Business School publishes a case study on Antler

Harvard Business School (HBS) recently published a case study about Antler’s fresh approach to early-stage venture capital. Antler Co-Founder Fridtjof Berge shares thoughts on how the case sparks discussion about the best ways to identify and support great people anywhere on earth.