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Uday Rathod on Fueling Growth in Competitive Industries


Uday Rathod is the Co-Founder and CEO of TOTL. In this role, they've shown an ability to constantly keep innovating and fueling growth within the business. Today, they share their insights with The Industry Leaders.


Could you give us a brief overview of your business and your role within the company, especially in relation to innovation?

As the CEO of TOTL (formerly known as ZNAP), my focus lies in comprehensively addressing company challenges while fostering innovation across all fronts. Innovation, to me, isn't just about product development; it's about infusing creativity into every aspect of our operations. Encouraging a culture of innovation is paramount, where every team member feels empowered to contribute ideas and solutions. Allocating resources specifically for research and development allows us to stay at the forefront of emerging technologies and consumer trends. Adaptability and agility are key; we aim to swiftly adapt to market changes and integrate feedback for continuous improvement.


Strategic partnerships and collaborations within the fintech and loyalty industries are avenues we continuously explore to drive innovation. TOTL has over 600+ partners, and by leveraging these partnerships, we create unique solutions that benefit both TOTL and our partners. Moreover, our innovation efforts are deeply rooted in understanding and addressing customer needs. By focusing on providing personalized, customer-centric solutions, we aim to enhance the overall experience for our users.


My role extends beyond daily operations; it's about setting the stage for an innovation-driven culture. Encouraging long-term vision ensures we're not just addressing immediate challenges but also preparing for future trends and needs. By championing these strategies, TOTL will continue to evolve, delivering innovative solutions and fostering customer loyalty in the competitive landscape of the UAE market.


What kind of innovations have you or your company brought to the industry, and how have these set you apart from the competition?

That’s an interesting question! But let’s first identify the norms of the industry – the cashback model is something that has been around since the 1980s. The same model flows across several businesses and apps even today. So how is TOTL different? – We have brought in a fun twist, innovating the traditional cashback model to fit a more sustainable approach that works for both, local businesses, and customers.


Companies generally issue cashback to retain users for their product, card, app, or website. Which simply means that the offer can be redeemed on a generic sale, or withdrawn by the user into their account or card. The amount given to users is therefore usually low. However, TOTL’s cashback model offers rewards for payments, that can ONLY be redeemed at the same store! This means that the word and work of Cashback has been innovated to do what it literally means. Helping local businesses issue Cashback to their customers (via TOTL), helping those customers use back the Cashback earned on their next visit to the same establishment. This is one of the many innovations that sets TOTL apart from its competitors.


Can you walk us through a specific instance where innovation played a key role in solving a business challenge or capturing a new opportunity?

Ironically, the COVID-19 Pandemic played a significant role in the development of TOTL. Before the pandemic, TOTL (then known as ZNAP), was thriving in the FMCG sector. However, when the chaos of the pandemic hit, we spotted a significant gap between local businesses and their customers. Recognizing this need, we chose to innovate around our Cashback model, creating a payment mechanism that bridged the gap.


This birthed the idea behind TOTL, our current platform, which became the solution, empowering businesses to retain and attract customers while ensuring consumers got maximum value for their spending. The pandemic became the catalyst for our pivot, allowing us to stand where we are today by addressing a crucial need during uncertain times.


How do you foster a culture of innovation within your team, and what strategies do you use to encourage creative thinking?

Creating a culture of innovation within our team revolves around understanding that innovation isn't just about doing things differently—it's about blending ideas to solve real problems. We foster this culture by valuing input from every corner. Flexibility is key; we stay adaptable in thinking, implementing, and listening to our customers and partners. Encouraging an open dialogue is crucial; we openly discuss roadblocks, welcoming diverse perspectives regardless of hierarchy or tenure. This approach acknowledges that no one person has all the answers; every individual's viewpoint matters.


We've learned that diverse viewpoints offer varied paths to solving a problem. It's akin to reaching the number 10: one may suggest 1x10, another 100-90, and yet another 1000/100—all valid paths to the same goal. The essence lies in finding the most effective solution for the current situation. This inclusive approach allows everyone to contribute without fear of rejection, spurring a culture where different perspectives fuel innovation.


Innovation often comes with its set of challenges. Could you share an example of a significant obstacle you faced while trying to innovate, and how you overcame it?

Innovation at the first go isn’t always perfect. Innovations are mostly solutions that we think are the right fit for a particular circumstance. Giving it a wide range of challenges to walk through before getting the desired outcome.


During an innovation phase, we encountered a challenge with initial solutions not meeting expected outcomes. One instance was developing a new app feature; despite thorough planning, user feedback highlighted usability issues. We swiftly pivoted, conducting further user testing and collaborating across teams to refine the feature. Iterative improvements based on user input allowed us to address concerns effectively. This experience emphasized the importance of user-centric design and iterative development, ultimately leading to a more successful and user-friendly app feature.


How do you measure the success of your innovation initiatives, and what role does customer feedback play in this process?

Measuring the success of innovation is challenging as it evolves from various sources within a company. Continuous forward movement signifies ongoing innovation, a momentary measure of success. However, nothing remains static; innovation demands constant adaptation to evolving situations, products, and people.


Customers are pivotal. Their feedback, whether positive or negative, and even their silence conveys crucial messages. Ignoring customer input stifles innovation. Customers change due to global shifts, and understanding their sentiments is paramount. Failing to heed their evolving needs stagnates innovation, reducing a company to mere existence. Innovation's success hinges on a company's responsiveness to ever-changing customer dynamics.


Looking ahead, what trends or areas of innovation do you think will be most crucial for businesses in your industry?

The future of payments holds immense potential for innovation, particularly in the convergence of AI, Blockchain, and payment systems. We're at the brink of a transformative era where marrying these technologies could revolutionize daily transactions. The synergy of AI and Blockchain within payment spaces remains largely untapped. Finding the optimal blend will reshape global payments.


The fusion of these technologies promises heightened security, efficiency, and transparency, elevating payment experiences worldwide. As these advancements mature, they'll undoubtedly redefine the landscape of financial transactions, offering a new paradigm for businesses and consumers alike.


What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in competitive industries who are looking to drive innovation within their businesses?

In competitive industries, simplicity and focus are key drivers for innovation. Prioritize your goals to maintain a clear vision. Open-mindedness is paramount; be receptive to change and new ideas without straying from your set path. Differentiate between courage and confidence—have the confidence to learn from missteps and the courage to persevere with unwavering belief in your goals.


Remember, innovation isn't always about immediate success. It's about experimenting persistently until you find the right formula. Embrace the process of trial and error, understanding that each attempt contributes to the ultimate solution. Stay resolute in your pursuit, adapting and learning along the way.


Your insights on innovation have been invaluable. For our audience who wants to stay updated with your innovative endeavors, where can they connect with you or follow your work?





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