by Swatee Jog
At first sight, Nithin Kamath, CEO of Zerodha, India’s first online trading platform, looks like any other techie, clad in a black Tee and jeans and with a relaxed, holiday vibe in his gait (he’s had a pit stop in Belagavi on his way to Goa).
As I meet him at his close friend Alpesh Jain’s home in Belagavi, Nithin, who, along with his brother Nikhil, stands at 90th place in the Forbes Richest Indians List with a net worth of a staggering $1.2 Billion (Nithin and his bother Nikhil are together worth around Rs. 24000 crores), makes it amply clear that the figures are just notional and there’s no real value to it.
Now how does Nithin Kamath feature on Allaboutbelgaum, you’d wonder, for Uday is a stickler when it comes to featuring Belagavi connections? Well, for the record, Nithin is married to a Belagavi girl!
Nithin and his younger brother Nikhil together started Zerodha in 2010. Nithin was always fascinated by stocks and trading, thanks to his Marwadi friends in Bangalore where he grew up. He started trading very early, at the age of 17 while in college and soon realized that this is what he wants to do. Nikhil, who’s 7 years younger, joined when he had just completed his 10th. He quit his BPO job in 2005 and borrowed money and literally blew it up. But people were impressed by his performance. Soon, he got clients who asked him to manage their portfolios. Nithin became sub-broker managing franchisee money at Bangalore. Alpesh’s association with Nithin dates back to those days.
He often says, and to me too, that there is a fine line between passion and foolishness. If you’re successful, it’s called passion, if not, it is deemed foolishness. Nithin had had a stint with a BPO and a finance company before he started Zerodha in 2010.
He joined the engineering college and dropped out because he was already heavily into trading by them. Although the brothers hail from a traditional family with no trading connections whatsoever and where education was considered important, they managed to build a unique company solely based on skills and gut instincts.
Back then, the norm everywhere was that the brokers charged a percentage of the value of the trade as brokerage. He thought that when the work required for the transaction remains the same irrespective of the value of trade, more so when the whole system was computerized, it made no sense to charge a percentage of the trade value from the customer.
Zerodha became a market disrupter because it charged a flat fee of Rs. 20 per trade to its customers. Starting out with just 10000 clients initially, Zerodha today boasts of a client base of 4 million. What differentiated Zerodha from others is that though it did not help in research and did not suggest buy or sell, it invested heavily in acquiring tech startups that aided its transactions. Nithin is the tech guy among the two brothers, while Nikhil is fully into trading.
Nithin admits he is not into socializing much, mostly busy with work and spends time with a close group of friends. He has ridden on his cycle from Bangalore to Belagavi, once. Kailash Nadh, the CTO, joined around 2013 and Nithin credits him for taking the tech plunge.
People are intrigued with the name Zerodha where there are Zero and Rodha in Sanskrit meaning barrier. So it literally means no barriers at all. He clarifies that in a market where people are bent to sell you something, Zerodha offers a platform to trade, it is heavily in education through Varsity (which is just behind Investopedia in terms of activities) and many such platforms. While Zerodha disrupted the market with its Rs. 20 per trade model, competitors soon started catching up. So Zerodha invested in technology and still remains a leader in providing platforms. It brought transparency in the capital market, by charging a flat fee, unlike other institutions that charge you a differential fee for different values. All 4 million of Zerodha’s customers are equally charged.
When you are into a business you love to do, the odds of succeeding increases, he says. He speaks about passion further, adding that when the company started out with around 100 employees, it was easier for Nithin to sit down and interact with everyone. As they grew (Zerodha today has around 1100 employees. Nithin comes across as extremely down to earth with absolutely no airs about being that ‘Billionnaire’, though he owns a couple of luxury cars.
If it was not the case with being featured in Forbes and Economic Times and the like, he could very well walk across Khade Bazar or Maruti Galli and no one would say here’s a guy worth a billion-plus dollars. Perhaps not letting success affect your core values and focusing on your business makes this happen. As he lounges at Alpesh’s cozy home, he’s soon set to join the friends for some hearty chat. Nithin would definitely be proud of his Belagavi connection, just the way Belagavi would feel for him!