Meet Arjun Agarwal, founder of FinTech Inaam

By Indira Laisram
Arjun Agarwal while recording a podcast for Startupbootcamp // Pic supplied

At only 27 years old, Arjun Agarwal, the founder of fintech Inaam, brings a wealth of experience to the table

When he was just six months old, Nagpur-born Arjun Agarwal moved to South Africa with his entrepreneur parents in 1996. Agarwal proudly identifies himself as part of the born-free generation, stating, “That’s really where I was brought up, educated, and where my passion to make an impact flourished.”

Although he humorously refers to himself as the black sheep of the family for not pursuing a career in law, science, or accountancy, living in South Africa for 21 years set him on an exciting career trajectory. “I chose economics and finance, which was the next best thing.”

Two important highlights during that time for Agarwal were helping the launch and scale up of a startup called IvySPace and setting up South Africa’s first blockchain fund in 2014.

IvySpace, co-founded by two ex-Yale grads based out of Hong Kong and funded by the ex-VP of Alibaba and some angels from Silicon Valley, was a peer-to-peer mentoring platform that got South African students into Ivy League Universities and OxBridge in the UK. As an alumni from one of South Africa’s biggest education groups AdVTech, Agarwal’s function was primarily business development. “I did this straight out of high school after I bumped into the team in the lift in my building and suggested taking a punt on me.”

At the same time, caught by the tech bug, he and a friend wanted to experiment with the then “new bleeding edge technology called blockchain” that not many people were talking about in South Africa at the time. “What started off as an experiment with a credit card essentially turned into South Africa’s first blockchain fund turning over millions through arbitrage trading,” he says.

There were challenges in learning how to use, transact, and explain this new technology and asset class as a viable investment opportunity, all while still being teenagers. Also, there was the tough decision to shut down the fund when the market became highly volatile and speculative. Despite employing a risk aversion tactic, Agarwal is proud to have preserved everyone’s investments and upheld their integrity.

Arjun with his father // Pic supplied

Unfortunately, Agarwal’s father passed away when he was still pursuing his undergraduate studies. Leaving behind 21 years’ worth of life, friends, memories, and “passions with the occasional risks that tend to teach me lessons,” he returned to India in 2017.

It was a huge dynamic shift—culturally, for him. At the same time, “I had to pull up my socks and stop doing crazy things. Taking care of and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of my mother became priority number one.”

He had to get a proper job in management consulting while completing his studies.

And it wasn’t all easy. He admits to receiving about 157 interview rejections. “The three interviews I got; the interviewers loved me but said they couldn’t hire me because I was 21. They cited fiduciary duties and needing to compare my education to Indian grads whilst my overseas undergrad was actually at an Indian MBA standard plus my experience; this was quite frustrating and a cultural wake-up call for me.

“The only thing I knew was that I had to keep going, and so I did. This gave me the courage to directly email the CEO of Investec India to explore an opportunity—to my shock and surprise he responded—the rest is history.”

He thrived in his role, but for Agarwal being boxed in was not what he wanted. So he transitioned from equity sales and research to the “sexy” part of investment banking in structured and leverage finance, learning from the veterans of the investment banking space in India and Asia.

“Here, I helped work on funding some of the largest greenfield and brownfield renewable energy projects across India along with facilitating acquisitions with some of the world’s largest PE funds and sovereign wealth funds to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Arjun with his mother // Pic supplied

After three years in India, Agarwal decided to do a Master’s in Entrepreneurship from the University of Melbourne.

“I wanted to build something that mattered, I am Marwadi so I come from a business/entrepreneurial background much like the Gujaratis, but I saw that our concept of jugaad/resourcefulness only got us so far and so I wanted to pair my resourcefulness with structure.

“The MBA or Master’s in finance didn’t make sense. The world wasn’t thinking that way anymore. We needed problem solvers, solution-driven thinking and so the Master’s in Entrepreneurship seemed like the right thing to do.”

Arriving in Melbourne in February 2020, he was greeted by the COVID lockdown.

Despite the challenges, he pushed through. He launched a podcast (ArjSpeak) to support young entrepreneurs and, most importantly, launched his FinTech venture, Inaam, as part of his final deliverable.

Along the way, he had to pay bills, which prompted him to set up another blockchain VC fund.

How that came about was after gaining a refreshing perspective on venture capital in Australia through his collaboration with a Decentralised App Studio to establish what would have been the first cryptographic asset-focused ESVCLP in the country. Although this was an intriguing project, unfortunately, it did not materialise despite securing the necessary capital due to a shift in priorities, Agarwal shares.

Pic supplied

So Agarwal got into Management Consulting for a healthcare education group Health Careers International that helped, migrate, train, upskill and place internationally qualified healthcare workers into the Australian Healthcare ecosystem. “They had global operations and needed to raise capital to support their operations during the downturn in COVID, I came in to restructure their global organisational structure and raise capital for them within six months of me being there from one of Australia’s biggest banks.”

For two years, Agarwal served in the Strategy Function with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), overseeing modelling, forecasting, and planning throughout the agency.

In his current role as Portfolio Manager at KPMG High Growth Ventures in Melbourne, Agarwal drives the growth of startups from Seed to Series A, promoting Australian innovation. His aim is to empower diverse founders to scale and showcase their innovations in Australia.

Despite his various commitments, it’s commendable that Agarwal maintains his unwavering dedication to his fintech venture, Inaam.

The inspiration, he says, came from his parents who were two of South Africa’s leading entrepreneurs in the pharmaceutical industry. “While my father was great at business, he wasn’t the best at managing his own personal finances. In trying to make a difference through investing, he was taken advantage of and ended up losing his entire life’s savings in the millions. Five years later, he lost his life. Not knowing how or where to invest cost us everything.

“As a young person, I now had to take care of Mum and found myself in the same position. I didn’t know how or where to invest. After having hundreds of conversations with young people who found themselves in similar, if not as dire, situations, including my team at Inaam, I knew that I simply could not let any other family go through this ever again. And so, Inaam was born.”

Pic supplied

Inaam’s app provides investment guidance, details where funds are invested, and outlines impact, dollar for dollar, for just $10 a month.

Agarwal’s vision is to redirect every dollar of capital into impact across various markets. “As a business, we reinvest profits to support underrepresented groups and foster a circular financial economy driven by impact.”

“Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do, the harsh reality of our education system is it does a bad job of teaching both when it comes to money,” he sums up.

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