Was IPL a Ticket to the Billion-Dollar Club for Start-Up CRED?

CRED managed to secure two rounds of funding and a doubled user base within 6 months of IPL association.


“Not everyone gets it”, even Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Bappi Lahiri and Govinda. Intrigued? The goal was to start a conversation and it was indeed started among 40 million customers on CRED’s target list through its audition-styled campaign launched on India’s biggest advertising platform – IPL.

It has been raining start-ups when it comes to IPL associations since 2020. One of them being credit card bill-based rewards marketplace CRED, which joined the bandwagon of start-ups looking to score big with IPL and it indeed did.

The partnership came into being in September 2020 and within six months, CRED has managed to raise two rounds of funding (Series C and D) and successfully entered the billion dollar club. Was the start-up’s bet on the IPL association its ticket to the billion dollar club? Let’s find out.

Did it Make Sense?

CRED reportedly paid Rs 120 crore ($16.3 million) to become an official partner of the IPL for three seasons, starting the first one in October 2020.

With this additional investments and incentives it offers to users, CRED knew that it would be spending $12-15 million per year – almost 10% of its total funding. (Before Series C and D). CRED had ballooned its total loss by 491.9% in FY20, with the largest contributor, for the reported period, being costs relating to marketing activities. It rose over 9X year-on-year to Rs 180.30 crore.

Seeing these numbers, why did CRED become a part of this expensive sponsorship game amidst the mounting expenses and losses? The company targets credit card bill payments and it already had 60% of the total audience on the platform. Then why play such a “big game” for just 40% of the remaining target audience? Remember, this was before the Series C and D rounds.

A Ticket to the $1 Billion Club

It was a “go big or go home” scenario for CRED. Start-ups, especially fintech, have been looking to expand or raise their market share significantly and affiliation with a property like IPL is a win-win scenario.

CRED has been in a cashburn process (EBITDA margin of -1979.5% during FY20, annual loss of Rs 360.3 crore) but has been well-funded by deep-pocketed investors. Before its association with IPL, CRED stood at a valuation of about $450 million that it had attained after its $120 million Series B round in 2019 besides its seed funding of $30 Million.

Hence, its IPL investment made business sense for the start-up and did not dramatically affect its cash flows. The ultimate aim was to increase user base and target and attract credit-worthy customers to justify the investors’ money. Since its inception, the company grew to a customer base of 3 million and post joining the IPL, the number surged multifold. The user base has doubled to 5.9 million individuals in 2021 over the past year.

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Start-ups, especially fintech, have been looking to expand or raise their market share significantly and affiliation with a property like IPL is a win-win scenario.

In the start of 2021 itself, CRED secured a major funding round, drawing $81 million in fresh capital, which brought its total funds raised to $228 million across four rounds. This inched the burgeoning start-up towards the unicorn status with a post-money valuation above $800 million.

With further surge in customer base and shining numbers as the second season of IPL drew closer and closer, CRED managed to receive another major funding round on April 6 led by new investor Falcon Edge Capital and existing investor Coatue and has finally entered the Unicorn club. It raised Series D funding of $215 million at a valuation of $2.2 billion.

That’s two rounds of funding and a doubled-user base within 6 months of IPL association.

‘Clicking’ the Right Ticks With Ad Campaigns

It’s noteworthy how a comparatively new brand like CRED made the best of this association by running its campaign to its targeted users on television. It reached out to its premium class of audience i.e the first-generation wealthy, by leveraging the HD feed only for the IPL matches – helping the brand to target the audience who is more likely to use credit cards.

The star-spangled ads created a massive stir with the app registering six to seven times increase in sign-ups. CRED trended on Twitter during its 2020 campaign starring Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Bappi Lahiri and others. It created a constant recall value which helped in customer acquisition. It is important to note here that CRED wasn’t a robust advertiser before IPL.

Following this viral success, CRED is now all set to launch a total of six ad films over the course of the new 2021 IPL tournament. The first one came out this week featuring actor Jim Sarbh and legendary Indian cricketer Rahul Dravid in a never-seen-before avatar. As expected, it’s viral!

Besides these campaigns CRED reached out to people by focusing on digital engagements. One such activity included ‘CRED Power Play’ where those who pay their bills on time using CRED can win cash back offers as well as a chance to be on television during a live IPL match.

CRED managed to hit its target – increased user base, a household name, more money in the pocket and a Unicorn badge! Let’s see how the start-up manages to retain this user base captured through the IPL and spend that money raised wisely.

Naina Sood
Naina Sood
Naina was former staff at Dutch Uncles, she writes on business-life-cycle, funding, small businesses and start-ups.

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