The Indian startup world has seen its fair share of success stories over the past few years, but none quite as inspiring as that of CRED India. In just a few short years, the CRED India startup went from a small startup to one of the fastest unicorns in the country, with an estimated valuation of $6.4 billion. But what made this feat possible? How did this small startup reach such heights in such a short amount of time? The answer lies in design thinking. Design thinking is an approach used by innovators and entrepreneurs to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. In this blog post, we are going to discuss five design-thinking reasons why the CRED India startup achieved unicorn status so quickly.

The CRED India Startup Story (With Numbers)

CRED is a Bengaluru-based startup that offers credit card payment and lending products. The company was founded in 2018 by Kunal Shah. By March 2019, CRED had raised $80 million in venture funding from Sequoia Capital India, Tiger Global Management, and Accel Partners.

In its first year of operation, the CRED India startup focused on making it easy for users to pay their credit card bills on time. The company then decided to focus on providing loans to small businesses, which resulted in rapid growth. Its success can be attributed to its use of design thinking, which helped it quickly identify and solve customer problems. For example, when launching its loan product, CRED conducted extensive user research to understand the needs of small businesses. This allowed the company to develop a product that met the specific needs of its target market.

By Jan 2022, the company boasted over 7.5 million credit-worthy users and processed about 20-25% of all credit card bill payments in India. The company has established itself as one of the most successful startups in India and is continuing to grow rapidly.

How CRED India Startup Became One of The Fastest Unicorns By Using Design Thinking Principles 

In 2018, when Kunal Shah started CRED in India, he had a bold vision to build a credit card repayment platform that would help people manage their finances better. But they didn’t just want to create another financial service; they wanted to design a product that would be truly useful and delightful to use.

Through applying design thinking principles, Kunal was able to turn CRED into one of the fastest-growing startups in India. In just four years, the company has become one of the country’s most valuable unicorns with a valuation of over $6 billion.

So how did they do it? Let’s take a look at some of the design-thinking reasons why the CRED India startup has been so successful:

1. They focused on solving a real problem that people care about.

The first step in any good design thinking process is to identify a real problem that people care about. For Kunal, this meant understanding the pain points around managing credit card repayments. This led them to develop a service that would not only help users keep track of their repayment progress but also offer rewards for making on-time payments.

cred india startup solved real problem

During an interview, Kunal shared the basis of the CRED India startup concept, which was founded on two key understandings. Firstly, he aimed to develop something advantageous for taxpayers, who are considered a crucial part of the nation-building process. Secondly, he identified a target audience who cherished their credit cards but were unsatisfied with the lack of quality products available to them. These insights resulted in the development of the central platform, allowing CRED members to consolidate and manage all their credit card information in one convenient location.

In India, there were over a billion people without access to formal credit-related financial services. This was a real problem that people cared about, and CRED India startup used design thinking to solve it. They created a mobile app that allows users to manage their finances and make payments using their mobile phones. The app is simple and easy to use, and it has helped many people in India access formal credit-related financial services for the first time.

2. They created a simple and intuitive interface.
Once they knew what problem they wanted to solve, Shah and Bansal set out to create an interface that was both simple and intuitive. The end result is an app that is easy to use and provides users with all the information they need to make informed decisions about their finances. The interface also provides rewards and incentives that encourage users to pay off their balances on time.

Here’s an example of how design thinking helped CRED India design a simple and intuitive mobile app for credit card payment:

Empathize: CRED India’s design team probably talked to potential users of the app to understand their needs and pain points when it comes to credit card payments. They must have learned that many users found the process of paying their credit card bills confusing and time-consuming.

Define: Based on the insights from the empathy stage, the design team must have defined the problem they were trying to solve: to create a simple and intuitive mobile app for credit card payments that would make the process faster and easier for users.

Ideate: The design team must have proceeded to brainstorm ideas for how to solve the problem. They probably considered different interfaces and features that would make the app easy to use, such as a user-friendly dashboard, clear billing statements, and a secure payment gateway.

Prototype: The design team probably created a low-fidelity prototype of the app, which they tested with users to get feedback. Based on this feedback, they made improvements to the app’s interface and features.

Test: The design team then must have tested the updated prototype with more users and made further refinements based on their feedback. They continued this process until they arrived at a final design that met users’ needs and was simple and intuitive to use.

3. They focused on the user experience.
The ultimate goal of design thinking is to create a product or service that puts the user first. Through a combination of data-driven insights, user research, and customer feedback, CRED was able to create an experience that is tailored to the needs of its users. From a simple sign-up process to personalized recommendations and rewards, CRED makes sure its customers have a pleasant experience every time they use the app.

cred india startup focused on user experience

4. They tested and iterated on their product regularly.
Design thinking isn’t just about creating something once; it’s about continuously testing and improving it over time. Each step in the design process should involve prototyping, testing, and feedback loops that allow the team to learn from their mistakes and keep adjusting their product until they get it right. By staying agile and open to feedback, Kunal and the team were able to quickly identify areas for improvement as well as opportunities for growth with CRED’s user base. 

The app started with a simple yet powerful idea of rewarding users for timely credit card payments. This resonated with users who wanted to improve their credit scores and gain access to exclusive rewards. The app was designed to provide a seamless user experience, making it easy for users to pay their bills and earn rewards.

As more users started using the app, CRED India began to gather insights on user behavior and preferences. They noticed that users wanted more than just rewards for paying their bills. They wanted a more comprehensive rewards program that catered to their daily needs, such as shopping, travel, entertainment, and more.

Based on these insights, CRED India startup added new features to the app, such as the CRED Store, which offers a range of discounts and deals on a variety of products and services from top brands. The CRED Store caters to the evolving needs of users and offers personalized recommendations based on their past behavior.

In addition, CRED India has also added features such as CRED Pay, which allows users to make payments to merchants and friends using their credit cards, and CRED RentPay, which enables users to pay their rent using their credit cards and earn rewards.

Overall, CRED India’s user-centric approach, coupled with its ability to gather insights on user behavior and preferences, has helped the app evolve and add new features that cater to the evolving needs of its users.

By following these 4 design-thinking principles, CRED India startup has been able to turn CRED into one of the fastest-growing startups in India. By understanding their users’ needs, building an intuitive interface, improving the user experience, iterating regularly, and leveraging technology in smart ways, they created a product that is both useful and delightful to use.

How Design Thinking Can Help Your Startup

Design thinking is a process for creative problem-solving. It is often used in the design of products, services, or experiences. But it can also be used to solve business problems and create new businesses.

If you’re starting a business, chances are you’re facing some big challenges. You might be trying to figure out how to bring your product to market, how to reach your target customers, or how to scale your business. Design thinking can help you solve these kinds of problems.

Read more: What is the importance of design thinking?

Here’s how:

  1. Empathize With The User.

One of the most important aspects of design thinking is empathy for the user. When you’re starting a business, it’s easy to get caught up in your own ideas and lose sight of what your customers really want or need. Design thinking helps you put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand their needs and wants. This customer-centric approach is essential for any successful business.

  1. Define The Problem.

The next step in design thinking is to define the problem you’re trying to solve. This seems like a simple task, but it’s actually quite difficult. To define a problem properly, you need to understand all aspects of the situation and identify the root cause of the issue. Design thinking techniques can help you break the problem down into smaller parts and identify the underlying causes.

  1. Ideate Solutions.

Once you’ve identified the problem, you can start thinking about potential solutions. This is where design thinking really shines. It encourages out-of-the-box thinking and encourages you to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. With design thinking, you can come up with innovative ideas that might not have occurred to you otherwise.

  1. Prototype, test and keep learning.

Adopting a design-thinking mindset that emphasizes prototyping, testing, and learning fast can greatly benefit a startup. This approach allows a startup to quickly test and validate its ideas, saving time and resources in the long run. By creating a minimum viable product (MVP) or prototype, a startup can gather feedback from its target audience and make necessary adjustments before fully committing to a product or solution. Additionally, this iterative process allows the startup to continuously improve its product, making it more user-centered and increasing the chances of success. The fast-paced nature of the startup environment means that a design-thinking mindset that prioritizes speed and agility can give a significant advantage. By continuously learning and adapting, a startup can stay ahead of the curve and remain competitive in its respective industry.

To summarize, design thinking can be a powerful tool for startups looking to solve business problems and create new businesses. By using empathy, defining the problem, and ideating solutions, design thinking can help your startup get off the ground and succeed in a competitive market.

Read more: How to Build a Successful Startup


CRED India Startup is a prime example of how design thinking can help to create products that not only meet customer needs but also drive growth and success. By applying the core principles of design thinking, CRED was able to identify key opportunities in the market, develop solutions quickly and efficiently, establish strong relationships with its customers, and scale up rapidly. This case study serves as an excellent reminder for entrepreneurs everywhere that thoughtful product design is a cornerstone of any successful business venture.

About the author

A Haryanvi by origin, an entrepreneur at heart and a consultant by choice, that’s how Ajay likes to introduce himself! Ajay is the Founding Partner at Humane Design and Innovation Consulting (HDI). Before starting HDI, Ajay founded the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG India. His 16+ years of professional career spans across various roles in product and service design, conducting strategy workshops, storytelling and enabling an innovation culture. He has coached 50+ organizations and 2000+ professionals in institutionalizing design and innovation practices. He loves to blog and speak on topics related to Design Thinking, Innovation, Creativity, Storytelling, Customer Experience and Entrepreneurship. Ajay is passionate about learning, writing poems and visualizing future trends!

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