In our interview with Shakun Sethi, CEO and Founder of TickleCharge, a payments gateway for high-risk businesses (sexual wellness companies, real money gaming platforms, cannabis shops, etc.), we explore the following questions and more:
- Who are considered high-risk businesses and why?
- Why don’t most banks and payment gateways want to work with these businesses?
- What options do high-risk businesses have to receive payments?
- What are the compliance costs for financial entities working with high-risk businesses?
- How and why does TickleCharge work with these businesses?
- Which countries does TickleCharge operate in and why don’t they operate in India?
- How does TickleCharge navigate compliance and legal costs and challenges?
- What’s on the roadmap for TickleCharge this year?
While we encourage you to watch the interview in full, here are some selected excerpts we found interesting:
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Chargebacks are the main reason why some businesses are classified as high-risk, and chargeback claims are filed because of taboo:
“What happens is a lot of time, a lot of merchants, or even some categories, they start getting a lot of chargebacks. So what a chargeback means is dispute from their customers. And this is very interesting. For a lot of industries, these disputes happen because of the taboo. […]
Why sexual wellbeing as a whole, is such a high risk industry? Because it’s simple. I would only go to a sex therapist if I need some support. I will only buy a toy because I want to buy a toy. I will watch porn because I want to watch porn. It’s not like somebody is forcing me into watching porn. But then what happens is if you go to a therapist, if I look at US, the approximate figure is $200 per consultancy. So $200 nobody is going to pay from their pocket. They’re going to use their insurance. But then usually the insurance goes to your office. And suppose your office gets to know, so this person spent $600 on sex therapy, so imagine what perception comes. So, you quickly say, I did not do it. So that’s the problem for a lot of industries.”
Chargebacks are expensive for banks to deal with:
“Whenever the chargeback is more, and it could be even for a shoe company, it could even be a fan company, it could be anyone. So the banks, the acquirer banks, and the processorss have to do a lot of work because they have to sort out the dispute. They have to give the money back to the customer. There are so many extra costs involved. So a lot of services involved. So then they start saying that, ‘Hey, you know what? This is going to be a hard bet, so let us put it in high risk.’”
Other reasons why some industries are considered high-risk:
“The second thing is globally, Visa and Mastercard, they have to take care of three things. Number one is that the financing is not done to any terrorist organization. Number two is there’s no money laundering. And number three is there is no trafficking and child pornography or something to do with children. When you have to take care of all these three things, you see which are the industries which would make it the easiest to do any of these three things.
Everybody talks about OnlyFans, and OnlyFans was also getting flagged by visa. OnlyFans is a content generated platform. How do you make it a point that nobody is putting a kid’s video or there is no trafficking involved? It’s very difficult to do it. But the banks and the processes need this guarantee from them.”
The compliance burden:
“At the end of the day, any application is 10 to 15 different documents along with verification of the business that you’re doing, the content that there is on your website. Imagine if PayPal, Stripe, Razorpay started doing this, it’s very problematic.
The last list that I had, there are approximately 365 sensitive words that are flagged by Mastercard and Visa card online. Those words are evaluated on their websites to see are they using any of those words.”
A lot of money earned by high-risk businesses goes into commissions:
“The misconception that all of us have is that these industries make a lot of money, but most of the chunk of the money goes back to the financial departments [banks and payments gateways as commission].”
Why TickleCharge is not in India:
“Right now, we are not touching India. The reason is very simple, because in India, you also need UPI. That’s another layer of it. Also here, the rules are very different from the rules which the US as a country follows or which Europe follows.”
High-risk businesses end up taking money in personal accounts most of the time:
“A colleague of mine or somebody from the industry, she runs a dating site for LGBTQ. She’s been taking money in her personal account from day one because nobody’s giving her the payment gateway. We were rejected by Razorpay when we wanted to do workshops in India as sex education.”
Sex tech is a highly lucrative industry but no one is able to make money:
“Sex tech, as an industry, is considered to $121 billion in 2025, but most of them are not able to make money because the time that you start making money, you will be flagged by whatever payment gateway you’re using.”
You have to be two steps ahead if you’re a high-risk business:
“Once you start coming in the bracket of high risk, then you have to be so cautious that you always have to keep on being two steps ahead of what’s coming. What are the new words, the images that I’m using? You can’t use blood. Even if you’re menstrual platform, you can’t use blood.”
Our first hire was a legal person:
“The first hire is always a legal person. I am not a big player, but the first first hire was a sex tech lawyer when we started with sex tech. The reason was that it is so complicated that people who are not in the industry never understood. […] I actually had to hire a lawyer to help me get a bank account. Imagine I’m giving my money and paying $2,000 to get my money in a bank account.”
“The roadmap is very simple. Because we are providing the tech infrastructure for the payments, the next thing that we are going to be doing is we are going to be applying for becoming a processor. Then ultimately, what we’ve understood is, it might sound like a very big feat, but we would have to go the financial services route. We would have to have a bank. […] It’s just about creating the entire ecosystem and that’s what we want to do because there’s so much to be done. It’s an old age is we have to bring it to at least 21st century.”
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