As the curtain closes on another exciting year, we at Inc42, like always, pause for a while to look back, contemplate, analyse, predict and come up with our series of year-end stories that would perfectly sum up the past year and offer near-perfect predictions for the next year (our predictive algorithm is top-notch). This article is a part of this endeavour.

All through this year, we brought you all the piping hot news on the Indian startup ecosystem. This article brings you the people, brands and companies that created those news – the startup ecosystem newsmakers of 2015.

Rahul Yadav

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The most talked about Housing.com’s ex-CEO Rahul Yadav has all the essentialities of being at the top as newsmaker in 2015. He left no stone unturned to brand himself as both ‘bad boy’ and ‘big-turner’ of the startup ecosystem. From passing derogatory comments on social media to finding a girlfriend, everything said/done by him made headlines in the mainstream and online media.

There was so much highlighted about his disputable popularity that he was also offered the position of a contestant in reality TV’s controversial show Bigg Boss.

The IIT Bombay dropout of metallurgical engineering, in his final year, had a tryst with entrepreneurship at the time of launching of Exambaba.com in college, that provided IIT -B’s previous years exam papers. However, it was only Housing.com that made him reach the zenith of early startup success. Controversies only followed when a mail sent by him to Shailendra Singh of Sequoia was made public.

This was followed by his comments on Magicbricks & Times Internet and then, the CEO of Infosys – Vishal Sikka, Ravi Gururaj and founders of Ola and Zomato. However, he got the lens zoomed at him, when he announced distributing his personal equity in Housing.com, worth INR 200 Cr. to its employees.

“I’m just 26 and it’s too early in life to get serious about money, etc,” said Yadav in an interview after being fired on the grounds of his behaviour towards investors, ecosystem and the media.

His dismissal from Housing.com CEO by the company’s board of directors, this July—made him accoladed with all the media heavy limelight. Soon after he was fired, Rahul Yadav announced his plans for starting a new venture which later garnered funding from star entrepreneurs like Sachin Bansal, Binny Bansal and Vijay Shekhar Sharma.

Ratan Tata

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Ratan Tata needs no introduction. This year, the chairman emeritus of Tata Sons has been investing heavily in startups all across the globe. At a recent event, he even implored budding young entrepreneurs to think what they can for the country. Tata said, “Entrepreneurs create enterprises because they are attracted to create something that they believe in. In India, we need to create an environment that enables and supports people to risk their time and spend an important and sizeable amount of their lives to build the business they believe in.”

On an entrepreneurship fostering spree, he has been investing in his personal capacity in many emerging startups. Tata’s investment is seen as a hallmark of trust for the company invested in, and hence, provides a major boost to its credibility, as seen in the case of following startups: Snapdeal, Bluestone, UrbanLadder, CarDekho, Paytm, Xiaomi, Kaaryah, Lybrate, Ampere, Ola, Infinite Analytics, HolaChef, Abra, LetsVenture, YourStory, Sabse, Crayon Data and UrbanClap.

LiveMint, in an attempt to decode Tata’s investment, came to the conclusion that  almost every startup that Ratan Tata has invested in over the past 18 months has seen a significant jump in valuations. Tata usually invest somewhere between INR 10 Lakh to INR 10 Crore.

Besides, Tata is also an advisory in couple of Venture Capital Firms including Kalaari Capital, Jungle Ventures and IDG Ventures.

Narendra Modi

Narendra-Modi

PM Narendra Modi easily manages to be a news maker, but he is in this list because he has been seen as a big time supporter of startups and innovation, be it via his Make In India campaign or via his slogan Stand Up India Startup India.

The popular “startup India, standup India’ slogan has reached every nook and corner of the country. While addressing the nation on the 69th Independence Day, he said, “We are looking at systems for enabling startups. We must be number one in startups… Startup India; Stand up India.”

The initiative is to encourage entrepreneurship among the youth of India. He even stated/asked that each of the 1.25 lakh bank branches should encourage at least one Dalit or tribal entrepreneur and at least one woman entrepreneur.

While he was at the Silicon Valley, the Mecca of finest startups, his interaction with the CEOs of biggies like Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, apart from signing of seven MoUs between India and the US generated a wave of optimism in the industry.  Winning the hearts of aspiring, and established entrepreneurs alike he said “When I shifted to Delhi last year, I thought of my government as a startup. So, I also saw some of the bumps you face on the road. I understand your challenges, but also the wonderful feeling of creating something new.”

However, most impressed by the growing acknowledgement of startups by the government is the Youth, gladly so, after the PM said “India’s own ecosystem of startups is evolving rapidly. It is driven by the energy, enterprise and innovation of our youth. We have a huge market with rapid growth and untapped opportunities in every sector” However, the PM  has time and again stressed for startups to be more active in aiding to solve India’s problems through social entrepreneurial ventures.

PM’s love for being in the limelight was made evident in a video clip where Modi apparently pulled aside Mark Zuckerberg so that the camera could capture them standing side-by-side with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The video went viral on social media.

Deepinder Goyal

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Forget a spoon, Deepinder served oodles of news on a platter to the byte-hungry media, all year round.

Here are a few ripples that the company and its founder created:

  1. When the company ditched its heart logo and adopted the spoon, Tanmay Bhatt of AIB commented that it looked like a sperm. This spawned about 300 retweets and many hilarious tweets. Zomato finally retorted with a funny response So glad we managed to sneak that by the censor board ;)”. Deepinder, during a Reddit AMA session, declared that the company will stick to its spook-logo and cheekily stated, “The sperm is what you get ;).
  2. The company was in news for human resource reasons as well. It fired over 300 employees in one go to shift focus on transaction based business. Deepinder even blamed his sales team’s lacklustre performance for the company’s revenue crunch.
  3. Zomato was blacklisted from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) placements over slotting issues. The blacklisting came after Deepinder vented his frustration on twitter after Zomato was denied a one-day slot. He stated, “Campus placements in India are broken. Placement cells optimise only for money. Growth, esops, quality of work is secondary.” He also tweeted: “A placement cell head told us that she doesn’t value esops. Couldn’t grasp that the esops we gave students last year are now worth >1crore.”
  4. Zomato faced turmoil again when the company posted risque ads on porn sites to drive its late-night deliveries. However, after facing some criticism from the public, the campaign was scrapped.He commented that “People said we were ballsy for trying this at all, and that we broke new ground for doing this in a country where porn has long been a touchy topic. But there were a few things said that we simply couldn’t ignore. Some folks got offended by the campaign, felt the campaign was in poor taste, and it wasn’t something they expected from a brand of our standard. Some also said that all porn is not legal, and by advertising on porn websites, we are financially supporting abuse – certainly something we don’t want to do. Ever,”

If that wasn’t enough for the year, in an interview with Indian Express, Deepinder stated, “With reservations coming soon, we want to ensure that we are the first in the market.” Dineout, who have been into table reservations since long, trolled Deepinder in an open letter.

This is what transpired:

Post his four year stint as a consultant with Bain and Co., Goyal, a mathematics and computing graduate from IIT Delhi, started his entrepreneurial journey as co-founder of Foodiebay at the cafeteria of Bain and Co.

Foodiebay, in order to avoid any confusion with Ebay, later renamed it to Zomato, and the rest is history.

Yuvraj Singh

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After guiding India to countless victories, one of the most dangerous hard-hitters of the cricketing world, Yuvraj Singh guided many startups to their financial victories with his venture, YouWeCan Ventures Technology Llp. He set up a INR 50 Cr. fund to invest in the startups in healthcare, travel, hospitality, real estate and media sectors.

The venture invests about INR 1 Cr – INR 1.5 Cr in a co-investment model for 12-15% stake in its portfolio companies. SportyBeans, Vyomo, Moovo, Healthians, Edu-Kart, JetSetGo, Black White Orange Brands and Cartisan are among his portfolio.

Raghav Bahl

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Media Mogul Raghav Bahl was the founding/Controlling Shareholder & Managing Director of Network18 group until the takeover by Reliance group. This deal reportedly earned him a whopping $700 Mn.

Post his exit from the Network18 group, Raghav co-founded the cross-platform digital content venture, Quintillion Media, with his wife Ritu Kapur. However, this is old news.

This year, Quintillion Media went on an investment spree and invested in a number of companies. The company remained in the news for its investments:

  1. Invested an undisclosed amount in TheNewsMinute.com this month.
  2. Invested INR 4 crore (Rs 40 Mn) in YKA Media, the company that runs online news and views portal YouthKiAwaaz.
  3. It also backed sheroes.in, a career community for women.

The company is currently working on a new digital news product, which is in the pipeline.

Dhiraj Rajaram, Mu Sigma

MuSigma (1)

Move over Mukesh Ambani and Dilip Shangvi, Dhiraj Rajaram is catching up fast. This year, the 40-year old founder of Bangalore-based data analytics firm, Mu Sigma, turned out to be the Indian who registered the biggest gain in wealth over the past one year. His personal wealth grew over six-times, to INR 17,600 Cr. His ranking on the Hurun India Rich List rose from 127 to 38.

Dhiraj left the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to start the company with mere $200,000 in savings. Little did he know that today, he’ll be counted among the country’s wealthiest entrepreneurs and create India’s only Unicorn that has been profitable since its inception in 2004. Microsoft was its first client in 2005 and continues to do so. The company registered a revenue worth INR 684 Cr (38% growth from previous fiscal), raking in a profit of INR 380 Cr, in FY 14-15.

The company also plans a Nasdaq IPO in the next four years. It also plans to increase its annual sales to $1 Bn in the next five-seven years from the current $250 Mn.

Mu Sigma is the only Indian ‘Unicorn’ that has been profitable since inception. Rajaran’s stake makes him worth INR 17,800 Cr. and the richest Indian startup founder.

TinyOwl And Founders

Image Source: Medianama
Image Source: Medianama

Ever thought a company’s founder can also be held hostage?, Well this is what happened in Pune recently, where Gaurav Choudhary was held hostage for straight two days by “laid-off” employees in Pune. The TinyOwl saga doesn’t  end here. It also includes absconding founders and jaded employees.

Setting an example of what all can go wrong in a promising startup, TinyOwl’s reputation hit a Major blow. Losing its nest and plot to a complete mess, it was just a 40 minute meeting in which company’s employees were told that company’s coffers were empty and they were excess to requirement. After being ensured of some immediate relief, only eight security guards showed up at the office. The directors were clearly absconding.

“No one came. We called the founders and their phones were switched off. We called their hotel and were told they had checked out. There is no one to tell us what to do next,” said a senior executive in a media excerpt. By the end of the day, TinyOwl was left struggling to deal with an angry group of employees.

Founded in 2014 by IIT-Bombay graduates Mandad, Gaurav Choudhary, Saurabh Goyal, Shikhar Paliwal and Tanuj Khandelwal. It raised Rs 100 Cr from Matrix Partners, Sequoia Capital and Nexus Venture Partners in February this year, and another bridge round of Rs 50 crore from the same set of investors in October. TinyOwl is inclusive of big names like Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal as investors.

Vijay Shekhar Sharma And Paytm

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Recently been in limelight for predicting a Jihad against Net neutrality, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the CEO of Paytm has generally been in news for good reasons. Headlines struck Vijay Shekhar Sharma bold when Paytm was invested upon by Ratan Tata personally.

March got more merrier for Sharma, who in the same month received a whooping investment from Chinese giant Alibaba and its affiliate Ant Financial Services Group.

Heavy Sponsorship agreements have further worked wonder for the company and the founders. Vijay also garnered headlines when he was awarded as the CEO of the Year by the prestigious SABRE Awards, organised by The Holmes Group, one of the most respected authorities on the business of public relations to be in the list of Economic Times ‘India’s Hottest Business Leader under 40’, Vijay has developed Paytm into a powerful brand with a formidable market reputation.

Vijay has spent his childhood in Aligarh, before taking admission at the Delhi College of Engineering, when he was just 15.

For Sharma, the triggers for shifting the base are twofold — on one hand Paytm is struggling to find great engineers in Delhi, and secondly, he wants his two and half year old son to grow in a more “middle class, grounded” environment.

Kunal Shah And Freecharge

Kunal-Shah

From being a BPO employee to selling his company – FreeCharge to Snapdeal, at a whooping $400 Mn this year, Shah has a interesting journey so far.

‘Founder @FreeCharge, Serial entrepreneur, Traveler, Foodie, Tech enthusiast’ — as he describes himself on Twitter, Shah has also been a harbinger of patented technology.

Hailing from a business family, Kunal always knew he was destined to be an entrepreneur, but FreeCharge turned into something, he had never imagined. After studying Philosophy at Mumbai’s Wilson College, Kunal, an MBA dropout, started his career as a junior programmer at a startup. This is where Kunal met Sandeep Tandon, who not only invested in the company, but also became its co-founder.

FreeCharge was founded in 2010 as a mobile recharge and coupon firm where the customers get coupons worth the recharge amount; these coupons can be redeemed from the respective issuing merchants. Prima Facie, the business model still remains the same, but today, you can recharge your Metro card, pay electricity bill and even shop at Snapdeal from FreeCharge.

During a Reddit’s AMA session, his response to the question, “Why did he sell Freecharge?”, was brutally honest. He said that for a startup founder, it is very necessary to keep away the emotional attachment with their company. Giving examples, Kunal said that instead of treating their startups like their spouses, they should treat them as their kids, and let them watch them grow

“Our  real competition is cash. We need to drive the shift from cash to cashless.”

Pranay Chulet, Quikr

Pranay-Chulet

One name that strikes immediately when someone talks of online classifieds is Quikr, and its owner Pranay Chulet has left no stone unturned to make his name reckon with the brand. Chulet’s Quikr now stands with an estimated valuation of $1.5 Bn.

Quikr has been actively entering new verticals such as automobile with QuikrCars, real estate with QuikrHomes and jobs with QuikrJobs. Recently, Quikr was all over the news over reportedly acquiring online real estate portal, CommonFloor in a stock-and-cash deal for $200 Mn. There have been numerous speculations about the same. Recently, the company, in an emailed response to our queries, stated that, “As part of our verticalisation strategy, we are strengthening our focus in our largest markets such as C-2-C, Cars, Real Estate, Jobs and Services. However, we cannot comment on market speculations at this stage.”

Quikr recently forayed into the entertainment industry after it signed an MOU with renowned film industry veterans such as filmmaker Vivek Bohra and casting director Aadore Mukherjee. As per the MOU, a joined entity will build a platform for actors, casting professionals, directors, producers and other segments to help meet the unique needs of India’s growing entertainment industry.

“I am an entrepreneur because I am a creator. All through my life, if there is one thread that’s common, it’s the thread of creating something.”

Bhavish Aggarwal, Ankit Bhati And Ola

Bhavish-Aggarwal-&-Ankit-Bhati

Ola has been in the news all through this year. From raising big bucks (details below) at growing valuations (the company is currently valued at around $5 Bn) to launching a slew of different offerings such as its ride sharing service called Ola Share in Delhi NCR to its Shuttle service called Ola Shuttle. The company also engaged in multiple partnerships to strengthen its business

  1. Strategic partnership with China’s Didi Kuaidi, US-based Lyft and Malaysia’s GrabTaxi, which will allow passengers to book rides on any of these four services using just one app.
  2. Partnership with customer-based chat services company, Haptik, which will allow users to book Ola cabs through instant messaging on the Haptik mobile app.
  3. Partnership with MapMyIndia.

In terms of acquisition, the company acquired TaxiForSure for $200 Mn in March, Geotagg in November and a minority stake in Zipcash in November. Its also venturing into grocery delivery.

In terms of funding, last month Ola raised $500 Mn in its Series F funding round. Baillie Gifford, Falcon Edge Capital, Tiger Global, SoftBank Group, DST Global and Didi Kuaidi participated in this round of funding.

With the current round, Ola has closed over $1.3 Bn of external funding, of which over $1.2 Bn has been raised over the past year. In April 2015,Ola raised $400 Mn of funding led by DST Global in Series E and prior to that, $210 Mn from SoftBank Group as part of its Series D round in October 2014. Ola counts Tiger Global, Matrix Partners, Steadview Capital, Sequoia India, Accel Partners US and Falcon Edge also amongst its existing investors.

According to the company, it has grown by over 30 times in the last one year, now clocking over 1 million booking requests a day. It has over 350,000 vehicles registered on its platform. According to 7Park Data – a mobile app intelligence company – the weekly active users (WAU) of Ola, as a percentage of mobile device users in India (panel), was 8.93% as of October 2015 – whereas it was only 5.75% for Uber.

Its team grew from 3800 in January 2015 to over 7000 employees currently.

ola

Sundar Pichai

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When Chennai born Sundar Pichai graduated from IIT Kharagpur, little did he know that after 21 years, he would have branded India as a destination of producing the most qualified IT professionals. After being announced as Google CEO in August this year, Pichai was in India recently to talk about Google’s initiatives to improve internet access and connectivity for Indians. Pichai, who is touted as the most inspiring figure amidst Indian students and professionals alike, has recently announced slew of internet reforms.  

More so, even after rising to the position of Google CEO, Pichai has been in news for constant positive interaction with Indian polity and policy. A blue eyed boy for PM Modi, Pichai appears to be a key flag bearer of Digital India ambitions of the Indian government. Pichai has already announced typing in 10 Indian languages, including Gujarati; apart from making Indian Railways available on Google maps. Lest to forget, the world’s largest public connectivity initiative  by Google – to extend WiFi coverage across 500 railway stations all across India.

Apparently, Pichai’s career graph goes in sync with the popularity of products that he developed at Google. Before joining Google, Pichai worked as a consultant with McKinsey and Company, and is accredited with development  of  Google Chrome and Chrome OS, Google Drive, apps of Gmail and Google Maps. Roughly two years ago, it was Pichai  who added Android as one the Google products, and later even became Senior Vice President of Android at Google, while heading  Chrome simultaneously.

“You do need entrepreneurs to build things for India and globally. All the elements which you need are already here.”

Nikesh Arora

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Former Google executive and now SoftBank’s COO and President, Nikesh Arora is the stalwart among the newsmakers of 2015. Today, the total worth of the  47 year business tycoon stands at an astonishing 70 billion dollars.

In August this year, mere announcement of Nikesh’s plan buy $483 Mn worth of SoftBank shares, made its stock climb up to 2.2 percent. Jitters were also felt when SoftBank announced an annual compensation of $135 Million to Nikesh, an amount  unheard of in Japan, and much higher than what his contemporaries like Satya Nadella and Indira Nooyi have been receiving.

It was only in 2014, that he joined SoftBank to head its global Internet investments. 10 months later in June 2015, he was rewarded for helping SoftBank grow its international Internet investments, by being appointed its President and COO.

“Yes. He’s 10 years younger than me, and he has more abilities than me, he’s a ‘strong candidate’ to lead the company” said SoftBank’s founder and CEO, Masayoshi Son, when asked about the candidacy of Arora in effectively leading SoftBank. Nikesh attributes his success to three important factors – luck, hard work and being able to adapt to any situation.

The risk-loving entrepreneur has had his career developed according to the risk he took both professionally and personally. An electronic engineer from the BHU, now IIT Varanasi, Nikesh started his career at Wipro – selling computers to the government.

He moved to the United States at the age of 21 and did his MBA from Northeastern University.

In an interview with a business daily, Nikesh talked about his several job rejections and how he survived with just $3000 given to him by his father. Arora began his career at Fidelity Investments in 1992 where he held top finance and technology management portfolios, and  later  became its vice president ( Finance). Post Fidelity, he undertook a journey to become the fourth most important person in Google, and highest grosser in terms of salary paid. [hr style=”striped”]

infocus-badgeThis is part of our special series, In Focus: 2015 In Review, wherein, we look back, contemplate, analyse, predict and come up with our series of year-end stories that would perfectly sum up the past year and offer near-perfect predictions for the next year. Stay tuned for more. [hr style=”striped”]

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