The arrest of Stayzilla’s Yogendra Vasupal aka Yogi has sparked a sense of agitation and revolt in the Indian startup ecosystem.
Soon after the news of the arrest surfaced last week, prominent investors and startup ecosystem veterans came forward in support of Yogi and demanded for his immediate release.
However, it has now been over seven days and no action seems to have been taken so far.
In order to fast forward the process, a website by the name of ‘Help Yogi’ has been created by industry supporters in order to garner support for him.
An open letter has been sent to the Home Minister Rajnath Singh; Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry; Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog; Edappadi K. Palaniswami, Chief Minister, Tamil Nadu; Rajiv Mehrishi, Home Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs; Ramesh Abhishek, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion demanding for his immediate release and highlighting the issue.
Over 170 Supporters And Counting
In order to gather more support, over 170 leading startup stalwarts including the likes of Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Ola’s Bhavish Aggarwal, Mohandas Pai of 3one4 Capital have come forward to support Yogendra.
The ‘Yogi-supporters’ have asked the government dignitaries to look into the matter and have also asked others to join the plea.
“We are standing up together as a community and believers in the vision of Honble Prime Minister, Shri. Narendra Modi for “Startup India. Stand-up India” to call for a free and fair investigation into the dispute and strongly oppose any abuse of power to subvert the law of land. We humbly request you to look into this matter and ensure that expeditious justice is provided to Yogi.”
What Are Supporters Saying?
The letter starts with how the rights of an entrepreneur have been violated, where in no case, without any judgment, can one be locked up in jail.
We would like to express our concern and draw your attention towards the manner in which Yogendra Vasupal (Yogi), Founder and CEO, Stayzilla was arrested with regard to the matter registered as FIR 71/2017 CCB Chennai and the alleged influence including harassment by the concerned officials in Chennai, Tamilnadu.
Although we do not wish to prejudge to the matter, the Stayzilla case and it’s locked up founder underscore the hardships of being an entrepreneur in India. If ever there’s a right to be an entrepreneur, that’s clearly been violated. Period.”
It also highlights how the consequences of this alleged forceful and dictatorial act will affect the future generations of entrepreneurs.
“The question is not how this will affect entrepreneurship today, but how young Indians looking to become entrepreneurs in the future will give up even before starting up.
You can find as many technical flaws and loopholes about a client-vendor contract (which by the way can be contested in the long term), and go roundabouts regarding how “an innocent” vendor was forced to abuse, intimidate and even send voodoo dolls with the picture of the entrepreneur’s kids.”
Termed as a Bollywood nightmare, the letter stresses upon the fact that Yogi has been pressured to confess to a crime that he hasn’t committed and is being arm-twisted by bureaucracy.
Some of the supporters for Yogi include:
- Vijay Shekhar Sharma (Paytm)
- Bhavish Aggarwal (OlaCabs)
- Mohandas Pai (Infosys)
- Shashank ND (Practo)
- Shivakumar Ganesan (Exotel)
- Santosh Panda (Explara)
- Gaurav Munjal (Unacademy)
- Prasanna Krishnamoorthy (iSPIRT)
- Ashish Tulsian (POSist)
- Anand Anand (Kuliza)
- Vijay Rayapati (Minjar)
- Vijay Sharma (Belong)
- Sumesh Menon (U2opia Mobile)
- Virendra Gupta (DailyHunt)
- Kumar Setoo (Petoo)
- Akash Gehani (Instamojo)
- Prashant Kumar (Unbxd)
- Neha Singh (Traxcn)
- Avlesh Singh (WebEngage)
- Layak Singh (ArtiVatic AI Labs)
- Mahesh Subramanian (ScoopWhoop)
- Harshil Mathur (RazorPay)
Others who would like to support Yogendra in this hour of need can sign the form here.
The Story So Far
On March 15, 2017, Yogi posted on Medium about the dire straits the company was in and was an open plea for help. The blog highlighted how the Stayzilla founders were threatened by their landlord and vendors for money and payback. They were also allegedly threatened by henchmen and received voodoo dolls with Sanjit’s (co-Founders, Stayzilla) kid’s picture.
The first incident was that of their landlord – apparently, a local politician as well who had verbally threatened murder as the company wanted to vacate the premises (for which Audio clips and CCTV footage of the incident was shared). The second was that of a media agency (Jigsaw) with whom the company had an alleged dispute over non-payment and for deficiency of services.
Jigsaw had lodged a complaint at the Mylapore police station in Tamil Nadu against both Vasupal and Sanjit Singhi, another co-founder accusing them of fraud. Stayzilla founder Yogendra Vasupal was arrested on March 15, 2017 by local authorities in Chennai on charges of defrauding the advertising agency to the tune of INR 1.72 Cr.
Since then, another side of the story has surfaced as well leaving the ecosystem in two minds. Only time will tell as to what really transpired. However, the consensus, for now, is that the incident being a civil case instead of a criminal case, Yogi has been wrongly arrested and should be released at the earliest. While such “gundaraj” is quite common in India’s legal system in other industries, this incident has brought forward the harsh reality that the startup ecosystem is no exception and must be prepared to deal with the long due process of the judiciary system prevalent in India.