This article is part of Inc42’s special year-end series — 2019 In Review — in which we will refresh your memory on the major developments in the Indian startup ecosystem such as funding deals and acquisitions, and their impact on various stakeholders — from entrepreneurs to investors. Find more stories from this series here.
India’s startup ecosystem has been making headlines in the country and around the world for many years now. From startups going international to multinational companies vying for a piece of the pie in Indian market, the change is visible and huge. Interestingly, in the middle of these innovation powerhouses are founders, entrepreneurs and business leaders.
On the face of it, entrepreneurship appears to be a lucrative opportunity to grow and build a billion-dollar business. However, ask an entrepreneur on the ground, the reality is harsh with unpredictable work hours to unending customer feedback to investor guidance to lack of personal life.
Interestingly, the thrill of following the passion has kept founders going and build world-class businesses solving various problems. The attention on entrepreneurship has even made it to the screen with an original by Netflix titled ‘Upstarts’. The story showcases the journey of three friends turned cofounders and how they handle the business growth.
Hence, even though startup ecosystem has various stakeholders, the building blocks are entrepreneurs. Therefore, when an entrepreneur exits his brainchild, there is much more than an exit value involved.
In 2019, after the dramatic fall of coworking giant WeWork, due to corporate governance issues and investor concerns, its founder Adam Neumann got a huge exit. Japanese investor SoftBank paid-off around $1.7 Bn to Neumann to give up the control of the company. Neumann had been reportedly forced to exit after allegations of Neumann’s self-dealing and erratic behaviour caused troubles for the whole business.
Further, tech giant Google bid adieu to its cofounders— Larry Page and Sergey Brin— who stepped aside from day-to-day operations of the company and will continue as cofounders and members of Alphabet’s board. The company’s responsibilities have shifted to long-time Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who will lead Alphabet alongside his role as CEO of Google and managing Alphabet’s portfolio which includes Chronicle, GV, CapitalG, Verily, Loon, X, Waymo and Google Fiber.
As we gear up for the end of the year and examine the journey of the high profile exits and hires of the Indian startup ecosystem in 2019. Here’s to the founders who created disruptive businesses but have now stepped down, to the CEOs who grew the company and took a chance at entrepreneurship themselves and to India’s tech leaders.
PayU Sees Exit Of Three Senior Leaders
At a time when things had been going well for PayU India across divisions, the company had a major setback this year. PayU provides online payment services enabling fast, simple, and efficient payment process for merchants via LazyPay, allowing consumers to process multiple purchases at one go.
LazyPay was the consumer brand of Indian fintech company Citrus Pay, and was acquired by Naspers in September 2016 for $130 Mn (INR 919.9 Cr). At the time, Citrus Pay team— Amrish Rau, Jitendra Gupta— joined the leadership team for PayU India.
However, in 2019, the duo stepped away to explore newer segments. The exits began with Amrish Rau in January 2019, who transitioned into a broader role as the head of financial technology partnerships and investments for Naspers.
According to Rau’s LinkedIn profile, he is now fintech investments and partnerships head at PayU. With over two decades of experience, Rau has been a seasoned payments executive and has worked across major payment companies like Firstdata and NCR Corporation before starting Citrus Payments.
With Rau’s exit, Shailaz Nag took over as the head for offline business while Jitendra Gupta, MD at PayU India, began leading LazyPay while Rahul Kothari headed the enterprise business.
However, in July, Nag and then Gupta announced their plans to move on. Nag reportedly resigned from his role to explore opportunities in the payments space.
With over 15 years of experience in the industry, Nag was associated with the company for eight years and led the global payments giant’s business in India. Prior to this, he was also a founding member at travel and hospitality Ibibo Group, which was later acquired by MakeMyTrip in 2016.
He is now working on his new business, DotPe, which is expected to be in the QR-based payments space. He registered the company in May 2019, which is reportedly raising $5 Mn-$10 Mn. PayU, Fosun International, Info Edge and a few angel investors were expected to invest in $10 Mn equity financing round in DotPe.
At the same time, Jitendra Gupta also announced his exit in July 2019 and in August 2019, his new venture came to light— Jupiter.money. This was launched in partnership with Vishnu Jerome, founding partner of law firm Jerome Merchant and Partners, will provide banking services such as savings account, investment and lending services, among others and will act as a neobank which is expected to roll out its operations by February or March 2020.
The startup has already reportedly raised $24 Mn in its first round of funding from Matrix Partners, Sequoia Capital, Greyhound Capital, 3One4 Capital, Germany’s Rocket Internet etc.
While the three core team members have moved on, PayU’s commitment to India and plans to grow the businesses haven’t changed. The company soon announced new appointments and expects to continue to invest heavily in India.
NestAway’s Deepak Dhar, Smruti Parida Step Away
In the home rental business, which is finally getting an upgrade of technology, one of the leading businesses NestAway saw the exit of two cofounders this year within a few months of each other.
NestAway was founded in January 2015 by Amarendra Sahu, Smruti Parida, Deepak Dhar and Jitendra Jagadev.
In July 2019, reports surfaced that cofounder Dhar is leaving the company to set up a new fintech venture. He, along with his former Citrus Payment executive, was speculated to start a new company to develop fintech solutions.
At the time, NestAway CEO Sahu had said that this was a planned move and the company had been looking for succession for six months.
With an experience of nearly 15 years, Dhar has worked across multiple roles at Citrus Payments, Royal Bank of Scotland, Fidelity Investments etc. After his exit, there were several changes underway at the firm including expansion into business verticals and a more streamlined business focus between cofounders— CEO Amarendra Sahu and COO Jitendra Jagadev.
Soon after Dhar, in October 2019, Parida, cofounder and chief technology officer said that he is stepping down from his role. Before starting NestAway in 2015, Smruti Parida worked with Microsoft as a Program Manager, and also cofounded another startup, Zero Heights Technologies in 2010.
Going forward, Parida is exploring his next step. In his LinkedIn post, Parida said he will be waiting to discover his next mojo in life and may try something new in the coming days. “So keep looking around for the guy distributing pamphlets and read one from him, click on the next Instagram survey you see in your feed or read the spam email. It could be me.”
At present, NestAway is betting big on its co-living and student living entity, Hello World.
Popular For Failure Resume, Ankur Warikoo Makes A Move From Nearbuy
Ankur Warikoo, popular for his failure resume, announced his plans to step down from his role as CEO of Nearbuy in September 2019.
In a LinkedIn post, Warikoo announced that in November 2019, he will be stepping down from his role at the helm of the company. However, he will continue with the company as a shareholder and board member. However, his future plan remains unknown, as Warikoo wrote that he “does not know what I will be doing next. And that’s super exciting.”
Warikoo announced that Nearbuy cofounders, Ravi Shankar and Snehesh Mitra, will take over the management of the company as the CEO and COO, respectively.
Warikoo began his professional career as a consultant with NIT Sparta, and cofounded his first business, Accentium Web, in 2007. He joined Vivek Pahwa and worked in the business of operating a portfolio of six websites, spanning over products and services.
Warikoo then worked as a venture partner for Rocket Internet, setting up their India office, before joining Groupon India, where he became CEO in 2015.
Since 2014, Warikoo has made angel investments as well. He invests in concept/idea stage internet and technology startups, with a ticket size to a maximum of $25,000.
Paytm-acquired Nearbuy is a hyperlocal online platform that enables customers and local merchants to discover and engage with each other. The company claims to be present in more than 35 cities, over 18 categories and have over 50,000 merchants across more than 100K unique locations.
In his statement, Warikoo also said Nearbuy became cash-flow positive, making more money than spent on a monthly basis this year.
Urban Ladder’s Rajiv Srivatsa Steps Down The Ladder
For most Indian startups, this year had been one of introspection towards the path of profitability. However, for Bengaluru-headquartered furniture etailer Urban Ladder the focus on profitability began a few years ago and hence, in the financial year ending March 31, 2019, the company attained profitability.
Even though it had a lot to cheer, the company bid adieu to cofounder Rajiv Srivatsa who announced his exit in October 2019. In a LinkedIn post, Srivatsa said that after the last eight years, he will transition out of his active leadership role as chief technology and product officer at Urban Ladder at the end of this month.
He said he will continue to be an engaged shareholder and board member, and work with cofounder and CEO Ashish Goel on strategic initiatives.
With over 19 years of experience in the industry, Srivatsa has worked across Infosys, Cognizant, Yahoo etc before starting up with Urban Ladder in 2012. Founded in 2012 by Goel and Srivatsa, Urban Ladder is an omnichannel furniture retailer with over 3K custom-designed products across 35 categories selling in more than 90 cities in India, with offline stores in Bengaluru and Delhi-NCR.
It has raised $112.8 Mn from investors such as Kalaari Capital, Steadview Capital, Trifecta Capital etc.
In a LinkedIn update, Srivatsa has said that from November 2019 to March 2020 he will be figuring out his next steps. He has also said that he is currently engaging with a variety of people — CEOs, founders, mentors, 1st and 2nd time entrepreneurs, top recruitment consultants — to figure out his next steps.
Mukul Sachan Moves Away From LendingKart
Ahmedabad-based digital SME lending startup Lendingkart has been achieving various successes having earned investors’ as well as customers trust. Harshvardhan Lunia and Mukul Sachan founded Lendingkart in 2014 as a lending finance platform that provides SMEs easy access to credit and working capital.
However, this year, Sachan has moved out of the company. It was reported in September 2019 that Sachan, who was on sabbatical for six months, wanted to pursue interests outside Lendingkart. Hence, Sachan’s exit was confirmed by the company saying he is leaving the firm to explore his interests in investment management.
Sachan launched Optimus Capital to focus on offering capital protection to investors while generating high returns (15%+) through the use of analytics in capital markets.
However, the company also said he will continue to be an active mentor and a consultant for Lendingkart, dividing his time equally.
The NBFC arm, Lendingkart Finance has evaluated nearly half a million applications, disbursing over 60K loans to more than 55K MSMEs in over 1300 cities across all 29 states and union territories.
An IIT Varanasi and IIM Bengaluru alumnus, Sachan worked in the Indian Space Research Organization as a scientist before working for Edelweiss and Futures First, among other companies.
Rajan Anandan On The Move From Google To Sequoia
In one of the major moves in India’s venture capital industry, active angel investor Rajan Anandan went into full-time investing with Sequoia Capital India.
In April 2019, Rajan Anandan resigned as vice president for Google South East Asia and India, and joined Sequoia Capital India as managing director.
With nearly three decades of experience in the technology industry and having worked in Dell and Microsoft before Google, Anandan has been widely known for his role in driving the ad and search giant’s growth in India.
Sequoia Capital’s managing director Shailendra J Singh had said that Anandan will be focusing on the startup accelerator Surge. “He will join the leadership team at the firm, in addition to the six current managing directors, where he will focus on developing Surge into the world’s top scale-up program for startups by acting as an investment advisor and mentor to the program’s founders.”
Anandan had also launched his own fund in Sri Lanka— Blue Ocean Ventures — through which he started investing in 2012. It has made over 10 investments in Sri Lanka.
Myntra CEO Ananth Narayanan Dons Founder’s Hat At MedLife
In 2018, when Flipkart founders— Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal— bid adieu to the company after Walmart acquisition, there was a wave of exits expected at the company and its subsidiaries.
In January 2019, Myntra CEO Ananth Narayanan announced his plans to leave. In a tweet, Narayanan said that he would be focussing on the next phase of his entrepreneurial journey. At the time, he was said to be in talks with Hotstar and McKinsey for new roles. With Narayanan’s exit, Amar Nagaram had been named as Head, Myntra and Jabong, reporting to Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of Flipkart Group.
It is to be noted that Narayanan has been instrumental in growing Myntra’s fashion business. Ananth Narayanan joined Myntra in 2015 as its CEO after having spent 15 years at McKinsey across various geographies. After Myntra acquired Jabong, he was heading the combined entity.
Amid a lot of speculation, Narayanan announced his entry in another segment of ecommerce— medicine delivery. In August 2019, he joined MedLife,one of the top epharmacy startups in the industry, at a time when epharmacy is expected to be a major market, but is grappling with regulatory hurdles.
Since his joining, MedLife expects to achieve overall sales of INR 1500 Cr with an exit run rate of INR 2000 Cr over the next financial year. Narayanan said that in the next 12-18 months, the company wants to hit breakeven in terms of unit economics.
We are looking to raise about $150 Mn over the next six months. We will invest in a few different areas: team, building up a product and tech team, marketing, supply chain and infrastructure and some acquisitions: Ananth Narayanan, CEO, Medlife.
Global Giants Appoint New India Heads
One of the other interesting sights this year was global technology companies rushing to appoint new India heads. In light of regulatory changes and the growing market size for social media companies and internet businesses in India, this was pretty much on expected lines. Here’s a look at the new Indian chief executives for global companies:
After Rajan Anandan stepped down from his role as vice president for Google South East Asia and India, in November 2019, Google India appointed Sanjay Gupta as its new country manager and vice-president of sales and operations for India.
Gupta will contribute to Google’s efforts to expand the internet ecosystem in the country. He will take on the role early next year, working closely with the teams based in Gurugram, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.
An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Kolkata and Delhi College of Engineering, Gupta’s career spans nearly three decades. He played a pivotal role in Star becoming the largest media company in India, and played a key role in extending its traditional television content to digital consumers through video streaming platform Hotstar.
After the exit of Taranjeet Singh as India Country Director of Twitter India last year, in April 2019, Twitter appointed Manish Maheshwari as managing director for India. Maheshwari will be reporting to Maya Hari, Twitter’s vice president and managing director of Asia Pacific. At Twitter India, Manish Maheshwari is responsible for driving Twitter’s audience and revenue growth in the country, and overseeing Twitter India’s teams in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Prior to this role, Maheshwari was the CEO of Network18 Digital. He has also held various positions at Flipkart, txtWeb, Intuit, McKinsey and P&G. Maheshwari holds an MBA with honours from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
The appointment came at a time when Twitter has been facing the fury of the Indian government.
In yet another commitment-focus on India, in November 2019, US-based Q&A social networking platform Quora appointed Gurmit Singh as its General Manager for India. Quora said Singh will oversee Quora’s revenue growth in India, and will work closely with businesses to ensure they are successful on the website.
In the next few months, he will also help open Quora’s first office in India as he builds a team to support businesses in the India market. He will report to Arnie Gullov-Singh, Chief Revenue Officer of Quora.
As a business administration graduate from the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) at the University of Delhi, Singh was previously the VP & Managing Director of Yahoo India. Quora said that India is the fastest growing market for the company as it gets over 70Mn monthly unique actives (in English) from India.
In July 2019, US-based professional networking platform LinkedIn strengthened its Indian base with the appointment of Ashutosh Gupta as country manager for India. Gupta will be taking over the role from Mahesh Narayanan, who was country manager for India from January 2019 to June 2019.
In his new role, Ashutosh Gupta reports to Olivier Legrand, LinkedIn’s managing director for the Asia Pacific region. He joined the company’s APAC senior management team. He relocated to India from Singapore to assume his new responsibility. In addition to his country manager role, he will continue to lead the LMS Online Sales Organization for APAC and China.
With two decades of experience in the IT space, Gupta comes as an experienced sales leader. He joined LinkedIn in 2013 to lead LinkedIn’s Marketing Solutions (LMS) in India, where he scaled the enterprise business. In 2016, he moved to Singapore to build LMS’s Online Sales Organisation (OSO) for Asia Pacific and China.
What Does 2020 Hold For Indian Founders?
As the year comes to a wrap, in one of the major senior management high profile reshuffles this year, OYO Hotels and Homes elevated its year-old India CEO Aditya Ghosh to the board. He has been replaced by OYO’s head of real estate business, Rohit Kapoor. In his new role at the board, Ghosh will provide governance and leadership. At the same time, Ghosh and Kapoor will be working closely through the coming month to enable a smooth and seamless transition. As part of his new role, Ghosh will continue to remain accessible whenever needed.
As several global players identify India as a core market and Indian startups continue to innovate and disrupt, the market is likely to see more entrepreneurs seeking exits to start up again. We can’t wait to see what 2020 brings for these startup leaders.