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CarDekho’s Amit Jain On Building A Unicorn In A Tier II City, Investment Thesis & Scaling Abroad


Well-known for his role as a judge on the Shark Tank India startup show, CarDekho’s Amit Jain set up the parent company GirnarSoft in Jaipur in 2007

The CarDekho group currently houses several brands such as Rupyy, InsuranceDekho, Revv, and more

Jain asks aspiring and early-stage tech founders to look beyond funding and high valuations and focus on sustainability

With the FOMO-driven funding frenzy dying after the Covid-19 pandemic and sustainability emerging as the sole secret of survival, the Indian startup ecosystem is at a critical crossroads. But despite the funding winter and global headwinds, many startups have navigated the crisis well due to their dynamic business models and an unwavering focus on profitability. 

The cardekho group is a case in point. 

Operating under the parent company GirnarSoft, its core business CarDekho.com, an online marketplace for new and used cars and bikes, implemented a host of strategic measures in FY23. For instance, the platform discontinued its franchise-led used-car retail business and the customer-to-dealer car sales vertical, focussed on car and bike financing (via Rupyy) and insurance (InsuranceDekho), and built on its auto and financing businesses in Southeast Asia. The outcome: Improved unit economics, a 1.5x rise in consolidated operating revenue and reduced losses after adjustments.

The group’s constant push to achieve ‘more’ is bound to impress all. It runs a whole stack of companies, including PriceDekho, BikeDekho, TyreDekho, BatteryDekho, and more, to serve all stakeholders (buyers, sellers, and dealers). Its latest acquisition is Revv, a shared car rental platform, marked CarDekho’s entry into the shared mobility space. 

If this dynamism and determination wow you, so will the founder.

Amit Jain, the driving force behind the IPO-bound unicorn, dons many hats and pursued a startup journey from a Tier II city that only a few have undertaken successfully. His role as a mentor to early-stage founders, a Shark Tank India judge, and an angel investor on that platform has gained him widespread recognition across the startup ecosystem. 

Jain’s backstory reflects the same grit that his business does. A Jaipur lad and an alumnus of IIT-Delhi, he worked as a software engineer in the US until 2007. But he and his brother Anurag had to leave their jobs and return home due to a medical emergency in the family.

Not one to give up on his enthusiasm for startups and entrepreneurship, the brothers launched an IT outsourcing firm called GirnarSoft (now the parent company of the CarDekho group). Amit is now the group CEO and Anurag is the COO of Girnarsoft.

Asked what the trigger was behind starting a hardcore tech business (and then expanding to consumer tech), Jain revealed what had driven him all along. “As a tech enthusiast, my love for coding gave me a nuanced understanding of the challenges we face today. It motivated me to start a dedicated pursuit of tech-driven solutions to enhance people’s lives,” he told Inc42.

Jain’s early bet on a Tier II city not only fuelled CarDekho’s initial growth but also cemented his reputation as a visionary leader who inspired a generation of founders seeking opportunities beyond the glittering metros. 

So what does he envision about CarDekho? How has been the near-two-decade-long entrepreneurial journey? And what’s the kind of spark investors like him love to see in entrepreneurs pitching to raise funding? 

In a one-on-one with Jain, Inc42 has explored all these and more that will help young founders pick the right path. Here are the edited excerpts from the interview. 

Inc42: What led you to choose Jaipur for CarDekho? Is it challenging to build a tech startup away from typical tech hubs?

Amit Jain: We returned to India when we learned that our father was battling cancer. It was a critical time and we were determined to stay with the family. So, we set up GirnarSoft [an IT outsourcing company] in our garage. Our passion for cars sparked the concept of CarDekho and we started operations in 2008.

Operating from Jaipur was more than merely a necessity. The rent here is lower than in bigger tech hubs, and that’s an advantage. We had issues with hiring, though. There were too few trained professionals in the city at the time. But we turned it on its head and made it an opportunity to nurture local talent. Today, many graduates from nearby colleges occupy pivotal C-suite roles in the CarDekho group. 

Inc42: How do brands like Rupyy (lendingtech) and InsuranceDekho (insurtech) align with your vision for CarDekho?

Amit Jain: At the group level, our vision revolves around creating a comprehensive mobility ecosystem for our customers. It starts with the initial product search and discovery and covers the next steps – valuation, review, vehicle financing and auto insurance. Our achievements are significant, too. InsuranceDekho covers 98% of the country’s pin codes, reaches 1,700+ cities and serves more than 6 Mn customers in life and nonlife segments. We provide insurance to 10 Indians every minute.

Rupyy, our 100% paperless car and two-wheeler loan platform, enjoys a 15% market share in used-car financing. The tech-powered lending platform helped us achieve an outstanding net promoter score (NPS) of 75+, delighting more than 4 Lakh customers. Rupyy has more than 35 banks and NBFCs as its financing partners. 

Both brands have strengthened our commitment to providing a seamless customer experience, thus leading to the group’s success.

Inc42: From running a business to investing in one is a step that requires the ‘big picture’. What insights from your founder experience drive your investment decisions?

Amit Jain: I faced various challenges in the initial days of CarDekho – limited resources, tech obstacles and navigating issues in an underdeveloped ecosystem. But this journey came full circle when I appeared on Shark Tank India. I could relate to their struggles when I saw individuals passionately pitching their ideas.

As I always say, ‘Pehle banda, phir dhandha’ (First consider the person, then do business with them). My primary focus is the individual – one’s life journey, entrepreneurial spirit and the [back]story that shapes the journey. My investment thesis centres around three key questions: Are you looking to engage with a wider audience? Have you identified the right white space in the market? And finally, are you really hungry for the dream you want to pursue and realise? The responses I get determine my decision to invest.

Inc42: Speaking of Shark Tank, how do these platforms impact the startup ecosystem?

Amit Jain: As a Shark on the Shark Tank India show, I have seen its profound impact on the country’s startup ecosystem. It broke all traditional barriers, proving that age, background or location cannot hinder passionate entrepreneurs. Interestingly, 89% of deal winners on Shark Tank did not come from prestigious institutions like IITs and IIMs. Entrepreneurship now reaches every corner of the country, and nearly 50% of the startups are from Tier II & III cities. The show’s commitment to diversity is also evident. Around 66% of the companies I invested in have at least one woman cofounder.

Shows like this are a win-win for everyone. As up-and-coming startups gain recognition and initial support, investors like us benefit from tapping into an extensive array of promising ventures that may have remained undiscovered.

Inc42: What would be your most important advice for entrepreneurs looking to build successful businesses in Tier II and III regions?

Amit Jain: I have noticed how the landscape for tech ventures outside metros has evolved since 2007 when we set up GirnarSoft. Today, a thriving support system for startups exists, driven by initiatives like the Startup India Action Plan. This government-led programme covers 19 action items such as incubation, funding support, hand-holding and more. The current ease of procurement and favourable income tax policies in India have also helped build a conducive environment for emerging ventures in Tier II and III regions.

Of course, there are challenges even now. We still don’t have an adequate number of skilled professionals and the intricacies of building the right team are there. Plus, there are other expansion challenges like fundraising. Nevertheless, these challenges present a unique set of opportunities. We tapped into the local talent pool and resources to overcome staffing issues. Again, we remained bootstrapped for nearly seven years, made CarDekho profitable and eventually secured a Series A round of $15 Mn in 2013.

Adaptability and a proactive approach to cope with local challenges are essential for entrepreneurs in Tier II and III regions. Building strong community connections, understanding consumer needs and tailoring solutions in sync are also crucial.

Inc42: Regardless of location, startups inevitably grapple with hurdles like funding and scaling up sustainably. How can early stage founders navigate and overcome these challenges?

Amit Jain: I advise aspiring and early stage tech founders to look beyond fundraising and high valuations. Identify and address a market gap and stick to a customer-centric approach for sustained success. Scale the business after proving the product-market fit, focussing on impact rather than burning capital for unsustainable valuation growth. Initially, founders should strive to build connections with end-users and let their feedback guide product improvements.

I always say that fundraising is like a marathon. Prioritising frugal operations, embracing agile learning and accepting failure as a valuable lesson resonate profoundly with investors looking for resilient founders. Finally, it is important to instill confidence in investors by personalising funding pitches and transparently addressing challenges.  

The essence of startup success lies in passion, persistence and adaptability.

Inc42: How does the CarDekho group support new tech startups? 

Amit Jain: At CarDekho, we are committed to empowering tech startups and have taken active measures to accomplish this. The group launched its investment arm, Girnar Vision Fund, in 2023 to discover the hidden gems across important sectors like fintech, autotech, insurtech, network businesses & edtech. We aim to nurture high-potential, disruptive startups by guiding them across all crucial areas – from vision setting to team building, governance, business model development and prioritising profitability.    

We try to understand their unique needs and growth paths and mentor them accordingly, focussing on four critical success factors: Compelling mission, rigorous execution, adaptable strategies and principled leadership.

The fund provides its portfolio startups access to Girnarsoft’s networks and resources from early stages to important milestones. With the Girnar Vision Fund as our [financial] vehicle, I look forward to empowering a new generation of entrepreneurs. 

Inc42: CarDekho has built a brand identity not only in India but also in regions across Southeast Asia (SEA). In light of this, tell us about your plans for global expansion in 2024.

Amit Jain: Since stepping foot in Indonesia in 2016 under the brand name OTO, we have witnessed substantial progress. Not only have we secured almost 6% of the used car financing market in Indonesia, but we have also expanded our presence to other Southeast Asian regions such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines (through the acquisition of Carmudi).

Presently, we boast a robust network of over 13,000 dealers and have established partnerships with more than 35 financial entities in these regions. This achievement has also translated into an impressive dealer Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 70+ and we have facilitated loan disbursals exceeding $500 Mn in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV),

As we enter 2024, our focus remains steadfast on sustaining this growth momentum. We have plans to introduce innovative products and solutions and leveraging AI with an aim to foster greater financial inclusion both in India and abroad, while delivering unparalleled customer experiences. 

Inc42: Finally, what’s your vision for the CarDekho group?

Amit Jain: The group focuses on improving customer experience and achieving hypergrowth with profitability. We aim to leverage our leadership position, the trusted platform with more than 60 Mn MAU (monthly active users), and a healthy balance sheet with INR 1,300 Cr in cash reserves to grow our user base and revenue.

Thriving on the principle of financial inclusion, we have increased focus on providing integrated financing and insurance products to our large ecosystem. Over the past 10 years, CarDekho Group has grown over 70% CAGR & aims to continue with the momentum over the coming years. We also aim to achieve more than 60% revenue growth YoY in FY24.

Our house of brands has further evolved with the recent acquisition of Revv, cementing our leadership within the highly competitive automotive solutions industry. With prudent capital allocation, operational excellence and customer-centric innovation, we are excited to disrupt mobility in India and abroad in the coming years.

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