The Year That Was: Biggest Founder And CEO Exits of 2022

The Year That Was: Biggest Founder And CEO Exits of 2022


Zomato, BharatPe are among the startups which saw high-profile exits this year

Many founders like BharatPe’s Ashneer Grover and Zilingo’s Ankiti Bose left following controversies

Some of the startup CEOs and founders who bid goodbye to their organisations have already started working on new ventures

After a dream 2021, the year 2022 turned out to be a difficult one for the Indian startup ecosystem. While startups capitalised on the growth of 2021, they also faced a lot of challenges amid the funding winter and the global economic slowdown. 

To deal with the changing environment, many startups hit a reset button and others decided to reorganise their businesses. The funding crunch also brought the focus on profitability and layoffs became a norm during the year. The year also saw a lot of controversies in the Indian startup ecosystem, with founders of startups like BharatPe and Zilingo coming in the line of fire on corporate governance practices and other issues. 

Download Annual Funding Report 2022

All these also resulted in changes at the top-level leadership of many startups, with many of them seeing the exits of their founders. Besides founders, many CEOs also left the startups and tech companies they were leading this year.

As 2022 comes to an end, let’s take a look at the top exits from the Indian startup ecosystem this year.

Founders Who Left The Businesses They Built

Zomato’s Mohit Gupta

Mohit Gupta, cofounder of foodtech giant Zomato, was amongst those who exited their startups this year. Amidst a difficult year in terms of stock market performance, the listed unicorn witnessed a number of high-profile exits. Gupta tendered his resignation in November 2022.

“…I am deciding to move on from Zomato to seek the other unknown adventures that life holds for me…As I look ahead, I am full of excitement for the vision that Zomato, Blinkit, Hyperpure and Feeding India are building towards…. I remain a long only investor in Zomato,” said Gupta in a farewell note to the employees. 

IIM-Calcutta alumni Gupta joined Zomato in 2018 from online travel aggregator MakeMyTrip, where he was working as the COO. Later, he was elevated to the role of Zomato cofounder in 2020. Gupta helped build Zomato’s food delivery operations from scratch. He was also the segment’s chief executive before his elevation as a cofounder.

Gupta has not yet revealed his future plans.

BharatPe’s Ashneer Grover

In one of the most dramatic founder exits in recent times, former BharatPe MD and founder Ashneer Grover stepped down from his position at the fintech unicorn earlier this year following a prolonged public spat with the startup’s board.

The controversy started at the beginning of the year after an audio clip leaked on Twitter in which Grover could allegedly be heard hurling abuses at a Kotak Mahindra employee. While Grover claimed that the audio clip was fake, BharatPe began an investigation into Grover’s actions and the startup’s internal governance. The controversy also saw BharatPe accusing Grover and his wife, Madhuri Jain Grover, of syphoning company’s funds. Finally, Grover resigned from his position on March 01, 2022 after an intense boardroom fight. 

An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi and Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, Grover along with Shashvat Nakrani, steered BharatPe towards phenomenal growth by capturing the merchants’ payments market in India.

Following his exit, the former Shark Tank judge launched a startup named Third Unicorn Private Limited in June. However, he has not shared any details about the industry in which the new startup would operate. Interestingly, he also recently launched his memoir ‘Doglapan’ about his time as an entrepreneur.

BharatPe’s Bhavik Koladiya

The year started with a bitter boardroom battle at the fintech unicorn, which witnessed the exit of top executives, including founder Bhavik Koladiya. His departure reportedly came after ‘disagreements’ with CEO Suhail Sameer.

At the time of exit, Koladiya said that he remained the largest individual shareholder in BharatPe and would continue holding the shares even after the company’s IPO. 

Koladiya, who founded BharatPe with Shashvat Nakrani, was the fintech unicorn’s face in the early stages, leading its tech and product team. Often termed as the tech backbone of BharatPe, Koladiya ran the product and technology operations of the company.

In his five-year-stint, Koladiya’s roles and designation kept changing, although he started as a founder in 2017. His designation initially changed to cofounder and CEO in 2018. However, he lost his status as cofounder after Sequoia invested in the company due to his conviction in the US due to an alleged credit card fraud in 2015. He was named as CTO and CPO of the company in 2018.

In 2020, Koladiya was appointed the group president. His last role update came in July 2022, when he was appointed as the advisor to the founder.

As per his LinkedIn profile, Koladiya is currently a managing partner at consulting firm Finix Partners and a board member of the software company OTPLess. 

Sportskeeda’s Porush Jain

In a major rejig at the Nazara Technologies-owned Sportskeeda, the sports portal’s founder Porush Jain resigned from his role of director and CEO on November 16, 2022. However, Jain would continue to be a shareholder and guide the team, and mentor new CEO Ajay Pratap Singh in the transition phase.

“My dreamy journey at Sportskeeda ends today as I successfully exit the company. From sweeping the office floor myself to sweeping the market share! From a mere sports blog to a company doing $15 million ARR,” Jain said in a LinkedIn post.

Jain founded the website, which offers news and views on sports such as cricket, football, basketball and pro-wrestling, in 2009 with co-founder Srinivas Rowjee Cuddapah. It came under the Nazara umbrella when the gaming unicorn acquired 67% stake in the startup. The platform claims to serve more than 70 Mn active users every month.

After stepping down from his position, Jain said he may launch a new startup, or an NGO, or become an angel investor and mentor, or a traveller, or maybe a gardener. Currently, his LinkedIn profile says he is on a “career break”.

Zilingo’s Ankiti Bose

In another controversial exit, Zilingo cofounder and former CEO Ankiti Bose resigned from all directorship positions at the Singapore-based fashion startup in June this year. Earlier in May, she was sacked from her position of CEO following an independent forensic audit following complaints of serious financial irregularities.

“Given the current circumstances, and due to the opacity of information to me as a board member and a shareholder, I have resigned forthwith from all directorships I hold with Zilingo’s holding company and any of its subsidiaries,” Bose said in a statement while stepping down.

The online fashion startup, which supplies technology to apparel merchants and factories, was founded in 2015 by Bose and Dhruv Kapoor. While Bose led the sales, marketing and administrative responsibilities, Kapoor was involved in tech and product development. Eventually, it turned into a bitter clash of vision between founders. 

Amid the turmoil, investors received complaints about financial irregularities at the startup, and after a two-month investigation, the board decided to sack her. Bose said the process to terminate her was an “unfair witch hunt”.

Metaversity’s Manish Maheshwari

Following a clash of opinions with investors, former Twitter India CEO and Invact Metaversity cofounder Manish Maheshwari quit the startup in May. Investors in the company also publicly spoke out against the misalignment between the founders. 

As Inc42 reported, Maheshwari wanted to run the startup the way CEOs run large companies. There were also differences in vision between Maheshwari and cofounder Tanay Pratap over whether it was a Metaverse company or an edtech venture. 

“I am moving out of Invact to first take a break for a few months and then pursue new opportunities. It is heartbreaking for a founder to leave the startup, like a mother leaving her baby. I am going through the same emotion,” Maheshwari tweeted.

Maheshwari announced his plans to launch the Web 3.0 edtech venture in December 2021 after quitting Twitter. He said that Invact would focus on imparting employability training via a virtually immersive platform called Metaversity. The startup also raised funding from 70+ global and local investors under Maheshwari and Pratap’s leadership before the fall started for the much-hyped Metaverse edtech startup.

CEO, Founder Exit 2022

CEOs Who Left The Ventures They Led

ZebPay’s Avinash Shekhar

Amid a difficult year for the crypto market, Avinash Shekhar stepped down from his position as the CEO of crypto exchange ZebPay in September. 

Shekhar joined ZebPay as a CFO in 2017. He was promoted to the role of COO in 2020, co-CEO in April 2021, and CEO in December 2021. ZebPay was his first organisation in the domain of Web3 and the startup ecosystem. 

Shekhar’s journey with ZebPay began when the crypto exchange and the industry itself was at a very nascent stage. He was a key member of ZebPay’s relaunch in 2020, and helped build the Indian business and team.

 Shekhar is now looking to launch a startup in the Web 3.0 space. “Avinash will focus on his startup later this year, which is in the Web3 space, but he will continue to stay in an advisory role on ZebPay, as a director,” ZebPay said while announcing his decision to step down.

ZebPay will reportedly also own a minority stake in Shekhar’s startup. 

Ola Cars’ Arun Sirdeshmukh

Within a year of his appointment, Ola Cars CEO Arun Sirdeshmukh resigned from the company in May 2022. Sirdeshmukh was leading the company’s go-to-market (GTM) strategy as well as its used cars business. 

Ola Cars was launched in October 2021 to enable customers on the Ola app to purchase new and used vehicles. With more than 30 years of experience in consumer internet, FMCG, retail and fashion industries, Sirdeshmukh’s role included overseeing the entire sales and distribution, service, marketing, customer support, and go-to-market strategy for the business.

Soon after Sirdeshmukh’s departure, Ola shut down Ola Cars to focus on its electric vehicles and mobility businesses.

Tata CLiQ’s Vikas Purohit

Before ecommerce firm Tata CLiQ’s merger with Tata Neu, the former’s CEO, Vikas Purohit, exited the company in October 2022. He parted ways after serving Tata CLiQ for six years as a CXO-level executive. He was elevated to the role of the CEO in July 2018, as per his LinkedIn profile.

Purohit helped build Tata CLiQ’s business from scratch at a time when the ecommerce segment in India was already seeing strong growth. 

Purohit has reportedly accepted an offer from an MNC in a non-competing sector to head its India business.

Times Internet’s Gautam Sinha 

In one of the most high-profile CEO exits this year, Times Internet CEO Gautam Sinha resigned from his position as the head of the company after being associated with the Times Group for 15 years.

Sinha, who was working with The Times of India Group since 2007, was appointed as CEO of Times Internet in April 2016 as the media group looked to expand into digital products, platforms and services. 

Sinha ran and managed many well-known ventures of the company including, Cricbuzz, Dineout, ETMONEY, MagicBricks, MensXP, and CouponDunia. 

Nazara Technologies’ Manish Agarwal 

After leading gaming startup Nazara Technologies for seven years, Manish Agarwal decided to part ways with the company earlier this year. He stepped down from his position of CEO on December 1.

“Manish & I have worked closely together over the last 7 years to build a strong foundation on which Nazara will continue to grow rapidly in the years to come,” Nazara’s founder and joint managing director Nitish Mittersain said in an official statement announcing Agarwal’s decision to step down.

Agarwal will continue to be associated with the company as a nominee on the boards of material subsidiaries of Nazara.

As per the statement, Agarwal plans to pursue an entrepreneurial journey post his stint with Nazara.

Twitter’s Parag Agrawal

While it is a usual practice to restructure an organisation after a merger or acquisition, microblogging site Twitter saw dramatic changes after Elon Musk took control. In one of his first actions after completing the $44 Bn deal, Musk sacked top executives, including chief executive Parag Agrawal and other CXOs.

Agrawal, who was part of the company for more than a decade, was appointed Twitter CEO in November 2021. Agarwal initially worked on ad-related products at Twitter before moving to working with AI for Twitter timelines.

Agrawal reportedly walked out with a compensation of $42 Mn, including his base salary for a year plus accelerated vesting of all equity awards.

The change in year, as we soon step into 2023, is unlikely to change the fortunes of the Indian startup ecosystem. The upcoming year is also likely to be a challenging one for the Indian startup ecosystem due to the tough global macroeconomic environment. This is likely to result in more restructuring and churn at the top level in the Indian startups. Besides, mergers and acquisitions can also not be ruled out which can lead to further exits of founders and CEOs. 

While only time will tell if there are any major exits in 2023, the ride is expected to be a rough one for at least some founders and CEOs in the upcoming year as well.

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