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2020 In Review — A Look Back At An Unprecedented Year For Indian Startups

2020 In Review — A Look Back At An Unprecedented Year For Indian Startups

The big hope was that 2020 would be THE year for profitability and sustainability. But in a matter of weeks, it had to be put on a back-burner as survival became the top priority for startups

Taking stock of the past 12 months, Inc42 presents the seventh edition of its year-ender series — 2020 In Review

Through this recap, we will be covering the Indian startup ecosystem, including the year’s biggest controversies, funding deals, shutdowns and more, as well as a Survivor mini-series and the ‘30 Startups To Watch’ report card


Nothing could have prepared the world for a year like 2020. Almost overnight, trillions of dollars were lost, putting the lives of billions in disarray. Businesses faced an existential crisis, with thousands of entrepreneurs staring at a bleak future. For the first time since World War 2, both supply and demand sides were destroyed. In the technology world, there was despair all around as VCs began to hold back their cheques, turning entrepreneurial dreams into nightmares. But one person’s misery could be another person’s opportunity. As the world struggled to find its feet amid a deadly pandemic, new businesses emerged winners with their solutions for a Covid-hit world.

Take, for instance, the Indian edtech sector. It witnessed mammoth funding of more than $1.43 Bn in the past 11 months. Healthtech, too, was the sector of choice for investors who banked upon the opportunities that the likes of Practo promised to harness. Ecommerce, online gaming and enterprise tech solutions such as videoconferencing platforms were in the limelight as well.

As a media platform that covers every aspect of technology and entrepreneurship, it has been an eventful year for Inc42. To keep our readers abreast with the changing dynamics of the startup world, we have published more than 5,000 articles with the best insights and data-packed analysis, and over 50+ insightful video discussions and sessions. Not just this, our membership programme Inc42 Plus brought in 20-plus member-exclusive data reports, dozens of articles to ensure an immersive experience for our readers. And lastly, The Product Summit hosted by Inc42 in association with The Product Folks, which saw the participation of 5,000+ attendees with 24 hours of content, workshops and keynotes.

But before we bid goodbye to this unprecedented year, it is essential to make sense of the developments which tested entrepreneurs’ grit and investors’ trust. In this seventh edition of our year-ender series, we will bring you more than a dozen powerful and insightful articles which will provide the larger picture of the year just gone by from Indian startups’ lens.

Through this recap, we will be taking several pit stops to check on the Indian startup ecosystem as it panned out through launches, funding deals, acquisitions, shutdowns, controversies and lawsuits.

Here’s what you can expect in our 2020 In Review year-ender series, starting later this week:

Indian Startup Acquisitions Which Grabbed The Headlines

Reliance Retail’s acquisition of Urban Ladder, a deal worth INR 182 Cr for a seven-year-old startup, a distress sale was a sign of the larger trend with M&As this year With the funding for the Indian startup economy projected to witness at least an 11% year-on-year (YoY) decline in 2020, distress sales haven’t been uncommon this year. Checkout some of the biggest M&A’s of 2020.

Mega Indian Startup Funding Deals

Overall. $10.6 Bn was invested in Indian startups across 905 deals in 2020 (till November). The top 10 deals have grabbed about 38% of the total capital raised by Indian startups in 2020. Take a look at the top 10 mega deals of 2020.

The Year Of Layoffs, Cofounder Elevation, High-Profile Exits And More

Indian startups have secured nearly 68% and 33% less funding in May 2020 compared to the year-ago period in 2019 and 2018, respectively. This has affected valuations and cash flow of startups of all sizes, thus forcing them to seek more ruthless measures like mass layoffs, pay cuts and freezing promotions and salary hikes.  However, this brutal stretch of the pandemic has also witnessed companies elevating their senior talent to the cofounder rank in a bid to retain senior talent. Several startups have used this opportunity to opt for lateral hiring and appoint industry veterans from and outside the startup ecosystem. Here is a look at the HR trends across the startup landscape which continued to make it to the headlines this year.

When Startup Disputes In India Turned Too Ugly

For the first half of the year or so, most companies were busy getting new strategies in place to keep their business going in Covid times. But as the economy slowly started to reopen, the startup ecosystem was ravaged by some deadly disputes For some businesses, these tussles were a way to stay in the limelight. For others, they were an added burden to tackle besides the pandemic. In a rare case or two, as seen in the Khatabook-Dukaan spat, good sense prevailed, and things ended amicably. Some others like Zoho and Freshworks are still baying for blood. Ready the biggest spats and controversies that made noise in 2020.

Global Tech Giants At The Epicentre Of Trouble In India

From run-ins with the government to PR disasters, big tech companies found themselves on the wrong side of public sentiment more than once in 2020. Giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Google are in the centre of major controversies which surround their core businesses in the country. Read the challenges, and problems that surrounded global giants in India

Policies Which Created Waves In The Indian Startup Ecosystem

While 2020 will always be known as the year of pandemic, it has also been a year for new policies and reforms that have changed a lot of the Indian tech landscape. From bans on Chinese products to scrutiny on foreign investments and a host of new policies and hurdles to deal with, startups have had an eventful year, to say the least. Have a deep dive on the government policies which impacted the Indian startup ecosystem.

The Ripple Effect Of India-China Spat On Indian Startups

Mega funding rounds from Chinese investors could be a thing of the past after the changes in the foreign direct investment (FDI) norms and the pre-clearance mandates regarding Chinese investments came into effect in April 2020. A steady rise in anti-China sentiment due to border clashes and the government’s ban on 220 Chinese apps further worsened the situation. As we do a recap of the year, we take a deep dive into the opportunities, repercussions, short-term issues and long-term changes that will impact Indian startups’ financial playbook.

New Startups In The Unicorn League

In all, 11 Indian startups — Unacademy, Pine Labs, FirstCry, Zenoti, Nykaa, Postman, Zerodha, Razorpay, Cars24, Dailyhunt and Glance — became unicorns this year. As experts have pointed out, the core propositions of these startups were ones that actually solved challenges for individuals and businesses during the lockdown for a large portion of the year. Have a look at the Indian startups

Ambani, Bezos And 7 Other Newsmakers Who Made The Headlines For Right And Wrong Reasons

Businesses and economies may not be ready yet to go back to pre-Covid prosperity. But just like the previous years, the newsmakers have been around, bringing good tidings of growth or ugly stories of mismanagement and fall. So, we have decided to look at nine movers and shakers, great personalities who helm the ship, set the direction, take crucial decisions and bring to life a business vision no one else has managed to achieve. Many of these newsmakers lead the Indian startup ecosystem while others head the likes of Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Be part of our year-end journey as we bring to you some well-known business icons, startup heroes and a few others who were the talk of the town for courting controversies.

Startups That Troubled Customers This Year

As everything came to a halt and customers jumped in to cancel all their bookings, several startups were left with heaps of refunds requests but with zero cash flow to make up for it. We bring the latest edition of ‘Year In Review’ to walk you through the customer-related crisis that startups had to face in 2020.

And There’s Plenty More…

Bookmark this article and use it as a jumping-off point to this series. We will keep adding the links to each feature and mini-series under 2020 In Review throughout December.

What’s more, through this series, we will be highlighting our best works from the member-exclusive library of Inc42 Plus. Our membership programme will soon turn a year old, and we look forward to bringing you more stories in 2021 and beyond. Until then, let us recap how things went in 2020.

Note: We at Inc42 take our ethics very seriously. More information about it can be found here.