The Serial Unicorn Churners
Out of the 72 unicorns that India has today, Sandeep Aggarwal, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Naveen Tewari and Bhavish Aggarwal have 2 each to their credit
No matter what business they venture into, they attract investors, find success and turn them into unicorns. We are talking about India’s four entrepreneurs, who have created two unicorns each — Sandeep Aggarwal, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Naveen Tewari and Bhavish Aggarwal. These entrepreneurs seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to building scalable businesses.
According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report titled ‘Start-up Perspectives—India start-up deals tracker Q3 CY21’, India has the second-largest number of unicorns and is only behind the US in building new unicorns. According to this report, economies such as the UK, China and Hong Kong, and Canada are much behind India in terms of adding new unicorns.
Well, India’s entrepreneurs seem to have found the secret recipe for making unicorns out of any good business model, especially the four founders listed below, who went on to build two unicorns each.
Sandeep Aggarwal, founder, Droom and ShopClues
Even though Aggarwal knew he would create another unicorn after ShopClues, the unicorn status was never a goal. “My goal was to change the retail industry and automobile industry with the use of technology, data science, marketplace platform approach and robust ecosystem around. Yes, I knew that if I was going after a large addressable opportunity, technology as the core, high margins and above and disruptive approach and I am successful, it can also be very rewarding to build a large amount of shareholders wealth too,” Aggarwal told Entrepreneur India.
In January 2016, ShopClues became India's fourth unicorn firm valued at over $1 billion and Droom turned a unicorn after a fundraising round in July this year. “I feel very fortunate to build two Unicorns in India. I believe that there is no secret sauce but here are things that helped me…passion, high-energy, long-term approach, data and measurement, access to a decent amount of capital, strong business acumen, frugality, obsession for customer needs, considering growth and scale as non-negotiable constants, and asset-light and people light business model,” he added.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder, Paytm and Paytm Mall
Vijay Shekhar Sharma is often called the poster boy of Indian startups. Hailing from a small twon in Uttar Pradesh, he has come a long way, from struggling to get initial funding for One97 Communications (the parent company of Paytm) to now looking at an IPO anytime soon. The company is valued at $16 billion and has raised over $3 billion to date.
Founded in 2009, the Noida-based fintech startup is eyeing the biggest IPO issue after Coal India which had raised INR 15,000 crore from the public market. “We have to think that we are No.1 in the world. The day we think like that, the world changes for us,” he said at a conference. In 2018, its e-commerce subsidiary Paytm Mall secured $445 million in a funding round by SoftBank and Alibaba to join the coveted club.
He said in an earlier interview with Entrepreneur India that unlike ever before, India has hundreds of millions of customers; it has a middle class and a young population that is ready to learn new things and ape technology. “As a tech entrepreneur, I would say this is a dream come true moment,” he said.
Naveen Tewari, founder, InMobi and Glance
“Some days, building a startup is like playing a test match. 13 years in and you feel like you've just hit lunch. We have a lot of sessions to go,” said Naveen Tewari in a tweet, in April this year.
Tewari launched InMobi, a mobile advertising platform, in 2007 and turned it into India’s first unicorn in 2011 after SoftBank infused capital of $200 million. InMobi completed 14 years today and Tewari tweeted, “Grateful to every InMobian who has brought us so far. We're all InMobians, together and forever.”
Later in 2019, Tewari went on to launch Glance, a lock-screen mobile-first product startup. He converted that too into a unicorn in less than two years, after receiving a $145 million investment from Google and existing investor Mithril Capital. “Glance is a great example of innovation solving for mobile-first and mobile-only consumption, serving content across many of India’s local languages,” said Caesar Sengupta, VP, Google in a statement, during the fund-raise announcement.
Bhavish Aggarwal, founder, Ola and Ola Electric
Bhavish Aggarwal also has two unicorns to his credit, Ola and Ola Electric. “Ola is the fastest Indian startup to enter the Unicorn club,” he had said in 2015 after raising over $900 million from different investors in Series E and F funding. In July 2019, the ride-hailing firm's electric vehicle arm, Ola Electric, also became a unicorn with a $250-million Series B funding from SoftBank.
Aggarwal has been dividing his time between Ola and Ola Electric. “I am spending 24 hours a day there (Ola) and I am spending 24 hours a day there (Ola Electric),” he told Moneycontrol.
Aggarwal believes that as an entrepreneur one is always optimistic, one is always ambitious and energetic to drive a certain vision. He said that when he and his team scaled up its ride-hailing business to a certain level, they realized that another massive disruption required in mobility is actually making it sustainable. “In 2017 I started thinking about it. We thought about what kind of business model to build. Should we build a charging network, or battery swapping or vehicles... then we decided the best way to accelerate this is to control the technology ourselves and build the end product that the consumer wants and that’s when we started down this path, and here we are,” he told Fortune India in an interview.
Shanthi specialises in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. She is also a mom who looks forward to playing a game of cards with her tween daughter every evening after work.