How This Shipping Startup Rocketed to Unicornhood

Shiprocket, whose valuation rose over $1 billion last month, aims to build a complete D2C enablement platform to revolutionise e-commerce in India

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On August 17, 2022, two days after India celebrated its 76th Independence Day, logistics startup Shiprocket joined an elite group of companies, "unicorns", whose mythical name perhaps rather aptly captures the nature of their billion-dollar valuations—more fancy than fact. Regardless, the huge milestone rightly drew in appreciation from friends, family and employees alike. Was turning a unicorn a clear target from the get-go? "It never was. It all happened organically," exclaimed an elated Sahil Goel, co-founder and CEO, Shiprocket, and a running enthusiast.

Sahil Goel, co-founder and CEO, Shiprocket

The dream to establish Shiprocket—a one-stop platform to alleviate the logistical woes of India's small and medium businesses (SMBs)—originated from a larger vision to empower the country's e-commerce sector to truly come into its own. The journey began over a decade ago when Goel, who was then working full time as a consultant at an IT services company in Pittsburgh, US, joined forces with his friend, Gautam Kapoor, to start a part-time venture, BigFoot Retail Solutions, in New Delhi to build a technology platform for helping small businesses come online. This platform, KartRocket, was designed almost as an Indian equivalent to Canada's Shopify.

Although side hustles and moonlighting have lately become controversial practices in the Indian entrepreneurial world, the early days of many successful startups invariably witness the founders toiling at odd hours from dawn till dusk to work on their dream projects alongside their primary jobs. Goel, for instance, explained how he would wake up at 4:00 AM in those days to work with Kapoor until he took the final plunge a few months later to shift to India to focus full time on their new business. On whether his unicorn startup today has a policy on moonlighting, however, he remained tight-lipped.

"While running Kartrocket successfully, we identified a huge opportunity in the shipping part of the order journey. We realized that the real heavy lifting happens after an order is placed and that was the beginning of Shiprocket: a single platform to ease sellers' woes," he continued. Finally incepted in 2017 by Goel, Kapoor and Vishesh Khurana, Shiprocket has since been aggregating leading courier partners on one single platform from where sellers can simultaneously choose and compare several shipping options. In 2020, the startup elevated Akshay Ghulati from chief business officer (CBO) to another co-founder.

Today, Shiprocket claims to have over 17 leading partners delivering to more than 24,000 pin codes in India and to over 220 countries across the globe. Some of its notable clients include D2C skincare brand MamaEarth, co-founded by Ghazal Alagh of Shark Tank India fame, American safety razor brand Gillette, homegrown audio-tech company BoAt, and India's largest footwear manufacturer by volume, Relaxo, among others.

Goel credits Shiprocket's growth largely to its investors: "The faith of our current investors made us a unicorn today!" For the first year since its birth, the startup was bootstrapped and sold its services to generate salaries for its engineers who were building the core product. A couple of years into operation, it raised funds from angel investors. Eventually, it bagged capital from big investors such as Zomato (one of the world's top 10 e-commerce food delivery companies), 9Unicorns (a $70 million Indian accelerator fund), and Temasek Holdings (Singapore state investor with a net portfolio of around $284 billion), among others. Thus far, Shiprocket has raised $309.79 million across nine funding rounds. "Today, we are considered to be one of the top companies in India; it really feels good. We have come a long way and we have to keep on moving forward," added Goel.

Moving forward involves overcoming current obstacles and planning for the future. "Product-market fit was a key challenge we faced when we started the company. Our customers struggled the most in the post-purchase cycle, where they had no infrastructure to fulfil direct orders received on their social media accounts or websites. They relied on Amazon for fulfilling their marketplace orders. Shiprocket was created to solve this problem," said Goel. Having achieved its initial aim and survived a global pandemic, the company is now looking to mitigate other issues, such as providing omni-channel solutions to sellers to bridge the gap between online and offline selling, while also setting the wheels in motion for eventual global expansion, beginning with the Middle East. To the latter end, Shiprocket launched its services in Saudi Arabia in November last year. Building a complete D2C enablement platform is high on the company's current agenda.

Turning a unicorn has naturally ushered in a number of benefits: top investors, the right talent pool, strategic acquisitions, and others. Goel insisted though that internally not much has altered for the company: "We are still at the start of our journey to revolutionize direct commerce and there is a long way ahead." What, then, has changed for him personally? "I love running," he responded simply. As a quintessential youth years ago, his relentless energy and ambition and fewer familial responsibilities ensured that he spent all this time working—from learning email etiquette to server architecture—as he navigated the pressures of making a mark in the real world. Today, he's seeks to find a better work-life balance: "I spend time with my family and friends, go on a run every single day and try to capture the essence of life."

In evidence of the wisdom that often accompanies age, Goel's personal vision has broadened to making a positive impact all around—on his team members, customers and the overall ecosystem. "I would like to create a platform that outlives me and continues generating value for all stakeholders in the long run," he said in humble submission.