25 Techpreneurs Make it to Our Class of 2017
These 25 Indian techies continue to affect our lives, changing the way we pay, shop, commute and even the way we learn.
Tech has always been and will be the talk of the town, disrupting the way we think, operate or do business, showcasing new ways of doing things. It has played the role of a controller of everything around us. From the biggest companies around the globe to the change makers, (thanks to technology) entrepreneurship or innovation, nothing is same as before.
And, India and Indians play a pivotal role in this with the innovations, investment and foreign companies finding a footing here. In search of the biggest tech-preneurs, who are changing the world of tech, we looked for Indians who live abroad, Indians who head tech enterprises here, Indians who are now regarded among the top in the world.
These 25 Indian techies continue to affect our lives, changing the way we pay, shop, commute and even the way we learn. From clean tech to electric cars to space tech, Entrepreneur has listed the top 25 tech-preneurs of today's time. In the ensuing pages you will find the five kinds of people from the tech world – thought leaders, investors, maestros, start-ups and gems. Here's what Entrepreneur's annual Tech 25 list is all about: finding the firms with superior growth (both past and projected), along with a solid earnings - quality score from value line!
(This article was first published in the May issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)
CHANGING THE WORLD OF ADS - NAVEEN TIWARI l FOUNDER AND CEO, INMOBI
Born and brought up in the family of an IIT Professor, Naveen Tiwari began his professional journey with McKinsey and Company as a business analyst. When in 2007, Naveen, with his three friends started working on InMobi - born as a mobile first company - from a shared apartment in Mumbai, people started calling them 'boys with powerpoint'.
Even today, InMobi continues to be a mobile-only advertising platform. Mobile advertising has the potential to fundamentally change the future of the ecosystem. The first 10 years of mobile advertising model was about 'mobile natives' whose business models were gaming, entertainment, cabs etc. Today, mobile novices and traditional organizations are compelled to enhance their revenue streams by monetizing data, which they haven't before.
OYO FINDS ROOM TO GROW - RITESH AGARWAL, FOUNDER, OYO ROOMS
Ritesh Agarwal's OYO Rooms have changed the way India's legacydriven hospitality industry functions. This industry suffers from a major disconnect between demand and supply of quality living space, forcing travellers to compromise on decision variables of location, comfort and pricing. With an aim to provide affordable yet standardised accommodation, the company was the first-of-its-kind to cause disruption in the space.
Backed by a strong operation team, OYO is setting a strong example of how technology can enable an exceptional experience for customers and also can be profitable. On one hand, it has simplified booking, payment, check-in and check-out processes. On the other hand, it has helped many branded budget hotels to pick up pace and its growth potential.
CHANGING THE WAY INDIA SHOPS - AMIT AGARWAL, SVP AND COUNTRY HEAD, AMAZON INDIA
Jeff Bezos-owned Amazon has been aggressive in infusing capital in the Indian e-commerce space, thereby locking horns with home-grown e-commerce biggies. The man who spearheads the India division, Amit Agarwal, SVP and Country Head, Amazon India, rightly believes that e-commerce is today one of the most exciting spaces in India with a tremendous opportunity to grow.
Agarwal has close to two decades of experience in Amazon and has played a pivotal role in establishing its position in the Indian market. "It's been exciting and humbling for us to see how customers have responded to Amazon's innovations. It has helped us consistently grow significantly faster than the industry and rapidly penetrate into more geographies," Agarwal told Entrepreneur in an interaction.
THE ‘SAASY’ INNOVATOR - GIRISH MATHRUBOOTHAM, FOUNDER, FRESHDESK
Girish Mathrubootham had officially launched the cloudbased customer support platform Freshdesk in 2010. Over the years, the company has successfully brought onboard a marquee league of investors and has successfully grown from strength to strength. Freshdesk, spearheaded by Mathrubootham, a Zoho protegee, has been a global venture from day one.
"Our first six customers were spread across four continents. About catering to the foreign markets and Indian consumers, we believe that people from different countries are culturally diverse - some prefer to meet in person before closing deals, while others close deals over phone," Mathrubootham said.
PERSISTING GROWTH - DR. ANAND DESHPANDE, FOUNDER, CHAIRMAN & MANAGING DIRECTOR, PERSISTENT SYSTEMS
Anand Deshpande studied B.Tech from IIT Kharagpur and then he completed his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1989. Immediately after graduating, he worked for HP labs in Palo Alto for about 18 months. During this time, he always felt that he should come back to India and start working here. Sharing the start of his entrepreneurial journey, Deshpande says, “It just all added up to a new level and couple of friends were supportive and we decide to start our own business.” As Deshpande worked in the US, his initial projects came from people whom he knew professionally. “When I started off in India, doing a software business was very difficult. Computer hardwares were not available, telecom facility was very bad, and there were whole bunch of issues,” he shares.
Highlighting some of the learnings from his entrepreneurial journey, Deshpande shares some interesting points. He said, “Firstly, you have to have the right peers that can hire and work for the company and having the right team is a big challenge. Moreover, it is very important to position yourself correctly so that the customers are aware of your offerings. Finally, people just give up too fast. The whole thing about entrepreneurship is that if customer rejects you have to be relaxed, all these are the parts of life.”
DOWN THE ROAD - BHAVISH AGGARWAL, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, OLA
An alumnus of IIT - Bombay, Bhavish Aggarwal, along with few others, forms the face of India's emerging start-up ecosystem. Aggarwal is the CEO and CoFounder of Ola and prior to that he worked with Microsoft Research for two years, where he filed for two patents and published three papers in international journals.
He started Ola (formerly Olacabs) in December 2010, along with Ankit Bhati, also an IIT- Bombay alumni, with a mission to build mobility for a billion Indians. And from there on, the duo has led Ola to become one of India's most valuable and respected startups in a short span of time.
GAURAV SINGH KUSHWAHA - FOUNDER, BLUESTONE
An IIT graduate and a notable figure in the start-up domain, Gaurav Singh Kushwaha, Founder, BlueStone, has been a technology entrepreneur for over 10 years. Before BlueStone, he had established Chakpak, an online entertainment gateway, in 2007. And within two years, Chakpak had more than three million users a month and effectively raised two rounds of funding from Accel and Canaan Partners separately. His second venture BlueStone, which sells precious stones and jewels online, was launched in 2011.
GURU TAKES THE TECH-PATH - BYJU RAVEENDRAN, FOUNDER, BYJU'S
Byju Raveendran took the education technology domain by storm when he moved classroom coaching to an online platform. Today, BYJU’s is India’s largest K-12 learning app with over eight million users and 4,00,000 annual paid subscriptions. In an interview with Entrepreneur, the teacher turned entrepreneur gave his perspective on what he feels about innovation in the technology space.
Talking about the core innovation areas BYJU’s is working on, he says, “A lot has been happening in the Indian education space and it has evolved much over the last few years. With the right investments and plans, technology is helping us to shape the way India learns. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement in the way students learn.”
ENTREPRENEUR TURNED INVESTOR - ARIHANT PATNI, MD, IDEASPRING CAPITAL
A financial advisor, venture capitalist and a second generation entrepreneur with vast experience in IT services/infrastructure, business development, etc, 40-year-old Arihant Patni began his career at a very young age. He initially worked at his father’s company, Patni Computers Venture for four years, which was later sold to iGATE at a reasonable amount but at the right time. Post that, Patni was left with two gateways, either he could have setup another entrepreneurial venture, or else he could have opted to become an investor in entrepreneurial firms and become a part of their venture. Patni chose the latter.
In 2011, things had already started changing, new business innovation models had started coming up and Internet started having a very strong presence. “We sat down thinking how could we back these businesses. And decided to look for smart companies whom we could fund and be a part of,” claims Patni. At present, Patni is the Managing Director of Patni Financial Advisors and Hive Technologies. He is also Co-Founder and on the Board of Directors of Nirvana Venture Advisors, a venture capital fund with focus on the Internet.
THE TICKET AGENT - ASHISH HEMRAJANI, FOUNDER AND CEO, BOOKMYSHOW
Ashish Hemrajani is not an entrepreneur who retweets every tweet that praises the fabulous offers his online ticketing platform has for its consumers. Neither does he posts inspirational quotes to stay connected to his followers. Hemrajani instead prefers to stay focused. Bookmyshow, the online entertainment ticketing provider, is Hemrajani’s baby since the last 18 years. Being at the helm as the CEO has taught him two facts about India – the country is full of challenges and it is hence equally full of opportunities.
“A lot of people are surprised by the scale, I am actually not. I have been around for 18 years to know other countries, other businesses in other parts of the world, not only scale much faster if there is an idea that catches fire, they also end up making revenues as well,” he says. Hemrajani’s primary concern is why is it that after so many years, Indian businesses actually cannot end up making money. You can hide behind the guise that I am actually scaling but the problem is everyone is just discounting.
FROM A SMALL ROOM TO RS 40CR COMPANY - PALLAV NADHANI, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, FUSIONCHARTS16 years ago, a 16-year-old boy, Pallav Nadhani, started a company called FusionCharts from his small bedroom in Kolkata. The idea behind the startup was to dumb down complex data for layman to understand it. In 16 years, FusionCharts has grown from one room office to a Rs 40 crore company that employs about 80 people in its offices in Kolkata and Bengaluru and has over 27,000 customers.
THE SMART TECHIE - MAHESH LINGAREDDY, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, SMARTRON
The founding passion is always driven by an idea and it can never be replaced by any other feeling. Same happened with Mahesh Lingareddy. Lingareddy had started thinking about Smartron in 2013 and launched it in 2014. For a couple of years it remained less visible as they were busy building the team and other capabilities quietly in Hyderabad and Bangalore. It presented itself in the public domain in March 2015.
Talking about his IoT start-up, Lingareddy says, “Under this platform, we have tried to incorporate the best services for our customers from personalised health to smart homes to enterprise, infrastructure, farming, etc.”
SCALING UP THE NON BRANDED SEGMENT - RADHIKA AGARWAL, CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF BUSINESS OFFICER, SHOPCLUES
Unlike other leading e-commerce firms, ShopClues is a merchant-focussed company that is targeting the tier II, III and IV markets of India. The company was founded in 2011 by Sandeep Agarwal, Radhika Agarwal and Sanjay Sethi.
Agarwal says, “We have always believed that real India lies in the local markets and SMEs and that’s where we need to be. We wanted to build a platform that reflects the Indian-ness of consumers, keeping in mind the typical shopping preference and cultural tastes."
HOW FITNESS TRANSFORMED HIS GAME - VISHAL GONDAL, FOUNDER AND CEO, GOQIIVishal Gondal has always been a believer that a business will succeed only if it has a great differentiating idea behind it. The man who built Indiagames and later sold it to the Walt Disney Company in India in 2011 has been regarded as India’s foremost techpreneurs. After continuing as Managing Director for a year for the same company, he finally called it quits to find another calling. In 2014, he launched a health and fitness solution company named GOQii.
AIMING FOR A ‘MOONSHOT’ - RAHUL NARAYAN, FLEET COMMANDER, TEAMINDUSTeamIndus is a six-years-old company started with an attempt to launch a spacecraft towards Google Lunar XPRIZE, an international competition wherein the aim is to land a rover on the moon and make it move 500 meters and come back with the evidence. “That is where we started off with engineering as our core focus,” shares Rahul Narayan, Fleet Commander, TeamIndus. The company started off like any other start-up. The whole point was to connect people and then over a period of time it consolidated.
THE GOD OF IT - CP GURNANI, MD AND CEO, TECH MAHINDRAFrom creating the Rotaract Club in Rourkela while pursuing his chemical engineering at the National Institute of Technology way back in his yester years to being the CEO of India’s largest IT company, CP Gurnani is often considered the god of IT. Few know Gurnani was with a British company called Fenner India before diving into the IT ocean. “I was posted in Calcutta and enjoyed an incredible market share for the company compared to competitors.
THE DEALMAKER - REHAN YAR KHAN, MD AND FOUNDER, ORIOS VENTURE PARTNERSAfter dabbling as an entrepreneur with Flora2000 and being an angel investor to some start-ups, Rehan Yar Khan started an early stage fund, Orios Venture Partners focusing on software and technology enabled startups. Initially, Orios raised Rs 300 crore as ‘Fund I’ and he raised Rs 500 crore for Fund II. An investor from the last 10 years, Khan feels that there is a shortage of funds even in today’s environment. “My observation is that the amount of funding has gone up significantly if you compare it with 10 years ago, I would say it’s hundred times larger. The quantum of money which is now available in India would continue rising,” states Khan.
THE VISIONARY - PEYUSH BANSAL, FOUNDER AND CEO, LENSKART
The self-proclaimed obsession around customers service has made Peyush Bansal leave his job with Microsoft in US and launch Lenskart in India. After sailing though different business models and without any external investment, Lenskart has managed to raise a total of Rs 721 crore which was utilized in terms of building backend infrastructure and for delivery of spectacles.
Its marquee list of investors include Premji Invest, Ronnie Screwvala, IFC, TPG Growth, and Adveq. Talking about his plans on building a company of the future, Peyush Bansal, Founder and CEO, Lenskart says, “Mainly it will be a tech focused company whether we run online or offline. The idea is to use technology to deliver an omni-channel experience to consumers. Besides, we are working on getting into hyper market and will also be looking at tying up with hospitals.”
THE WIND CRIES, ENERGY! - ARUN GOERGE, FOUNDER AND CEO, AVANT GARDE INNOVATIONSFossil fuels are about to be consumed in the next 50 years and alternative sources like solar, geothermal and wind are still struggling to be costeffective. Avant Garde Innovations has truly displayed that it can revolutionise the space for wind power generation with its innovative design of a small wind turbine. This hardware technology can be used for residential or large-scale deployment and works at low wind speeds that makes it viable just about anywhere in the world. That is the reason why Arun George, Founder and CEO, Avant Garde Innovations tells us, “We have been receiving heavy orders from countries like the US, Africa and the Middle East although initially we had thought there will be a demand from the coastal areas in India only.”
BETTER PRICES FOR FARMERS - ADITYA AGARWALLA, CO-FOUNDER, KISAN NETWORK
Farmers in India are still ignorant of the correct market price of their produce and the majority of margins still go to the middleman at mandis. On a vacation when Aditya Agarwalla was home, his father Sanjay Agarwalla who has spent close to 15 years helping big firms get access to rural markets, narrated this story and its compounding disadvantage to farmers in India. Aditya, who is studying Computer Engineering at Princeton, decided to research on the issue during his vacations.
Eventually, he was able to identify grass-root problems and to build up the idea, within a few months he came back to India, taking a break from his university education. He says, “Initially it was for a year, but as the company is growing fast I haven’t had the time to go back yet.”
THE PAYMENT MAN - VIJAY SHEKHAR SHARMA, FOUNDER AND CEO, PAYTM
Recently back from the TIME 100 event (the band is still tied around Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s right wrist) where he stood with privilege among the 100 most influential people in the world. The music lover is happy to recall that he met all the cool people, including his favourite music legends. From the full page Paytm ads, which Sharma published on all leading newspapers the day after the Central Government announced the implementation of demonitisation to adding new innovations every day, Sharma has been the one who doesn’t only react but respond to changing market situations and reads customer well.
Always a step ahead, Sharma launched yet another product for Indian customers called Digital Gold - cashing in on the opportunity of Akshaya Tritiya (an Indian festival wherein it’s considered auspicious to buy gold). Coming from a small town in UP, Sharma has always been the hustler, quick to realize what opportunity to thrive on at what time. At the launch event, Vijay says, “Our interest was that since we have a bank account now, we want to give wealth management products.”
CASHING IN ON THE CHINA STORY - ANEESH REDDY, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, CAPILLARY TECHNOLOGIESIn a time when retailers used to use card based loyalty program, Capillary disrupted the market with mobile based CRM. After revolutionizing the way loyalty programs are run and perceived, it went on to innovate and deliver the omni-channel experience to the industry. From innovating on loss of sale to creating endless aisles, it has helped retailers be where their customers demand them to be. Capillary has been successful in executing its strategy across India, the Middle East, South East Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia) and China.
THE OTHER BROTHER - BHAVIN TURAKHIA, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, DIRECTI37-year-old Bhavin Turakhia has been popular in the tech circle for building businesses in a bootstrapped way. A start-up evangelist, Bhavin has over 19 years of experience in the sector, with 11 companies founded by him till date. “I have always believed in creating value. If you are able to provide value to the consumer, success and profitability will follow. My key mantra is to focus on creating value rather than on valuation,” shares Turakhia.
CREATING HISTORY IN ELECTRIC CARS WITH $100 - PADMASREE WARRIOR, CEO, NIO US
In the list of most powerful women in Silicon Valley, is Padmasree Warrior, 56, the CEO of NIO U.S. After graduating from IIT, Warrior left for an adventure far away from her home in India. She went to the United States to attend graduate school at Cornell University with only $100 and a one-way ticket and the rest is history now.
At NIO U.S., they believe that the car will be the smartest device people will own. This not only means that they have to provide cutting edge technology, but also means that they must approach every aspect of the design from a userfirst point of view. In the digital age, consumers expect a one-click experience to buy service and upgrade their vehicle.
MERGING THE DIGITAL AND REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE - AMBARISH MITRA, FOUNDER, BLIPPAR
Ambarish Mitra often reminisces about how his augmented reality app Blippar was born out of a joke at a remote bar located in south-west England. Founded in the UK in 2011, Blippar app, the flagship product of Blippar, is the first augmented reality browser, bridging the gap between digital and real-world experiences using AI and AR. It allows users over time to ‘blipp’ (scan) anything that they’re curious about - from objects to buildings, animals and people - to unlock useful and entertaining content and AR experiences.
Speaking about the innovations explored by his company in the AR space, Mitra explained, “In the last few years, we have developed thousands of augmented reality campaigns and through this vast experience we have come to understand the importance of artificial intelligence in achieving scale. Before we augment the world, it is crucial that we understand the reality in front of us and as such, we have built our capabilities in the areas of artificial intelligence, computer vision and deep learning,”