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Trouble in Startup Paradise, Season '22: Founders, Investors Lock Horns The first six months of 2022 have been riddled with many a headline of dispute among founders and investors, some more disgraceful than others, leading spectators to wonder if all is not sunny in the Indian startup garden

By Soumya Duggal

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If romantic partners around the world have taught us anything, it's that passionate relationships flourish on wild ups and downs. Relationships within a dynamic startup are likewise prone to cycles of discord and reconciliation, an entrepreneurial version of will-they-won't-they, if you will.

But sometimes things turn so sour that there is no turning back. The first six months of 2022 have been riddled with many a headline of dispute among founders as well as investors, some more disgraceful than others, leading spectators to wonder if all is not sunny in the Indian startup garden. Here are a few controversies that gathered the most attention in this year's first half.

BharatPe: Founded in 2018 by IIT-Delhi duo Ashneer Grover and Shashvat Nakrani to empower shop owners to accept payments from any payment app for free, BharatPe found itself mired in controversy this year after an audio clip leaked allegedly of Grover abusing a Kotak Mahindra Bank employee for failing to get funds for the purchase of shares in Nykaa's IPO. In March, Grover stepped down and his wife was removed from her position as the company's board alleged extensive misappropriation of funds by the couple. Later, Grover accused the investors of treating the fintech's founders as "slaves" and said that his wife was fired due to "male chauvinism". Nakrani then defended the board and accused Grover of creating a "false narrative" around the company.

Zilingo: Following a long dispute spanning months, co-founder Ankiti Bose was first suspended and then sacked from Zilingo, a Singapore-based technology and commerce platform in the fashion industry, in May this year over alleged financial irregularities. The company, which had raised $226 million at a valuation of $970 million in 2019, started struggling as disagreements between Bose and co-founder Dhruv Kapoor grew over time, according to claims by insiders. The start-up's troubles worsened as Dhruv was accused of sexual harassment and Sequoia Capital India's Shailendra Singh stepped down from the company board amidst investigation of the allegations against Bose. The latter called the company's actions a "witch hunt".

Invact Metaversity: Founders Manish Maheshwari and Tanay Pratap were in the news for differences on how to run their company, Invact Metaversity, a higher education platform set up in the metaverse. In May, Maheshwari stepped down, tweeting, "We both are passionate and uncompromising about what we believe in, as founders usually are. While we are parting ways, we have fond memories of working together not just as colleagues, but also as brothers." "Wishing Manish all the best for the future. Goodbyes are always hard," Pratap responded. The difference between the founders became known following Invact's angel investor Gergely Orosz's letter to shareholders, which said that Maheshwari was bullying Tanay and wanted more equity than vested.

Soumya Duggal

Former Feature Writer

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