Unicorns, You Know. But Who Wrote Them The First Cheque?

Entrepreneur India's quarterly 'The Seeders' series will list out the initial investors of present-day Unicorns and tell you some untold stories

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This has probably been the busiest week in the Indian startup ecosystem. With so many big developments, enthusiasts were left short of time to follow up. In an unprecedented way, India witnessed becoming of six Unicorns, or startups having a valuation of over $1 billion. To put in perspective, last year India produced 11 Unicorns, nine in 2019 and eight in 2018.

The week started with Meesho, a social e-commerce platform for women, bagging $300 million, followed by CRED raising $215 million, Pharmeasy's parent picking $323 million, Groww and ShareChat receiving funds worth $83 million and $502 million, respectively. 

Amid all the brouhaha, one must not forget that there was someone who had the conviction and confidence in the present-day Unicorns and handed over that crucial first cheque, when the startup had nothing apart from an idea and founders' will. The amount that kept the founder going through the maze of darkness and uncertainty, ultimately to come up triumph.

These investors supported these startups when others, probably, shrugged them off. 

In this quarterly series, we will look at early investors of ten popular and early Unicorns of India. In some cases, the first investment was a Series A round.

Ashish Gupta and Accel Partners: Flipkart

Flipkart, the e-commerce platform, was introduced in the country to give Indians a taste of Amazon. The startup was founded in 2007 by two ex-Amazon employees Sachin and Binny Bansal. The startup raised its first-ever investment in 2009 from Accel Partners worth $1 million. Angel investor Ashish Gupta, who is known to be a low-key but smart investor also wrote a cheque worth INR 10 lakh. Apart from Flipkart, Gupta also wrote cheques in the initial stages for MuSigma and MakeMyTrip. 

Bengaluru-based Flipkart entered the Unicorn club in 2012. Flipkart in 2018 was acquired by Walmart for a record $16 billion.  

InfoEdge: Zomato

What started as mere digital leaflet services in and around Delhi, is now India’s largest food delivery aggregator. Started in 2008 by two IIT graduates, Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah, Zomato is now the go-to app for most Indians to suffice their appetite or find a place to eat. 

It was Sanjeev Bikhchandani-led Info Edge that invested $1 million in Zomato at the initial stage. In the very next year, Info Edge further pumped in $3 million in the startup. The startup entered the Unicorn club in 2015. Zomato in the first half of 2020 had over 11.2 million transacting users on a monthly average. The startup now delivers across 500 cities with 200 thousand delivery partners.  

Elevation Capital: Swiggy

Swiggy—another food delivery aggregator founded in 2014 by Nandan Reddy, Rahul Jaimini and Sriharsha Majety—is second in the market share with 45 per cent, but reportedly has 60 per cent revenue share with 45 million transactions every month. 

Swiggy received its initial funding worth $2 million from venture capital funds  SAIF Partners, now renamed Elevation Capital along with Accel Partners in April 2015. 

There was no looking back for Swiggy then after. To date, the startup has raised over a billion dollars. The startup after raising its latest funds worth $800 million is valued at $5 billion. The startup entered the prestigious club in 2018.

Anupam Mittal and Rehan Yar Khan: OLA

Ola—India’s very own cab aggregator was started by Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati in 2010—started before global players such as Uber entered India. Aggarwal first received a cheque worth INR 1 cr from angel investor Anupam Mittal and Rehan Yar Khan in 2011. Later, Zishan Hayath also invested in the startup. Ola in 2019 cumulatively covered more than 6 billion kilometer. 

The startup which locks horns with Uber became Unicorn in 2015. The startup later carved out an EV segment called Ola Electric which also became Unicorn in record 26 months after being registered. Ola Electric is currently setting up the world's largest electric vehicles two-wheeler manufacturing plant. 

Piyush Agarwal: Paytm

Vijay Shekhar Sharma-led Paytm, which changed the way Indians make payments, is a product of One97 Communications which was founded in 2000. Around 2005, Sharma needed a loan worth INR 8 lakh to repay loans. Sharma who was the founder of One97 Communication and a CEO of Polar Software, a company owned by Piyush Agarwal, approached Agarwal for a loan. However, the latter declined but instead invested the same amount in the company for a 40 per cent stake. Agarwal later sold all the stake with a multi-fold return. 

By 2015, Paytm had hit a milestone of 100 million users and achieved the Unicorn status the same year. As of now Paytm has registered 350 million registered users and offers an array of payment options. Paytm’s subsidiary firm, Paytm Mall to become a unicorn. At this point, Paytm is the most valued Unicorn. 

Info Edge: Policybazaar

Online Web insurance aggregator Policybazaar is credited to have disrupted the century-old practice of selling and buying insurance and policy in the country. Founded in 2008 by Yashish Dahiya, Alok Bansal and Avaneesh Nirjar, Policybazaar in its initial stages was supported by Info Edge, a consumer Internet company. Policybazaar in its early years received a cheque worth INR 20 crore. Later in 2011, Info Edge went on to invest INR 10 crore along with Intel Capital. The startup entered the Unicorn club in 2018 and is said to have over 100 million visitors annually and facilitates somewhere around 3 lakh transactions per month.

IAN: Druva

Founded in 2007 by Jaspreet Singh and Milind Borate, Druva , an India-based SaaS startup that provides cloud data protection and management, has reached great heights. The startup raised its first seed round in 2008 from Indian Angel Network (IAN). IAN and Accord International (Hong Kong) announced a strategic seed investment into Druva on January 12, 2008. This investment made Rehan yar Khan of IAN, join the board of Druva.

Druva entered the coveted club in 2019 after raising $130 million in a new round led by Viking Global Investors. 

Druva is now entirely built on Amazon Web Service (AWS) which is trusted by over 4,000 enterprises and manages more than 150PB of data worldwide. Among Druva’s clients are marquee names such as NASA, DHL, Emerson and Carlsberg.

Ascent Capital: BigBasket

Founded in 2011 by K. Ganesh, Meena Ganesh, V.S. Sudhakar, Hari Menon, Vipul Parekh and V.S. Ramesh, BigBasket has brought departmental stores to every Indian’s doorstep. The startup in its second year from inception raised $10 million as part of Series A from Ascent Capital, which is believed to be the startup’s first institutional investment. Back then, the fund amount was considered to be the biggest investment in the e-retail sector. The startup became Unicorn in 2019. 


At present, the company claims to be hitting 20 million orders per month and is said to have reached $1 billion run rate revenues. Several reports this year also suggested Tata Sons Pvt. Ltd was in talks to acquire BigBasket for over a billion dollars. 

Aarin Capital: Byju’s

In 2021, if India is looked at as a hub of edtech startups, then Byju Raveendran has to be attributed for shaping the industry back in 2011 via Byju's. However, when Raveendran started teaching for entrance exams in classrooms and later shifted to YouTube, he would have never imagined that his company one day will be valued at over $10 billion. 

However, it won’t be wrong to say that Aarin Capital which is led by Mohandas Pai and Ranjan Pai believed in Byju’s and offered the first cheque of $9 million in a Series A round. 

The startup now has 70 million users and 4.7 million subscribers. The startup achieved Unicorn status in 2018.

LightSpeed Ventures: Udaan

Udaan, a B2B platform designed especially for small and medium businesses, was founded by three ex-Flipkart employees—Amod Malviya, Vaibhav Gupta and Sujeet Kumar—in 2016. The startup raised its first Series A round worth $10 million from LightSpeed Ventures.

The startup added the Unicorn tag to its name in 2018 after raising $585 million from Tencent and other investors. The startup claims to have witnessed a big surge in business across its food, electronics and lifestyle in 2020. As per the Business Standard report, 1350 sellers in tier II and tier III cities recorded a sales turnover of over INR 1 crore each on the platform last year.