If anyone would’ve predicted at the start of this pandemic-hit year that 2020 will see a record number of new unicorns created in the Indian startup ecosystem, it’s safe to assume that we’d have rebuffed these claims.
And yet, 2020 has proved to be a year unlike any other for the Indian startup ecosystem, heralding the birth of 11 new Indian unicorns.
InMobi’s subsidiary Glance became the latest addition to this coveted $1 billion+ valuation club in December, along with DailyHunt’s parent company VerSe Innovation, following investments of over $100 million by existing and new investors, including Google.
Since 2012, when Inmobi became India’s first unicorn to today, when the ecosystem has more than 35 unicorn startups, India’s unicorn landscape has come a long way.
The frequency at which Indian startups are entering this coveted club of billion-dollar valuation is noteworthy. So also is the stability and the growth that these businesses have achieved even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As 2020 draws its curtains, here is a YourStory deep-dive into the 11 Indian startups that became unicorns in a pandemic-hit year and are poised to inspire a new generation of Indian entrepreneurs.
In January 2020, Pine Labs became the first unicorn of 2020, almost 22 years after its inception. One of the oldest merchant payment solution providers in the country, it raised an undisclosed amount from New York-based financial services major Mastercard at a valuation of approximately $1.5 billion. While the transaction details were not disclosed, sources pegged the funding round was pegged at $100-$150 million (Rs 713-1,069 crore).
Founded in 1998 by Lokvir Kapoor, Rajul Garg, and Tarun Upaday, Pine Labs was initially launched as card-based payments and loyalty solutions provider. However, it pivoted its business model to PoS payments in 2012.
The Noida-based startup provides a merchant platform and makes software for point of sale (PoS) machines. Pine Labs claims to be processing payments of $30 billion per year and serves close to 140,000 merchants across 450,000 network points.
Even amid COVID-19, the startup says it has seen almost a 67 percent jump in monthly merchant on-boarding, owing to shift towards digital. It moved from onboarding 12,000 merchants on a monthly basis to close to 20,000 currently in the last few months.
The company recently announced that it plans to launch a Pay Later solution in five Southeast Asian markets early in 2021.
By mid-2021, Pine Labs also aims to introduce prepaid vouchers and gift cards through its subsidiary Qwikcilver — which it acquired last year — to further extend its footprint in these new markets.
After almost a decade since its inception, FirstCry achieved unicorn status at a $1.2 billion valuation in a $400 million funding deal from SoftBank in February 2020. While the first tranche of $300 million has already been received by the company, the remaining $100 million is expected to be released on the second anniversary of the transaction in January 2021.
It has raised total funding of $428.4 million so far.
Post attaining the unicorn status, the company passed a special resolution to buy back 13,09,860 equity shares each at a price of Rs 234.8 per share for an aggregate of Rs 30.75 crore, revealed regulatory filings.
Founded in 2010 by Supam Maheshwari and Amitava Saha, Pune-based FirstCry has been an undisputed leader in the omnichannel baby and mother care products segment.
The startup claims to offer two lakh baby and kid’s products across 6,000 brands and has expanded its user base to over four million. With a retail footprint of over 400 stores spread across 125 cities, it claims to engage with 13 million ‘unique parents’ every month.
Recently, it reported a 65.8 percent jump in its FY20 revenue to Rs 887.5 crore from Rs 535 crore during FY19.
Its net loss also decreased a whopping 82.5 percent to Rs 162.7 crore from Rs 932.7 crore during the said period. In 2016, FirstCry acquired retail brand BabyOye from Mahindra, and launched the FirstCry Parenting service in 2017. In 2019, the startup forayed into the UAE market.
Mumbai-based online beauty-turned-omnichannel lifestyle retailer Nykaa was once perceived to be one of the underdogs in the Indian ecommerce industry.
Since its launch in 2012 by Falguni Nayar, the company has not left any opportunity to embark upon the success path.
Just before the pandemic hit India, Nykaa claimed profitability for fiscal FY19 in December 2019. Following the lockdown, the company started delivering essentials to over 14,000 pincodes across the country. In May 2020, it attained unicorn status after raising funding of Rs 66.64 crore from its existing investor Steadview Capital at a valuation of $1.2 billion.
Today, Nykaa competes with online marketplaces like Myntra, Purplle, Flipkart, and Amazon. The platform follows an inventory-led model, and has its own private label in cosmetics and personal care segment.
As part of its offerings, it also launched NykaaNetwork, an interactive beauty forum where subscribers could chat with each other. It also launched the NykaaDesignStudio for apparel in designer and premium brands like Ritu Kumar and Masaba in 2018.
Around the same time, Nykaa launched NykaaMan, an ecommerce platform for men’s personal care products in hair care, skincare, wellness, and sports nutrition, among others. It also acquired members-only platform 20Dresses.com for an undisclosed amount in a move to further growth.
Bengaluru and San Francisco-based SaaS startup Postman became the fastest SaaS startup to reach unicorn status. In June 2020, the six-year-old startup secured a Series C funding of $150 million at a valuation of $2 billion.
The investment was led by US-based venture capital fund Insight Partners. Existing investors CRV and Nexus Venture Partners also participated in the round.
Founded in 2014 by Abhijit Kane, Abhinav Asthana, and Ankit Sobti, Postman provides a platform that helps software developers accelerate the development process through collaboration with various stakeholders.
It helps coders test run their APIs and subsequently modify them without having to create separate code for testing them.
Postman claims to be used by over 11 million developers across the world, and more than 500,000 companies globally, including the likes of Microsoft and Twitter.
According to the startup, 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies use the platform.
As a decade-old bootstrapped startup, proficon, and now a unicorn — Zerodha has emerged as one of the most valued online stock trading solutions in the Indian fintech ecosystem.
In June 2020, the company announced an ESOP buyback plan facilitated at around 5X the book value, thereby putting its valuation at $1 billion.
Later, the Hurun List, shared in August 2020, put Zerodha at a valuation of $3 billion. The founders — brothers Nikhil Kamath and Nithin Kamath — believe that if the company had been valued as a technology firm rather than a brokerage firm, the valuation could have been much higher.
In FY19, Zerodha recorded a net profit of Rs 350 crore on revenue of Rs 850 crore. The startup witnessed its total client base increase nearly 40X to 2.8 million over the past five years. Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it claims to have recorded rapid growth, doubling its average monthly user additions from pre-COVID-19 levels to around 200,000 users per month since March 2020.
Zerodha has four registered entities: Zerodha Securities, Zerodha Broking, Zerodha Commodities, and Zerodha Capital. Its tech ecosystem includes products such as Kite (trading platform), Console (central dashboard for accounts), Coin (free direct mutual funds app), Varsity (education module on stock market learning), Kite Connect API (to build investment apps), and Sentinel (offering market alerts on cloud).
In April 2019, Zerodha also launched an incubator fund Rainmatter to invest in early-stage startups. So far, the fund has invested in more than 14 startups.
In six years since the inception of Unacademy, founders Gaurav Munjal, Roman Saini, and Hemesh Singh have truly laid the foundation for the ‘massification of education’, removing geographical barriers, and enabling learners with access to quality education.
Starting in 2010 as a YouTube channel, and later in 2015 as an online platform, Unacademy symbolises the opposite of a traditional academy where you can learn from the best without having to go anywhere.
In September 2020, Unacademy claimed unicorn status with SoftBank leading a $150 million funding round at a $1.45 billion valuation. Existing investors of Unacademy including General Atlantic, Sequoia India, Nexus Venture Partners, Facebook, and Blume Ventures also participated in the round. Later in November 2020, it raised undisclosed funds from Tiger Global Management and Dragoneer Investment Group at a valuation of $2 billion.
At present, Unacademy has a network of over 18,000 teachers and subscribers in excess of 350,000. It claims to clock over two billion watch minutes across 150,000 live classes per month. The platform has more than 47,000 educators, who impart lessons in 14 Indian languages to 40 million learners across 5,000 cities and towns.
In the last few months, the startup made several acquisitions, including PrepLadder, Mastree, and CodeChef among others, and also launched a disruptive storytelling product called Graphy.
At TechSparks 2020, Gaurav said that Uncademy’s “audacious goal” is to build a Netflix for education and do 200X of what it is doing now. He also revealed that the platform’s monthly revenues had shot up from Rs 2 crore to Rs 90 crore in the last 18 months.
In 2014, when Harshil Mathur and Shashank Kumar launched Razorpay, the aim was to make the digital payment processes simpler for small businesses.
Seven years down the line, not only is Razorpay’s suite of products a prime choice for enterprises at all stages, but its customer-first approach is also highly valued in the industry.
The Bengaluru-based company achieved unicorn status in October 2020 after raising $100 million funding led by GIC and Sequoia, with participation from existing investors Ribbit Capital, Tiger Global, Y Combinator, and Matrix Partners.
It took Razorpay seven years to achieve the unicorn status. During this period, it has managed to process transactions worth $25 billion, a benchmark that has taken older and larger competitors in the payment gateway services business 10-15 years to achieve.
In December 2020, it also claimed to turn cash flow positive with 2.6X growth in its revenues, which grew from Rs 193 crore in FY19 to Rs 509 crore during FY20.
Razorpay serves many international brands, including the likes of Facebook, Google, and Wikipedia, national enterprises like Jio, Zerodha, and Hotstar, recent upstarts like Khatabook, OkCredit, and Meesho along with a multitude of SMEs and freelancers.
In order to further help businesses in managing their finances, Razorpay also launched a neobanking platform RazoPayX last year. The founders claim that the platform, within twelve months of its launch, has served over 10,000 businesses.
With the country’s mass transit system completely shut down during the lockdown and rooted fear due to safety and hygiene issues, Indian users turned towards the next most viable option — used cars. The opportunity was massive and Gurugram-based online transaction platforms for pre-owned vehicles CARS24 certainly made the best of it.
With annual transactions exceeding 2,00,000 units, a 4X increase in website engagement from pre-COVID levels, and an entry into the unicorn club, 2020 could not have been better for CARS24. Recently, DST Global, the investment firm led by Russia-born billionaire Yuri Milner, invested $200 million in the startup.
Existing investors Exor Seeds, London-based global investment firm Unbound, and New York-based Moore Strategic Ventures also participated in the round. The round raised the total funding raked in by the company to $393.8 million.
With this, the team aims to reshape this industry with solutions such as unique vehicle appraisal technology, AI-enabled pricing algorithms and a scaled infrastructure. It is currently operational in 130 cities in India.
It recently forayed into the used two-wheelers category and in less than six months of operations, the company claims to have already transacted over 3,000 two-wheelers. Last year, CARS24 also acquired an NBFC license for its financing business and is now providing quick and easy loan plans with two-hour disbursals.
From launching as ManageMySpa in 2010 to gaining unicorn status in 2020, Zenoti has come a long way. Over these years, founders Sudheer Koneru, Dheeraj Koneru, Anand Arvind, and Saritha Katikaneni have added numerous complex capabilities to support collections based financing, electronic medical records, going completely paperless, and extensive package management and managing flexible memberships for its clients.
Based in Hyderabad and Bellevue, Zenoti today serves as one of the leading global enterprise cloud platforms to help business providers in the beauty, wellness and fitness industry.
Its touchless and mobile solutions serve all aspects of consumer engagement, allowing for easy appointment scheduling, self-check-ins, automatic payments and more. It also offers 24/7 customer service, free training and consulting services in addition to the core software.
The company is currently operational in 50 countries offering services to 12,000 businesses. It claims to have achieved a 100 percent year on year growth in 2020 despite the pandemic. Zenoti supports several global brands, including European Wax Center, Hand & Stone, Massage Heights, Rush Hair & Beauty, Sono Bello, Hair Cuttery, Profile by Sanford, and Toni&Guy, among others.
In December 2020, Zenoti raised $160 million from global private equity investor Advent International, through Advent Tech and Sunley House Capital, an affiliate of Advent.
Tiger Global and Steadview Partners also participated in the round which raised the valuation for the company to $1 billion. Zenoti has so far raised approximately $251 million across six funding rounds.
After almost a decade, Dailyhunt finally got its much-awaited unicorn status after raising $100 million funding from AlphaWave, Google, and Microsoft. Existing investors Sofina Group and Lupa Systems also participated in this round.
A vernacular content platform, Dailyhunt offers fresh and relevant content every day in 14 languages. The content is sourced from a licensed creator ecosystem of over 100,000 content partners and individual content creators.
At the core of its parent company, VerSe Innovation, is the idea that technology can help bridge the digital divide.
With a focus on machine learning and deep learning technologies, it aims to enable personalised content to be delivered to the users based on their consumption preferences. At present, it claims to have more than 300 million users.
The new funding comes at a time when the startup is expanding its portfolio of apps focused on Bharat through its short video platform Josh, which is available in 12 Indian languages.
Glance, a subsidiary of InMobi, has become the fastest unicorn by achieving $1-billion valuation in less than two years of its launch.
Earlier, in 2019, B2B ecommerce platform Udaan reached the unicorn status within three years of inception.
According to the founders, Glance is reimagining the future of digital consumption on smartphones. The platform leverages AI to personalise content in several Indian languages on the lock screen of Android smartphones.
It claims to have more than 115 million daily active users who spend an average of 25 minutes on the platform per day.
The company will use the new funding to deepen its AI capability, expand its technology team, launch services on the platform, further strengthen the brand, and drive expansion in global markets.
Special Addition: PhonePe
While PhonePe reportedly gained its unicorn status in 2019, it remained with Flipkart as a subsidiary. Hence, we can consider it gaining unicorn status only after it became an independent entity in 2020.
PhonePe was launched in August 2015, when Sameer Nigam left Flipkart after a four-year-long stint. Soon, Rahul Chari and Burzin Engineer followed him. Initially, the founders were researching new trends in payments — globally and in India.
They were even tracking IMPS for a few years. Later, the trio came up with the idea to tie up with every bank and build a network of digital payments simultaneously.
In 2016, the company was acquired by Flipkart, before fintech-defining events — UPI, Aadhaar, and demonetisation — hit the ecosystem. At the time, it almost seemed like a loss for Flipkart.
However, four years down the line, PhonePe has spun off from Flipkart to operate as an independent entity again, while achieving a valuation of $5.5 billion after raising $700 million in funding.