Ideas That Built Multi-Million-Dollar Companies

From 3,100 startups in 2014 to a projection of more than 11,500 by 2020, India is set to produce more Snapdeals, Olas and Flipkarts

Ideas That Built Multi-Million-Dollar Companies
Ideas That Built Multi-Million-Dollar Companies
Ideas That Built Multi-Million-Dollar Companies

In the past, youth achieved success through only professional endeavours. Growing older meant resources getting depleted or divided and ambitions getting dampened.

Yes, it's still true for most of us but some people still dare to swim against the currents and reach the shore in their ambitions. Those of us who grew up in this tech age have way bigger dreams and are wired to function in a dynamic world.

One such landscape where people dream to achieve big, is the world of entrepreneurship. We always hear, amongst all the reasons quoted for starting something unique, the most common ones are "wanting to create something", "passion to do", and "be independent" but very few founders would blatantly admit "to be rich" as their aim. It's quite true that being rich just happens to be one of the by-products of running a successful startup.

Well, did anyone ever think, that India would become one of the fastest growing startup landscapes in the world by 2016? The answer is most likely a no but now it's home to a fleet of tremendous tech and innovative startups. There is no bluffing as the numbers say it all. From 3,100 startups in 2014 to a projection of more than 11,500 by 2020 is certainly not a passing trend. It's a revolution. It's going to change the way markets are working today.

In general, nine of 10 startups fail but the ones who make it big all have two things in common. One, 'a brilliant idea' and two, 'the zeal to make it work'. And it can happen very, very quickly. So it's no wonder that in a burgeoning startups ecosystem in India, some of the youngest richest Indians are startup founders. Their stories are truly inspirational, they are super young and super rich.

Here are some of those who built their million-dollar companies from scratch:

'Life can indicate you, picking the cue is your part, not everyone gets a second chance'- Snapdeal

Before February 2010, nobody knew Snapdeal or its founders. Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal wanted to do something of their own, so they agreed upon an 
offline couponing business. They called it, 'Money Saver.'

After working on it for three months and achieving some success, they wanted to go to the next level. They were ready for something newer, bigger and better. They met Kalaari Capital's Vani Kola, to whom the duo presented a business model inspired by the Chinese eCommerce giant 'Alibaba'. The deal didn't took off in the first meeting, it required a lot of convincing for sure.

It wasn't a smooth ride but they were slowly able to reach where e-Bay had already reached. Snapdeal created it's own niche with Indian customers and today it's one of the fastest growing e-Commerce marketplaces in India. It's been six years and so far the company has been able to raise a total funding of $1.65 billion from two dozen investors, including SoftBank, BlackRock, Temasek, Fozconn, Alibaba, eBay Inc., Premji Invest, Intel Capital, Intel Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Ratan Tata, among others.

'People told me how to go there, I smiled because they didn't know I had wings!'- OYO 

In hotels and hospitality industry, Ritesh's journey has been an interesting to trace. He hails from a business family in Odisha, and has only learnt the nitty-gritties of his business by travelling, staying and having a hands-on experience of booking hotel rooms.

His age doesn't reflect the level of his maturity but he smartly sensed what was wrong with the hotel booking platform models. While working on his first venture, 'Oravel Stays', based on 'Airbnb's' model, Agarwal realised that discovering hotels was not a problem. Then 18-year-old understood that the places of stay were not standardised. Hence, he built India's most reliable and online budgeted stay aggregator, 'OYO'.

Ritesh also became the became the first Indian to be chosen for Thiel Fellowship, where he received a $100,000 grant by early Facebook investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. It's only given to entrepreneurs who usually are below 20 and are running a successful business. When asked on what he learnt from the duration at the fellowship, he said: "One big learning from Thiel fellowship was think really big and create an impact, without thinking if anybody has done it before."

He has been unusually exceptional, with his clarity of thought, purpose and execution capabilities. His efforts and the efficiency of his team is visibly high since they have scaled up fast from five cities in December 2014 to in over 200 cities in the country now.

It has created a niche for itself by delivering innovative offerings to travellers, such as 'Sunrise Check-in' instead of the standard noon check-in and also introduced a 'relationship mode' in its app enabling guests to discover couple-friendly OYO hotels, solving many pain-points in travel plans.

In total, the company has raised around $200 million funding and is backed by leading global investors, including SoftBank Group, Greenoaks Capital, Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed India.

'Don't worry about the failure, you only have to be right once!'- Flipkart


Flipkart and its founder's journey is fascinating, from a small book e-tailer to India's largest e-Commerce platform.

Back in 2007, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal worked for and left it with a dream of building something of their own in India. They started with a similar model and sold books first, soon the company grew by leaps and bounds when it began offering home supplies, e-books, stationery, lifestyle products and so on.

They registered their business in Singapore but it is headquartered in Bangalore, Karnataka. As more and more customers got involved with the habit of an online convenience store, investors turned to the company to know more about its future growth and strategy. Today Flipkart has raised more than $3 billion in multiple rounds of funding.

It's been a favourite with financial firms like Tiger Global Management and others. Flipkart has made seven acquisitions in nine years. These include Phonepe, FX Mart and Myntra.

The site has built its base with over 26 million registered users, clocking over 8 million visits and making over 5 million shipment requests each day.

'If you are not a customer, don't build it!'- Paytm

The success stories of India's richest entrepreneurs would be incomplete without discussing VIjay Shekhar Sharma, the founder of Paytm, India's much used e-wallet after demonetization.

Sharma lits up a room with his warm, welcoming smile. VSS, as he is fondly called, always motivates people around him to believe in the change, we all want to see. That is the revolution of developing a cashless economy, inculcating the habit of paying through phones but the road till here has been a bumpy ride. VSS struggled through his college days with learning English, then with building his own content management system. He also experimented with three basic business on internet - content, advertising and commerce. But the eureka moment came when he first tried to pitch in to investors who thought he was betting their money on a non-existent market. However, this never dampened Vijay's spirits; he didn't want to flip and sell, he wanted to build a legacy.

Sharma has come a long way from being a student of the Delhi College of Engineering to founding a billion-dollar firm. Paytm started its course of journey with offering facilities like paying mobile recharges and utility bill payments in the initial stages. And today it has grown into a full marketplace of 20 million registered consumers, who make more than 15 million transactions per month.

Paytm is a part of leading mobile internet company One97 Communications, and has a fleet of investors including SAIF Partners, Intel Capital and SAP Ventures which has brought it to its current valuation $3 billion. Paytm so far has been able to raise a total of $740 million with Alibaba as the prime investor, among others like K2 Global, Ant Financial and Mountain Capital. And, since then it was never looking back. 

'Build the new, don't just fight the old!'- Micromax


With the above entrepreneurs becoming rich via the online route, here's one example from the core product sector as well. Micromax's journey from being an eCommerce startup to becoming the number one in the mobile market is remarkable. Founded 16 years back by four friends - Rahul Sharma, Vikas Jain, Sumeet Arora and Rajesh Agarwal - it quickly moved from eCommerce business to be an IT software company operating in the embedded devices domain.

But soon, they came across their first set of roadblocks and turned into the mobile handset business. The greatest inspiration for Micromax to enter the mobile phone manufacturing business came when Rahul interacted with a payphone operator who was doing business in an area where there was no electricity and poor network coverage, deep in interior West Bengal.

Rahul quickly identified that the problems being faced by that payphone operator and his company soon made a phone which had a battery back-up of one whole month. Micromax put an initial stock of about 10,000 pieces in the market and within 10 days, every single phone was sold and this happened without any advertising.

This is how micromax entered into the mobile phone manufacturing and went on to launch a whole gamut of phones, designed according to the various needs of the common Indian customer. In its whole journey the biggest challenge for Micromax was to change the mental block towards Indian companies and prove that an Indian company can also go global. Today it is the 10th largest handset player in the world.

In 2015, Micromax was valued at $5 billion. Now, the company is also shifting its focus from phones to services as it also facing fierce competition from Chinese phone makers. Micromax had $2 billion revenue in FY 2015-16 and expects to grow by 30-40% this year. It sold close to 36 million devices during the year ended March 2016 and plans to sell close to 50 million phones in the current financial year.

When inquired about the future plans Rahul Sharma said, "Now the time is ripe for us to indulge with the consumer durables too and also become a hardware & software firm."

Micromax sells mostly in the neighbouring nations such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. The company is looking at new markets like Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Georgia. It has plans to uptake of 4G & VoLTE handsets in the country, especially in small towns.

'Let's solve a problem, we deeply care about!'- Ola Cabs

They are the youngest of the lot to make it to the list of the super rich entrepreneurs in India. They have attracted angel investors, marquee venture capital firms and hedge funds. They are the leaders in an organised cab market in India now, which was once led by radio taxi services like TABcab, EasyCabs, Meru and Mega Cabs.

It now holds a franchised fleet of cabs and autos of its own. In a business of $6 billion and increasing, Ola Cabs has a market share of nearly 80%.

"When you go out to build a startup, it's the hardest thing to do. My parents thought that I'll become a travel agent but it took time to show that's not true," said Bhavish Aggarwal.

Ola means hello in Spanish, but Aggarwal cannot stress on factors of localization enough. He counts heavily on the a kind of local touch to repel the intrusion of Uber, the global ride-hailing service.

In a country like India, where the public transport is overwhelmed with a population of 1.3 billion, a safe and affordable cab service can be counted as 'God-sent'. Bhati and Aggarwal together understood the problem of travelling quite well and had experienced the plight of a common man on the roads. They started the firm after their graduation from IIT Bombay, and developed it into a fast and reliable shuttle services as we know it today.

Since 2011, Ola has raised $1.23 billion in 8 rounds from 20 investors. It claims to have gathered more than 80% of the market share in India and has changed the way people travel through the city!

'Disruptions are the new common!'- InMobi

InMobi is a mobile-first platform allowing brands, developers and publishers to engage consumers through mobile advertising. It's a platform that is leveraging advances in big data, user behaviour and cloud based architecture to simplify mobile advertising for its customers.

Naveen Tewari, who heads the largest independent mobile network globally and has 1.56 billion uniques users across 190+ countries, had a unique childhood. He was raised in a family of IITians and mathematicians. He somehow knew there was a life beyond numbers but didn't dare to divulge in any through his academic years.

Then one summer day in 2007, Naveen and his few friends Amit Gupta, Abhay Singhal, Mohit Saxena together roped in to develop something of their own. Their aspirations led them to incorporate 'm-Khoj', an SMS-based search engine.A year later, the plan was enhanced to mobile advertising and it became InMobi. And today, InMobi stands at a total equity funding of $220.6 million in 5 rounds from 4 investors, headquartered in Bangalore, Karnataka.

They didn't succeed right away, but went through a series of failures before the idea was fully developed into something we see today, but all of them stuck to pursuing entrepreneurship with sincerity.

Naveen, who is known to travel in economy flights, is insistent on the fact that he belongs to a middle-class family and still has a long way to go. Despite being recognized by MIT Technology Review as one of the 50 Disruptive Companies of 2013, the humility in the founding team is quite visible. They are also time and again talked about as one of the best employers in the case of startups, as they seem to attract talent from Google and Microsoft as well.

'Profits come from people, processes, products and platforms!'

At last, we want to attract your attention towards Mu Sigma's success, one of the world's largest Decision Sciences and analytics firms, which helps companies institutionalize data-driven decision making.

Dhiraj, is very open about his reasons for starting up and entrepreneurship. He says, "I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. It all started due to an unending urge to learn."

His second reason to start his own business was to separate noise from the signals - in terms of information that comes to businesses in their day-to-day life. And the final reason was his belief that innovation in businesses could be achieved through only, trial and error.

Founded in 2004, Mu Sigma =did have humble beginnings but Dhiraj was adamant to not even take a penny from outside at seed level.

And it's inspiring to know that now the company stands at a total of more than $211 million invested in it through multiple rounds of funding, from majorly three investors- General Atlantic, MasterCard and Sequoia Capital.

Others like IBM, Accenture entered the fray too, at a younger stage but it did not deter Dhiraj. He gave out the ultimate mantra for the new age entrepreneurs by saying that, "When you put your own money, you have so much skin in the game. You will spend wisely and it teaches you a lot of things!"

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