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What’s interesting about India’s Top Start-ups?

Oyo Rooms. Udaan. Dunzo. Rivigo. BrowserStack. Cure Fit. Shuttl. Exadatum. Incred. Republic
World

What do these companies have in common? Well, they are on the 2018 list of the 25 Top
Startups in India according to LinkedIn. These companies have either reached or are on the
cusp of reaching escape velocity.

In 2004, when I was at Microsoft and Google was still a fairly nascent company, I happened to
ask Ed Zander, then CEO of Motorola what he made of Google and how much of a threat it
would pose to a company like Microsoft. Ed said they’re bound to become important because
they are attracting a disproportionate number of incredibly smart people. His words were
prophetic (& to my regret I passed up the opportunity to invest in Google’s IPO). Becoming a
magnet for talent is a very strong predictor of eventual success for all companies and even
more so for startups.

This is why LinkedIn’s approaching to identifying the top startups is so interesint. LinkedIn relies
on four bits of data - employee growth; jobseeker interest; member engagement with the
company and its employees; and how well these startups pulled talent from the best
companies to work for– to come up with their list. These 25 then are the startups that are
disproportionately commanding the interest and attention of top talent in India.

There are so many things that are interesting about the list of companies this year. Here is just
some of the patterns that I noticed.
Most of these startups are led by co-founders. Only 6 startups- OYO, Republic World, LBB-Little
Black Book, Nineleaps, Incred and Digit Insurance - are led by a sole founder lending credence
to the view that founding teams are more successful that lone founders.

Age is no barrier to success. The average (present) age of founders is 34. The youngest founder
is OYO Rooms’ Ritesh Agarwal (24) and Upgrad’s Ronnie Screwvala (60+) is the oldest (though,
to be fair, he’s a serial entrepreneur). It’s never too late, nor too soon, to be an entrepreneur.

IIT seems to be a good place to have studied. 33 of the 57 founders are IITians. 21 of them have
an MBA degree.

The Flipkart connection is strong. Three firms- Cure.fit, Udaan.com and Jumbotail- are founded
by Flipkart alumni; in all 6 of 57 founders have worked at Flipkart. Zapr Media is backed by
Flipkart. Flipkart is emerging as a real inclubator of entrepreneurial talent much like PayPal in
the US ( Tesla Motors, LinkedIn, Palantir Technologies, SpaceX, YouTube, Yelp,
and Yammer amongst others, were started or funded by PayPal alums)

India’s third generation startups are showing much greater diversity and genuine innovation
and solving important problems as opposed to the many me-too ecommerce startups of Gen2.
Seven ventures are consumer-internet companies: OYO, Cure.Fit, Dunzo, Treebo, Upgrad,
Interview and Shuttl. Three of them- Incred, Digit and Acko-are consumer-fintech firms whilst
three are marketplaces- Udaan, Meesho and Jumbotail. Twenty percent of the firms are real
technology companies: Nineleaps, Zapr Media, Browsterstack, Sigtuple and Exadatum. This is a
really healthy departure from the mere IT services firms that India has historically excelled at.

Ecosystems matter. Despite its infrastructure challenges, Bangalore is still in pole position with
11 of these companies incorporated in India's Silicon Valley whist Mumbai is second with 7
startups. India needs more entrepreneurial hubs.

The 25 companies in this list have a valuation exceeding $6 billion (my estimate); Udaan is a
unicorn whilst Oyo and Rivigo are at the threshold of growing a horn. They collectively employ
nearly 14,000 people. Over half of their headcount (about 7,900) was added during the last 12
months and they expect to hire nearly 9,000 more in the next twelve months. While this
represents a healthy number of high paying, high skill jobs, it’s clear that tech-enabled startups
will not be a major job-creation engine. For that we need “mass entrepreneurship” -millions of
local businesses that hire at least 5 people each (see https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/mass-
entrepreneurship-idea-whose-time-has-come-ravi-venkatesan)

More Patterns?

These are just some of the patterns that seemed interesting. I'd love to hear your thoughts on
this list. What you think has enabled these startups to achieve escape velocity? What does a
startup have to do to be a magnet for talent?

Ravi Venkatesan is the former Chairman of Microsoft India & Bank of Baroda. He is a Venture
Partner at Unitus Ventures