The 10 Biggest Startups in India to Watch

April 30. 2017. 7 mins read

It’s been said that India may not have potable water or reliable electricity, but it has entrepreneurs. More than 1.3 billion of them at last count. It shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise, then, that India is home to a growing number of technology startups—about 19,000 at last count. Not only that, but it is third on the planet in the number of unicorns—private startups valued at $1 billion or more—after the United States and China.

Yes, the land that gave us Delhi Belly and Bollywood isn’t just another Third World country in need of a bailout. In 2015 alone, more than 880 deals worth $7.3 billion went down, according to the Economic Times of India. Still, exits remain elusive, with one expert quoted in the story saying serious IPOs are about five years out. We wonder if any of those will involve India’s 10 biggest startups. Here’s a beautiful breakdown of the world’s unicorn population by those bright minds over at CB Insights:

A snapshot of the global world of unicorns. Note that Mu Sigma does not appear on this graphic. Credit: CB Insights

We’ll take a quick snapshot of all 10 below, but a few things to note. First, the herd is particularly heavy in the e-commerce space, most of them locked in a Battle Royale with each other and colonial power tech giant Amazon. We wonder when the skies will fill with the buzz of drones delivering plastic isht made in China. Second, the venture capitalists behind these startups are diverse but a couple of familiar names recur with quite a bit of frequency. That includes SoftBank, which is attempting to fulfill CEO Mayaoshi Son’s vision of making machines smarter than humans by throwing money at just about anything remotely tech related. Finally, we couldn’t help but note that the Indians have more unicorns than former colonial power Britain (at eight). Just saying, mate.

Unicorn Valuation Date Joined Industry Select Investors
Flipkart $10 8/6/2012 eCommerce/Marketplace Accel Partners, Ebay, Iconiq Capital
Snapdeal $7 5/21/2014 eCommerce/Marketplace Intel Capital, Kalaari Capital, Nexus Venture Partners
One97 Communications (operates Paytm) $4.2 5/12/2015 Fintech Intel Capital, Sapphire Ventures, Alibaba Group
Olacabs $3 10/27/2014 On-Demand Accel Partners, SoftBank Group, Sequoia Capital
ReNew Power Ventures $2 2/14/2017 Energy & Utilities Goldman Sachs, JERA, Asian Development Bank
Mu Sigma $1.5 2/7/2013 Big Data Sequoia Capital, General Atlantic
Hike $1.4 8/16/2016 Social Foxconn, Tiger Global management, Tencent
Shopclues $1.1 1/12/2016 eCommerce/Marketplace Nexus Venture Partners, GIC Special Investments, Tiger Global Management
Zomato Media $1 4/10/2015 Social Sequoia Capital, VY Capital
InMobi $1 12/2/2014 Adtech Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Softbank Corp., Sherpalo Ventures

Flipkart – e-Commerce

Click for company websiteFlipkart Group just raised $1.4 billion from Tencent, eBay and Microsoft in April. The huge infusion of capital brings total investments from 13 rounds into India’s leading e-commerce company to $4.55 billion, bumping its valuation from $10 billion to $11.6 billion. A sidebar to the mega round included a $500 million purchase by Flipkart of Ebay India. Flipkart is expected to use its war chest in its ongoing battle with Amazon, which has reportedly amassed billions of its own to grab a piece of an e-commerce industry in India valued at nearly $120 billion by 2020.

Another shark circling the waters includes China e-commerce giant Alibaba, which has struggled to gain a foothold in India. Why is everyone hungry for India? It’s a matter of mass: The country is expected to have about 320 million online shoppers by the end of the decade, the Motley Fool reported. That’s roughly equal to every man, woman and child in the United States. Alibaba had reportedly tried to acquire Snapdeal, another e-commerce unicorn in India. Now there’s quite a bit of speculation that Flipkart itself will try to buy Snapdeal with backing from SoftBank (also an investor in Snapdeal and Alibaba). It’s more confusing than a Bollywood romance but with less singing and dancing. If you find all of these machinations that interesting, check out this longish article on VentureBeat for a recap on the corporate intrigue.

Oh, by the way, Flipkart offers about 20 million products to 26 million registered users that clock in about eight million visits each day. It employs about 20,000 people.

Update 07/12/2021: Flipkart has raised $3.6 billion in new funds to grow and advance the digital commerce ecosystem in India. This brings the company’s total funding to $12.6 billion to date.

Snapdeal – e-Commerce

Click for company websiteAs of this writing, Snapdeal is still an independent startup. But, as we’ve already discussed, that may not last much longer. Launched in 2010, Snapdeal has raised about $1.76 billion, including $221 million in two separate rounds last year. Rumors of a buyout have left employees, who stand to see their stock options turn to dust, understandably jittery. Reuters has reported that the company’s management has acknowledged that a deal may be in the works. That has sent some employees for the exit door, following earlier layoffs. All that implies that Snapdeal might come at a deal when a transaction finally goes down. Snapdeal is rated as the No. 3 e-commerce company in India after Amazon and Flipkart.

One97 Communications – e-Commerce/Fintech

Click for company websiteSynonymous with its flagship consumer brand Paytm, One97 Communications carries a valuation of $4.2 billion, according to startup data firm CB Insights. However, we’ve seen others value the New Delhi-based startup as high as $5 billion. The company has raised a little more than $1 billion, with Alibaba a prime investor. Paytm is reportedly in talks with (you guessed it) SoftBank for a cool $1 billion in further investments. That would boost the company’s valuation to $7 billion.

The PayPal of India, with a particular emphasis on mobile technology, Paytm recently launched its services in Canada, mostly revolving around payment of utility bills for now.

Ola Cabs – On-Demand

Click for company websiteThe Uber of India (with even some of the controversy thrown in), Ola Cabs has raised $1.56 billion since its founding in 2010. The most recent round was led (surprise!) by SoftBank, a $330 million Series E+ round in February. It was one of the few mega deals of the first quarter in 2017 in the on-demand sector, which has been on the decline, according to CB Insights. Ola is in more than 100 cities and counts 450,000 vehicles in its “fleet,” from luxury automobiles to auto rickshaws. They are locked in a Mad Max-style battle with Uber for supremacy of India’s traffic-choked roads.

Update 07/09/2021: Ola has raised $500 million ahead of a possible IPO. This brings the company’s total funding to $4.3 billion to date.

ReNew Power Ventures – Energy and Utilities

Click for company websiteA solar and wind energy company in a nation that plans to build nearly 400 new coal plants, ReNew Power Ventures has pulled in $1.13 billion in funding. Most recently, in February, an energy firm from Japan picked up a 10 percent stake ReNew Power Ventures for $200 million, Times of India reported. Last year, the startup reportedly became the first company in India to achieve 1 GW of commissioned wind and solar energy capacity. It has also won contracts with state-owned Indian Railways to install 5 MW of renewable energy capacity and with Solar Energy Corporation of India.

Mu Sigma – Big Data

Click for company websiteThis is our kind of company, and the kind of tech startup that we would have expected to dominate the top rankings in tech-loving India. Mu Sigma is a big data analytics firm that has counted Microsoft and WalMart among its clients. Total funding is relatively modest at $211 million. It’s a particularly rare breed of unicorn, having actually turned a profit! The company reported a 22 percent growth in net profits at $71.25 million on a revenue of $124. 5 million for 2015-16.

Hike – Social Media

Click for company websiteIn yet another example of imitation is the best form of flattery (if not creativity), Hike is a social media messaging app that is a cross between WeChat and SnapChat. It has raised $261 million, including a $175 million Series D last year led by Tencent, which developed WeChat (yet more VC incest), and included SoftBank. Hike reportedly has more than 100 million downloads. The Gangnam Style video has been viewed more than 2.8 billion times. Obviously we’ve reached the pinnacle of civilization with social media.

Shopclues – e-Commerce

Click for company websiteYou get the feeling that the e-commerce sector in India will experience some serious consolidation in the future? Another Amazon-like online merchant of merchants, Shopclues rocketed to unicorn status in just five rounds of funding and $231 million in equity. A report in the Economic Times suggests the company has even loftier ambitions—a listing on the NASDAQ as early as this year. A company co-founder said Shopclues is on pace to break even, meaning not lose money, by March 2018.

Zomato – Social Media

Click for company websiteEver wonder what happened to U.S.-based Urbanspoon, a restaurant information and rating website? Neither do we. But now that it’s on your mind: Zomato scooped it up in 2015 for $55 million. The Indian startup has collected nearly $224 million and counts Sequoia Capital among its chief investors. More than just a restaurant review site, Zomato also provides a platform for table reservations, home delivery and online ordering. It’s used by more than 1.2 million restaurants in 24 countries.

Update 10/16/2018: Zomato has taken in an additional $210 million from Alibaba’s Ant Financial, as the company grows to compete against rival Swiggy for market leadership. This brings the company’s total funding to $653.8 million so far.

InMobi – Adtech

Click for company websiteDespite running afoul of the Federal Trade Commission last year for software “glitches” (big air quotes here) for illegally tracking 100 million phones, InMobi enjoyed a good year in 2016. Funded to the tune of $320 million, the Bangalore-based startup reportedly became profitable last year. That’s not an easy thing to do in the mobile advertising game, especially when you’re competing against companies like Google and Facebook. InMobi’s CEO has promised an IPO in the next couple of years.


Will any of these companies make an exit on the scale of Google or Facebook? And will U.S. investors be able to get a piece of the action? We know at least two are considering the jump. We’ll continue to monitor their progress, as we also watch the startup sector in India continue to mature.


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