6 Indian Unicorns in 4 Days: A Week Like No Other for the Indian Startup Ecosystem

Indian unicorns

Within the first four months of 2021, India has added 10 new unicorns. Of this, six were added just last week.

With six startups entering the coveted US$1 billion club, last week marked a week like no other for the Indian startup ecosystem. This brings the total number of Indian unicorns in the first four months of 2021 alone to 10.

Insurtech firm Digit Insurance was the first Indian startup to get on the unicorn trail this year. In January 2021, it raised $18.5 million at a valuation of $1.9 billion to become India’s first unicorn of 2021. This was followed by healthtech startup Innovaccer, which reached a valuation of $1.3 billion in February.

By the end of March, India added two more unicorns – B2B ecommerce startup Infra.Market and private lender Five Star Business Finance. While Infra.Market raised $100 million at a valuation of $1 billion, Five Star Business Finance raised $234 million at a valuation of $1.4 billion.

According to The Economic Times, the Indian startup ecosystem has witnessed the average deal size go up significantly, and funding rounds have been closing in record time since January this year. Last week alone, Indian startups raised a total of $2.6 billion across 21 deals, a bulk of which came from the country’s latest unicorns. Here are the companies that joined the coveted club last week.

1. Meesho

Sector: Social commerce

Valuation: $2.1 billion

Time to unicorn: 6 years

India is one of the biggest potential markets in the social commerce landscape. The sector is all set to become the next frontier of the Indian ecommerce landscape. Bengaluru-based Meesho is one of the companies that is riding this wave. The social commerce company raised $300 million in its Series E funding at a valuation of $2.1 billion, the company said on April 5.

The latest financing round was led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, with participation from existing investors Facebook, Prosus Ventures, Shunwei Capital, Venture Highway, and Knollwood Investment. The startup stated that the fresh round of funding will be used to help 100 million small businesses sell online.

Meesho is an online reseller network that connects individuals and SMEs with customers through social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. Additionally, Meesho offers services such as payments, real-time shop updates, and logistics, to its resellers.

The company was founded in 2015 by Vidit Aatrey and Sanjeev Barnwal, graduates from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. To date, the startup has raised a total of about $515 million, according to Crunchbase. Meesho claims to have a network of over 13 million individual entrepreneurs selling via its platform, more than 100,000 suppliers, and over 45 million customers.


Sector: Fintech

Valuation: $2.2 billion

Time to unicorn: 4 years

On April 6, a day after Meesho entered the unicorn club, fintech startup CRED followed, with a $215 million Series D fundraise at a valuation of $2.2 billion. The round was led by Falcon Edge Capital and Coatue Management, with participation from new investor Insight Partners. Existing investors DST Global, RTP Global, Tiger Global, Greenoaks Capital, Dragoneer Investment Group, and Sofina, also joined the round.

The Bengaluru-based startup had previously raised $81 million in Series C round in January this year. With the latest round of funding, the startup has raised a total of around $443 million. The investments will be used to scale its products, the startup said.

Founded in 2018 by Kunal Shah, CRED is the youngest Indian startup to be valued at $2 billion or higher. The CRED app helps users pay credit card bills. Customers are rewarded for paying their credit card bills on time. Additionally, the company lends cash through Cred Cash, and also enables ecommerce through its platforms ‘Store’ and ‘Discover.’

“We have chosen the conscious path of focusing on growth over monetization,” Shah told Mint. “Today, Cred controls 22% of all credit card payments in the country, and our focus is to grow this market share. We will be busy scaling our growth and current revenue levers, and are obsessed with scaling our user base even if it comes as a short-term loss for a long-term profit.”

3. PharmEasy

Sector: Healthtech

Valuation: $1.5 billion

Time to unicorn: 7 years

India’s first epharmacy unicorn, PharmEasy entered the billion-dollar club on April 7, after its parent company API Holdings raised $350 million at a valuation of $1.5 billion. The Series E round was led by Prosus Ventures and private equity firm TPG Growth. Existing investors Temasek, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, LGT Lightrock, Eight Roads, and Think Investments also participated in the round.

The fresh funds would be used to expand its network to add 120,000 pharmacies within the next 12 months, the company said. The startup has currently partnered with 80,000 pharmacies.

Founded in 2015 by Dharmil Sheth and Dhaval Shah, PharmEasy offers a range of services, such as medicine and healthcare product deliveries, teleconsultations, and sample collections for diagnostic tests. The Mumbai-based startup claims to connect more than 60,000 brick-and-mortar pharmacies and 4,000 doctors, across 16,000 zip codes in India.

4. Groww

Sector: Fintech

Valuation: $1 billion

Time to unicorn: 5 years

On April 7, India added a second unicorn – online trading platform Groww. The Bengaluru-based startup raised $83 million in its Series D financing round at a valuation of over $1 billion.

The round was led by Tiger Global, with participation from existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Ribbit Capital, YC Continuity, and Propel Venture Partners. Founded in 2017 by former Flipkart employees Lalit Keshre, Harsh Jain, Neeraj Singh, and Ishan Bansal, Groww has raised $142 million to date. The fresh round of funding will be used to accelerate its growth and hire fresh talent, the company said.

The startup offers a tech platform that allows users to invest in stocks, mutual funds, exchange traded funds (ETFs), IPOs, and gold. Last year, the company also launched stocks with an easy-to-use interface. The company claims to have more than 15 million registered users across over 900 cities.

5. ShareChat

Sector: Social media

Valuation: $2.1 billion

Time to unicorn: 7 years

Social media startup ShareChat entered the unicorn club after its parent company Mohalla Tech raised $502 million in its Series E round on April 8, at a valuation of $2.1 billion. The fresh round of funding was led by Lightspeed Ventures and Tiger Global, with participation from Snap Inc, Twitter, and India Quotient.

To date, the Bengaluru-based startup has raised a total of $765 million. The fresh investment would be used to grow the company’s user base, improve its AI-powered recommendation engines, and strengthen the creative community, the company said.

ShareChat was founded in 2015 by Ankush Sachdeva, Bhanu Pratap Singh, and Farid Ahsan, as a content-sharing tool for WhatsApp. Today, it has established itself as a pan-Indian vernacular social networking app, and is available in 15 Indian languages.

Last year, the startup also launched Moj, a short-form video app, after the Indian government banned the Chinese app TikTok. Moj is claimed to have over 80 million monthly active users.

6.  Gupshup

Sector: Enterprise messaging

Valuation: $1.4 billion

Time to unicorn: 17 years

Conversational messaging platform Gupshup is the tenth Indian startup to join the unicorn club this year. The San Francisco-headquartered startup raised $100 million in its Series F financing round, boosting its valuation by 10 times to reach $1.4 billion, the company announced on April 8. The round was led by Tiger Global Management.

Founded in 2004 by Beerud Sheth, the messaging platform helps businesses and developers drive customer engagement across over 30 communication channels, particularly SMS. It offers bot-building tools, chatbots, conversational AI, and client-side software, among others.

Additionally, Gupshup helps businesses set up and run WhatsApp channels for customer engagement. The platform is currently used by over 100,000 businesses and developers, with the company’s clients sending six billion messages every month. The startup will use the fresh round of funding to scale its product suite, it said.

While 2020 was an unprecedented year with the pandemic ravaging economies across the globe, India added a record 11 unicorns last year. These included Cars24, Unacademy, Postman, Razorpay, and Nykaa, among others.

This was a landmark moment for the country’s startup ecosystem. Going by the week that was, 2021 has clearly levelled up. This is a significant moment for the Indian ecosystem, which, between 2014 and 2017 had added only six unicorns – a feat it has now achieved in under a week.

A Nasscom-Zinnov report from January this year had predicted that India is all set to have a total of over 50 unicorns by the end of 2021, compared to 38 in 2020. However, at the present rate, the numbers could be much higher.

As the report notes, the continued growth of India’s startups will depend on government policies and investments in infrastructure, market access for early stage startups facilitated by ecosystem collaboration, increasing seed-stage investments for tech startups, and heightened participation by corporates. It’s a tall order, but if the previous week was any indication, Indian startups are clearly raring to grow.

Header image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay


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