Indian-origin founders lead hottest startups in US

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Two startups have become the talk of the town in Silicon Valley, the global capital of innovation—financial trading app Robinhood and voice-led social media app Clubhouse.

Both are led by Indian-origin entrepreneurs.

Baiju Bhatt and Rohan Seth, co-founders of Robinhood and Clubhouse, respectively, are both Stanford alumni and in their 30s.

They are part of a growing army of Valley-based Indian-origin entrepreneurs who are grabbing investor attention and creating billion-dollar firms with a difference. The secret sauce perhaps for both is to democratize technology to reach more users.

Bhatt, a first-generation immigrant and part of the American Indian billionaires’ club, spearheaded Robinhood to an $11.7 billion valuation with its latest billion-dollar funding round. Seth’s Clubhouse turned unicorn in 2021 in less than a year and counts technology and Hollywood bigwigs Elon Musk, Drake, Tiffany Haddish and Mark Zuckerberg as members.

“Indians are part of the cultural fabric of Silicon Valley today, and there is a mild stereotype that an Indian will be successful owing to their legacy with tech in the Valley. In the 80s, Indians did face heavy discrimination, and they were considered ‘outliers’. But the community came together and uplifted each other,” said India-American technology entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa. In the 1980s, American venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Vinod Khosla, became one of the first Indians to make it big in the Valley. While Indians are now part of the ‘Big Boys’ club at Silicon Valley, women and African-American founders still face discrimination, Wadhwa said.

While eight-year-old Robinhood disrupted brokerage fees through concepts of free and fractional trading focused on millennials, Clubhouse is bringing access to free-speech and making power figures more accessible to global audiences through its app. Through fractional trading, Robinhood allowed users to invest in top stocks of Amazon Inc., Alphabet Inc. (parent of Google) for as little as $1. “The authenticity of what founders are building shows in the Clubhouse product. With the medium, it is taking distractions away from video and giving access to global free speech. Inclusivity is the theme for Robinhood as well, giving access to individuals to invest freely, democratizing the market. These firms are changing user behaviour in a big way,” said Priya Rajan, managing director, Silicon Valley Bank, which has invested in more than 30,000 startups with $116 billion in assets.

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