This unicorn week, find out about the Indian startups that lost their way


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This has clearly been the unicorn week. India’s startup scene added six unicorns in 5 days – Meesho, a social commerce platform; Cred, a members-only credit card bill payment platform; Groww, a millennial focussed investing app; ShareChat,  a social networking service; Gupshup, a messaging services company, and Pharmeasy, a one-stop online medical platform. Three of these start-ups – Meesho, CRED, and Sharechat – now stand at valuations as high as $2 billion.  

It all began in 2011 when InMobi becomes the first Indian start-up to enter the club. The mobile-first platform, which allows contextual advertising, is now reportedly planning to hit the IPO market with a US listing in the last quarter of 2021. 


Clearly, India’s startup scene is thriving with 10 unicorns already added to the club in just four months into the New Year. However, over the last few years, some start-ups have also lost this tag, as investors have pared their stake and reduced valuation. According to Venture Intelligence, here are some names: 

  1. Quikr: Founded in 2008, Quikr is a free classified and online marketplace that helps users to sell, buy, rent, or discover anything across India. From used cars to blue-collar jobs, one can find pretty much anything on the platform. In 2015, it turned into a unicorn with a $1.5 billion valuation. However, two years later, Kinnevik AB, one of the investors, revised the fair value of its investment by 45 per cent. It cited fraudulent transactions by some dealers and vendors on the platform, as the reason behind the move. The company is now valued at around $550 million and the once-promising startup has lost its charm.
  2. Shopclues: Founded in 2011, Shopclues too is an online marketplace with categories such as home and kitchen, fashion, electronics, and daily utility items. In 2016, it became India’s fourth unicorn firm, valued at $1.1 billion. However, the company’s poor balance sheet was not able to support the high valuation. Its peers like Amazon, Flipkart, and Myntra kept strengthening their portfolio over the years, while Shopclues stopped being disruptive, according to industry experts. Reports suggest that Shopclues’ revenue stood at Rs 97 Cr in FY20, a 53% decrease from Rs 209 cr in FY19. In 2019, it was acquired by Singapore-based Qoo10 at a valuation of just about $80 million.
  3. Hike: In 2016, India’s touted rival to Whatsapp – Hike – joined the unicorn club by raising $175 million, largely from Foxconn and Tencent. The company was valued at a whopping $1.4 billion. Led by Kavin Bharti Mittal, Hike was aiming to be a super app and had also launched a payment platform. However, the company was not able to compete with WhatsApp when it came to its user base. When a large part of India came online in 2016, after launch of Jio, WhatsApp’s mass appeal increased while Hike remained a niche app. Finally, in January 2021, Mittal tweeted that the sun would set on Hike StickerChat and the focus would shift towards Vibe and Rush apps. 
  4. Snapdeal: Among the first Indian unicorns, this e-commerce platform stood at $6.5 billion in 2016. A year later, there were talks of a merger between Snapdeal and Flipkart, but the latter was offering only $800-850 million for the takeover. After Snapdeal’s board rejected the offer, CEO Kunal Bahl in a detailed blog post wrote about the layoffs, cash crunch, and the tough times. Four years later, the company has managed to slowly script a turnaround with revenues rising to about Rs 850 crore in FY20. 

Interestingly, the term ‘unicorn’ was coined by venture capitalist Aileen Lee in 2013, to represent the statistical rarity of such successful ventures, just like the mythical creature. After reading the above examples, don’t you think the term is apt? 


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