Miracle of Returning

Vladimir Volkov

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The explosive growth of India’s startups over the past five years looks like a miracle, but there are quite prosaic reasons for it. One of them is the much-discussed brain drain, which has been reversed thanks to the energetic measures taken by the Indian government and a lucky coincidence of circumstances.

Experts have calculated that about a third of India’s new technology companies today are created by Indians who previously left their country to study and work in the world’s leading nations, but later decided to return home and apply the experience and knowledge they gained abroad. Most of them are young men (though there are some women, too) with a solid technical education received at home and a diploma from a leading US university, who have also worked for major global technology companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, and established useful connections in Silicon Valley and the world of venture capital. In addition, consider the huge potential of India’s market, backed by steady economic growth and a maturing middle class, the young age of the population, the availability of talented technical staff at ‘Indian prices’, and the most favored nation treatment offered by local authorities, and then the recipe for the Indian miracle becomes more understandable. India’s repatriates operate in different spheres. BRICS Business Magazine selected 10 technology companies they founded to illustrate India’s emerging technological landscape.

Ashwini Asokan

co-founder and CEO of MAD Street Den

My husband and I decided we were going to startup one day and, 10 days later, after about 12–15 years in the US, we literally left our house, left our car behind, picked up our daughter, and moved back to India

Ashwini Asokan is a woman with intelligence in every sense of the word. The startup MAD Street Den (MSD), which she undertook together with her husband, Anand Chandrasekaran, in her native city of Chennai in 2014, specializes in creating applications based on artificial intelligence (AI) and computer visualization for e-commerce companies.

“We have a cloud-based AI platform, on top of which we have built several different technology modules. Like object recognition, expression and emotion recognition,” explains Ashwini in an interview for the Indian magazine Business Line.

How does it work? For example, to find the product you need – a T-shirt, a bag, or an electronic gadget – the buyer no longer has to waste time searching for the product on the vendor’s website. Instead, he can simply take a picture of the desired product on his mobile phone and download it onto the online shop’s page, which, thanks to the MSD software, will bring up similar products. Asokan’s company gets its income from customers as interest on sales or royalty for using its technology.

At the beginning of Asokan’s career, she was far from all that. As the MSD founder confessed to the Shenomics periodical, during the first 23 years of her life, she had been singing, dancing, and traveling around her country, preparing for a creative career. Having decided to study in the United States, where her future husband also went, she entered Carnegie Mellon University – the only one that opened its doors to her. There, she studied the problems of design in the context of technology, social science, and robots. After graduation, she joined Intel, which, at that time, was hiring a new team of technical experts from various areas, including designers, social researchers, and engineers with a focus on developing artificial intelligence.

Asokan recalls her time in this company as one of the best and most productive in her life. Even so, three years ago, she again made a U-turn, taking a decision, together with her husband, to set up their own business, pooling their experience and knowledge in various technology fields.

“My husband and I decided we were going to startup one day and, 10 days later, after about 12–15 years in the US, we literally left our house, left our car behind, picked up our daughter, and moved back to India.”

Indeed, the bold experiment is still a success. In January 2014, MSD entered the market, and, a year later, it raised 9 million rupees ($1.5 million) in seed funding.

The startup is looking to raise the next round of funding soon, but no details have been disclosed so far.

Saurabh Arora

co-founder and CEO of Lybrate

We are already the country’s biggest online out-patient department and our aim is to make it the world’s biggest one. We want to build a communication platform that helps people consult doctors online and seek their advice in the post-consultation period


It is not an easy task to get qualified medical treatment in a country where there is one certified physician for approximately 1,700 people, as is the case of nowadays India. An effective solution is offered by the Lybrate service, which was launched by Saurabh Arora and Rahul Narang in January 2015. The company facilitates the search for the required specialist and allows patients to get online consultations by computer or mobile phone at any place and any time.

The idea of such a medical service occurred to Arora, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, while he was working as a data scientist for Facebook in the US. After leaving Mark Zuckerberg’s company, Arora managed to raise funding: In August 2014, the US-registered company secured $1.23 million in seed funding from Nexus Ventures Partners. In December 2014, Arora and his new partner Narang moved to Delhi, where four to five months of their lives were devoted to developing the product, talking to doctors, engaging investors, and building the team, which first included only seven people.

The success of the new service is confirmed by impressive figures: Lybrate claims to cooperate with about 80,000 doctors in various areas, while the number of monthly interactions (doctor-patient) is close to five million. In 2015 alone, almost two million Lybrate apps were downloaded, making it one of the top medical apps in the country.

“We are already the country’s biggest online OPD (out-patient department) and our aim is to make it the world’s biggest one. But that is not the core of what we do. We want to build a communication platform that helps people consult doctors online and seek their advice in the post-consultation period,” Arora told the Business Standard.

In the summer of last year, Arora decided to develop and scale up his business, which already employed 110 people, and raised another $10.2 million. That is when Tiger Global was roped in to infuse more capital, along with Nexus Venture Partners and former Tata group chairman Ratan Tata. Yet, despite its apparent success, Lybrate has still to invent how to monetize the service without undermining the noble idea behind it: So far, no more than 10% of the company’s consultations are paid, while all others services are provided free of charge.

Joydeep Sen Sarma

co-founders of Qubole

We started brainstorming on what customers wanted to buy from us? What the market needs are? What to build? We got a small room and started writing code


The volume of human-generated data is growing like an avalanche and expected to reach 45 zettabytes by 2020; therefore, businesses are showing an increasing demand for storage services, processing, and analysis of huge information flows. In this situation, why not help them? Especially if you know something about it.

This could be the reasoning of Joydeep Sen Sarma and Ashish Thusoo, Indian engineers who graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi), when, in 2011, they decided to create a cloud service for handling ‘big data’, providing businesses with a convenient and accessible tool for data analysis and application. The bold decision to start their own business was based on both men’s experience working for leading US technology companies, including Facebook, where they spent about four years specializing in data infrastructure development.

As Sarma admitted in one later interview, it was there that he gained extensive experience in the field of big data and also established useful connections in Silicon Valley. Thanks to these, the two businessmen were able to attract their first clients and $1 million to finance their Indian startup. “We started brainstorming on what customers wanted to buy from us? What the market needs are? What to build? We got a small room and started writing code,” Sarma told Product Nation.

As a result, the company Qubole was set up in 2012 with offices in Mountain View (California) and Bangalore. In fact, Qubole is a service platform based on three generally accessible clouds: Amazon AWS, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Azure. This enables clients (analysts, developers, and corporate users) to access and analyze huge amounts of structured and unstructured data from one or several sources. Put it simply, to gain maximum use from big data for their own businesses.

The volume of information processed by Qubole users already exceeds 100 petabytes and goes on growing apace alongside the company itself. Investors have also appreciated the company’s service and prospects: In 2013 and 2014, two venture rounds were announced for a total value of $20 million.

Rahul Garg

founder and head of Moglix

We currently have 21 super categories and deal mostly in finished components. We have both self service customers, who source for their services or business, as well as enterprises ordering through Moglix


The emotional appeal by Narendra Modi’s government to “make in India” seems to have been heard. The growing production not only boosted the Indian economy, which has been showing impressive growth over the last few years, it also offered ideas to young entrepreneurs who want to capitalize on it. Among them was Rahul Garg, who launched his business, Moglix, in the summer of 2015. It is an online marketplace for selling industrial goods and tools, such as fasteners, light fittings, measuring instruments, electric tools, and work clothes for corporate clients. “We currently have 21 super categories and deal mostly in finished components. We have both self service customers, who source for their services or business, as well as enterprises ordering through Moglix,” the Economic Times quoted Garg as saying.

The company’s customers include both giant national corporations, such as Indian Oil and Jindal Steel & Power, and many smaller firms; there are about 1,000 sellers from India, China, and other Asian nations on its marketplace. And this is no coincidence. Before returning to India in early 2015, Garg, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur), worked at Google, gaining experience in different positions in Japan and Singapore for five years. In particular, he headed Google’s AdX platform for India, South East Asia, and Korea. Now, his company is focusing on expanding its business at home. Indeed, Moglix, which handles logistics for its sellers, plans to extend its warehouse network for faster deliveries in India, where its service covers over 1,000 cities.

Technology will also be improved. So far, Moglix has been selling its products through a website, but the company is already developing a mobile app and plans to continue its aggressive development. Last year, the service raised $1.5 million in seed financing from the Singapore-based venture fund Jungle Ventures and the United States’ Access Partners. In February 2016, leading Indian businessman Ratan Tata invested an undisclosed sum in Moglix.

“We are confident that Mr. Tata’s role as an investor and mentor will help us gain a strong foothold in the sector and realize our vision,” Garg stressed.

Indeed, one can hardly exaggerate the participation by such figures as Tata in Moglix’s fate: A number of startups that can be seen as strong rivals have appeared on the Indian market over the past few years. Among them are Tolexico, backed by such investors as India Mart, Industry Buying (Kalaari Capital), and Power2SME, relying on the support of Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani.

Sameer Maheshwari

founder and managing director of HealthKart

Fitness is a very engaged and assistance orientated category, and customers trust us across their fitness lifecycle – from seeking advice from expert trainers/nutritionists, connecting with other fitness enthusiasts, buying authentic nutrition products

Though the stereotype of sportive India is still largely based on the image of a gray-haired, ascetic yogi, meditating silently in the lotus position somewhere on a remote mountain, this has little to do with reality. In fact, in search of an energetic spirit and resilient body – in full accordance with the standards of the Golden Billion – young representatives of India’s middle class come to running tracks and exhaust themselves in gyms. Along with it, they show a great demand for products related to a healthy lifestyle.

Sameer Maheshwari, founder and managing director of HealthKart, sincerely hopes that most of them will not miss the virtual showcase of the online shop he opened together with his partner Prashant Tandon in 2011. Today, it offers the most extensive range of fitness products, including food additives, proteins, weight loss drugs, vitamins, and minerals. And that is not all. The HealthKart platform and online apps allow customers to find gyms, fitness cases, and trainers; at a separate request, to get in touch and receive advice from the top specialists in different sports areas and nutritionists; find and communicate with similar-minded persons using social network functions. “Fitness is a very engaged and assistance orientated category, and customers trust us across their fitness lifecycle – from seeking advice from expert trainers/nutritionists, connecting with other fitness enthusiasts, specialist curation of products, customer reviews and buying authentic nutrition products,” the site LiveMint quotes Maheshwari as saying.

Interestingly, Maheshwari and Tandon initially had differing ideas for their business. After graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi), both went to the United States (in particular, Maheshwari worked as assistant director at UBS Investment Bank) and returned to India with the idea of launching a medical startup Healthchakra. But it did not work. “After six months, we started wondering whether we had taken the right decision to return,” admitted Maheshwari. The two businessmen turned to mentors, who helped them change priorities and turn to e-commerce. This was the right thing to do. In the summer of 2016, HealthKart, which became India’s leading platform of its kind, raised additional funding of about $15 million. Maheshwari said the money would be spent on marketing and offline expansion.


Suchi Mukherjee

founder and CEO of LimeRoad

I understood that there was no consumer technology play that made discovery of lovely products easy and entertaining, just like reading a magazine, or like flipping through photos in an album

Many women in the world apparently enjoy reading fashion magazines and feel disposed to buy this or that nice item or piece of jewelery. Yet few can build a successful technology business based on this innocent occupation. One such rare person is Suchi Mukherjee, founder of LimeRoad, India’s biggest online lifestyle platform selling apparel and fashion accessories.

According to Mukherjee, the idea came to her about six years ago, in her London home. An investment banker with the diploma of the London School of Economics, who worked at Lehman Brothers and local offices of the world’s leading technology companies, such as Skype, eBay, and Gumtree, she was enjoying a rare moment of life ‘for herself’. Namely, she was flipping through a glamour magazine while on a maternity leave with her second baby. Her attention was attracted by a bracelet, which she started willing to buy at a glance. Alas, this was impossible: The jeweler was from Mumbai, so it would have taken a long time to get it. “I understood that there was no consumer technology play that made discovery of lovely products easy and entertaining, just like reading a magazine, or like flipping through photos in an album. Also, that there was no place from which one could access the vast array of products that were being manufactured and shipped out of South-East Asia, the world’s manufacturing hub,” Mukherjee told India Today.

She returned to India in 2011. And in 2015, having joined efforts with two other Indian repatriates – former tech lead at Facebook Prashant Malik and ex-head of supply chain at Reliance Hypermarkets Ankush Mehra – she founded LimeRoad. The company’s first investors were venture funds Matrix Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners, which invested $5 million in the startup.

And this was the right step. Today, LimeRoad is India’s biggest online platform of its kind. It is an online shop supplemented by a social network function, allowing its clients to combine acquisition of products – clothing, footwear, bags, and jewelery at accessible prices – with online communication. Last year alone, the number of the service’s regular clients climbed from 30,000 to 75,000; the company works with about 50,000 suppliers, and the number of posts on the LimeRoad website reached 3 million a month – a number 100 times greater than last year. The total amount of funding raised by LimeRoad in three rounds exceeds $50 million.

Ambarish Gupta

co-founder and CEO of Knowlarity

Someone told me – ‘Do things you would do even if you were not getting paid. Every day will become a holiday’. It was good advice. I have not looked back. If people do what they like to do, they will do it well and 1+1 can become 3

The time when traditional telephones played the main role in communications between client and business seems to have gone. In order to get the required communication services – taking a taxi, leaving a request for a product, or organizing a conference call – it suffices simply to press a button on the relevant app on one’s smartphone.

This became possible with the appearance of cloud telephony and its providers, such as Knowlarity. This company was set up in 2009 by Ambarish Gupta, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur with a diploma from Carnegie Mellon University – Tepper School of Business. He has many years’ experience in creating and developing information infrastructure, which he gained working for McKinsey and Microsoft in North America, together with his Indian classmate Pallav Pandey.

Knowlarity is a cloud-based platform, designed to simplify and expand telephony opportunities for businesses of any size, from small firms to giant international corporations. In particular, the service allows clients using one electronic gadget to manage incoming and outgoing calls; record and forward them both to other external clients or their own employees; organize telephone conferences; send and receive faxes and documents of various formats to the virtual addresses or their own email; and many other options. In other words, Knowlarity is a convenient and reliable communications tool, also allowing businesses to save a lot on establishing their own communications infrastructure.

No surprise that, in a matter of a few years, Knowlarity, which is based in Singapore and has offices in India, Turkey, Dubai, and the Philippines, became Asia’s fastest growing cloud telephony service. The seven-year-old company services over 15,000 companies in more than 65 countries, while its staff has increased from six to over 500. Knowlarity’s investors are the world’s leading venture funds Sequoia Capital and Mayfield, which have already invested about $16 million in it.

“Someone told me – ‘Do things you would do even if you were not getting paid. Every day will become a holiday’. It was good advice. I have not looked back. I feel 1+1 can be 3. If people do what they like to do, they will do it well and 1+1 can become 3. This has been the philosophy Knowlarity has been built on,” Gupta wrote on his LinkedIn page.

The company plans to expand further. In May 2016, it announced acquisition of Smartwards, a customer engagement platform that simplifies loyalty programs and helps find new clients for retail businesses, with offices in five Indian cities.

Hitendra Chaturvedi

founder and CEO of GreenDust

When I came to India and saw the dire need of an outsourced reverse logistics model, I started the company

The epoch of consumerism made people too extravagant: Contemporary consumers easily get rid of many things that could yet serve well. Fortunately, the number of people ready to give ‘imperfect’ things a second chance is rising, especially now, in the aftermath of the crisis. This is where Hitendra Chaturvedi saw an opportunity to do business and started up his GreenDust business in Delhi in 2008.

Chaturvedi’s company specializes in acquisition and subsequent sale of electronics and household alliances from the so-called refurbished category – used appliances that buyers return to sellers (retail or online shops) for some reason (under warranty or because of minor defects). The appliances are repaired, and then sold through the online platform GreenDust.com or its same-name retail stores at a discount of 30-40%. “If the product is in a good condition and can be repaired in an economically viable manner, we will do that and sell it on our site,” Chaturvedi told the Business Standard. “If the item cannot be repaired, then we may cannibalize it for spare parts or look at safe disposal.”

In addition to used appliances, GreenDust also manages return logistics for several original equipment makers, such as LG, Whirlpool, Samsung, Lenovo, Philips, and Godrej. It also works with all three leading Indian e-commerce players – Flipkart, Amazon, and Snapdeal – for the same services.

In fact, GreenDust helps boost the efficiency of the supply system on the Indian market. According to Chaturvedi, four percent to 40% of appliances, depending on the segment, return to their manufacturer or seller. Yet, until recently, Indian companies were unable and unwilling to manage this reverse supply chain or reverse logistics. One can better see great things from a distance: Chaturvedi was able to see the Indian problem during his stay in the United States. After graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee and Louisiana State University in Computer Science, he spent 17 years working in leading technology companies, such as Newgistics, EY, and A.T. Kerney. The last five years, he was business unit head at Microsoft, and in that capacity, he came to India to resolve a similar problem. “When I came to India and saw the dire need of an outsourced reverse logistics model, I started the company,” he recalls.

GreenDust’s success proved that this was the right decision. In 2012, the company, which was initially financed by the Mumbai Angels fund, raised another $40 million in two rounds of funding from Vertex Venture Holdings, Sherpalo Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. In 2014, its revenue exceeded 10 billion rupees ($150 million) for the first time and the company itself became profitable and it continues growing fast.

Poornima Vardhan

founder and General Director of 335TH

335TH is a lifestyle brand offering a unique mix of fashion, work and play for smart stylish individuals who know where they’re going and can’t wait to get there. Day to night. Work to weekend. On or off duty. We are here for them

Do you belong to the 335TH community? To the uninitiated, the question might appear a little fanciful, but that does not cancel out the fact that, today, hundreds of thousands of young Indian women answer “yes,” if they want to wear comfortable, stylish and modern clothes. These are the underlying qualities of 335TH, the women’s clothing brand Poornima Vardhan created in 2013.

In the early 2010s, Vardhan, a graduate of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and a successful investment banker with UBS in New York, took the radical step of exchanging Wall Street for an entrepreneurial career in her homeland. “I miss New York, the buzz of the city, the drive and excitement that only New York can offer,” she said. “But Delhi will always be home for me. It’s where my family and most of my friends are and it’s wonderful to be near them again,” Vardhan said, speaking to the New York Times in 2012, the year she moved back.

Yet her decision to move back was neither emotional nor spontaneous. Vardhan says that the quick growth of the Indian economy and rising demand for quality clothes from the rapidly multiplying middle class convinced her that the market had brilliant prospects, even though fashion, unlike finance, was something Vardhan knew little about at the time. Still, it did not prevent her from becoming the general manager of brand development and retail sales planning at Genesis Colors, India’s leading fashion house.

The experience she gained and a careful study of the sector and the market suggested to her the direction she could move in. This was how the innovative Fitwear fashion concept was born – comfortable, elegant clothing and accessories for all occasions for young women – and how the brand 335TH was born as well, named after a New York street. “335TH is a lifestyle brand offering a unique mix of fashion, work and play for smart stylish individuals who know where they’re going and can’t wait to get there. Day to night. Work to weekend. On or off duty. We are here for them – with everyday essentials that define fashion, quality, versatility, sophistication and modern style,” Vardhan explains.

The speed at which the ‘335TH community’ is growing is the best proof that Vardhan’s ideas hit bull’s-eye. Today, the company she founded has its own garment manufacturing facilities in India, and the clothes are being sold via the online store 3335th.com. Vardhan plans to expand the range of products she offers women and to create collections for men in the Fitwear style, and then to move on to international markets.

Rohan Bhargava

co-founder and General Director of CashKaro

Indian e-commerce is expected to be worth over $100 billion by 2020 and shoppers are very value-conscious, so CashKaro is a diversified play on e-commerce with a perfect target audience


In the autumn of 2011, online discount service Groupon’s spectacular IPO on NASDAQ made its founder, Andrew Mason, a programmer from Chicago, a millionaire and also served as a starting point for a ‘coupon rush’ of global dimensions. Since then, thousands of Groupon clones have appeared all over the world, imitating or exploiting its business model. Namely, the service collects money from its clients and pays for goods from its partner company at an agreed price, issuing a coupon to the customers for a discount on a retail purchase; it makes money on the difference between the price agreed with the manufacturer and the amount received from the client.

India’s ‘coupon’ service CashKaro works roughly along the same lines. CashKaro was founded in April 2013 by husband and wife Rohan and Swati Bhagrava. Their marital and business partnership dates back to the time when they both studied at the London School of Economics. By that time, Rohan had had eight successful years’ experience in financing and business: After graduating in 2004, he worked for a year for the Washington Square investment company and for the large hedge fund Aladdin Capital in the US. In 2011, Rohan and Swati, a five-year veteran of Goldman Sachs, founded their first joint business, the Pouring Pounds cashback service in the UK. At about the same time, the promising prospects for e-commerce in India inspired the couple to transfer the well-tested business model to their homeland. “Indian e-commerce is expected to be worth over $100 billion by 2020 and shoppers are very value-conscious, so CashKaro is a diversified play on e-commerce with a perfect target audience,” says Bhargava, as quoted by TechCrunch.

The CashKaro service registered in Gurgaon does not confine itself to issuing discount coupons. It also includes a cashback service and several other options to entice customers: for instance, the possibility of comparing prices for the same product in different online stores. CashKaro is already partnered with over 1,000 trading companies, and its users number over 400,000, so today, the service holds the leading market position in its segment.

The company’s success did not go unnoticed. In 2013, CashKaro attracted its first investment of $750,000 from a group of London businessmen and, in a year, it received $4 million from venture investors led by Kalaari Capital. In January, Ratan Tata was reported to have invested money in the service.


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