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Eleven Indian startups survived a pandemic year and came out as unicorns (Update)

Written by Ben Published on   5 mins read

Last year, 11 Indian startups from assorted areas — ranging from fintech to edtech — became unicorns, i.e. private startups valued at more than USD 1 billion.

Everyone might have a lot to complain about the year 2020, but in a slightly twisted way, it has been a boon to online businesses and the internet economy.

While traditional offline businesses are faltering globally during pandemic-induced lockdowns, their internet-based peers are enjoying growth brought forth by homebound customers who are counting on the internet to work, eat, educate, and entertain. As a result, many tech startups seized the opportunity to emerge from a global pandemic. To top off, some even were crowned with unicorn status.

Last year, 11 Indian startups from assorted areas — ranging from fintech to edtech — became unicorns, i.e. private startups valued at more than USD 1 billion. The number is even greater than 2019’s seven. Furthermore, some of these newly-minted unicorins have announced plans to go public.

In this article, we will take a look at the eleven newly-crowned unicorns in India last year. We have listed the names chronologically based on the month they became unicorns.

Pine Labs (Fintech)

Founded in 1998, Pine Labs has the longest history out of all the startups that became unicorn last year. It took the company a marathon of 22 years to land the unicorn medal. It’s also the first Indian startup to earn unicorn status last year.

Since the company was founded in an era that precedes today’s ubiquitous mobile internet, it started as a card-based payment system and loyalty program provider for the retail petroleum sector before it pivoted its business model to offer a point-of-sale platform to merchants in 2012. Eventually, it plans to cross-sell financial services such as working capital loans and insurance to its merchant base.

The company counts MasterCard, PayPal, and Temasek as its investors.

Firstcry (E-commerce)

Pune-based Firstcry, an omni-channel baby products and toys retailer, which was founded in 2010 entered the much coveted unicorn club in early 2020 when SoftBank invested around USD 300 million from its Vision Fund. Apart from SoftBank, a bevy of investors including Chiratae Ventures, Vertex Ventures, and NEA have invested in Firstcry.y

The company looks to go public in the next two to three years. It competes with India’s e-commerce duo Amazon and Flipkart.

Nykaa (Lifestyle)

As the only lifestyle brand that entered the unicorn echelon last year, Nykaa started its journey by selling beauty products online and has ventured into offline channels and diversified into the clothing sector.

Currently valued at USD 1.2 billion, it counts Lighthouse Partners and TPG Growth as its backers. The company’s founder, the investment banker turned entrepreneur Falguni Nayar who specialized in IPOs in her old practice, is looking to take her company public in a USD 3 billion IPO this year.

Zerodha (Fintech)

As the pandemic sent shockwaves to global stock markets, first-time investors flocked to piggyback on the market crashes, online brokering platform such as Zerodha saw an uptick in client base. The Bengaluru-based startup turned into a unicorn in June after seeing its new subscriber base double in the first few months of last year.

Unlike many other startups that counts on big name and deep-pocketed global investors, Zerodha, which is already profit-making, has been very conservative in raising money from outside investors. Founded in 2010, the company has only raised capital from angel investors in its decade-long history.

Postman (SaaS)

API testing platform Postman turned into a unicorn in June as its valuation reached 2 billion dollars in its USD 150 million Series C round of funding. Founded in Bengaluru, India and headquartered in San Francisco, California, its unicorn coronation is the latest testament to Indian startups’ strength in the SaaS and B2B sector.

Unacademy (Edtech)

It’s no surprise that edtech would become one of the brightest spots last year as schools in many places remained closed throughout the better part of 2020, students had to resort to internet to catch up with their curricula.

Founded in 2015, Bengaluru-based Unacademy rode the wave of online education to jump into the unicorn club at a valuation of over USD 1.45 billion. The company counted some of the biggest names from the venture capital world as its backers, including both Sequoia India and Japan’s SoftBank, the world’s largest tech investor.

Razorpay (Fintech)

Similar to how an unexpected global public health crisis accelerated the adoption of internet-based education, mobile payment also gained much popularity since people are trying to avoid the use of cash for hygiene purpose.

India’s UPI (unified payment interface, the country’s unified mobile payment infrastructure) has crossed a two billion transaction mark in October, the same month that Razorpay raised a USD 100 million funding round co-led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and Sequoia that valued it at more than one billion dollars.

Razorpay has openly communicated that it plans to get listed in the next three to five years.

Cars24 (E-commerce)

Founded in 2015, the Gurugram-based online call seller earned its unicorn status after raising a USD 200 million Series E last November. It’s also the first Indian startup from the automotive sector to become a unicorn. The company counts Israeli-Russian billionaire Yuri Milner’s DST Global and Sequoia as its investors.

Cars24 saw an increase in demand for private vehicles as the pandemic made people avoid crowded public transportation. In an interaction with local media Financial Express, Vikram Chopra, co-founder & CEO of CARS24, citing industry estimates said that by 2025 used cars would more than double from the current 4.2 million to nine million, and would account for about 75% of total car transactions in India.

DailyHunt (Online Content)

Launched in 2009 as a news aggregator under the name NewsHunt, the Bengaluru-based startup later on rebranded itself as DailyHunt and started offering vernacular news content. As of last April, content on the platform is available in 14 languages. It turned unicorn after a USD 100 million funding round led by some of the largest US tech giants including Google and Microsoft.

Zenoti (SaaS)

Founded in 2010, Zenoti helps spas and salons across 50 countries digitize their services. The company is one of the latest startups to enter India’s unicorn club after its Series D round last December led by PE firm Advent International. It also has Tiger Global and Accel on its cap table.

Zenoti’s clients, beauty parlors, and such like, suffered great loss during the pandemic. Yet, the pandemic also accelerated these clients’ online migration. According to one of the company’s early investors, the last two quarters of 2020 have been the two biggest quarters in the company’s history.

Glance (Utility)

An off-shoot of ad-tech major InMobi, India’s first unicorn startup, Glance became the fastest company to get to the billion dollar valuation. The company aims to personalize lock screens of Android phone users with AI-driven curated content in their local language that includes short videos, inspirational quotes, recipes, and news. In 2019, Glance acquired a short video platform Roposo that now powers its content on lock screens. It has partnered with multiple OEMs including Samsung and Xiaomi which now come pre-installed with Glance lock screens.

The company counts Google and Mithril as its backers.


Correction: IST 1500, Jan 29, 2020. An earlier version of the piece misstated Yuri Milner as a Russian billionaire. Mr. Milner is now an Israeli citizen. We have made the change to reflect that. Our sincere apologies for the error.


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