The 40 who matter in the Indian start-up ecosystem

While e-commerce influencers still dominate the list, there are a handful of new entrants, mostly those connected with SaaS start-ups


Illustrations: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustrations: Jayachandran/Mint

In the first of a multi-part series, Mint profiles the 40 most influential people in India’s start-up ecosystem. While e-commerce influencers still dominate the list, there are a handful of new entrants, most prominently those connected with enterprise software or Software as a Service (SaaS) start-ups that are fast becoming the new investor darlings.

AMIT AGARWAL, 42

Who is he? Vice-president and country manager, Amazon India

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur; MS, Stanford University

Interests: Long-distance runner, former rock band member

Why does he matter? Agarwal has emerged as the most important man in Indian e-commerce today, along with the Bansals of Flipkart.

Just three years after entering India, Amazon overtook Flipkart on a standalone basis in monthly sales in July. Agarwal’s performance prompted Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to promote him to the elite S-band of executives at the world’s largest online retailer. An 18-year Amazon veteran, Agarwal, among other things, is also a relative of Ashish Gupta, co-founder of Helion Venture Partners and an early investor in Flipkart. What remains to be seen is Agarwal’s next move: his elevation to Bezos’s top team indicates he is being primed for a bigger role at Amazon.

ALSO READ | The rise and rise of Amazon

BHAVISH AGGARWAL, 31

Who is he? Co-founder and CEO, Ola (ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd)

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay

Why does he matter? Ola is one of the two key local bulwarks (along with Flipkart) trying to ensure US-based companies don’t dominate e-commerce and cab-hailing businesses. Aggarwal has stayed true to his company’s motto of dissuading people from owning vehicles; he uses Ola cabs to commute. At 31, Aggarwal is fighting Uber, a $68-billion behemoth in his backyard.

Though Ola has ceded a significant market share to Uber in the last 18 months, the firm, which was valued at about $5 billion during its last fundraising in November last year, has managed to maintain a lead over its San Francisco-based rival. But Uber recently sold its China business to Didi Chuxing, formerly Didi Kuaidi, freeing up capital and other crucial resources to be now channelled into India, which makes Aggarwal’s work harder. Even the global pact against Uber formed by Didi, GrabTaxi, Lyft and Ola seems to have fallen by the wayside after Uber’s deal with Didi. Who takes the spoils home is unclear, but till then Aggarwal will have his plate full.

ALSO READ | Uber vs Ola: The battle for dominance in India’s taxi market

AMIT JAIN, 39

Who is he? President, South Asia, Uber

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi and MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business

Interests: Represented India in computer programming contests twice in college, captained the athletics team at IIT-Delhi, plays the santoor.

Why does he matter? Jain heads Uber’s operations in India, its biggest frontier to capture after it sold its China business to local rival Didi Chuxing, formerly Didi Kuaidi.

Naming Jain as president of Uber India in June 2015 signalled the importance of India in the company’s scheme of things. Until then, Uber had refrained from appointing country heads. Since his appointment, Jain, who earlier had long stints with McKinsey and TPG Capital, has led Uber’s charge against Ola. According to multiple industry and company executives, Uber had a 5% market share in India in January 2015. Today, the company is breathing down Ola’s neck. Jain has been elevated as Uber’s South Asia head as the company enters newer markets such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

BINNY BANSAL, 34

Who is he? Co-founder and CEO, Flipkart

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi

Why does he matter? He is at the helm of India’s most important Internet start-up and has the toughest job in Indian e-commerce. On the one hand, Amazon is breathing down Flipkart’s neck. On the other, Bansal has to keep a lid on costs that ballooned in the last financial year. And this comes at a time when Flipkart plans to raise funds amid valuation markdowns by its own investors. Bansal also does not have the luxury of having a free hand in running Flipkart anymore—something that his predecessor Sachin Bansal enjoyed—because Lee Fixel, partner, Tiger Global Management, monitors the company’s moves and has tasked Kalyan Krishnamurthy, business head, Flipkart, to run daily operations. However, Flipkart had a successful Big Billion Days, beating rival Amazon India in festive season sales. If Bansal manages to come out of Flipkart’s current predicament intact, his reputation as an entrepreneur may well exceed that of any of his peers.

ALSO READ | Flipkart’s godfather in New York

RADHIKA AGGARWAL, 42

Who is she? Co-founder, chief business officer, ShopClues

Education: MBA, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (US)

Interests: Walking, reading, short vacations

Why does she matter? Because ShopClues joined the unicorn club in 2016.

ShopClues is one of those start-ups that has faced near-death moments through its initial years, but always surprised critics. It has been marred by controversies as one of its founders and its driving force, Sandeep Aggarwal, was accused of, and pleaded guilty to, insider trading charges in the US. The other founders, Sanjay Sethi and Radhika Aggarwal (Sandeep’s wife) carried on with the venture and have now built ShopClues into one of India’s unicorns. The decline in e-commerce this year has hit ShopClues too. It’s time for the online marketplace to prove its mettle all over again.

ALSO READ | The Shopclues paradox

KALYAN KRISHNAMURTHY, 44

Who is he? Flipkart’s business and advertising head; still advises Tiger Global Management

Education: MBA from University of Illinois- Urbana-Champaign and from Asian Institute of Management

Interests: Yoga

Why does he matter? He wields great influence as an investor and a top executive.

As a representative of Tiger Global Management, Krishnamurthy helps manage the firm’s massive portfolio in India. As Flipkart’s de facto operations chief, he is considered the e-commerce firm’s best bet to hold its own against the tech and retail powerhouse Amazon. Flipkart’s future depends on whether he can continue delivering the goods or not.

MUKESH AMBANI, 59

Who is he? Chairman and managing director, Reliance Industries Ltd

Education: BE (chemical engineering), University of Mumbai

Interests: Cars, movies and music

Why does he matter? Because Reliance Jio, a unit of RIL, has helped accelerate the expansion of the digital era. Ranked by Forbes as India’s richest person, Ambani launched 4G services of Reliance Jio in September, targeting 100 million users in “the shortest possible time”. Given that online retail sales have decreased and e-commerce companies are advertising heavily to attract new shoppers, Jio—with significantly inexpensive data charges and improved mobile Internet speed—could prove to be a growth driver for e-commerce. Ambani has invested $22 billion (about Rs1.5 trillion) in Jio. He is also setting up a Reliance Jio Digital India Startup Fund of Rs5,000 crore to invest in digital businesses, along with creating entrepreneurship hubs in key cities and towns.

PRANAY CHULET, 43

Who is he? Co-founder and CEO, Quikr

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi and MBA, Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta.

Interests: Painting and dramatics, learnt film-making at the New York Film Academy, directed a feature film named Latent Lava.

Why does he matter? Quikr has held fort against Naspers-backed OLX in India, pivoted from being a horizontal classifieds platform to a vertical-focused platform facilitating transactions and has been aggressively acquiring companies in the last 12 months.

In 2007, Chulet was recruiting for his directorial venture Latent Lava on Craigslist, a US-based online classifieds portal, when he realized that India did not have a similar business but had ample scope for one. Thus was born Quikr in 2008, which today has metamorphosed into a unicorn at $1.5 billion, claiming 30 million unique monthly visitors. However, despite the growing user base, Quikr’s revenues are still piddly. For the year ended March, Quikr’s net sales were just Rs41 crore. It’s trying to increase this by going on an acquisition spree. The jury is still out on whether this strategy will work.

KAVIN BHARTI MITTAL, 29

Who is he? Founder and CEO, Hike Messenger

Education: Electronics and Electrical Engineering with management, Imperial College London

Interests: Formula One fan, used to race in London. He is also into cricket and tennis.

Why does he matter? Because his firm Hike Messenger has joined the league of domestic firms, cab aggregator Ola and e-commerce firm Flipkart, who have been taking on global companies such as Uber and Amazon, respectively. Hike competes with global messaging app WhatsApp. Hike entered the club of unicorns by raising $175 million from Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd and Foxconn Technology Group of Taiwan, among others, in August. Mittal took to entrepreneurship like his father Sunil Bharti Mittal, who founded Bharti Enterprises almost four decades ago. Hike was launched in December 2012. The company claims to have more than 100 million users, with 90% of them in India. Hike raised $175 million funding in August and has become the tenth Indian unicorn.

ALSO READ | For Hike to win, WhatsApp doesn’t have to lose: Kavin Bharti Mittal

JONATHAN BULLOCK, 42

Who is he? Chief operating officer and managing director, SoftBank Group International

Education: Went to University of Cambridge as per his LinkedIn profile

Why does he matter? Because after Nikesh Arora left SoftBank earlier this year, Bullock is now the Japanese investor’s main man in India. Prior to SoftBank, Bullock was working with Google as chief of staff and spent a little less than a decade in the firm, according to his LinkedIn profile. He is currently on the board of Mumbai-based Locon Solutions Pvt. Ltd, which operates the online real estate web site Housing.com. Whether SoftBank continues its aggressive investment style in India may depend on the advice Bullock gives to Masayoshi Son, the Japanese conglomerate’s founder and CEO.

AVNISH BAJAJ, 46

Who is he? Co-founder, managing director and managing partner, Matrix Partners, a venture capital fund

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur; MSc (computer science), University of Wisconsin; MBA, Harvard Business School

Interests: Spends his free time with his kids; travel; running; skiing; tennis.

Why does he matter? As co-founder of Bazee.com, Bajaj survived the dot-com bust to engineer the then-biggest sale of an Indian start-up to eBay Inc. for $55 million. As a board member at two unicorns (a start-up valued at more than $1 billion), Ola and Quikr, Bajaj is playing a key role in shaping the future of India’s Internet business. In April, Rishi Navani, Matrix’s co-founder left to start his own fund. After surviving this rough patch, Bajaj, along with Tarun Davda and Vikram Vaidyanathan, two younger managing directors, is leading Matrix with a clear focus on technology and Internet investments. Instead of raising a new fund like most of its peers, Matrix made do with a top-up of $110 million on its existing fund of $300 million. Next year, Matrix will hit the market for a new fund.

ALSO READ | How Matrix Partners changed track

UNICON BABA, 36

Who is he? A start-up insider’s anonymous Twitter handle

Education: BTech, MBA

Interests: A traveller, claims to be a fitness freak

Why does he matter? Because he has become an influential voice and rumour monger in the start-up world.

“I don’t have vested interest to troll or sabotage any founder, investor or start-up. I am here to provide a more real picture no matter how dirty the picture is,” Baba claims. The anonymous Twitter account claims to be an insider in the start-up world; he claims to travel regularly to San Francisco, Singapore, and Delhi; he claims to meet more than 20 founders and venture capitalists in a week, in addition to receiving more than 50 start-up pitch decks. “I was frustrated with the start-up PR (publicity) orgy all around and with the manner it mesmerised young minds with start-up glam which I call ‘Valleywood’ with no connection to reality. Companies with no business model, no revenue or organic user growth, circulate desperate decks, raise quick cash to avoid hard landing and get celebrated as rockstars and nobody questions them,” Baba claims. Proclaiming noble purposes, Unicon Baba sees itself as a force for good. Of course, most start-ups and entrepreneurs do so, too. After all, start-ups are about “changing the world”.

ALSO READ | When trouble hits start-ups, Twittersphere is the first to know

SHARAD SHARMA, 52

Who is he? Co-founder and CEO, BrandSigma; co-founder, iSpirt, a software product think-tank

Education: BE, Delhi College of Engineering

Why does he matter? Because he is a crusader of high-tech Indian start-ups. Sharma is one of the few consistently outspoken contrarians in India’s start-up ecosystem. When investors across India and the world were queuing up to pour billions of dollars of capital into consumer Internet start-ups during 2014-15, Sharma was one of the few voices who compared the frenzy to the dot-com bubble. He predicted that Flipkart would have a tough time defending its turf against Amazon. Sharma certainly has a vested interest: he’s the face of the enterprise software movement in India. Now, it seems that years of efforts by Sharma and iSpirt are starting to pay off in a big way as SaaS start-ups become increasingly popular with VCs.

SUDHIR SETHI, 58

Who is he? Founder and chairman, IDG Ventures India Advisors

Education: BTech; and MBA, Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi

Why does he matter? Sethi has seen off a tough fund raise process for IDG after many in the start-up ecosystem had cast doubt on whether VCs could attract large amounts of so-called rupee capital.

IDG was one of the first investors to spot and put money behind the potential of India’s Internet market when it set up shop in 2006. It is also the only large VC operating in India which has attracted a large amount of capital from Indian investors (other VCs largely have foreign capital). After a tough phase that culminated last year with the exit of one of its founders, Manik Arora, IDG closed about $150 million of its planned $200 million fund in May. Now, led by Sethi, the fund has been the most active early-stage investor this year. It has expanded its team and also secured partial attractive exits from Flipkart and Lenskart. But like most other funds, IDG is anxiously awaiting exits from other past investments.

GIRISH MATHRUBOOTHAM, 41

Who is he? Founder and CEO, Freshdesk, an enterprise software start-up

Education: MBA (marketing), University of Madras

Interests: Playing tennis, and foosball and chess while in office. He’s a movie buff, and tries to watch most movies in the first week of their release.

Why does he matter? Because he is currently the face of new-age Indian enterprise start-ups.

While India has become the foremost global destination for low-cost, outsourced software projects and for producing outsourcing behemoths such as Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services, it has never produced a runaway success in the software products arena. The rise of Freshdesk could change that. However, the man who founded Freshdesk, Mathrubootham, has his feet firmly on the ground. Mathrubootham’s journey began at another somewhat successful enterprise software start-up Zoho, which is also based in Chennai. And one day in the late 2000s, when a customer comment popped up on his screen, an entrepreneurial idea was born. While Freshdesk is still some way from becoming the poster child for Indian software product start-ups, it is certainly on the right track.

ALSO READ | Freshdesk and the art of keeping customers happy

SAHIL BARUA, 32

Who is he? Co-founder and CEO, Delhivery, an e-commerce logistics company

Education: Postgraduate in finance, Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore

Interests: Likes to cook, is a voracious reader and a big comics fan

Why does he matter? Because he spotted the opportunity for an e-commerce logistics firm in the then relatively nascent e-commerce market. Barua founded Delhivery in April 2011 along with three others—Mohit Tandon, Suraj Saharan and Bhavesh Manglani. Kapil Bharati joined as a fifth co-founder in November 2011. Before starting Delhivery, Barua had spent three years working as a consultant in global consultancy firm Bain & Co. in London and New Delhi. Delhivery, which started off in 2011 by delivering flowers and food from restaurants, is now the largest specialty e-commerce logistics firm.

VANI KOLA, 52

Who is she? Managing Director, Kalaari Capital Partners

Education: ME (electrical engineering technologies/technicians), Arizona State University; BE, Osmania University

Interests: Running marathons

Why does she matter? Because Kola is one of the most powerful voices in the start-up ecosystem.

The past year hasn’t been great for Kalaari, one of the few blue-chip home-grown VCs. Its biggest investment Snapdeal (Kola is a board member there) is now considered an also-ran in the e-commerce war. Some other profitable bets from past funds such as such as Zivame, an online lingerie retailer, are also facing formidable challenges. Still, Kalaari now has more money to invest than it ever did. It now runs a separate seed investment program and has expanded its team. Its third and latest fund of $290 million raised in September 2015 is all-important for the fund’s future. Kola and her partners Rajesh Raju, Bala Srinivasa and Sumit Jain will have to prove their mettle all over again.

ALSO READ | Kalaari Capital: The e-commerce bulwark

HARI MENON, 54

Who is he? Co-founder and chief executive at BigBasket

Education: BTech, BITS Pilani

Interests: Plays guitar, sings, was part of a rock band in college

Why does he matter? Because BigBasket has survived a funding slowdown to emerge as the largest online grocer while many others shut shop.

BigBasket stands out among the current crop of online grocery stores on multiple counts. First, Menon and his four co-founders, unlike today’s young entrepreneurs, are in their 40s and 50s. Second, three of the founders—Menon, V.S. Sudhakar and Vipul Parekh—had earlier built and sold a similar business (Fabmall, sold to the Aditya Birla Group in 2006). Third, BigBasket never shied away from holding inventory, which, industry experts say helps the firm extract better margins and service customers better. Fourth, BigBasket launched high-margin private labels very early. Launched in December 2011, BigBasket today operates 25 warehouses and 63 dark stores (storage facilities). The firm claims to have 3 million repeat customers and is targeting revenue of Rs1,800 crore in fiscal 2017, against last year’s Rs750 crore. Revenue has been rising steadily, from a meagre Rs3 crore in FY13 to Rs8.5 crore in FY14, before jumping to Rs200 crore in FY15 and Rs750 crore in the last fiscal, Menon said in an interview in October. But Amazon’s expansion in groceries is expected to test BigBasket.

ALSO READ | Bigbasket: Delivering the goods

ASHISH HEMRAJANI, 42

Who is he? Founder CEO, BookMyShow

Education: MBA, Sydenham Institute of Management Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship Education (University of Mumbai)

Interests: Loves to sail, gym and swim

Why does he matter? Because he has made BookMyShow synonymous with ticketing.

On a backpacking trip to South Africa in 1999, Hemrajani happened to hear a radio commercial about the online sale of tickets for a rugby match. He says the idea to start a firm based on the same theme dawned on him when he “was sitting under a tree”. Co-founders Rajesh Balpande and Parikshit Dar too were with him on this trip. That incident inspired the firm’s name Bigtree Entertainment Pvt. Ltd and thus was born BookMyShow. Initially, it sold tickets through the telephone and the Internet. BookMyShow received an investment of Rs2.5 crore from private equity firm Chase Capital Partners, which sold its stake to News Corp. before the dot-com bust. Over the last 17 years, Hemrajani has built a homegrown company valued at Rs3,000 crore

NANDAN NILEKANI, 61

Who is he? Co-founder of Infosys, India’s most successful start-up till date. Also former chairman of the UIDAI and chief mentor of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI)

Education: BTech (electrical engineering), Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay.

Interests: Passionate about quizzing, books, travelling and philanthropy. Member of book clubs and quiz clubs over the years.

Why does he matter? Because he is the only Indian entrepreneur who has been part of companies and systems—Infosys, UIDAI and UPI—that have been disruptors and put India on the global map in each of the past three decades.

Over the past three decades, Nilekani has been part of many game-changing endeavours in several avatars: first, as an entrepreneur, then as an author and technocrat, then part-time politician and now philanthropist, start-up investor and champion of the push towards a less-cash economy. The man from Sirsi in Karnataka—whose remarkable journey began nearly four decades ago when he walked into Patni Computer Systems Ltd and applied to N.R. Narayana Murthy for a job—meets more than two dozen entrepreneurs and start-ups every week. He has also invested in nearly a dozen new-age firms such as Sedemac, Team Indus, Juggernaut, Fortigo and 10i Commerce

ABHAYA PRASAD HOTA, 60

Who is he? MD and CEO, National Payments Corp. of India (NPCI)

Education: MA (literature), Sambalpur University, Odisha

Interests: Likes watching films, particularly animation movies

Why does he matter? Hota worked for almost three decades at the Reserve Bank of India. A significant part of his career was in design and implementation of payment systems. He joined as the managing director of NPCI in August 2010. Under Hota, NPCI has launched multiple products, including card payment settlement systems that compete with Visa and MasterCard, the latest being the Unified Payments Interface (UPI).

ALSO READ | UPI 2.0 will disrupt payments in India

MOHIT BHATNAGAR, 47

Who is he? MD, Sequoia Capital

Education: MSc (electrical engineering), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; MBA, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Interests: Likes to ride his Royal Enfield, play football and bake with his kids

Why does he matter? Sequoia is the largest and most influential traditional venture capital firm in India. Bhatnagar is one of the key men driving Sequoia’s investments in India. Earlier, he was senior vice-president, new products, at Bharti Airtel. The fund has invested some $2 billion in India in the past decade; it is still deploying its huge fund of $920 million. Sequoia, which missed out on the e-commerce boom in the early part of the decade, has since become the most active investor in hyperlocal start-ups. That strategy is in trouble, though. This year, Sequoia made attractive exits from its investments in payments firm Citrus Pay and Quick Heal (partially). But overall, exits by the firm, like other VCs, are too few and far between.

ALSO READ | Pivots and consolidation, the Sequoia way

NAVEEN TEWARI, 39

Who is he? Founder and CEO, InMobi

Education: MBA (general management), Harvard Business School

Interests: Passionate about cycling and cricket

Why does he matter? Because InMobi planted the first flag of an Indian company in the advertising technology space, dominated by the likes of Google and Facebook, and created a company worth more than $1 billion at one time.

Over the years, it has built a reputation of being a serious player in the advertising technology space. In the past 12 months, it has tried newer areas of online advertising such as discovery commerce and products such as Miip, built to target global retail giants. However, Miip has had mixed reviews so far. The past two years have been especially testing, with a spate of top-level departures. In a recent statement, InMobi hinted at some of its troubles, and said that it was working to achieve profitability. However, it is not the first time that InMobi has been written off. Tewari concedes things could have been executed better, but brushes off any talk of InMobi being stuck in a downward spiral.

RATAN TATA, 78

Who is he? Interim chairman, Tata Sons

Education: BS (architecture with structural engineering), Cornell University; advanced management program, Harvard Business School

Why does he matter? Because he’s one of the most active angel investors.

From seed investing in an early stage start-up such as Kaaryah, online fashion portal, to participating in higher series round of heavily capitalized companies like Snapdeal, Ola and Paytm, Tata has placed bets on the growth of more than 36 companies. He also advises three VC firms: Jungle Ventures (Singapore), Kalaari Capiral and IDG Ventures. Tata’s confidence in a business model instils confidence for other investors to come on board. If RNT Associates wasn’t enough, Ratan Tata is all set to take his interests in start-ups a notch higher from an angel to an institutional investor—he will be setting up a venture capital fund of $100-150 million in partnership with the University of California.

ALSO READ | Decoding Ratan Tata’s start-up investments

SHEKHAR KIRANI, 49

Who is he? Partner at Accel Partners India

Education: Postgraduate, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; PhD (computer science), University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Why does he matter? Because over the years, Kirani has become the leading investor in the enterprise software space, with bets on companies such as Freshdesk. Kirani, like his employer Accel Partners, prefers a low profile. Even many of the firms he has backed so far—Zenoti, ANSR Consulting, Jifflenow and ChargeBee—are firms that are under the radar, with the exception of Freshdesk. However, like Accel, Kirani has a knack for spotting key market trends and identifying sectors and firms that have the potential to become standard-bearers in the future: Freshdesk is a classic example. For Accel’s latest $450 million India fund, software as a service (SaaS) is one of the focus area and Kirani is betting he can uncover more hidden gems like Freshdesk. But for SaaS to prove it’s not just another false horizon for Indian VCs, exits, as always, will eventually be the decisive factor.

ALSO READ | Accel’s India story

SHRADHA SHARMA, 36

Who is she? Founder and CEO, YourStory

Education: MA (history), St. Stephen’s College, Delhi

Why does she matter? Because she was one of the earliest entrepreneurs to place a bet on digital media with YourStory in 2008.

What started as a blog eight years ago is today one of the most-read websites on start-ups and entrepreneurs. Needless to say, Shradha Sharma, founder of YourStory and a former executive at The Times of India and CNBC-TV18, has emerged as one of the most well-known faces in the start-up media ecosystem. Sharma has also got Kalaari Capital, T.V. Mohandas Pai and Ratan Tata to invest about $5 million in YourStory. According to its website, YourStory reaches 10 million active readers and clocks about 20 million page views every month.

SACHIN BANSAL, 36

Who is he? Co-founder and executive chairman, Flipkart

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi

Why does he matter? Because he and Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal (not related) planted the flag for e-commerce in India and created the Indian equivalent of Amazon.

For a man whose name has become synonymous with e-commerce in India and who is widely credited with creating India’s most important and successful Internet start-up ever, the past year has not been too kind. After overseeing Flipkart’s rise to the top and driving an unprecedented funding spree, Bansal took large bets that ultimately proved to be disastrous for the company he co-founded in a flat in Bengaluru as Flipkart ended up losing much ground to Amazon. Bansal eventually relinquished the role of CEO to co-founder Binny Bansal. Now, he has taken a back seat and is focusing on mentoring senior leaders and championing the cause of Indian start-ups.

KARTHIK REDDY, 43

Who is he? Co-founder and MD, Blume Ventures

Education: IIT-Roorkee; PGDM (finance and marketing), Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore; MBA, (finance and entrepreneurship), University of Pennsylvania-The Wharton School

Interests: Space tech, yoga, art spectator, sports, fan of The Economist

Why does he matter? He is one of the biggest seed investors and an important voice in the enterprise software business.

With some effort, Reddy and Blume’s other founder, Sanjay Nath, finally closed their second fund in October. Encouragingly, one-third of the fund was raised from domestic investors, no mean task given that Indian investors are way less open to risking money on start-ups compared with those in the US.

SHASHANK N.D., 28

Who is he? Co-founder and CEO, Practo

Education: BTech, National Institute of Technology-Karnataka

Interests: Avid reader and runner, plays squash

Why does he matter? Because Practo, valued at $500 million at its last fundraising in August 2015, could well become the next homegrown unicorn and is the most well-funded homegrown healthcare start-up.

Practo earns revenue by selling practice management and appointment scheduling software to doctors and clinics, as well as a hospital information management solutions, apart from a sponsored listing service for hospitals. It does not charge consumers for doctor discovery and scheduling appointments or doctors for listing on Practo. For the year ended March 2016, Practo posted revenue of Rs23 crore by selling software, a fourfold increase from Rs6 crore in the year-ago period. The company claims to book 40 million appointments annually. It has entered Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia among others, and expanded to list diagnostic centres, gyms and salons. It has raised about $124 million from investors including China’s Tencent, Belgian venture capital firm Sofina and Google Capital.

AJAY HATTANGDI, 46

Who is he? COO, InnoVen Capital Group and CEO, InnoVen Capital India

Education: MCom, Bombay University; MBA, University at Buffalo

Interests: Travel enthusiast, loves food shows and science fiction, plays squash

Why does he matter? At a time when venture capital firms are turning chary, InnoVen Capital, a venture debt firm, has backed several start-ups in India.

The slowdown in equity funding and pressure on valuations has emerged as a business opportunity for venture debt firms, with InnoVen Capital leading the charge. InnoVen Capital, a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings, planned to deploy about $60-65 million (Rs441 crore) this year; it had invested Rs275 crore in 2015. InnoVen has invested in start-ups such as Snapdeal, Practo, Oyo, Treebo, FabHotels, Capillary Technologies, Housejoy and Byju’s. Hattangdi previously worked with Citibank India in various capacities, including head of venture lending and strategy, and earlier as venture capital debt provider at SVB Bank, based in Santa Clara, California.

NEHA SINGH, 31

Who is she? Co-founder, Tracxn

Education: MBA, Stanford Graduate School of Business; BTech and MTech (computer science engineering), Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay

Interests: Loves to travel

Why does she matter? Because Tracxn is an influential data provider and consultant to investors.

Prior to starting Traxcn with husband and co-founder Abhishek Goyal, Singh carried out analysis of numerous start-ups at Sequoia Capital. While Sequoia made many technology investments, she had to build the data infrastructure on her own. In 2013, the now husband-wife duo, founded a data analytics firm to track start-ups around the world, Tracxn Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Besides building the data infrastructure, Singh advises new investors interested in India. She is seeing a new wave of interest from investors in Japan, South Korea, Singapore and China, having worked with more than 25 investors from South- East Asia alone.

SRINIVAS KATTA, 44

Who is he? Partner, IndusLaw

Education: BA LLB (Hons.), National Law School of India University

Interests: Experiential travel, adventure sports, tennis, golf, cricket and reading

Why does he matter? In the world of legal firms, IndusLaw is somewhat of a start-up itself, having launched only in 2000. The firm built its name in the start-up business, but it has been aggressively diversifying over the past few years into real estate, infrastructure and other sectors. Still, its start-up practice is the most important vertical currently. IndusLaw has worked with most of the biggest start-ups including Flipkart, InMobi and Snapdeal.

ROHIT BANSAL, 33

Who is he? Co-founder and COO, Snapdeal

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi

Interests: Outdoor travel, adventure sports

Why does he matter? Because he is leading Snapdeal’s attempted image and business model makeover.

In the run-up to Diwali, Snapdeal was not merely promoting sales. Bansal was leading a rebranding campaign of more than Rs200 crore to go all out with a new logo and a new tagline, ‘Unbox Zindagi’ (Unbox Life). Bansal is not worried about beating the competition by offering more discounts and spending more cash. Bansal wrote in a LinkedIn post that “many a time, the right thing and the most popular thing are not the same. It is always more important to do the right thing”. He will be chasing growth “in our net revenue, not some vanity metrics (like GMV)”, he wrote. GMV, or gross merchandise value, is a much-hyped e-commerce metric that refers to the value of goods sold on a site, but does not account for discounts or even sales returns.

GAURAV DEEPAK, 42

Who is he? Co-founder and MD, Avendus Capital

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur; PGDM, Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta

Interests: An avid reader of books ranging from fiction to history, Deepak loves to spend time with his wife and three sons when he is not working

Why does he matter? Because, even in a slow funding market, Avendus managed to crack some of the biggest deals in the dot-com sector in 2016.

Deepak believes that in a tough market, the role of a good investment banker becomes all the more important. In 2016, Avendus’s 24-people team led by Deepak closed 15-18 deals, including Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s investment in online education firm Byju’s, Flipkart’s acquisition of Jabong (the biggest consolidation in e-commerce in the year), and fundraisings by Swiggy, Lendingkart and Lenskart, among others. In 2017, Deepak and his team are anticipating increased consolidation in the start-up and e-commerce sectors and also expecting growth in equity funding for companies in the medium to growth stages.

DEEPINDER GOYAL, 33

Who is he? CEO, Zomato

Education: BTech, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi

Why does he matter? Because Zomato is one of the few home-grown consumer Internet start-ups to make a mark overseas.

Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah founded Foodiebay in 2008 as a listing platform for restaurants with scanned menus and rechristened it Zomato in 2010. Today, it has a thriving business in which restaurants pay for a listing, apart from table booking and food delivery services. Zomato operates in 22 countries, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UAE. It has so far acquired at least seven companies, including Urbanspoon in the US, bought for about $50 million. Zomato is also India’s most well-funded food-tech start-up, having raised $224 million from Info Edge, Temasek Holdings, Vy Capital and Sequoia Capital, among others. However, its valuation was almost halved to $500 million in September 2015 by HSBC Securities and Capital Markets (India) Pvt. Ltd. In a letter to employees in May, Goyal attributed the company’s cash burn—which it has contained—to new business models and geographies it was experimenting with. Goyal has big plans for food delivery and outlined plans to invest $40 million in the business in December 2015.

JACK MA, 52

Who is he? Founder and executive chairman, Alibaba Group Holding

Education: BA, Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute, Zhejiang; MBA, Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, Beijing

Why does he matter? Because Ma is the poster boy of the rise of China as a powerhouse in the Internet economy.

Alibaba, which accounts for about four-fifths of e-commerce in China, is now looking to expand its presence in India with an expected entry into Indian online commerce in 2017. Ma, after several job rejections, started out as an English teacher in 1989 at a local university in Hangzhou, a small town 200km from Shanghai. He founded Alibaba in 1999 as a business-to-business retail company. Fast-forward 16 years, Alibaba is one the largest e-commerce companies in the world with a market cap of $212 billion. Alibaba’s $25-billion initial share sale in September 2014—the largest in history—made him the richest man in China at that time. Now, Ma wants to dominate global e-commerce and has his eyes set on emerging markets. In past interviews, Ma said online retail rests on an ‘iron triangle‘ of e-commerce (the tech platform), payments and logistics. And that is what he is trying to do in India. In 2015, Ma invested $680 million over two rounds in financial services firm Paytm, setting up the first pillar. The same year he also invested a small undisclosed amount in e-commerce marketplace Snapdeal. As it looks to enter India, the firm is reportedly in talks with several industry stalwarts like Paytm and Snapdeal to further increase stakes and at the same time exploring plans to establish a standalone presence.

ALSO READ | Alibaba’s entry, and does it even matter now

VIJAY SHEKHAR SHARMA, 38

Who is he? Founder and CEO, One97 Communications Ltd, owner of Paytm

Education: BTech, Delhi College of Engineering, Delhi (now Delhi Technological University)

Interests: Driving, food, and sports like skydiving and bungee jumping

Why does he matter? Sharma is the founder of India’s most popular digital payments service, which is set to become a payments bank next year.

Born in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, to a school headmaster, he persevered over the years to become one of the top entrepreneurs in the country. Always fascinated by technology and the Internet, Sharma would read about the exploits of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs during his college days. Sharma would go around taking outsourcing assignments and creating websites for companies. He started an Internet company called XS Corp, which he later sold to a US entrepreneur for $1 million in 1999. In 2005, he founded One97 Communications and went on to launch Paytm in 2010. Last year, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba invested $575 million in the company; after Flipkart, it is the most valuable Internet start-up in India, valued at over Rs32,000 crore. Paytm has got a windfall due to the demonetisation of high-value currency notes, which has forced people to turn to cashless payments systems.

ALSO READ | Vijay Shekhar Sharma: The ‘no cash’ champion

ANIL KHANNA, 60

Who is he? MD, Blue Dart

Education: MBA (marketing and finance), University Business School, Chandigarh; St. Stephen’s College, Delhi

Interests: He has been an athlete and never misses his cardio and yoga sessions

Why does he matter? Because Khanna is at the helm of a firm which has grown to become one of the largest express delivery firms with six Boeing 757-200 freighters. Blue Dart has been working with the e-tailing industry since 2009 which brings it almost 20% of its revenue. Blue Dart is one of the largest e-commerce logistics providers but the company is facing stiff competition from the likes of Delhivery and Ecom Express.

KUNAL BAHL, 33

Who is he? Co-founder and CEO, Snapdeal

Education: Graduate from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Interests: Foodie, passionate about adventure sports

Why does he matter? Because Bahl is known for his ability to make multiple pivots and not giving up since Snapdeal was founded as an offline coupon selling company in 2010.

The e-commerce marketplace model was launched in 2011. Bahl had started a detergent company while he was a student at the Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania. In 2014, Snapdeal entered the club of unicorns (worth at least $1 billion). However, 2016 has been rough for Snapdeal: first, it lost out on the acquisition of Jabong to Myntra (owned by Flipkart), then it shut down the fashion goods website Exclusively.com which was acquired in 2015. He’s now leading Snapdeal’s efforts to survive after losing out in the e-commerce battle to Flipkart and Amazon. Bahl sees Snapdeal offering marketplace, logistics and payments solutions, modelled on China’s Alibaba, also one of its investors. Last year, it acquired wallet company Freecharge and a stake in the logistics firm GoJavas. It has now created Vulcan Express Pvt. Ltd, an in-house logistics and delivery unit. It received a follow-on $500 million funding last year from SoftBank, Alibaba and Foxconn, among others. Such large fund raises have made it one of the most well-funded Indian start-ups. That has come at a price: Bahl and co-founder Rohit Bansal together own less than 6.5% of their company.

DEEPAK GAUR, 39

Who is he? MD, SAIF Partners

Education: MBA, Indian Institute of Management-Lucknow; BTech (mechanical engineering), Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur

Interests: Watching movies with his wife, spending time with their two children

Why does he matter? Because he represents one of the most aggressive early- to mid-stage funds in India, one that has returned money to its investors consistently even in times when rivals have struggled for exits. SAIF Partners has made nine new investments in 2016—six in early-stage firms and three in growth-stage ones. The fund has also done 15 follow-on investments in portfolio companies. SAIF Partners, a 30-member team, in March 2015 raised a $350 million fund—its second India-dedicated fund, which currently has over 55 active investments. Several of SAIF’s portfolio firms are among India’s most valuable start-ups, such as online travel agency MakeMyTrip and local search platform Just Dial.

Compiled by Anirban Sen, Arushi Chopra, Mihir Dalal, Priyanka Sahay, Sayan Chakraborty, Shrutika Verma, Yuvraj Malik; Illustrations by Jayachandran/Mint

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