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

Unicon Baba and India’s Dark Belly are among 10-odd anonymous Twitter handles that have consistently shocked their growing audience with gossip from the Indian start-up ecosystem


Unicon Baba unleashed on its 1,600-plus followers on Twitter a screenshot stating that grocery delivery start-up Grofers was constrained to revoke job offers issued to students owing to volatile market conditions.
Unicon Baba unleashed on its 1,600-plus followers on Twitter a screenshot stating that grocery delivery start-up Grofers was constrained to revoke job offers issued to students owing to volatile market conditions.

Bengaluru: It was on Twitter before any news website. And it was not the first time this had happened.

On Wednesday morning, around 10.30am, Unicon Baba unleashed on its 1,600-plus followers on Twitter a screenshot of a letter that grocery delivery start-up Grofers would not have wanted in public domain. It was a letter from a Grofers human resource executive to colleges, stating that the company was constrained to revoke job offers issued to students owing to volatile market conditions.

Around 6.30pm, another Twitter handle by the name of India’s Dark Belly—this one on a mission to knock down some hard Indian truths—dropped another bomb on its modest group of 113 followers. This time, it was an internal email to employees from Grofers chief of human resources Rishi Arora, saying the company will let go of 10% of its workforce.

What gives credence to the pronouncements by these Twitter handles is the fact that media organizations, including Mint, followed them up with stories. Grofers, a company that has raised $165 million from the likes of Sequoia Capital, SoftBank Group and Tiger Global Management, became the talk of the town for cutting jobs and withholding job offers.

Unicon Baba and India’s Dark Belly are among 10-odd anonymous Twitter handles that have consistently shocked their growing audience with a healthy dose of inside information about start-ups, topped with some caustic remarks on some of the feted standard bearers of the domestic start-up ecosystem.

And, on a number of occasions, shockers churned out by them have turned out to be true or at least reported by various news organizations.

These Twitter accounts have been clearly inspired by Startup L Jackson, a once anonymous Twitter personality who dispensed humour and advice and commented on the idiosyncrasies of the start-up ecosystem, racking up 80,000 followers in the process.

Although these accounts haven’t reached the scale or popularity that Startup L Jackson, who disclosed his identity as venture capitalist Parker Thompson in March, has reached, they have their own niche in the start-up ecosystem.

Some of the other global precedents are Twitter handle GSElevator that has 750,000 followers eager to know the latest gossip exchanged in Goldman Sachs elevators. Daniel Lyons, a former journalist with Newsweek and Forbes, wrote The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, a parody on the late Apple Inc. chief executive under the pseudonym Fake Steve Jobs.

There are a few others in this cabal, set on a mission to demystify the Indian start-up ecosystem that until recently rode high on frothy valuations and easy availability of funds: NextBigTwat (this one is the grand old man with 4,691 followers), Startup Kumar, Startup Sarcasm, Neo One, Shitartup and Ghanta Venture, among others.

All of them are anonymous. Else, “koi goli maar dega (somebody will shoot me),” as India’s Dark Belly puts it on the Twitter handle.

These accounts have influential followers including venture capitalists and founders of India’s top Internet companies, some of whom routinely engage in banter with what they say (or well, block them).

NextBigTwat, for instance, tweeted in January that RoadRunnr’s fund-raising had fallen through, which was reported months later, with RoadRunnr and TinyOwl merging to become one entity. The same month, the handle tweeted about Flipkart’s chief product officer Punit Soni’s imminent exit from the company, which eventually turned out to be true. In November, it tweeted about Accel India’s investment in QikPod, a few days before it was formally announced.

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