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The great disrupters


An intimate look into the lives of India’s new-age entrepreneurs, and how they are redefining the way business is done

Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder of e-commerce website Paytm, has more followers on Twitter than many Bollywood stars. Flipkart cofounder Sachin Bansal has more followers than the suave Congress politician Jyotiraditya Scindia, MP. If there is one thing that these examples indicate, it is the growing acceptance of entrepreneurship in India.

Ganesh Krishnan, serial entrepreneur and founder of home health care company Portea Medical, says entrepreneurs are getting more attention than celebrities. For instance, at a recent event, very few people lined up to greet the former boss of an Indian Premier League franchise whose wife is a filmstar, while there was a long queue of people eager to click a selfie with Vijay Shekhar Sharma. “Earlier, we could not fill a hall of 30 people at entrepreneurship events. Today, an auditorium with a capacity for 300 people falls short of space,” says Krishnan.

It is, undoubtedly, the best time to become an entrepreneur in India. The new Indian entrepreneurs are a different breed, and their businesses are completely different from the age-old, family-owned enterprises. They are disrupters trying to create a dent in the corporate universe by challenging existing business models.

The likes of Naveen Tewari, Pranay Chulet, Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Shashank N.D. represent this new entrepreneurial class that has emerged over the last six to seven years. While their companies are much sought-after for the work they are doing and the valuations they command, their own personalities are no less interesting. In some ways, they are very typical of the young, aspirational middle class. And, even as they represent the same enterprising class, their own tastes and personalities are very different from one another. For some, splurging comes naturally; for others, it is life as usual, but with a lot of fun thrown in.

It is not easy to get across to every company that is starting up in this crowded entrepreneurial ecosystem. A (publicly reported) valuation of 11,000 crore brings with it credibility and confidence of investors and customers who have brought it to that level. There are only a handful of startups in the Rs.1,000 crore list, and THE WEEK takes a look at entrepreneurs of this valuable club through the lens of their personalities and their start-up journeys.

Paytm, Quikr and InMobi are billion-dollar unicorns in our list, valued way higher than our threshold. But Practo, Shopclues, Cardekho, BookMyShow and OYO Rooms are horses that analysts are betting on for the next big winner from India.

Shopclues founder Sandeep Aggarwal has a taste for wine and art and loves splurging on them. Classy interiors are another of his pet passions and the entrepreneur is making sure that the décor at his new penthouse in Gurgaon is stunning.

On the other hand, Pranay Chulet, the founder of Quikr, loves simple things in life. An inherently creative person, Chulet made a film while in the US and plans to direct a rom-com. Quikr’s office in Bengaluru bears the stamp of his creativity: an old factory morphed into a modern working space.

BookMyShow is a firm that has technology at its heart. But its founder, Ashish Hemrajani, is in love with all things old and heritage. Old compasses and clocks are things that he collects. Having been through crests and troughs in his entrepreneurial journey, Hemrajani believes in adding quality of life: spending time with his son and going to the beach.

Cardekho’s Amit Jain is candid in admitting that he loves the high life. When many entrepreneurs shy away from talking about wealth, Jain talks frankly about the luxury cars he has bought, his next purchase and his plan to buy a private jet.

Naveen Tewari of InMobi is a workaholic, but he can rock the dance floor to cheer up employees at office parties and can even don the hat of a bartender. This gadget freak’s home in the US has almost all Apple products.

Of all things in this world, Sharma of Paytm is most possessive about his earplugs, charger cables and ink pens. “I feel very bad if somebody offers me a refill pen to write,” he says. And despite being the founder of a $2.5 billion company, he pays his bills himself. “I do this to experience what customers feel when they are doing it through Paytm,” he says.

The love for travel is something that binds all of them together. Be it an investor meeting or a vacation, these entrepreneurs love soaking in new cultures, exploring unexplored destinations, taking adventure trails and having fun.

Sharma is a junkie for high-adrenaline activities: he has jumped from a plane at 14,000 feet in Australia. Shashank N.D. of Practo wants to do scuba diving, rock-climbing and hiking when he goes to Vietnam next month. Aggarwal of Shopclues loves vacationing at exotic destinations like Bali, the Bahamas, Mexico and Hawaii.

Alongside this new entrepreneur class, says Murali Balaraman, partner, advisory services, at Ernst & Young, a “neo billionaire” class is also emerging, because of their surging valuations. “It is not just them, they are creating several dollar millionaires. The people at strategic positions in these organisations will also be part of that club. And they are very different from a typical inheritor in the way they spend their wealth. They are not the showoff and flaunting kind and will never dress up top to toe in luxury,” says Balaraman.

He is right. These entrepreneurs do not believe in displaying their wealth. For them, luxury brands do not matter much. What matters is enjoying life: be it travel, reading, music, movies, fitness or spending quality time with family.

It is also reflected in the passion with which they talk about their businesses. They began with a dream and owe everything to their hard work, failures and perseverance. Their groundedness and modesty is what defines them: a reason they are inspiring middle-class India.

Ritesh Agarwal of OYO Rooms does not shy away from telling that he slept on stairs in winter nights during the course of his start-up journey. Agarwal of Shopclues and Sharma of Paytm could not speak English. Chulet had no science teacher in his school in Rajasthan.

Interestingly, all the wealth, fame and glory have not changed them as human beings. Aggarwal and Sharma say they get a bunch of resumes referenced by their parents. “These are people who have very strong conviction and vision. All of them believe that wealth is a byproduct of their aspirational journey,” says Balaraman.

Unlike Chinese entrepreneurs who express themselves through splurging on luxury items, says Balaraman, Indian entrepreneurs come across as very responsible. They do go on foreign holidays but still retain their roots.

Anas Rahman Junaid, India head of the Hurun Report, which comes out with a rich list every year, says that their responsible spending could also be because all of them are in the process of building their companies. “Their focus right now is on their startup ventures more than anything else. They want to create value for their companies first. Once they create enough value, you will see them spending. The rooftop valuations do not mean that they have so much of disposable income to spend,” says Junaid.

Junaid says a lot of these young entrepreneurs will be future philanthropists. They will be more willing than their predecessors to part with their wealth.

What is also interesting is that these entrepreneurs are not content with building their own companies. They want an ecosystem to develop. For most of them, favourite activities include spending time with other startup founders and mentoring and funding them.

These dream-chasers never switch off. They eat, sleep and breathe their companies.

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