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Indian startup controversies of 2014

Ramya Venugopal
26th Dec 2014
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What’s a year without a few controversies? Boring, that’s what. Whatever you may say about 2014, boring and dull it definitely wasn’t. The startup community has had its share of ups and downs and some really fiery moments. But the biggest headlines came from the startups, which now qualify as mainstream companies. Here’s a look at some of them:


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1. Uber: Not surprisingly this is top of the mind recall. Uber this year made headlines in quite a few countries for various reasons, but the rape of a passenger by Uber’s cab driver in New Delhi was a new low even for this brash startup.

Founder Travis Kalanick didn’t endear himself to either the users or the authorities when he indicated that the absence of a background checking mechanism by the government was responsible. Uber was promptly banned by four state governments and its offices trashed. The controversy rages on even as Uber officials in India keep their lips sealed and their phones switched off.


Related read: What your startup can learn from the Uber fiasco


2. Flipkart’s Big Billion Sale: An ambitious plan went awry as the response from bargain-hungry consumers was way beyond what Flipkart was prepared for. It started out as a sentimental journey for founders Sachin and Binny Bansal -- the date of the sale, Oct. 6, was for the apartment number 610 where Flipkart first began six years ago.

It ended with Flipkart getting trolled in social media, angry customers whose orders were cancelled and more bad press than ever in their six-year journey. The next day, Sachin and Binny issued a public apology to their customers and till date it’s an incident they are trying hard to live down.

3. Snapdeal and the soap: A customer ordered a Samsung smartphone on Snapdeal and received a bar of dishwash soap. It would have gone down as a funny incident, except for an eerie silence from Snapdeal, which unnerved the Indian consumer who is already nervous buying online.

Once the incident made it to social media, Snapdeal refunded the amount to the irate customer. But there was a delightful post script: Hindustan Unilever, maker of the soap, surprised the customer with a brand new Samsung phone as a goodwill gesture. Here’s a lesson from an old economy company to a new economy one.

4. Zomato’s hiring campaign: Restaurant review app Zomato was looking to hire techies in New Delhi. Rather than put out an advertisement like any other company does, Zomato added a cheeky infographic suggesting that the capital has more tech startups than Bangalore, and gave four reasons why Delhi is a better place to work. Talk about poking a sleeping bear!

Zomato was panned in social media by offended techies in Bangalore, forcing it to pull out the ad. But that’s not to say it has lost any of its chutzpah. Now, the link takes you to a 404 page, which saucily declares “We’re crazy, not stupid.”  

5. Airtel’s new internet package: Here’s one that could turn into a headache for startups looking at the vast Indian market for voice calls. Airtel has just announced a package that seems to fly in the face of net neutrality norms. Users will be billed differently depending on their usage and certain apps (typically VoIP ones such as Skype and Viber) will be charged more. Up 16 times! No surprise that #VoIP is already trending on Twitter and we’ll need to see how this pans out. Is TRAI listening?


Related read: Watch Airtel CPO Anand Chandrasekaran speak about the next chapter in mobile at MobileSparks '14


Are there stories we missed mentioning here? Let us know in the comments and we will add them here.

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