It has been close to a week since Stayzilla Founder Yogendra Vasupal was remanded in custody by the Chennai Crime Branch. He is yet to be granted bail, as its hearing has been pushed to Wednesday.
Perturbed by the inordinate delay in granting bail to Yogendra, startup founders have launched a petition-cum-signature campaign, Help-Yogi, and also written an open letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi K Palaniswami, Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, and Ramesh Abhishek, Secretary, DIPP.
Paytm’s founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Ola Co-founder and CEO Bhavish Agarwal, Practo Co-founder and CEO Shashank ND, Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Manipal Global Education Services and Aarin Capital, and Sharad Sharma, iSPIRT Foundation, are among those who have signed the petition.
What should’ve been a civil dispute between a vendor and its client has taken an ugly turn with an open display of goondaism, threats, and conflicts.
The startup world has been chanting support for Yogi and calling for his release from prison, on Twitter, via letters and phone calls to the government in Tamil Nadu. Yet not much has moved since then, though. The family got the FIR copy late and the bail hearing, which was to take place on Monday, has now been pushed to Wednesday, March 22.
The startup community isn’t taking this quietly. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one of the founders said that while the dispute involving funds needs to be resolved, this case has taken a personal turn. A close source also confirmed that Yogendra's family is under threat and is being intimidated by the founder of Jigsaw advertising, Aditya CS.
According to CII, the legal developments around Yogi will create fear in the minds of aspiring entrepreneurs and could also be detrimental to the Start up India initiative. CII Start-up Council Chairman Kris Gopalakrishnan said,
“The legal developments around Yogendra Vasupal, founder of Stayzilla is disturbing. The nature of the accusation invoked against Stayzilla, i.e. non-payment of dues, essentially falls in the domain of civil disputes and not under criminal charges, unless it is done with an intent of cheating.”
The incident has no doubt raised several pertinent questions. How do startups, especially the ones that are shutting down, manage vendor payments? Also what backing or support do founders have in these cases? While Karnataka and Telangana are known to have strong ministers who support entrepreneurs, what about other states? Also, what protection will founders have in case of vendettas?
Till the time of publishing, Aditya CS, hadn’t responded to the e-mail query sent by YourStory. Update: Aditya responded to the e-mail query and denied all claims of threats or coercion.
The letter sent to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is produced verbatim here:
Date: 20th March, 2017
Shri. Rajnath Singh Ji
Hon’ble Home Minister
North Block, Central Secretariat,
We would like to express our concern and draw your attention towards the manner in which Yogendra Vasupal (Yogi), Founder and CEO, Stayzilla, was arrested with regard to the matter registered as FIR 71/2017 CCB Chennai and the alleged influence including harassment by the concerned officials in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Although we do not wish to prejudge the matter, the Stayzilla case and it's locked up founder underscore the hardships of being an entrepreneur in India. If ever there's a right to be an entrepreneur, that's clearly been violated. Period.
The question is not how this will affect entrepreneurship today, but how young Indians looking to become entrepreneurs in the future will give up even before starting up.
You can find as many technical flaws and loopholes about a client-vendor contract (which by the way can be contested in the long term), and go roundabouts regarding how "an innocent" vendor was forced to abuse, intimidate and even send voodoo dolls with the picture of entrepreneur's kids.
The point is, all this appears to be a Bollywood nightmare, and unlike the movies, there are no real life superheroes to fight the battle. How you wish there actually was a superman who could stop it then and there. This doesn't necessarily wipe out the faith in judiciary. If anything, a fair judicial probe and hearing, is the only hope from hereon.
But all this does shake the faith when it comes to starting up in India, building a company from scratch. As a founder, we already have enough battlefronts, from acquiring customers to funding growth and ensuring the startup doesn't die. You add a disgruntled vendor using position of power and influential network to make you go through hell, and suddenly, it becomes a battle lost.
When Yogi was walking on a Chennai street, couple of cops in plain clothes drove past, snatched his mobile phone and asked him to come to the police station. they assured him they were aware of all the intimidations from Aditya. By the time he reached the police station, things changed.
He started getting pressurized to confess to "a crime" he never committed. His refusal to confess to a crime he never committed only made the things worse for him.
Has Yogi siphoned away money?
Was he running away from any enforcement agencies or the debtors?
Has he ever threatened and visibly intimidated the vendor and his family?
How will he protect his own family when he is locked inside the jail, and those announcing ways to intimidate his wife and kids (on Facebook) are out in the open?
If the answer is none of the above, then why on earth has he been locked up in jail for a week, away from his wife and two children?
Of course the judiciary will eventually get to the bottom of this case after a fair trial, and God willing, Yogi will walk out of the jail. But what Yogi and his family are going through now make India look like the worst place, a nightmarish choice to become an entrepreneur. He has not had a bail hearing despite being jailed for 7 days. This is already had global repercussions and besmirched India’s reputation in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
We are standing up together as a community and believers in the vision of Honble Prime Minister, Shri. Narendra Modi for “Startup India. Stand-up India” to call for a free and fair investigation into the dispute and strongly oppose any abuse of power to subvert the law of land. We humbly request you to look into this matter and ensure that expeditious justice is provided to Yogi.