YourStory best reads of 2020: Startups vs COVID-19, Aatmanirbhar Bharat, Reliance Jio, and more

In 2020, we saw several sectors rise to the challenges posed by COVID-19, with some startups even undergoing complete pivots to survive. Here are the best reads of the year.
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Unexpected. Unprecedented. Two words that have been used to describe 2020 the most. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores, India was already in trouble.

Starting the year with record-low GDP growth, the economic climate was grave. And when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown to prevent further spread of COVID-19, the decision affected the already vulnerable economic state.

But, while traditional sectors suffered, this year also saw some interesting trends.

In fact, many sectors — fintech, ecommerce, edtech, enterprise software, foodtech — witnessed exponential growth due to the pandemic.

And Indian startups effectively capitalised on the opportunities.

In 2020, we saw 11 startups enter the unicorn club, total funding of $8.4 billion raised across 765 deals, Tier-II+ cities saw more funding action that usual, and more. This year also witnessed a rise in Made in India sentiments after PM Modi’s clarion call for an Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

At YourStory, we keenly followed these trends, highlighting the good, bad, and ugly in all the sectors. And, as we wrap up 2020, here are some of the top stories of the year.

COVID-19: edtech’s time to shine

One of the biggest beneficiaries of COVID-19 and the lockdown has been the edtech sector. In fact, the industry reckons that the pandemic has been to edtech what demonetisation was to fintech in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak shut schools, colleges, and other academic institutions globally, and education was faced with its biggest crisis ever — the crisis of continuity.

As a result, migration to online platforms took place at a breakneck speed.

In H1 2020, edtech was India’s second-most funded sector after fintech and financial services, according to YourStory Research. The sector also saw rapid growth in users from Tier-II+ cities.

The Ambani touch: Jio’s fundraising story

In 2020, when many companies were struggling to stay afloat, Reliance Industries was scripting a different story. This year, it became a $200-billion corporation, making it Asia’s 10th largest firm by market cap.

In H1, it was all about telecom. Starting from Facebook, which invested $5.7 billion in the company, Reliance Jio raised a mammoth $20 billion (Rs 1.52 lakh crore) in FDI from 13 marquee investors, diluting 33 percent equity to become net debt-free.

Here is an in-depth analysis of the rise of Reliance Jio and how it went on to raise so much money, and what lies ahead.

In H2, RIL turned its attention towards its retail division. Reliance Retail, a dark horse in the RIL stable, went through a total makeover, becoming India’s largest retail operator, roughly 7X the size of its nearest rival — Avenue Supermarts (that owns D’Mart).

In August, RIL created a $26 billion retail empire after the acquisition of the debt-ridden Future Group for Rs 24,713 crore.

Paytm’s buyout of insurance firm Raheja QBE

In July, fintech giant Paytm's acquisition of insurance firm Raheja QBE for $74 million indicated a metamorphosis in the Indian financial services industry where the penetration of financial services and offerings continues to be very low, despite digitisation taking place at breakneck speed.

Bringing millions of underserved Indians into the folds of the mainstream economy has always been Paytm’s central mission – ever since the fintech startup and its Founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma took the reins of India’s fintech revolution over a decade ago.

Umang (left) and Viru (right), the blockbuster jodi.

A look at the blockbuster jodi at Dailyhunt

As startup traditions go, this one was surely way off the mark. Who brings in a co-founder at such a late stage?

With the marriage metaphor often used in the startup world to explain the inexplicable, it was akin to saying, ‘who gets married at 60’?

When former Facebook India executive Umang Bedi, who joined Dailyhunt in 2018 with the designation of President, changed his LinkedIn profile to Co-founder of Dailyhunt, it created a buzz in startup circles.

Here’s why Dailyhunt founder Virendra Gupta got Umang to be his co-founder so late in the business journey.

Postman Founder & CEO Abhinav Asthana

Fastest SaaS unicorn: growth of Postman

Formally launched in late 2014, SaaS startup Postman managed to break into the exclusive league of unicorns (startups with billion-dollar valuations) this year.

Postman provides a platform that helps software developers accelerate the development process through collaboration with various stakeholders.

The platform is used by over 11 million developers across the world, and more than 500,000 companies globally, including the likes of Microsoft and Twitter. According to the company, 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies use the platform.

But how did it all begin? YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma and Postman Founder and CEO Abhinav Asthana dove into the journey of the startup, growing amidst a pandemic and why APIs are the future.

Blume Ventures Co-founders & Managing Partners Karthik Reddy (L) and Sanjay Nath

10 years of Blume Ventures

Blume Ventures started in 2010 to bridge the gap between small angel investors and giant VCs. In the last decade, it has backed hordes of startups that have become household names, mirroring the growth of India’s digital economy.

Blume bridged the fundamental gap between the two by thinking like an early-stage angel investor — sometimes backing even idea-stage startups — but approaching the association like an institutional VC.

Here’s a YourStory deep-dive on how a homegrown VC redefined early-stage startup financing in India.

Image Source: Shutterstock

Rise of on-demand storage service startups

As startups and corporates across the country extended work-from-home policies due to the COVID-19 crisis, employees residing in cities away from their homes began relocating to their hometowns.

Stuck inside expensive but tiny apartments, a majority of the working population also faced salary cuts and layoffs, which forced them to pack their bags and go back home, pushing up demand for such storage services.

The pandemic also forced many businesses and office spaces to shut down, which made them look for spaces to store their furniture and other equipment, further fuelling the demand for storage services.

But what does the future hold for storage service startups once things normalise? YourStory explores.

Photo: YS Design

The insider perspective on Farm Bills 2020

In October, a set of agricultural reforms were passed by the Rajya Sabha and cleared by the President of India.

The three Farm Bills led to agitation among a faction of farmers — primarily rice and wheat growers — in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, who went on to accuse the central government of “anti-farmer” policies.

But, the truths and ground realities may well be different for a majority of those involved in agriculture in India.

The new reforms are particularly beneficial for small and marginal farmers, who own less than two acres of farmland each. These smallholder farmers makeup over 80 percent of the agrarian population, and are not the ones protesting. Find out more here.

Route Mobile Founders: Rajdipkumar Gupta (left) and Sandipkumar Gupta

Route Mobile's journey to IPO

In September, followed by Happiest Minds’ strong stock market debut, Route Mobile, a cloud communications service provider, launched its IPO at a significant premium to its issue price of Rs 350 per share.

Founded in 2004 by Rajdipkumar Gupta and Sandip Gupta, the company offers enterprise clients a cloud communications platform that can be deployed and integrated with existing business applications and systems.

It started by offering pure-play SMS and kept upgrading by adding newer features to help customers in “simplifying communications”.

In a conversation with YourStory, Founder and CEO Rajdipkumar Gupta discussed the company's ‘transformational journey’ to achieving this milestone.

The rise of the home chefs

As the coronavirus pandemic upended almost everyone’s plans to eat out, a new saviour emerged: the home chef. A rising number of home chefs, largely women, took the food delivery industry in India by storm.

From an intrepid 16-year-old baker to a middle-aged homemaker looking to supplement her family income, food delivery from home became very lucrative and innovative

The closure of restaurants amidst the lockdown pushed a majority of people to start cooking at home. But months later, cooking fatigue set in and food lovers began looking for a way out.

And a variety of home chefs surfaced to satiate cravings for all kinds of cuisines.

OTT’s breakthrough year

Granted, OTT platforms were already gaining traction in India, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns that restricted leisure activities really pushed the boundaries for this sector. In fact, it may not be an exaggeration to say that 2020 was OTT’s breakthrough year in India.

YouTube, which already enjoys widespread popularity in India, witnessed a 20.5 percent growth in subscribers in the country.

Netflix also saw a surge in stock price and subscriber additions. Then, in May, Amazon Prime Video set off ‘direct-to-digital’ in India with Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo, winning another point for OTT.

YourStory’s AppNirbhar Bharat report

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently raised the clarion call for India to become ‘vocal for local’ and Aatmanirbhar, or self-reliant, he also put the spotlight on the need for an ‘Aatmanirbhar App Ecosystem’ when he launched the Government of India’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge.

YourStory's AppNirbhar Bharat report celebrates Made in India apps and provides an 11-point recommendation for creating a robust app ecosystem, including developing a Bharat App Store, a homegrown phone software ecosystem, and an equity-based regulated crowdfunding infrastructure in India.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai