[Year in Review 2020] Top 10 Turning Point stories celebrating the early stages of entrepreneurship

The Turning Point is a weekly series that focuses on the moment when an entrepreneur hit upon the winning idea. This week, we bring the top 10 stories that readers enjoyed the most this year.
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It’s not easy to turn entrepreneur. Sometimes you have an idea, but worry whether pursuing it will mean giving up stability; sometimes you have the motivation, but you are not sure about the idea, and sometimes you do not know if it’s the right time and the right thing to do.

The brave lot, who cleared these tough tests, are now part of an ever-growing startup ecosystem and are already making waves.

To celebrate these founders and their eureka moments, YourStory started The Turning Point series in August 2019. Each story in the series talks about the struggles in the early stages and what entrepreneurs did to overcome them.

As an extremely challenging year, 2020, comes to an end, YourStory brings you the top 10 stories in the series that readers enjoyed the most this year.

Lockdown favourite Ludo King’s Vikash Jaiswal

That online games are popular is nothing new. But as the COVID-19 lockdown restricted mobility, a large number of people, not just avid gamers, started playing online games—and for longer durations—to kill boredom.

One such lockdown favourite was the free online board game Ludo King developed by Vikash Jaiswal that became the top gaming app across platforms.

Vikash, founder and chief executive of Mumbai-based Gametion Technologies Pvt. Ltd that owns Ludo King—also the name of his mobile gaming startup—has been hooked to video games since childhood and always “wanted to be rich”. Born and brought up in a humble family in Patna, he decided to take up computer engineering in college.

In the hostel, he would collect free software that came with computer magazines. Eventually, he developed the video game Eggy Boy, which was adjudged “Game of the Month” by several magazines.

After developing Eggy Boy, Vikash worked for a gaming company and bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, alongside ran various websites. Eventually, he quit his job and started developing games and websites independently.

In 2010, Vikash formally set up Gametion and launched Ludo King in 2016. Now in his mid-40s, he is the creator of the only Indian game to have surpassed hot favourites such as Candy Crush Saga, PUBG, Clash of Clans, Subway Surfers and Temple Run in terms of monthly active users in the country.

Ludo King has more than 50 million daily active users around the world, while its monthly active users have topped 185 million.

IIT Delhi alumnus Anu Meena is empowering farmers

IIT Delhi alumnus Anu Meena has watched from close quarters her farmer grandfather struggling to sell his produce as she grew up in Rajasthan. That’s why even after landing a plum job with a US company, Anu felt she had to do something to address the issues and challenges faced by farmers in India. This motivated her to set up AgroWave in 2017.

The Gurugram-based startup optimises the agriculture supply chain using research, analytics and technology, and is currently working with thousands of farmers in India to get them the right price, supply and distribution network.

Anu also realised there were many services delivering products to the doorstep of customers in metros, but none for farmers in rural areas. This was her eureka moment.

Since inception, AgroWave has onboarded more than 3,500 people from regions such as Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. In September, the startup raised close to $500,000 from US-based investor Sekhar Puli.

Bringing about a milk revolution in small-town India

On a visit to hometown Ranchi in 2017, IIM graduate Manish Piyush, who had worked in 14 countries, realised that non-metro towns, especially in his native state Jharkhand, had escaped the focus of businesses.

Manish, then a general manager with Tata Motors in Mumbai, attended an event, Momentum Jharkhand, on business possibilities in the state. A tea and smoke break became a turning point in his life. He saw a few tribals and felt that “conferences like these are just for two days, but Jharkhand stays the same as the best minds move out”.

This prompted him to call up his childhood friend, Aditya Kumar. Like Manish, Aditya had left their hometown for higher studies. Manish asked Aditya if he wanted to return to Ranchi so that they could start a business together. Both of them resigned from their respective jobs and came back to the state capital.

Even as Piyush and Aditya were figuring out what to do, they knew that technology would be core to any business and so in their 40s learnt coding and sold software for a living. During this time, they got a project to develop software for a milk processing company in the state. While working on this project, they were shocked to see the poor quality of milk being supplied to consumers.

It was then that the idea of starting a milk business took shape. They bought five cows and lived like milkmen for a few months to understand the dairy business. Eventually, they started milk subscription app Puresh Daily Foods in 2019. The Ranchi-based startup sells organic cow milk and chemical-free dairy products. Puresh’s customers are now spread across Ranchi, Bokaro, Ramgarh and Jamshedpur. The app will soon be launched in Patna.

Jitendra Chouksey, the accidental fitness entrepreneur

Jitendra Chouksey calls himself an accidental entrepreneur. A software engineer passionate about fitness, his startup was born out of a desire to help those who wanted to become fit but were struggling in their journey. “I used to be a fat kid myself and used to get bullied,” recalls Jitendra.

While Jitendra was working as a technical consultant in Pune, people started consulting him on fitness. So, he started a WhatsApp group of five people to mentor them. As more people became interested, he created a Facebook group. Over time, the group grew bigger.

That’s when Jitendra decided to turn his passion into a business. In 2016, he launched Fittr, an online fitness startup that offered coaching to members on their fitness journeys for a minor fee.

Two years later, Fittr introduced a freemium model: Users get free access to diet and training tools and, for a small fee, they also get personalised guidance, customised plans and weekly check-ups from one of Fittr’s 200-plus certified coaches.

“Our fitness app was a natural progression of a journey that started in 2016,” Jitendra says. “We wanted to democratise health and fitness, and the best way to do that was to put the best tools and solutions in the hands of the people. And that is exactly what we have achieved with Fittr.”

Last year, Bollywood actor Suniel Shetty became a stakeholder in the company. In April 2020, the startup raised $2 million in pre-Series A funding from Surge.

A rural visit that led to Vernacular.ai

In India, service and product-related mobile communication sent by companies to their customers tend to be in English. This poses a problem for non-English speaking sections of the country’s population.

Sourabh Gupta and Akshay Deshraj’s Bengaluru-based startup, vernacular.ai, set out to solve this problem by using artificial intelligence (AI). 

Akashay Deshraj and Sourabh Gupta (L-R), Founders of Vernacular.ai

In 2016, Sourabh and Akshay arrived in Bengaluru after graduating from IIT Roorkee, hoping like many to become entrepreneurs and start the next Ola, Swiggy or Flipkart. But they were not sure what problem they wanted to solve.

After attending several events, meeting a lot of people and making connections, they started visiting villages in and around Bengaluru, where they hoped to interact with some of the “next 500 million internet users” of India.

On one such visit, Sourabh met a farmer in Kanakapura, a small town situated 55 kilometres from Bengaluru. The farmer had a specific and long-standing problem. “I receive SMS on my phone from the bank. I know the message is from the bank because it has numbers, but I cannot understand what the SMS means because it is in English,” the farmer told Sourabh. “This was when we realised that the next generation of internet users would be voice-first,” says Sourabh.

After months of research and development, the two friends launched Vernacular.ai in Bengaluru. The startup is transforming customer interaction through its  AI-based voice assistant, VIVA. The company empowers locals and equips enterprises to cater to non-English speakers. Vernacular.ai currently works with companies such as Axis Bank, Oyo Rooms and Barbeque Nation.

Vedantu, the second innings of three IIT grads

Edtech startup Vedantu’s origins lie in Barnala, a small town in Punjab. It was 2005 when access to quality education was a challenge in small cities. Three fresh IIT graduates, Vamsi Krishna, Pulkit Jain and Anand Prakash, wanted to bridge this gap.

In 2006, they launched their first venture, a test prep company called Lakshya. In 2012, Lakshya was acquired by listed company MT Educare. Of the 35 children that Vamsi, Pulkit and Anand had coached, 11 cleared the IIT entrance.

Motivated by this success, the trio decided to help students across the country. Their next step was to create an all-inclusive platform. In 2014, they launched their second venture, Vedantu, to solve the problems and challenges of the offline learning model through a holistic online platform.

Today, Vedantu claims to be the first company to have started live online learning in India. It also claims to be a market leader in the K-12 online tutoring space.

Vedantu offers live interactive classes for students in the K-12 segment, and those preparing for major board exams and top competitive tests such as JEE and NEET.

With marquee investors such as Omidyar Network, Accel, Tiger Global Management and GGV Capital on board, Vedantu claims to have 150,000 students studying live on its platform each month. The company recently raised $100 million as part of its Series D funding round and claims to be among the top 10 most valued edtech companies globally.

Rahul Garg’s ‘Alibaba 2.0’ vision

IIT Kanpur and ISB alumnus Rahul Garg was heading ad exchange network AdX (India, South East Asia and Korea) at Google in 2014 when he decided to turn entrepreneur.

At that time, Rahul had a conversation with a colleague about his decision to shift from Japan to Singapore. “I knew I had to do it or else I would regret it for the rest of my life,” Rahul’s colleague had said. 

Rahul could not forget those words. “I was thinking about entrepreneurship for a while, but that moment was like pulling the trigger,” says the 40-year-old. He decided to put in his papers the very next day.

Having worked in the advertisement space, Rahul had closely observed the B2B commerce segment. Excited about pursuing opportunities in e-commerce, he envisioned building an “Alibaba 2.0”. This led to the birth of Moglix in January 2015.

The startup specialises in B2B procurement, maintenance, repair and overhaul of industrial products such as fasteners and industrial electricals. 

Soon after Moglix was established, it received backing from Accel Partners and Jungle Ventures. Industrialist and Tata Sons Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata came on board as an investor in the seed round itself.

Several funding rounds later, the B2B ecommerce marketplace also closed its Series D round. It is also backed by marquee investors including Tiger Global, Sequoia India, Composite Capital, IFC and Venture Highway.

In FY 2018, Moglix recorded 120 times growth in revenue, and in March 2019, the company announced that Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy had decided to invest in his personal capacity. 

How demonetisation sparked Groww

A vision to “change the thought process” in the financial sector set 37-year-old IIT Bombay alumnus Lalit Keshre on the path of entrepreneurship. The 2016 demonetisation exercise became the catalyst.

Keshre, who was working with Flipkart as its group product manager, quit in May 2016 because he wanted to start up in a space that was not just big, but also had a consumer problem. “While India had a billion people with an online bank account, only 20 million of them were actually investing,” he says.

Along with former Flipkart colleagues Harsh Jain, Neeraj Singh and Ishan Bansal, Keshre started working on building products for the financial sector. They wanted to start with investments and even thought of launching a savings product for millennials.

Then demonetisation happened, a landmark moment in Indian fintech. Transactions slowly moved online. UPI was the talk of the town and facilitated a bigger shift in how consumers in India were handling wealth.

After multiple experiments, Keshre and the others launched Groww. While the Bengaluru-based startup was incorporated in 2016, the app and website-based investment platform were launched in December 2017. Groww focuses on simplicity and transparency and has been designed as an advisor or “buddy”.

The startup is now backed by marquee investors Ribbit Capital, Y Combinator, Sequoia Capital, Kauffman Fellows Fund, Collin West, Propel Ventures Partners, Yinglan Tan, Cypher Capital, Insignia Ventures Partners, and Myntra and Cure.fit founder Mukesh Bansal. 

At present, Groww operates in 800 Indian cities on a paperless, end-to-end transaction model with a user base of more than three million.

CoutLoot is enabling offline sellers to go online

A desire to transform the non-FMCG space in India led Jasmeet Thind to start the social offline-to-online platform Coutloot with college friends Mahima Kaul and Vinit Jain.

A computer engineer from the University of Mumbai, Jasmeet had worked with Godrej Industries before joining Hindustan Unilever as the brand manager of Pears. He realised that while the FMCG sector was organised and mostly controlled by five players, the non-FMCG space was extremely unstructured.

Jasmeet started talking to Mahima and Vinit in early 2016 and they found three major problems in the non-FMCG space: Indian sellers did not have proper documentation to sell online; they did not know how to use a computer and hence could not list products on e-commerce platforms; and finally, they lacked logistics partners to ship their products. 

The discussion between the friends soon took the shape of a PowerPoint presentation and after three months of R&D, they launched the CoutLoot website as a pilot in September 2016. The Mumbai-based platform eventually started operations in 2017, enabling sellers to list their products online.

The website helps players sell online for the first time by automatically cataloguing their offline inventory and providing logistics, payment and reconciliation support. It also has an in-house language translator that allows sellers to interact with users in their preferred language, out of 12 available options.

Bootstrapped with Rs 10 lakh for the first three months, CoutLoot received seed funding of $200,000 from Artha India Ventures, Venture Catalyst, Redcliffe Capital and Samyakth Capital at the pilot stage. In 2018, CoutLoot raised $1 million in pre-Series A funding from Chinese unicorn CashBUS. 

With a team of more than 70 employees, the portal now hosts more than three lakh sellers. Its mission is to enable 25 million offline sellers to go online for the first time.

The brothers driving solar energy adoption in homes

Brothers Amol and Amod Anand set up Loom Solar in 2018 to drive the adoption of solar energy for residential purposes in India. The Faridabad-based startup manufactures mono solar panels and AC modules that are installed on residential rooftops to generate electricity.

Prior to starting Loom Solar, Amol had worked as a product manager for Luminous Battery’s solar and energy storage business. At that time, he realised there was a lack of knowledge about solar energy in the country. He and his brother set out to understand the sector better and found that three factors were slowing down the adoption of solar energy: limited information and awareness, lack of product availability across the country, and poor quality and backward technology.

“We always had a plan to start something on our own and our idea of Loom Solar fitted well into this,” says Amol.

Initially, it was difficult for them to convince people to opt for solar energy. The primary challenge was how to reach customers and raise awareness about the brand and its products and USP. “This needed rigorous marketing innovation, and initially we were just gearing up to build the company’s strength,” recalls Amol. “We started with Google and YouTube to create content on solar panels, their benefits and with an impetus for supporting the environment.”

Starting out with the two founders, Loom Solar now has 100 employees on its rolls. The startup clocked Rs 25 crore in revenue in its second year of operation and has so far installed 10,000 kW solar power in 20,000 Indian homes. At present, it claims to have about three percent share in the residential solar market segment, which is estimated at nearly Rs 1,000 crore.

(Edited by Lena Saha)

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