The UpTake: If India is a tough place to start a company, as recent media reports suggest, these entrepreneurs aren't evidence of it. They've built successful businesses—some global—with talented founders and millions in venture capital. And they're the nation's best bet at spurring along even more startup activity.
India has grabbed headlines in recent weeks for being a tough place for entrepreneurs, and it could get even tougher for some startups there if the government allows Amazon and Ebay play in the Indian market.
The stories tell tales of corruption, investors unwilling to invest in startups, and bureaucracy getting involved with business filings, along with a potential lift of the ban on foreign e-commerce companies operating in the nation.
But there are plenty of signs of life in India too, a nation that is well-educated, tech-savvy (thanks to all the U.S. outsourcing) and has a large middle class. Venture capitalists have shown interest in the nation's most innovative startups—500 Startups has committed to funding at least 10 Indian startups a year and Microsoft Ventures director Mukund Mohan hails from India and is active in the community there.
According to the New York Times, some American entrepreneurs are setting up shop in the nation. And the 2013 World Startup Report on India provides a full analysis of the opportunities there.
But perhaps most encouraging are the young companies that have become successful in India despite the odds. They might be the nation's bet at encouraging others to start up in their homeland.
So who are the founders leading India's startup economy? We've picked a dozen with venture capital, high valuations and the best odds at continued success in India.
Naveen Tewari, Abhay Singhal and Amit Gupta, founders of InMobi
The platform that allows and simplifies mobile advertising for major international brands has raised more than $215 million, mostly from SoftBank Capital, and opened offices around the world. It competes with Google AdMob and Apple's iAd platforms. CEO Naveen Tewari has an MBA from Harvard Business School and experience working at a Silicon Valley VoIP startup. He also worked as a McKinsey & Co. consultant and a venture capitalist before co-founding InMobi in 2007. He also started with Harvard classmates a U.S. nonprofit raising money and building schools in India.
VSS Mani, founder of Just Dial
In June 2013, the nation's largest search engine operator Just Dial became India's first Internet company to go public since 2010. Founder VSS Mani started the company in 1997 after previously co-founding Askme.com. He raised $67 million, mostly from Sequoia Capital's India venture firm in 2012. According to Crunchbase, he employs 6,000 people today at the company's headquarters in Mumbai. The Just Dial IPO was considered India's most successful of the year, and it's prompted a Bollywood filmmaker to make a film of Mani's life.
Kunal Bahl and Ruhit Bansal, founders of SnapDeal.com
What started as a typical daily deal site like Groupon has become India's largest online marketplace, a site that looks a lot like eBay. And in fact, eBay put $50 million into the six-year-old company in 2013. According to an interview with Bahl in the Wharton Journal, the site counted 20 million users in September 2013, expecting $400 million by year's end. The pair of founders were high school friends and colleagues at the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, and Bahl went on to attend Wharton and then work at Microsoft. Next up for Snapdeal? Indian news sites report today that a $150 million funding round is on the way, helping the company hit $1 billion in revenue next year.
Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, founders of Flipkart
The pair of former Amazon employees (not brothers) started off in 2007 selling books and then, much like their former employer, moved into electronics, air conditioners, perfume, stationary, music and e-books. Reports show they've raised $540 million from investors from around the world, including Accel Partners, Morgan Stanley and the South African media company Naspers, and they have plans to hit $1 billion in revenue next year. And it appears the two men are getting rich personally too as the Bangalore company grows. The Economic Times in October 2013 reported they've been taking home $1 million paychecks twice a year since 2011.
Arun Chandra Mohan, Praveen Sinha, Manu Jain and Mukul Bafana, co-founders/executives of Jabong
The fashion-forward e-commerce site based in Gurgaon has quickly become a competitor to established Indian commerce leaders Flipkart and Myntra, with published reports of high double-digit monthly growth in 2013. It was incubated in January 2012 by sole investor Rocket Internet GmBH, a Groupon investor and e-commerce holding company operated by a trio of German billionaire brothers. Jain, Bafana and Sinha are former McKinsey & Co. consultants, and Bafana also worked in Silicon Valley at Bain Capital, GroupMe and Google and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. Mohan previously worked for Rocket Internet. The site has been called a Zappos copycat.