Startups of the Lesser Gods

We get to hear about some of the prominent startups on an almost daily basis through advertisements, promotions and news items etc. Do we know about all the startups that were launched in India? For that matter, is it imperative that we keep track of all the startups? That, I will say depends on what you want the information for. As an entrepreneur you will want to research as many startups to learn from their experiences. Whether a startup is running or defunct, big or small, successful or incurring losses, you want to know about their journey and the reasons for their current standing.

While looking up startups that were launched prior to 2010, I came across quite a few that cannot be categorized as ‘popular’ but are doing roaring business and perhaps leaders in their space. I am showcasing some stories that make for interesting reading. You will get valuable insights that will come in handy when you are setting up your business. Here, you will find only those businesses that are considered the most disruptive, although you can look up more examples from the references. You will get a comprehensive list of startups at the website (the link to the website is mentioned in the references).

“Passion to succeed and build something of your own was the main driver to leave a lucrative mainstream career and get into a niche business area”. Chitra Gurnani, co-founder, Thrillophilia Adventure Tours Pvt. Ltd.

Let me begin with Thrillophilia, which was co-founded by Chitra Gurnani and Abhishek Daga in May 2009. Their objective was to create an online marketplace for tours and adventure sports in the Indian sub-continent that offers quality services in facilitating unconventional and experiential activities. Thrillophilia’s website logs about 1.5 Million users every month who come to plan their trips and this is growing at 200% year on year. In 2012, Thrillophilia also won the ‘Power of Ideas’ at IIM-Ahmedabad and the BizQuest held jointly by TIE and ISB. On several occasions, Chitra has been the face of Indian tourism in global tourism events. When you visit their website, don’t miss viewing their awards and customer reviews.

“If people connect with your vision and execution, they will stay with you be it investors, employees, and/or customers”. Dhiraj Rajaram.

Mu Sigma was established in 2004 by Dhiraj C Rajaram. It is an Indian management consulting firm with a primary offering of analytics services. Today, Mu Sigma is claimed to be one of the world’s largest decision sciences and analytics firms and boasts of having more than 140 Fortune 500 clients that include Microsoft. There were only a handful of competitors when Mu Sigma was launched and they could consolidate their business with effective products and solutions. Despite the competition growing fivefold, Mu Sigma is well established. Per se, they do not have any public dealings and perhaps that is the reason for them not being known to the general public.

“The success of an entrepreneur lies not in the idea, but in its execution”. Yusuf Motiwala, a data and telecom expert.

Yusuf Motiwala founded TringMe in 2007 with the idea of infusing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) into PHP. TringMe came out with a product called VoicePHP using the PHP programming methodology which integrates all the existing voice and telephony communication devices, be it landlines or mobile phones, to send and receive voice over the Internet. There is no downloading or installing that is required. A user just needs to login and can make calls to any phone numbers, email addresses and across messenger services such as Google Talk. No wonder NASSCOM has awarded TringMe as the most innovative startup of India. As of 2012, TringMe caters to 15 million users across 80 countries, generating 54 million calls a month. Skype is much more well-known but TringMe is way ahead in technology.

Metahelix: First Indian company to develop its unique GM technology from scratch.

Way back in 2001, two scientists, K.K. Narayanan and Gautam Nadig, left their cushy jobs with the global leaders of genetically modified (GM) seed industry in order to develop seeds, crops and farm technologies in India. They named their enterprise Metahelix. A year later, Metahelix launched its wholly-owned subsidiary, Dhaanya Seeds, for distribution of seeds serving farmers across India. The purpose of launching Dhaanya Seeds was so that a steady stream of money was available to fund the R&D efforts of Metahelix. In end-2010, Rallis India, a subsidiary of Tata Chemicals acquired a majority stake in Metahelix to the tune of Rs.125 crores.

“All they have is intellectual property. They don’t have tangible assets for collateral as is the case with conventional business. MUDRA banks may finance the conventional start-ups as they have tangible assets, the same may not be possible for IP-based start-ups”. Abhishek Sinha, Co-Founder and CEO, Eko India Financial Services. Speaking on companies changing their domicile from India to the US and Singapore because start-ups need capital to grow and it is difficult to procure funding from banks for young companies which don’t have collateral.

Eko India Financial Services Pvt. Ltd. was established by brothers Abhishek and Abhinav Sinha in 2007, after a chance meeting with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam at an airport inspired Abhishek into entrepreneurship. Eko provides mobile banking facilities to small ticket customers. Traditional financial institutions like banks and insurance companies can take advantage of their infrastructure and servicing layer supported by technology, user-interface and processes to extend last mile reach in rural areas not adequately support by them. Eko already has a tie-up with SBI, ICICI, Yes Bank and Bharti AXA Life. It found mention in NASSCOM’s ‘NASSCOM EMERGE 50 – The League of Ten for 2010’. Its domestic money remittances amount to over Rs 200 crore a month. Till January 2016, Eko has processed over 34 million transactions covering more than 10 million customers worth Rs 18,000 crore. It has recently launched the Indo-Nepal remittance services in partnership with Nepal’s Prabhu Money Group.

“The government must provide the initial boost, as this filter system provides the solution to India’s drinking water problems”. Subhash Devi, Membrane Filters (India) Pvt. Ltd.

Launched in 2003, Membrane Filters (India) Pvt. Ltd was founded by Subhash Devi, Arif Fulari and Bhushan Acharya. The company is into manufacturing and commercialization of membrane-based filtration and purification for India’s agriculture sector. You will find their products in domestic as well as hundreds of Institutional applications in schools, colleges, churches, civil hospitals, health and community centers, gardens, hostels, monasteries, jails and govt. offices. Through the ‘Jal Doot’ project that it has a license to use, Membrane Filters is supplying over 2,000 families of Shirur taluka in Pune district with about 50,000 litres of purified water every day at a nominal cost of 50 paisa per litre, which is much cheaper than bottled mineral water. The ‘Jal Doot’ project purifies water from surface sources like lakes and rivers and runs without electricity.

What you have just seen is less than the tip of the iceberg. As of 2015, NASSCOM shared a count of 4,200 startups and had an ambitious plan of reaching 10,000 by 2025. A truly thorough research should include the startups that ‘work behind the scenes’. You get a feel of the variety of businesses that startups are into. My earlier blog ‘One in a Million?’ will also provide a view of the diversity of ideas. You have an idea and are passionate about it, go ahead and try it out, but keep your feet firmly on the ground. As Fred Wilson said “Start-ups should be hunch-driven early on and data-driven as they scale”


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4. Vardaan. Best of Indian Startups 2009. 2010.
5. Rohin Dharmakumar. 5 Hot Start-Ups to Watch in 2010. 2009.
6. Zachary Lichaa. The 10 Hot Indian Startups You Need To Watch. 2011.
7. 15 HOTTEST Indian start-ups. 2011.