India Startups Yulu Blackbuck Pharmeasy Vedantu

Why India’s Startups Are Making Waves

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It is no secret that India is home to many successful startups, some of which are GGV’s portfolio companies. In 2020, Inc42 reported a total of US$11.5 billion invested in the Indian startup ecosystem. While the total capital was lower than in 2019, the number of deals climbed 14%, signalling that despite the pandemic investor interest in Indian startups remained very strong.

So why are these startups making such waves? We take a look at four success stories to see what sets them apart.

Solving Everyday Problems

One of the most remarkable similarities of these startups is their founders’ determination to solve problems Indians face in their everyday lives. “Trucking is one of the largest unorganized segments in India, explained Rajesh Yabaji of Blackbuck, India’s largest trucking logistics company. “Every stakeholder who deals in this industry has a large number of pain points – what we are doing is making things simple for people and efficient.”

Amit Gupta, co-founder and CEO of electric bike sharing platform Yulu was incredibly candid about his reasons for starting the concept which provides a network of over 10,000 shared vehicles in Bengaluru, Poom, Mumbai and New Delhi. 

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

“In India, as you know, everything is broken, everything is an opportunity,” he told us. “But what made traffic and pollution the number one choice for me: because it is impacting me as an individual. So regardless of your class, creed, financial status, colour or religion, you have to deal with these two problems.”

Similarly, PharmEasy’s Siddharth Shah cites the fragmented state of India’s healthcare ecosystems and the proliferation of counterfeit medications as the motivating factors for online pharmacy PharmEasy. “I thought that the entire outpatient ecosystem in India is very, very broken,” he said. “There really is a massive vacuum in providing authentic medicines at affordable rates to patients.”

Vamsi Krishna, CEO and co-founder of leading online tutoring company Vedantu discovered his calling by accident while tutoring children in a small rural town – how good teachers were essential in shaping children’s futures. “[The] teacher is able to inspire and generate that interest in a child…learning becomes a consequence.”

In their own way, each of these startups built solutions to very real problems Indians faced. These solutions simplified, improved or in some cases, revolutionised the industry.

Revolutionary 360 business models

In a market where existing infrastructures and systems are ill-equipped to deal with India’s needs, a workable solution must cover all bases for consumers and businesses who come on board.

Vedantu’s model was an exercise in perfectionism – screening teachers for quality and passion, building a teaching model that combined the best of online and in-person tutoring, and a data-driven approach to personalising the learning experience. “You have to have a full-stack service model, in order to not just replace an offline experience, but actually bring about learning outcomes,” he explained.

As GGV’s Madhu told listeners, middle-class students were traveling three hours a day to reach tuition hubs, while some families uprooted themselves to a more expensive city to access reputable tuition centers. However, as Vamsi pointed out, “even if you are willing to pay, you won’t get access to a good teacher.” 

Access is also a key point Yulu addresses in its business model. “If you don’t bring public transport to me, I will not take public transport. So the first and last mile connectivity [to Metro stations] becomes the key issue,” stated RK Misra, its co-founder. They laid down their own infrastructure of vehicle stations between residential areas and public transport hubs, incentivising mass transit and reducing the commuter load on roads. Beyond stations, they also designed short-distance, highly mobile vehicles tailored to Indian users, and instilled a citizen-based system to safeguard their stations. Between easy access, user-friendly vehicles and a strong sense of community ownership, Yulu built a successful brand that allowed it to make a strong recovery post-lockdowns.

To offer a complete consumer experience, PharmEasy built a full ecosystem – a supply chain and a backend system (Retailio) which they used to onboard retailers and other B2B healthcare partners. This backend system was also the trump card that grew its network of partners and powered its vision to provide authentic and affordable medicine.

For Blackbuck, it created a whole category of its own by disrupting intercity transportation. “Demand…has so many problems, they’re not getting trucks, they’re getting taxed at higher prices…until we really realized that…the supply [of trucks[ is fully broken,” Rajesh recounted.

Truck drivers mainly hailed from towns that had little or no access to technology, so Blackbuck built the BOSS app, a platform these drivers could access via mobile phone. The app offered more than just opportunities for income – it aggregated services truckers needed like financial services, payment settlements, electronic toll collection and insurance.

Today, Blackbuck owns 70% of the market share for trucking in India, and 15% of the market share for electronic tolling.

A Passion for Serving the Community

Along with the fix-it spirit, these startups also set out to do good and create positive change in their respective fields.

RK Misra, Yulu’s co-founder, reflected, “I had the opportunity, I could retire early at 40. I had a couple of successful businesses, and I decided to do something to contribute to the country.” So he poured his expertise into solving the main cause of traffic congestion on India’s roads – short-distance mobility which made up two-thirds of city commutes and the chief cause of downtown traffic congestions. “Do something good,” he said on his advice to serial entrepreneurs. “Make good use of your time, talent and money…it has to be meaningful.”

For Vamsi, it was an epiphany when the founding team’s early mentoring efforts bore fruit. “The first cohort…11 students out of 36 got into the top five [Indian Institutes of Technology],” he recalled. “…The selection rates are less than 1% out of [a] million-plus students…and this was from a very small, remote place in India, where there was no precedence of even one student getting selected. That experience really influenced [us] a lot.”

Siddharth’s cause was to create a one-stop platform that addressed India’s healthcare ecosystem’s systemic issues. “What we are doing effectively is creating a very trusted portal, or a trusted app and a trusted platform where a consumer can come, provide us with a prescription,” he said. “And he can be assured that we will procure authentic medicines for them from the nearest retail store and deliver it to them at their doorstep.”

According to Rajesh, the recruitment of truckers from villages was one of his proudest achievements. “[We] educate these guys on what the trucking app is all about… How does it make their life simpler? How will they make more money through this?” he said. Doing so helped Blackbuck solve the issue of supply for trucks, provided drivers with a stable and steady source of income, and offered them financial inclusion thanks to the BOSS app’s financial capabilities.

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