It was a year like no other and was quite a ride for India’s fledgling startup ecosystem. The year 2020 was off to a cautious start as reports of an outbreak of a highly contagious virus in China began trickling in. By March, panic had set in as India went into a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. As markets crashed around the world and analysts worried about a slowdown, startup founders went back to the drawing board to prepare for the worst.
Consumers were quick to adapt and embraced digital services for almost everything—from getting groceries delivered at home to consulting doctors online. The disruption caused by a tiny microbe gave a massive boost to the startup and tech ecosystem. Big Basket, Flipkart, Amazon, Paytm, Google Pay, PhonePe and Zerodha emerged as big winners. Investors, too, went company hunting, looking for businesses they could bet on.
The pandemic failed to dampen the animal spirits of the Indian startup ecosystem that added unicorns and clocked some impressive numbers. As 2020 draws to a close, a new and more infectious coronavirus strain is emerging as a challenge.
Moneycontrol asked the country’s top entrepreneurs what were they looking forward to in 2021? Hope, resilience, resurgence and back of pre-COVID levels is how they see the new year but they are also mindful of the strain coronavirus has put on the economy and consumption. Read on:
Nithin Kamath, chief executive officer, Zerodha
How we do as a business is inextricably linked to the performance of the markets. Heading into the new year, we are a bit circumspect given the sharp run-up we have seen in the broader markets recently. If the pace of this upmove decreases and the markets hit a lull, the number of first-time users opening accounts might drop off. On the product side, Nudge is by far the most exciting thing we're working on at Zerodha. The idea is to help traders and investors avoid the most common pitfalls, which automatically increases the odds of their success. So we're trying to incorporate nudges to warn users when they're about to break the basic trading rules.
Ritesh Agarwal, group CEO –Oyo Hotels and Homes
2021 signifies the year of Oyo’s resurgence. 2020 posed unique challenges to the world, as it severely impacted industries and businesses, including Oyo.
As we prepare to enter 2021, I feel that the use of data science, big data, and artificial intelligence will be crucial to the hospitality sector. When COVID was at its peak, we used that time to go back to basics and be fully reliant on our core strengths, proprietary technology, operational excellence, revenue-management suite and data analytics to improve our product.
Consumers will book a hotel through digital channels more than physical mediums. The industry needs to be prepared for this transition.
We understand that as people gradually begin to travel again and developments from the vaccine space keep us optimistic, the travel industry is likely to be back to its pre-COVID pace in 2021.
Tejas Goenka, managing director, Tally Solutions
The last nine months have been nothing like we have experienced before in the past few decades but the resilience and optimism we have seen prepares us for a much stronger 2021. Our experience with the MSME sector has shaped our view of 2021—we have seen entrepreneurs remain optimistic despite the uncertainty in the future, we have seen businesses bounce back across several sectors to pre-COVID levels already with many more expected to hit the same soon, and we have seen employment levels improving too.
With a vaccine in our sights, and with this strong foundation, we can certainly hope and expect a significantly better 2021 for India.
Yashish Dahiya, group chief executive officer, Policybazaar.com
The year 2021 will be a very challenging year. For at least half the year, COVID will not be over. Vaccination, as a process, will take time and most of 2021 will go in that.
People have savings and they have also been using that in this period but now some serious stress on consumption will start to be felt. So while I hope it doesn't turn out to be that way, I think 2021 won't be an easy year.
If people don't have money how can business prosper? The salaried are not affected that much but the salaried are a very small percent of the country's economy. The person who is running a snack shop is struggling because he is not getting enough customers. Everywhere the demand is lower. Everybody's expenditure has gone down. Besides grocery, I have done no shopping outside that means people's earnings have also gone down. So the economy is slowing down, there's no doubt about it.
All online businesses benefited from COVID, there is no doubt about that but there's a limit to that benefit also. Unless you were in the education technology or the healthcare space, the benefits are not so huge. You are just hearing companies grow a little bit or maintain last year's numbers.
Having said that now comes the second part—the capital in the world has increased. And that is headed towards leading internet companies. That looks like the future.
Rahul Garg, CEO, Moglix
The year 2020 has been a once-in-a-lifetime year, bringing massive disruptions to the supply chain on one hand and deep innovation and grit from the Indian manufacturing industry on the other. The pandemic demonstrated the importance of digital and will further accelerate the offline to online shift. Manufacturing companies also saw the power of data to troubleshoot and forecast, how analytics can help to survive and thrive during challenges.
MSMEs have been the backbone of this sector and it will be critical to equip MSMEs with the right technology and supply-chain financing to develop their strength. 2021 will be a year for recovery and gaining strength, as Indian manufacturers continue on the path to self-reliance and becoming trusted partners in the global supply chain.
Bhaskar Majumdar, Managing Partner, Unicorn India Ventures
COVID-19 is definitely a "Black Swan” moment for generations to come. However, for the Indian startup and the VC world this has been a year of growth. A number of VCs have raised funding and the growth of Indian startup ecosystems carried on unabated, with the digitalisation happening throughout the country across sectors and verticals. Of course, there has been a course correction and a path to profitability has become a driver for businesses.
We have done the First Close of our Second Fund in the midst of lockdown and have invested in six businesses across sectors from health tech, fintech, insure tech and gaming. We see more of the “social distanced” and “low-touch business models”, which will scale up and get funding in 2021. The verticals we are bullish on are— telehealth, gaming/e-sports, edutech, agritech and tech businesses, which are digitising back-end processes.
Ashish Hemrajani, CEO, BookMyShow
Ever since COVID affected our lives the way we knew it, we have been adjusting to the changing times. Over this past year, BookMyShow has innovated with at-home, technology-led virtual entertainment. We wish to thank our long-term partners and collaborators along with whom we strived to bring great international and homegrown events with close to 6,400 digital events for our consumers.
While a complete return to out-of-home entertainment will probably take a few more months, we foresee the future of entertainment as strong, as people love to socialise and get out. However, we think there is an opportunity for a hybrid model where both, out-of-home and a live experience on-ground may co-exist and BookMyShow will try and bring the best of both, to our consumers in India and across the world.
Nischal Shetty, founder, WazirX
Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a great year for the crypto ecosystem, especially in India. The Supreme Court's positive verdict paved the way for crypto adoption in India. Moreover, the crypto industry outshone the mainstream industry by continuing to grow and creating jobs despite the pandemic-induced turbulence. 2020 was also the year when we witnessed large institutional investors, hedge funds in the US, and large companies like MicroStrategy, Grayscale, Square and PayPal participate in crypto and drive this bull run.
We'll also see more countries come up with crypto regulation or launch their CBDC.
With more and more financial institutions beginning to provide crypto services, I'm sure that Indian banks will also not sit aside either. I'm also hopeful that 2021 is the year when we see positive crypto regulations in India. A regulatory clarity will encourage institutional players in India to participate in a new asset class like crypto and help the crypto industry in India.