ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon PrintIcon Twitter

India witnesses a string of startups joining unicorn club

Educational, financial and health tech attract investor interest despite pandemic

Noida-based Pine Labs, which provides a merchant platform and makes point of sale software, became the first entrant to the unicorn club in 2020. (Company website screenshot)

NEW DELHI -- Indian companies that made it to the coveted list of startups valued at over $1 billion in 2020 included Pine Labs, Nykaa, Unacademy, Razorpay and Postman, according to data compiled by Venture Intelligence.

While COVID-19 severely impacted businesses across sectors, particularly hospitality, travel and transportation, startups that managed to quickly pivot to other revenue streams, conserve cash and tweak business models managed to sail through the lockdowns after initial hiccups.

Startups within edtech, fintech and health care attracted huge investor interest during the year and are likely to dominate the funding scene in 2021 as well. The year also brought the first unicorns from the Indian social media and content space: Glance and Dailyhunt.

"2020 saw the emergence of digitization of a lot of consumer patterns, from education to essentials -- central and long-standing purchasing habits were disrupted at its core -- and most of these changes are here to stay for 2021 and much beyond. Hence, digitech companies and startups which found themselves in these tectonic shifts in consumption patterns benefited immensely from a funding and valuation re-rating," said Skanda Jayaraman, managing director and head for investment banking at Spark Capital Advisors India.

India is expected to be home to 60,000 to 62,000 startups by 2025, including 100 unicorns, per a joint October report by TiE Delhi, a nonprofit that promotes entrepreneurship, and Zinnov, a global management and strategy consultancy.

Commenting on the report, Rajan Anandan, president of TiE Delhi-NCR, said: "Although the immediate impact of the lockdowns on the Indian startup ecosystem was severe, we were amazed to witness how quickly Indian founders acted to re-imagine their businesses. What has been most impressive is how many startups have reduced (cash) burn and improved unit economics very rapidly."

The following are profiles of companies that have joined the ranks of unicorns:

Pine Labs

Founded in 1998 by Lokvir Kapoor, Rajul Garg and Tarun Upaday, the Noida-based startup provides a merchant platform and makes software for point of sale (PoS) machines. Today, Pine Labs serves more than 150,000 merchants in 3,700 cities across Asia and the Middle East.

In July 2020, the company made a strategic investment in Fave. Together, the companies now provide cashless payment solutions to over 50,000 merchants across Malaysia, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries. In December, it raised a fresh round of funding from Lone Pine Capital at a valuation of over $2 billion.


Mumbai-based online beauty-turned-lifestyle retailer Nykaa entered the unicorn club with $13 million in funding from existing backer Steadview Capital in March, at a valuation of $1.2 billion. In November, Boston-based asset management firm Fidelity Investments invested an undisclosed amount in the 8-year-old retailer through a secondary transaction.

Nykaa has now expanded to an omnichannel lifestyle retailer with over 17 million monthly active visitors and 74 stores across India, fulfilling over 1.5 million orders a month, with over 2,500 brands and more than 130,000 products available through its website, app and stores. It also has a range of skin and body care products apart from bath and body collections, naturals and fine fragrances.


Bangalore and San Francisco-based Postman was the fastest software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup to achieve unicorn status after raising $150 million in a series C round at a valuation of $2 billion in June. The round was led by U.S.-based venture capital fund Insight Partners and also saw the participation of existing investors CRV and Nexus Venture Partners.

The 6-year-old startup is an enterprise SaaS collaboration platform for application programming interface development, which helps stakeholders -- including product management, developer operations and engineering -- to collaborate to accelerate the software development process. Postman claims that its platform is being used by over 11 million developers across the world and more than 500,000 companies globally.


Founded in 2010, the startup claims that more than 500,000 companies use its platform to accelerate their pace and effectiveness of software development. The Bangalore-based startup claims to have doubled its average monthly users from pre-COVID-19 levels.


Bangalore-based ed-tech startup Unacademy achieved unicorn status with a whopping $150 million in funding led by SoftBank, which had invested through its Vision Fund 2 in September. The round had valued the company at $1.45 billion.

Established in 2015, Unacademy is now only the second ed-tech startup, after Byju's, to get the unicorn tag. Having begun as a YouTube channel, Unacademy today claims to be the largest learning platform in India, with a vast network of over 18,000 educators and over 350,000 subscribers.


Bangalore-based payments solutions company Razorpay became a unicorn following a $100 million series D funding co-anchored by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and Sequoia India in October. The funding round reportedly valued the payments company at a little more than a billion dollars.

Founded in December 2014, Razorpay authenticates and accepts payments made through credit cards, debit cards, internet banking and digital wallets by providing a secure link between merchants and users. Razorpay boasts of about 350,000 merchants on its platform and aims to increase this to 450,000 this year.


Cars24, a tech-enabled platform for buying and selling pre-owned vehicles, raised $200 million in its series E round in November, taking the company's valuation to over $1 billion. It claims that it is the only startup in the mobility sector to achieve a unicorn valuation. 

Founded five years ago with an aim to streamline the buying and selling of pre-owned cars, Cars24 claims to have 230 branches across 100 cities. Despite the pandemic, it was able to expand its presence from 155 outlets in 35 cities to 230 outlets by September.


SaaS company Zenoti, based in the Washington state city of Bellevue and Hyderabad, raised $160 million as part of its series D round led by private equity firm Advent International, through Advent Tech and affiliate Sunley House Capital, at a valuation of more than $1 billion in December.

Formerly known as ManageMySpa, Zenoti claims to help close to 1,000 spa and salon brands across 50 countries manage and digitize appointments and point-of-sale operations. It also helps with payment reconciliation and inventory management through its cloud-based software suite and provides integrated customer relationship management and built-in marketing solutions.

VerSe Innovation

Bangalore-based VerSe Innovation, the parent company of popular news aggregator platform Dailyhunt, entered the unicorn club in December after receiving more than $100 million in funding from Google, Microsoft and Falcon Edge's Alpha Wave Incubation.

Apart from Dailyhunt, the company has developed the short-video platform Josh for India, which specializes in hosting 12 regional languages. While Dailyhunt has a user base of more than 300 million, Josh boasts of having more than 200 of the best influencers in the country, around 10 of the biggest music labels and around 15 million content creators.


Mobile-first content platform Glance last month announced it had raised $145 million from search giant Google and existing investor Mithril Capital. With this, founder Naveen Tiwari created his second unicorn company, after InMobi, which got unicorn status in 2011.

Glance is a subsidiary of InMobi Group and owner of the fast-growing video-sharing social media platform Roposo. Glance delivers AI-driven personalized content in multiple languages such as English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Bahasa on the lock screen of Android smartphones. The company boasts of having around 115 million daily active users, who spend an average of 25 minutes per day on the platform.

For the original story from DealStreetAsia, click here.

DealStreetAsia is a financial news site based in Singapore that focuses on private equity, venture capital and corporate investment activity in Asia, especially Southeast Asia, India and greater China. Nikkei owns a majority stake in the company.

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 1 month for $0.99

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends October 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to Nikkei Asia has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more