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Where will the next Unicorn come from?

Posted on 29 Mar 2019 in Blog | Comments Off on Where will the next Unicorn come from?

Rise of the Thin Startup


The search for the next Indian Unicorn remains a popular parlour game across the country. The sharp improvement in fundamentals (incomes, devices – smartphones, access – speed/cost) has driven a raft of new Unicorns to emerge over the last few years. Let’s look at the crystal ball to see where the next Unicorn could emerge from.
Indian companies seem to require a lot more people and capital than what global peers do. An oft quoted example is that Uber launched with a skeleton staff in India and even now has just over 1,000 employees compared to Ola’s 7,000+. Flipkart has raised more equity just to build its Indian business than what Amazon has done to build its much larger global business. Historically, this has been justified by the need to drive habit change – buy online, book a cab, pay using your phone, and to overcome inherent friction.
However, we believe that the time has now come to build technology and product first companies in India with less reliance on building a physical footprint. We call these “thin” startups. The Indian consumer is getting used to digital modes of action and is increasingly expecting more from their smartphone. There is a large opportunity to further serve the first 50-100 million digizens who are ready to do a lot more online. These constitute a large market (Top 5 globally by number) and coupled with their purchasing power/propensity to pay will be very attractive to serve. A lot of rails (logistics, payments, trust) are already in place for this segment so attaining scale will be easier for these “thin” startups.
While this trend is still early (we are an early stage fund after all!), we believe that it has the potential to result in newer, more efficient companies in several sectors. We see opportunities in e-commerce (driven by social), real estate (incumbents are really old), financial services, education (student pull rather than parent push), grey collar job portals and consumer services (professional marketplaces) to name a few segments.
Today’s leaders may not be eventual winners. Just like Facebook did to Orkut, Google to Yahoo Search, Alibaba to eBay in China, Amazon to Snapdeal, ShopClues and maybe even Flipkart, “thin” companies will leverage investments already made and make pioneers pay the price. They will combine newer technologies (AI, AR/VR, IoT, Blockchain) to create new markets and serve existing needs in more efficient ways.

  • – Sarbvir Singh. The author is Managing Partner of WaterBridge Ventures, a leading early stage technology fund.
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