The unicorn report card: A snapshot of how India’s top startups fared over the past 5 years


Nikhil Patwardhan

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Nikhil Patwardhan

37 reads

With funding returning to the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem after a two-year drought, investors are now prioritising rational metrics such as profitability over "vanity metrics" like total addressable market and gross merchandise value. Here's how India's leading unicorns fare.

May 15, 2024


Key Takeaways

  • As India’s top unicorns look to raise funding over the coming quarters, investors will ask tough questions about their path to profitability and unit economics
  • Profitability remains a distant dream for the majority of unicorns, with only two of the top 10 posting a profit in FY23
  • Startups have been trying to cut their burn over the past few quarters. However, this has led to a substantial decline in their growth
  • Slower growth and the long road to profitability has seen the valuations of several unicorns called into question

Over the past five years, India's startup scene has seen many highs and lows. If 2018 and 2019 were a time of feasting for startups, the early days of the pandemic were a time of funding famine. And while funding subsequently poured in through the rest of the pandemic, the last two years have been marked by a frigid funding winter.

These ups and downs have meant that India's startup landscape today looks vastly different compared to 2019. Across this period, investors minted 70 new unicorns—startups valued at over a billion dollars—and four decacorns—valued at over $10 billion. Today, India’s startup and unicorn ecosystem is the third largest globally, with several tech startups even going public.

For all this success, though, Indian startups are under more scrutiny than ever. The ongoing funding winter has seen a shift in investors’ mindsets, with their focus moving from growth to sustainability. This shift has spared no one. Byju's and Pharmeasy, two of India’s most vaunted startups, for instance, have suffered significant drops in their valuations, with both having to resort to rights issues at fractions of their previous valuations to stay afloat. Additionally, instances of fraud emerged even among some of the most valuable startups.

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