“Itna kya serious hai baap. Thoda chill ho na. Log hain, bolenge” (Why are you so serious, man? Relax a bit. People will say what they have to).
Kabeer Biswas has the swagger of a man who appears cut off from the outside world, especially if the outside world doesn’t fit into his ‘world’. “If you are a consumer,” Dunzo’s co-founder underlines, “I will fall over backwards to solve your problem.” “But if you are not, I don’t care about your views,” the 35-year-old entrepreneur says, flashing a disarming smile.
It’s a chilly Friday morning in Delhi and we are just five minutes into the Zoom interview call in January. Dressed in a Dunzobranded blue jacket, Biswas turns up the heat with his blunt take on a subject that has been used to wage a relentless attack on the CEO of the Bengaluru-based hyperlocal delivery startup over the last two years: Its losses. In 2019, critics ruthlessly exposed the gross mismatch between the top line and the bottom line of the Google-backed venture. A staggering loss of ₹168.8 crore on operational revenue of a paltry ₹77 lakh didn’t seem to make any sense.
A year later, in FY20, there was a growth surge. Revenue was now up to ₹27.5 crore. But so was the loss—more than two times that of the previous year, at ₹359.5-crore.
Founded in January 2015, Dunzo has loaded itself with $121 million (around ₹880 crore) from a battery of marquee investors such as Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Aspada, and Alteria Capital. The six-year-old venture happens to be Google’s first direct investment in a homegrown startup in India when it reportedly led a $12 million funding round in December 2017.
Is the burn going to be worth it? “No one thing ever makes us,” says the bespectacled founder. “And no one thing ever destroys us,” adds Biswas, who started his professional innings by joining Airtel in 2007 after an MBA from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai. After three years of a marketing and product stint at the telecom major, Biswas started his first startup Hopper, a location-based mobile service, in 2011. A hefty seed round—$5 million— seeded the first mistake. “Pehli cheez office banwaai thi (The first thing I did was to open an office),” he smiles, adjusting his white wireless earbuds.
The learning was as quick as the error for the first-time entrepreneur. “I figured that you shouldn’t give too much money to people who don’t know what to do with the capital,” he laughs. Over the next three years— which included a couple of pivots, a few more rounds of capital, and a few more mistakes, the company was bought by Hike Messenger, which recently reportedly shut down the app. Biswas traces the roots of the follies of his first venture to his formal education. Starting companies at the age of 27 in India, he explains, is a hazardous thing. “It’s hazardous because there’s so much unlearning to do,” he quips. “Formal education doesn’t teach us to question things,” he adds.
Along with Biswas, his backers, too, seem unperturbed by the sea of red on the bottom line. Sid Talwar, the partner at Lightbox Ventures, dishes out two broad reasons. The first is the personality of Biswas. “What got me excited from the beginning was that apart from other things, Kabeer is genuine to the core.” Lightbox invested in the company in 2019. There may be a lot of people with energy, and great vision, Talwar underlines, but he (Kabeer) is somebody who you would want to root for. “He is not selling you a story because he is a salesperson. He is selling you a story because he is trying to do something different.”
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