No Stopping 'Em
Forbes India|February 12, 2021
A tumultuous year did not prevent the young go-getters from innovating and scaling new heights in diverse fields. The class of Forbes India 30 Under 30 2021 is a reflection of the promise they’ve exhibited, and fulfilled
Ruchika Shah

The past year was a tough one for everybody, whether it was a multi-billion dollar enterprise in India or a startup. Forbes India has extensively covered the many pivots and innovations that companies of all shapes and sizes undertook to survive 2020.

But what did the pandemic do to the dreams of young entrepreneurs and professionals in India—say the under-30-somethings—who aspire to make a name for themselves? Many would have had to put their plans on the backburner and stick to the creativity-crushing 9-to5 jobs for a little longer, as the Indian economy—along with global growth—nosedived. But, if you’re looking for inspiration to hold on to that dream, look no further.

If our Class of 30 Under 30 2021 is anything to go by, the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit and the determination to stand out in the crowd are alive and kicking among India’s young. Many innovated their businesses to survive the Covid-19 shock and to help others. Take, for example, the 29-year-old duo who founded Class plus to digitise local coaching centers and boasts 50,000 teachers on their platform. Class plus launched a mobile app—Class plus Lite—during the pandemic as education went remote, and has already garnered 500,000 users; it is the winner in our new Education category.

Another 29-year-old is giving a voice and stage to entrepreneurs from beyond metro cities, a growing necessity in the post-Covid-19 world. Piyush Verma, founder & CEO, Manush Labs, helps innovators and entrepreneurs from tier 2 cities and beyond get access to mentorship, network, markets, and even funding. He is a listee in our NGOs & Social Entrepreneurship category.

Then there’s Aurko Bhattacharjee, 29, director, CXO office, Oyo Hotels & Homes, a close aide of CEO Ritesh Agarwal who was tasked with leading the Covid19 response communications for the company. He features in the Food & Hospitality category.

Shubman Gill, 21, the youngest member on our list for 2021, needs no introduction. Hailed as India’s most promising cricketing talent, he scored 91 runs at the Test in Brisbane, playing a pivotal role in the historic series win against Australia. It comes as no surprise that he is the pick in the sports category.

The Forbes India 30 Under 30 2021 list is full of such inspiring stories, and the nominations we received this year were far from a trickle. They made it as challenging for the team and jury to pick one—or two—winners per category as they do every year.

METHODOLOGY

The research process was three-fold: One, interviews by the Forbes India team with sources across relevant categories as well as through studies of databases and media coverage. Two, on Forbes India. com, inviting applications from, or nominations of, entrepreneurs and professionals who fit the criteria. Three, spreading the word on social media. This helped us arrive at a long list across 20 categories. The next step was narrowing it down to a ‘shorter longlist’— the names most likely to make it to the top 30, decided in consultation with experts in each category. The last stage was finalizing the 30 winners for 2020. Armed with expert views, the Forbes India editorial team debated, argued, and vetoed its way down to the final 30. We realised there were some others who deserved to be featured under ‘Watch out for’. We have only considered for selection those who were under the age of 30 as of December 31, 2020 (the cut-off date for selection of the list). Thus, in the case of enterprises that have several co-founders, we have considered only those where at least one of them is under 30.

Star Creator

NIHARIKA KAPOOR

APAC Lead, YouTube Community & Social Media Support Operations

Let’s start from 2013. Freshly-minted economics grad Niharika Kapoor joins Google India as an associate account strategist as a campus placement from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi. The job involved providing support to Google advertisers— small and medium businesses—to build their online businesses. After two years, Kapoor is moved to YouTube as a partner manager for YouTube India (creator and artist development team). The mandate is managing a portfolio of upcoming creators and hosting scaled events and workshops for content strategy and revenue development. In 2017, she gets promoted to manager. Last year, Kapoor dons a new role of APAC (Asia Pacific) lead, focusing on YouTube creators and users.

“She (Kapoor) is the first female vertical business lead, and youngest ever for YouTube India,” says Marc Lefkowitz, director, YouTube Partner Development & Management, APAC. Rising from an individual contributor to management in just a few years, Kapoor has been a star performer across the organization. In addition to building an incredibly successful team and culture, Lefkowitz underlines, Kapoor has been pivotal in launching some of the most innovative programmes in the region, including NextUp (original, gaming, artists, and women to watch), first co-branded NextUp with L’Oreal, and FanFest. “Niharika is a strong advocate for underserved communities, including our female and rural creators,” he says.

The young achiever, though, prefers to stay grounded. Both success and failure, she says, are opportunities for growth and learning. “I believe in taking a moment to celebrate success.” Failure too, she lets on, is part of the success and there isn’t a finality to it. It’s just a stepping stone to get to the next milestone. “I strongly believe that the harder I work, the luckier I get,” she says. Working hard is the only part of the equation that can be controlled. “So better to just focus on that,” she smiles. Life at Google is about thriving in ambiguity and constantly innovating.

For Kapoor, the creative journey has just begun. “I see myself as part of the digital media ecosystem, supporting new users and creators in their journeys,” she adds.

– Rajiv Singh

Utterly Butterly Kool

SHEFALI VIJAYWARGIYA

Brand manager, Amul Kool

Whatever your gender is, sales is not an easy place to be. In fact, it can be dicey. Ask Shefali Vijaywargiya, who joined Amul as an area sales manager in 2016 after finishing her MBA from the Institute of Rural Management, Anand. Her first big task was to launch diced cheese in Gujarat. Though it looks easy—Amul, after all, is the big dairy daddy backing the product—there was a catch. Diced cheese was to be sold to institutional users, and this segment was dominated by rivals who had a strong distribution network in the B2B business. “It was difficult to break into this chain,” recalls Vijaywargiya.

What also made the task challenging was her gender. “I was a newcomer, too young and a woman. I was not taken seriously by the trade partners,” she rues. She didn’t give up. She started building a rapport with the major institutional buyers. From organizing meetings with different stakeholders to launching conferences, extensive sampling to demonstrate product quality, and spearheading multiple rounds of negotiations, Vijaywargiya took an aggressive approach to push the new product. The gambit paid off. “We grabbed 30 percent market share in just two months,” she says. From 2017, the young manager was tasked with Amul Kool, the flagship beverage brand of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation.

The hustle during the debut year prepared Vijaywargiya for the struggle in the pandemic year. One of the major obstacles was fixing distribution and logistics, especially during the peak sales months last summer. Kool was largely sold through the distribution channel, which was shut down due to the lockdown. Vijaywargiya reached out to Amul milk distributors who were able to reach every nook and corner of the market. “We connected with them, and added our beverages in their product portfolio,” she recounts. Kool, she adds, rolled out 23 products over the last eight months, including eight immunity-boosting drinks such as Haldi, Tulsi and Ginger.

Her efforts are being recognised within the organisation. “Her curiosity and excitement have started reflecting in the Kool brand,” says Jayen Mehta, senior general manager (planning and marketing), Amul Kool. By bringing innovative concepts to the table, he adds, Vijaywargiya is consistently taking the brand to new levels in an extremely competitive category of beverages. “2020 truly tested her skills on various fronts—from marketing and advertising to production and distribution,” he says. “And she delivered the results.”

The mantra for the young achiever seems to be to ‘stay kool’.

– Rajiv Singh

Reaping Results

AMANDEEP PANWAR

RISHABH CHOUDHARY

CEO and CTO, BharatRohan Airborne Innovations

Aeronautical engineers Amandeep Panwar and Rishabh Choudhary started interacting with farmers during their undergraduate studies in Lucknow. They were testing drones in fields and soon realized that farmers were facing trouble understanding and identifying crop threats, such as pests, diseases, and nutrient deficiencies, early.

“That is when we thought of doing something in the remote sensing space,” recalls Panwar, adding that they decided to work with farmers directly. The duo use drones to collect accurate data from a height of 60m. Another technology— hyperspectral imaging—helps identify biochemical changes in plants due to pest diseases or nutrient deficiency.

At present, via the UAV/Drone hyperspectral imaging technology, the five-year-old startup provides farmers with a decision support system. “This data saves the cost of additional pesticides and crop damage and prevents crop losses, which means farmers earn better margins,” says Choudhary.

Periodic drone-based aerial services are carried out every 7-15 days throughout the cropping season. Post this, in the next 48 hours, recommendations are sent to farmers. “The farmers then sell their products to us, which we sell to larger domestic and international buyers who demand pesticide residue-free products,” Panwar explains.

Most of BharatRohan’s clients include FMCG companies and retailers, who then sell to the consumers. “The value addition for farmers is that we are buying their produce at good prices and also providing them with data that prevent crop damage and increases profitability per acre,” he adds.

The duo has received over ₹1.8 crores in funding from organisations including BIRAC, Caspian Impact Investments, and Villgro. Currently, the Delhi-based startup has revenue of ₹2 crore and is hoping to reach ₹3.5 crore by the end of this financial year.

“BharatRohan has integrated supply chain solutions to advisory [services]. Farmers not only get data-driven insights but also products and services for Agri inputs and market linkages for selling output,” says Hemendra Mathur, venture partner, Bharat Innovation Fund.

–NAINI THAKER

Friend Of Farmers

HARSHIT GUPTA

Co-founder, Gramophone

Harshit Gupta had been working at Oyo but remained in touch with his IIM-Ahmedabad batchmates Tauseef Khan (34) and Nishant Mahatre (35). All of them wanted to do something in the agriculture sector and set up Gramophone—a company that would provide advice and information to farmers about crop cycles and solutions to various problems they encounter, in a bid to improve farming efficiency and, therefore, income. The company was founded in 2016 and co-founder Ashish Rajan Singh (34), who had also been involved since the beginning, officially joined in 2018.

Gaining the trust of farmers was a challenge—why would someone who had been growing crops for years listen to them—as was familiarising farmers with concepts as simple as missed calls. They would call them back and also started delivering products suggested as solutions to them, combining advisory with retail.

It has been steady progress—from a few calls a day when they set up in 2016, they now have 5.5 to 6 lakh farmers on board and have raised $8.06 million in funding so far. Revenues have grown 15x in the past two years.

Besides providing input products, since October, the platform also started connecting farmers to buyers. “Since we know the sowing date, the crop being grown, the total area a farmer has sown it on, and when it can be harvested, we have an estimate of how many farmers, in which areas, and the quantities of produce,” says Khan. That again helps farmers get better opportunities to sell produce and improve their incomes.

Satisfaction comes from the appreciation they get. “Last year, we were travelling with one of our investors for a field visit and one of the farmers commented that Gramophone hamare crops ko baccho ki tarah paalte hain (Gramophone looks after our crops like children), adding that his income had improved,” says Gupta.

“What they have been able to deliver to farmers makes us very optimistic that in the next three to five years, they will be a complete agritech offering for the farmer on inputs and market linkage, while also powering greater data-driven farm credit,” says Aditi Gupta, principal, investments, Asha Impact, which has invested in the company.

–MONICA BATHIJA

WATCH OUT FOR

LALIT GAUTAM

RAHUL GUNDALA

Co-founders, Sensegrass

In 2017, they founded Sensegrass, a soil intelligence platform that helps companies and farmers reduce excessive nitrogen and fertilizers from the soil using a patented NPK sensor. It also optimizes crop data through artificial intelligence to grow better and more sustainably, improve crop yield and subsequently increase farm income. The target market includes farming companies, seed companies and enterprises dealing in crop insurance among others.

The Art of Articulation

BIRAAJ DODIYA

Artist

I arrived in the world of art very early because both my parents are artists,” says Biraaj Dodiya, daughter of artists Atul and Anju Dodiya. “Their friends are in creative worlds and are painters, poets, educators, in cinema, and the likes. So my introduction to art, and to this way of living, of having a persistent practice, was through them.”

While she had been reading about art, drawing and painting, for a while, it was only through studying art—at the School of Art Institute of Chicago and New York University—that it became very rigorous. Although her training was focused on painting, printmaking, and photography, in the last few years she has been more involved in drawing and sculptural installation art. “I find myself able to play with the language of painting the most, but when ideas come I find various ways of translating them.”

Dodiya had her debut solo show last March at Kolkata’s Experimenter Gallery, which comprised mostly paintings, and also some sculptural works, such as ramps. “I am interested in the concepts of absence, uncertainties, and impermanence. In the painting process, through repair and erasure, sometimes it raises questions of distance, temporality, and absences. Ramps are architectural structures of support, and they bear weight. The idea of making your own personal ramps with discarded industrial objects becomes a way of investigating your own memory.”

“I feel Biraaj finds a beautiful way to elucidate an incredibly layered and deeply personal practice. Many of her works offer a fleeting glimpse into experiences that most of us may find almost impossible to express, let alone articulate through work,” says Priyanka Raja, co-founder of Experimenter. “There is a sense of restraint in handling material, especially in the way she handles paint, translucency, and density with which they appear on the canvas. Her paintings and sculptures are often full of paradoxes.”

Coming up next for Dodiya is an exhibition with Experimenter at Bikaner House in March, and a group show at Vadehra Art Gallery, both in New Delhi. There is also a fellowship from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, a residency programme in Umbria, Italy, starting in 2022.

–JASODHARA BANERJEE

WATCH OUT FOR

MOONIS AHMAD SHAH

Artist

Born in Srinagar, he is an interdisciplinary artist who uses archival materials ranging from text, mass media, cinema, and historical documents, alongside newer technologies and programming languages to question the archive’s constitution, boundaries, and materiality. His works question the premise, content, and form of institutional history as ‘truth’, through what he terms ‘counter archives’.

A New Crop of Batteries

NISHITA BALIARSINGH

NIKITA BALIARSINGH

Co-founder and CEO, Nexus Power;

Co-founder and COO, Nexus Power

A late-night roof-top conversation and an old biochemistry book from their grandfather’s library gave birth to Nexus Power in April 2019. While discussing electric vehicles (EV), the twin sisters realized there was a need for innovation in battery technology. “The EV industry lacks efficient batteries as most take about four to six hours to charge… hence, only a strong charging infrastructure would quicken the adaptation,” says Nishita Baliarsingh, co-founder and CEO of Nexus Power.

Nexus Power batteries are also biodegradable, made from crop residue, which is usually burnt causing heavy air pollution in winters. The company procures crop remains and manufactures rechargeable energy-storing cells out of it. “Our batteries are lithium–ion-free and hence eco-friendly and sustainable. Procurement of crop waste helps farmers earn an additional income of ₹25,000 for every 100 batteries,” says Nishita. The batteries can charge from 0 to 100 in 50 minutes. Nexus aims to bring it down to 25 to 30 minutes.

The Bhubaneswar-based company is mostly bootstrapped and expects to go commercial by 2022. The sisters received a grant of ₹4 lakh from the government of India under its TIDE programme.

According to British Sehgal, investment professional, IAN & IAN Fund (Indian Angel Network), the electric battery segment has suffered from a lack of availability of an eco-friendly and localized battery solution with optimized efficiency. Nexus Power addresses these pain points and also provides a faster charging solution. “Although the venture has a long way to go in terms of proving its execution and scale, with its current value proposition it is definitely well placed in the e-battery space,” he says.

NAANDIKA TRIPATHI

LICYPRIYA KANGUJAM

Climate activist

She has been championing her cause—to protect, preserve and nurture the environment by fighting climate change— since she was six. In 2019, she addressed world leaders at the United Nations Climate Conference in Madrid, calling them to take immediate climate actions. Her first speech was at the Asia Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in June 2018. She has spoken at over 400 institutions and other platforms in more than 32 countries.

Learning From The Best

ISHAAN PREET SINGH 28

MIKHIL RAJ 28

Co-founders, FrontRow

How would it be if you could learn batting from Suresh Raina, or spin bowling from Yuzvendra Chahal, or singing from Neha Kakkar, at less than ₹500 each? That’s exactly what IIT-Delhi graduates Ishaan Preet Singh and Mikhil Raj are offering with their online education platform FrontRow.

Singh and Raj teamed up with their friend Shubhadit Sharma (who, at 30, just missed the cut), and started building the venture last year. Their app has had over 100,000 downloads on the Google Play Store. Users create an account on the app or on FrontRow’s website and buy the pre-recorded lesson-videos. Over 10,000 users have paid to download from among the five courses currently live.

The concept isn’t new and one of the best-known such platforms is SanFrancisco-based MasterClass, with heavyweights such as Margaret Atwood teaching creative writing, Gordon Ramsay teaching cooking, and Natalie Portman teaching acting. MasterClass can be accessed online from India too but is much more expensive.

Singh decided the world of business and how people make money was far more fascinating than teaching computer science, which he studied. Raj built and sold a software product even as he was completing college.

The trio has got backers, including Lightspeed India Partners, where Singh worked before starting FrontRow, and actor Deepika Padukone’s family office. “We want to become the daily learning destination for 10 million people in India,” Singh says. Beyond the courses, FrontRow offers practice sessions, Q&As, competitions, and a community of learners. “If you are pursuing your passion, we want that you open FrontRow and get better everyday.”

FrontRow sits at the intersection of education, entertainment and community, says Akshay Bhushan, a partner at Lightspeed. “And its founders stand out for their strong nose for consumer behavior and natural product instincts. Influencers and celebrities and the associated ‘passion economy’ in India will grow rapidly,” he says.

HARICHANDAN ARAKALI

Dynamic Designer

AAQUIB WANI 29

Founder and creative director, Aaquib Wani Design

In school, Aaquib Wani preferred music and art over academics. He was the lead guitarist of a thrash metal band, Phobia, and commanded an impressive following.

The self-taught experiential designer graduated from designing the identity and posters for his band to designing album covers and merchandise for other bands that approached him. He later landed a job as an intern, working his way up to become art director with music magazine Rock Street Journal.

The year 2014 marked the end of Phobia and a turning point for Wani when he joined design studio Scenografia Sumant. Coming from a print design background, he was initially overwhelmed by the scale, range, and complexity of imagery required from him for different projects and spaces. He learnt the value of not just 2D but also 3D design.

“He engaged with the work quickly with tenacity and persistence and soon mastered working in the different scales of work. From stage backdrops, flooring designs, wallpaper designs, logos, menu designs, filigree designs for metal laser cutting to designs for linen at the studio, he did it all with a sense of humor, and with resilience in response to the exactness demanded of him,” says scenographer Sumant Jayakrishnan, founder of Scenografia Sumant.

In 2018, Wani ventured out on his own to start Aaquib Wani Design. “Its primary focus is to incorporate technology as a crucial element of experiential design to take design to another level. The studio specializes in creating original interactive installations, transforming spaces, and branding while emphasizing sustainability as the underlying theme running through all the designs,” says Wani.

His flamboyant and unfettered approach to design has impressed clients and thousands of followers on Instagram. His repertoire ranges from creating limited-edition hand-painted customized jackets for international brands such as Levi’s, Adidas, and Gas to designing the craft mela bazaar for Isha Ambani’s wedding, building gigantic installations on a hilltop for the NH7 Weekender, and creating a spacethemed anti-gravity experience for the launch of Adidas’s Ultraboost 20 sneakers, in addition to working with Coca-Cola, United Nations, and MG Motors.

“Aaquib has a hunger to learn and the ability to expand the horizons of his world,” says Jayakrishnan.

BENU JOSHI ROUTH

VARUN AGGARWAL 29

Co-founder, Designhill

Designhill is a global platform catering to the creative needs of businesses and individuals who seek to source high-quality designs from professional designers and buy unique products created by independent artists worldwide. The six-year-old venture was started by the Gurugram-based Aggarwal brothers, Varun and Rahul. Designhill claims to have over a million clients, including BBC, Deloitte and Microsoft, from more than 72 countries.

ASHISH CHANCHLANI 27

YouTuber & Social Media Content Creator

Content King

A failed attempt at a college exam made Ashish Chanchlani realise that civil engineering was not for him. He started creating short videos on social media in 2014, but little did he know then that they would be his passport to stardom.

“I used to make funny, relatable short videos for fun, but seeing the positive response on Instagram, I decided to compile those and upload them on YouTube,” says Chanchlani.

He soon began making videos natively for YouTube, with his first titled—How to annoy people who say Tu Mere Baap Ko Janta Nahi Hai’.

“It was when my video—Eating Habits in Classroom—got 3.1 million views overnight on Facebook that I realized that my content can go viral… and I decided to make a career out of making videos,” says Chanchlani, the second-most subscribed Indian YouTuber with 23.3 million subscribers.

In 2018, Chanchlani was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke International Film Festival Award for Best Digital Influencer. He also won the ‘Best Comedy Influencer’ award at the first edition of the World Bloggers Awards held at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 and the same year, bagged a cameo in Men In Black: International.

“The best part about content curation is that it doesn’t matter what your background is… anything can go viral as long as you’re ready to take risks and create your own unique expression,” says Chanchlani. In 2020, his videos—Lockdown with Parivar and Lockdown Ke Side Effects—got a total of 76 million-plus views. His latest—Office, Exam Aur Vaccine—has crossed 43 million views on YouTube.

“It’s always interesting to talk to Ashish… he’s well-informed. He pays a lot of attention to detail for his content, which one can easily make out from the final product,” says YouTuber and actor Prajakta Koli—a Forbes India 30 Under 30 alumna and someone who has collaborated with Chanchlani for various videos.

Last year, he even directed a short horror film Akhri Safar that got close to 15 million views on YouTube. “It has ignited the curiosity to polish my directing skills. I want to direct and bring out some never thought-before, genre-bending movies,” he says. “It’s my dream to open a production house, experiment across genres like combining science fiction and comedy, and bring them as close to reality as possible. I want to make content that puts India on the map with the best in the world. I’d want people to look at India as they look at Asian cinema or Korean cinema.”

MANSVINI KAUSHIK

Passion On The Go

ABHIRAJ RAJADHYAKSHA 27

NIYATI MAVINKURVE 29

Digital Content Creators

In 2019, Abhiraj (Abhi) and Niyati (Niyu) decided to take a break from their 9-5 jobs to explore the country like nobody had done before.

“Unlike other travelogues, we wanted to find stories from places where people don’t look to find any,” says Abhi, explaining that they wanted to find and encourage social good in India. This led to their breakout video ‘100 reasons to love India’ that marked the beginning of their content creation careers. Before that, Niu was a chartered accountant-turned freelance content writer, while husband Abhi was an advertising video producer who wanted more creative autonomy.

In over a year, Abhi & Niyu have gained over 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube with over a million views on most of their videos, as well as over 1.5 million followers on Instagram. Abhi says they measure the effectiveness of their efforts by the amount of impactful action generated as a result of their content.

“It’s not so difficult to succeed on social media when you pander to the weaknesses of people, but to be social media stars while being change-makers, making videos that shake you, move you and motivate you to be better is rare,” says Sonam Wangchuk, an innovator and education reformist. “I first noticed and admired Abhi and Niyu when I saw their video about plastic pollution in Ladakh, explaining how to be better travelers in the mountains. Since then, they have made many videos that educate and inspire people, particularly the youth, to make the nation and the world a better place.”

Advising people who are stuck in a monotonous routine but wish to break free, they say, “Be like Batman. Pursue your full-time job like Bruce Wayne and work on what your heart truly desires, until you know it’s the right time to turn your passion into your profession.”

AISHWARYA NK

SEJAL KUMAR 25

YouTuber

Fashion and lifestyle YouTuber Sejal Kumar has over 1.3 million subscribers on her channel. She also acted in Engineering Girls, a series on Netflix. Last year, she worked with YouTube Creators for Change with Michelle Obama and released a music video titled ‘Aisi Hun’—an anthem for fearless young girls—that garnered over a million views. She has won multiple awards like the Cosmopolitan Blogger Awards and Instagrammer of the Year. Kumar co-founded the channel Maitri on YouTube with her gynecologist mother and they make videos around women’s wellness.

DHEER MOMAYA 29

Founder, Jugaad Motion Pictures

Founded in 2018 by Dheer Momaya, Jugaad Motion Pictures is a media and production company. They produce feature films, music videos, TV commercials, and drama series. Their video for ‘cold/mess’ song by Prateek Kuhad was deemed ‘The Best Music Video of the Year’ by Rolling Stone and won a Radio City Freedom Award for Best Video. Another music video ‘Sage’ for Ritviz reaped over 18 million views. The company has also developed and produced commercials and digital films for brands like Jio, Levi’s, Volkswagen, Xiaomi, Bacardi, and Netflix.

Razor Sharp

SIDHARTH OBEROI 28

Founder and CEO, LetsShave

Sidharth Oberoi always aspired to work for an MNC in the US. After finishing industrial engineering, with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation, from Purdue University, he landed his maiden job as a project engineer at CSA Group, one of the largest standards development organizations in North America, in 2014. Back in India, his parents—his mother is a doctor and his father runs an advertising firm in Chandigarh— were elated. At 21, they thought, their lad had achieved his first target.

A year later, in 2015, Oberoi was taking on American MNC Gillette. “I never realised that I would turn entrepreneur,” says Oberoi, who quit his job and bootstrapped an online razor startup LetsShave in July 2015. “It just happened,” he says. The idea, though, got seeded while shopping with his mother in 2014. The mall in Chandigarh was loaded with MNC brands across categories. Sadly, razors didn’t have any Indian edge. Oberoi decided to change the script.

While studying, he started pursuing Korean razor giant Dorco. Endless emails to the corporate headquarters never got answered; a few business proposals too didn’t elicit any response. Oberoi didn’t have any subject knowledge; no background or experience in the business. “Who would have backed a rookie?” he says. The young lad, though, was relentless in his chase. A year later, Dorco inked a deal to supply razors in an exclusive Indian partnership. Oberoi took money from his father and started the business of selling razors online. “I realized this was my true dream,” he recalls.

The dream had a nightmarish beginning. Fifty razors got sold in the first month. Next month the numbers doubled. It was a massive disappointment. “I didn’t come back to sell 100 razors a month,” he recounts. Oberoi rejigged his marketing strategy and brought in a more focused approach.

Cut to January 2021. LetsShave sells between 1,500 and 2,000 products per day; the startup has transformed into a shaving and grooming venture by entering shower, body, face, beard, and electric trimmer categories; Dorco bought a minor stake in the company in 2018; and last February, Wipro Consumer Care Ventures-backed Oberoi by picking up stake.

“Sidharth is a passionate leader having a clear vision about his venture,” says Sumit Keshan, managing partner for Wipro Consumer Care Ventures. LetsShave, he adds, has shown strong traction with 2x growth since the last investment. “This is just the beginning. It will capture market share from its larger rivals.”

Ken Kwak, global director at Dorco, says, “When our team first interacted with Sidharth, we felt that spark.” At such a young age, he had the willingness to challenge the status quo of the shaving and grooming industry in India. “This is an extremely bold ambition.”

Oberoi, for his part, now wants to play big. The target is to build a $100 million company over the next few years.

RAJIV SINGH

As Good As New

SATANIK ROY 25

Co-founder and chief product officer, HyperXchange

Satanik Roy was in college when he realised that the key problem students in the final year faced was disposing of their belongings before they graduated. On the other hand, students getting into college were on the lookout for mattresses, buckets, and air coolers. All he had to do was connect the two and HyperXchange was born.

The entrepreneur in Roy soon realised that his ambitions would be limited unless he entered a category that was more remunerative and ubiquitous. Mobile phones, laptops, and tablets were among the options. What cemented his decision was the realization that, “You can fit a ₹1 lakh phone into a small box unlike other categories where the products are bulky and logistics become complex,” he explains.

There were other challenges too. He needed to procure second-hand phones, tablets, and laptops efficiently with an on-the-spot decision on how much to pay. There was also the need to gain the trust of sellers. HyperXchange developed Farday, an AI-based machine that checks and certifies products as they come in. They are then refurbished and put on sale on platforms like hXkart.com (owned by HyperXchange) and Amazon Renewed.

So far HyperXchange has raised ₹42 crore in both equity and debt funding, and Roy is flanked by three other co-founders who bring in organizational and management skills. CP Gurnani, CEO of Tech Mahindra, who is an investor, says, “The sustainability aspect of the refurbishing market drew me into the business. With an increasing number of students and professionals working from home, I only see this market growing and hopefully reducing our e-waste,” he says. The lockdown saw HyperXchange double sales to ₹50 crore in 2020.

For now, Roy is focused on making the second-hand experience no less than the thrill of buying a new product. Roy calls these products AGAiN (As Good As New). The phones, laptops, and tablets come in a box with a warranty. “We want to ensure customers have the same level of excitement when they buy a product from us,” he says. He’s also taken the first steps in branding and plans to set up lounges that double as experience centres.

SAMAR SRIVASTAVA

A Class Apart

MUKUL RUSTAGI 29

BHASWAT AGARWAL 29

Co-founders, Classplus

Mukul Rustagi and Bhaswat Agarwal had a simple mission when they launched Class plus in 2018: One, they wanted to provide a solution for hyperlocal coaching centres and their entrepreneurial owners to run their entire coaching stack on a single digital platform. Two, they wanted to flip the trend of internet-centric learning that often sidelined teachers, and ensure that technology was only around to support the efforts of these local coaching centres and teachers.

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MORE STORIES FROM FORBES INDIAView All

‘The Middle Class Buys Dreams. The Businessman Sells Unrealistic Ones'

Anand Kumar starts the interview by setting the context. “Let’s get the math right,” says the mathematician.

4 mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021

The Home School of Thought

Concerns over a monotonous, formal education system coupled with edtech’s innovative approaches bolster the homeschooling proposition. But is India ready for it?

10+ mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021

The Big Small Question

As Byju’s and Unacademy grow at breakneck speed, what will it take for smaller edtech players to survive?

10+ mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021

Beating Bharat's Edtech Blues

On the other side of the billion-dollar edtech boom are children who have been unable to access the most basic forms of online education, and people who have been trying to bridge the digital divide

10+ mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021

Handa's New Funda: From Academy to Unacademy

How IITian Ravi Handa scaled up his seven-year-old online venture for MBA preparation, and eventually sold it to an edtech major

5 mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021

Six (and more) Degrees of Fakery

How inaction against the rash of fake universities across the country may be incentivising the mushrooming of more such institutions

6 mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021

Meet The Headmasters

Sequoia Capital has bet big on edtech, with over a dozen investments, including in industry giants Byju’s and Unacademy

10+ mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021

A Billion-Dollar Dream For Freshworks

Girish Mathrubootham is taking a cue from the rapid growth of Silicon Valley software startups to reach scale and velocity

10+ mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021

Changing How Small-Town India Shops

CityMall founders Angad Kikla and Naisheel Verdhan are building a network of micro-entrepreneurs through their app in smaller cities

10 mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021

Liberal Arts: A Road Less Travelled

Colleges offering these courses in India have begun to gain ground, but for them to truly shine on the global map, they must be cognisant of the country’s culture and challenges

7 mins read
Forbes India
April 23, 2021
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Reincarnation And Realpolitik

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The Preteen's Guide to Getting Rich Off YouTube

Ryan Kaji’s video empire makes most of its revenue from merchandise, not ads

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A Room for Dad

Before Mom passed, I made a promise to her

8 mins read
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DEMI LOVATO: DRUGS SAVED MY LIFE!

DESPITE a near-fatal overdose in 2018, songbird Demi Lovato still insists drugs also saved her life! The former Disney darling said drug abuse prevented her from turning to suicide.

1 min read
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March 29, 2021

THE DANGAL IN THE JUNGLE, PART 1

YOU KNOW YOU’RE SOMEBODY WHEN YOU’VE APPEARED ON AN INDIAN DANGAL POSTER — IN OTHER WORDS, IN A WRESTLING ADVERTISEMENT.

6 mins read
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April/May 2021

WOUNDS AND THE WOMB

JULIE PETERS explores how to heal a relationship with the sacred womb, a place of death, life, and possibilities.

8 mins read
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Mar/Apr 2021

BE SQUIRRELY

Giant squirrels, giant lessons? Animal chaplain SARAH BOWEN explores what squirrels can show us about mindfulness.

4 mins read
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Mar/Apr 2021