If there is one thing that Ashneer Grover has become adept at, it is making headlines. That, and building unicorns.
Luckily this time around, he is not in the news for stirring up controversy, as is his penchant. Instead, it is for the launch of his recently launched, aptly named the Third Unicorn Private Limited. After all, his latest entrepreneurial venture is set to follow the success of the earlier unicorns he started up—BharatPe and Blinkit (previously known as Grofers)
Incorporated on July 6, the latest venture has Ashneer and his wife, Madhuri Jain Grover, as directors with an authorised share capital of Rs 20 lakh and a total paid-up capital of Rs 10 lakh.
A Tantalising Buildup
This recent launch was not entirely unexpected. On June 14, his birthday, Ashneer had hinted as much by tweeting, “Today I turn 40. Some will say I’ve lived a full life and experienced more things than most. Created value for generations. Time to disrupt another sector. It’s time for the Third Unicorn.”
The development comes months after the couple’s acrimonious departure from BharatPe, a payments platform that Ashneer cofounded along with ShashvatNakrani in 2018. The serial entrepreneur held a 9.5 per cent stake in the company, the second-highest after its lead investor, Sequoia India.
Before BharatPe, Ashneer was with Grofers as its CFO, a position he quit in August 2017. Observers credit him for turning the delivery service around and putting it on the path of becoming a unicorn.
While Ashneer, with his impeccable business acumen, helped turn his past two startups into unicorns. However, he also has a history of getting involved in accusations and altercations, which few might even label as self-destructive. Some of these often turned into serious controversies with employees, investors and even the public, who could witness his antics on air.
With the launch of his third startup, it would be interesting to see how long he can stay off the path of controversies and turn Third Unicorn into a true-blue unicorn.
Ashneer's Legacy Of Missteps
Backed by global investors like Tiger Global, and Sequoia Capital India and with a valuation of $2.8 billion, BharatPe is one of the leading fintech startups in the country. However, over the past several months, it was embroiled in a controversy with Ashneer, which dragged on for months.
It all started after an audio clip surfaced on social media in January this year where Ashneer was reportedly verbally abusing a Kotak Bank’s employee. In the clip, dated October last year, he was heard threatening the bank employee who could not provide financing to Ashneer and his wife for Nykaa’s IPO. Following this, on October 30, Ashneer sent a legal notice to Kotak Bank and Uday Kotak, the bank’s managing director.
While Ashneer maintained the audio clip was fake, Uday Kotak sent a counter-legal notice concerning the audio clip, which was later taken off from social media. Since the entire ordeal created upheaval, on January 19, Ashneer went on voluntary leave till March 2022.
Notably, on January 22, his wife, Madhuri, also went on voluntary leave after financial discrepancies surfaced regarding the company’s product purchase invoices from various enterprises and payments by vendors. In October last year, the Directorate General of GST Intelligence conducted raids at BharatPe’s head office over the same issue.
After discussions with the board, the company hired management consulting firm Alvarez and Marshal and PwC for an internal audit. Meanwhile, as pressure mounted on Ashneer to leave the company, he hired a Delhi-based law firm.
On February 4, citing a ‘Panipat Connection,’ the report by Alvarez and Marshal revealed inconsistency in payment transactions and fake invoices. Panipat, a city in Haryana, is the home town of Ashneer’s wife and her brother, Shwetank Jain.
The report revealed that the fake invoices fraud involving the siblings had cost the company a loss of Rs 10.97 crore. Following this, Ashneer sought the removal of Suhail Sameer, who was appointed as the CEO of the company in August last year, from the board.
Following several accusations between Ashneer, BharatPe, investors and board members, the company terminated the employment of Ashneer and Madhuri.
No stranger to taking things to the chin, in August last year, Ashneer got entangled in another altercation with Harshjit Sethi, Sequoia Capital India’s Managing Director, after the investing firm decided not to commit to the Series B funding round for BharatPe. The conversation, which happened via email, became public in January this year. In the email, Ashneer allegedly used abusive language, thus further fuelling the board’s ire.
Ashneer, also part of Shark Tank India, has often lost his cool on contestants. Earlier this year, one of the show’s teasers showed his now-famous doglapan (hypocrisy) remark, which spawned many a meme.
Entrepreneur extraordinaire. Controversy’s favourite child. Unicorn builder, who’s considered GOAT by the start-up community–what does the future have in store for the combative Ashneer? Will he strike lucky the third time and also mellow down? Or will he be his usual verbose self? This will be an interesting journey to watch.