Top 10 women behind India’s most successful tech startups

Mabel Chacko is co-founder of Open, Asia’s first SME neobanking platform
Innovative, talented and driven – these 10 female founders are the brains behind some of India’s most successful tech startups, from unicorns to soonicorns

While in recent decades, India has witnessed a remarkable surge in the emergence of female entrepreneurs, just 18% of India’s unicorns are founded or co-founded by women, a recent study has found.

Twenty female-founded startups are currently in the pipeline to become a unicorn.

The collaborative study, from TiE Delhi NCR, Zinnov, Google, NetApp, and Indian Angel Network, shows that despite comparable metrics, success, and high entrepreneurial intent, socio-cultural barriers hinder women founders’ growth.

“Women founders face more scrutiny on their commitment compared to their male counterparts, which makes negotiations more challenging from their point of view,” the study reports. 

While clearly not enough is being done to support female founders, this list of 10 women at the forefront of some of the country's most successful tech startups serves as inspiration for those starting out on the entrepreneurial journey.

1

Radhika Ghai Aggarwal

Co-founder, Chief Business Officer, ShopClues 

Co-founder, Kindlife

Radhika Ghai Aggarwal is behind India's first female-founded unicorn

As the first Indian woman to enter the unicorn club, Radhika Ghai Aggarwal takes top spot on the list.

Radhika’s success in building ecommerce platform ShopClues into a US$1.1 billion business has landed her recognition as one of the most powerful and influential women in India – and secured her numerous accolades, among them CEO of the Year at the CEO India Awards (2016).

In just four short years, ShopClues accrued half a million sellers, the highest in Indian e-commerce, and earned itself a place in the unicorn club. Selling numerous products, from fashion to footwear to technology, ShopClues empowers local merchants from small cities and makes them a national enterprise.

While the company was acquired in 2019 (by Qoo10 for US$70 million) Radhika remains as Chief Business Officer, testament to her business acumen and leadership skills. Still keen to stretch her entrepreneurial spirit, Radhika founded another startup, kindlife, in 2021 with Manasa Garemella. 

Positioned as a new-age beauty and wellness ecosystem enabling commerce, community, and brands, kindlife boasts more than 150 curated kinder brands and has secured backing from prominent investors including Java Capital, Gulf Islamic Investments and Kalaari Capital.

Vani Kola, MD of Kalaari Capital described Radhika as an “innovator, risk-taker, and role model to aspiring female entrepreneurs”.

Radhika’s earlier career kicked off in the US, where she earned her MBA from Washington University. She then spent 14 year in diverse sectors including lifestyle, ecommerce, fashion, retail and PR – working in marketing for Nordstrum in Seattle and in strategic planning at Goldman Sachs. She also established her own advertising agency in India.

2

Falguni Nayar

Founder, CEO

Nykaa

Former investment banker Falguni Nayar was 50 when she founder her unicorn

It was just over a decade ago when Falguni Nayar kicked off her entrepreneurial career. Once an investment banker, the former Managing Director of Kotak Mahindra Capital took the entrepreneurial plunge at age 50 and has never looked back.

Setting up Nykaa in 2012 as an e-commerce platform selling beauty products, Falguni has built the business into India’s largest beauty etailer. And she has become India’s richest self-made female entrepreneur, with a net worth of US$2.7 billion.

In just 10 years, Falguni built a beauty and fashion empire that today employs nearly 3,000 people, sells more than 4,000 brands across beauty, wellness, and fashion, and commands around 40% of the online beauty market in India. The startup became a unicorn in 2020 and secured a blockbuster IPO in 2021.

Spotting the next big thing has played a big part in the success of Nykaa. As well as leading the Korean beauty phenomenon in India, with the launch of K-Beauty brands in the country, Falguni launched The Responsible Collection, featuring a mix of around sustainability-focused labels. Innovative in technology too, the platform uses AI-powered tech to offer a ‘virtual try-on’ feature for makeup.

As the founder of India’s first woman-led unicorn, and as a woman who took the entrepreneurial journey late in life (age 50), Falguni is inspirational for many women in India. She is well-known for advocating for women in leadership and prioritising diversity in her own management teams.

Her success has secured her numerous accolades, including EY World Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019 and Forbes Asia Power Businesswomen 2019 and the brand has landed many awards, including being listed in the top 50 e-commerce startups by CNBC in 2019.

Before launching Nkyaa, Falguni spent more than two decades in the corporate sector in investment banking with 18 years at Kotak, Mahindra Bank, helming several businesses, including MD of its investment bank and director of its institutional equities division. She sits on the board of Tata Technologies and several other companies.

3

Divya Gokulnath

Co-founder, Director

Byju’s

Teacher-turned-entrepreneur Divya Gokulhath is the brains behind India's leading unicorn, Byju's

When it comes to India’s leading unicorn, most of the headlines belong to Byju Raveendran, after which Byju’s is named. But co-founder Divya Gokulhath – a teacher-turned-entrepreneur – has also been instrumental in building the edtech unicorn.

Divya drew on her expertise and passion as a teacher to conceptualise and launch an online education platform in 2011, and along with her engineer husband, Byju, built what has grown to be India’s largest, and the world’s most valuable, edtech – with a valuation of US$22 billion.

Initially focused on in-person education to supplement school learning, Byju’s soon expanded to video-based learning programmes for the K-12 segment before launching its learning app in 2015. Today, it offers course from grades KG to 12 and is focused on personalised learning experiences for students with Divya playing a major role in curating these academic learning experiences.

Growth for the platform has been rapid. By 2018, the platform had reached 15 million users of which 900,000 were paid, leading to unicorn status for the startup; and in recent years, the company has acquired numerous overseas companies (Tynker and Epiq) to beef up its expansion in the US. Last year, the platform signed a contract with Qatar Investment Authority to establish a new edtech company and R&D centre in Doha.

That said, the Bengaluru-based platform has suffered a series of setbacks lately, with former upGrad’s CEO Arjun Moham recently brought in to lead its international business.

That doesn’t detract from Divya’s achievements, however, which have garnered her numerous accolades, including being named a LinkedIn Top Voice in Education in India and being listed in Forbes Asia’s 25 Most Powerful Women 2020. Not to mention being appointed the Chair of the EdTech Taskforce by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry.

One of India’s richest businesswomen and most well-known entrepreneurs, Divya has also used her platform to address the gender pay gap in India.

She has degree in biotechnology from India’s famed RV College of Engineering.

4

Upasana Taku

Co-founder, COO

MobiKwik

Upasana Taku is credited with being the first woman in India to lead a payments startup

Upasana Taku is credited with being the first woman in India to lead a payments startup, having co-founded MobiKwik – a fintech unicorn that recently turned profitable and is aiming to double its revenue by 2024.

As COO of the Gurgaon-based fintech major, Stanford-educated Upasana has been instrumental in its success, tapping into her previous experience at PayPal and HSBC to grow MobiKwik to unicorn status.

Passionate about promoting financial inclusion, Upasana co-founded the fintech with her husband Bipin Preet Singh in 2010 after quitting her role as Senior Product Manager at PayPal in San Francisco and returning to India.

Spotting an opportunity in digital payments in the country, Upasana wanted to do something at grassroots level, and so set out to build a world-class neo-banking platform for India, aimed at catering to its underserved population.

No mean feat, but one she has succeeded in doing. Today, the startup has 3.8 million merchants and 134 million registered users, with more than half falling into the 18-30 bracket, and 80% hailing from non-metro cities and 3.8 million merchants. The fintech turned profitable in 2021 and ended 2022 with revenues that marked an 80% YoY growth. Backed by Sequoia Capital and Bajaj Finance, the startup has plans to IPO once the markets stabilise.

As a female founder, Upasana has been at the forefront of ensuring diversity within her own company too, with women now making up 25% of MobiKwik’s workforce.

As well as an engineering degree courtesy of the prestigious National Institute of Technology, Upasana has an MS in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford.

5

Radha Vembu

Co-founder and Product Manager

Zoho Corp

Radha Vembu is the product brains behind Zoho, which has scaled to a multinational

While no longer considered a startup given its multinational scale, and profitable expansion, Zoho Technologies began as one in 1996 – founded by Radha Vembu and her brothers Sridha (CEO) and Sekar,

The sibling entrepreneurs have built the startup over 25 years, and without any outside investment, into a multinational US$1 billion company. Such success has turned Radha into the third-richest woman in India and the second-richest self-made billionaire in software and services globally with a net worth of US$4 billion, according to the latest M3M Hurun Global Rich List.

Up against software giants like Salesforce, Google and Microsoft, Zoho has managed to not just survive but thrive, expanding to 13 offices and nine countries around the world – and with  headquarters both in Chennai and in Austin, Texas.

The company recently opened an office in Kenya, to expand its footprint in Africa, which includes offices in Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa.

Radha has been instrumental in developing a strong internal culture that is built around R&D and product development, something that has helped the startup grow slowly but steadily. Under her leadership, Zoho’s software product catalogue has grown to deliver more than 50 products, with everything from business intelligence to finance, sales, marketing and customer service.

During the pandemic, Radha launched a remote work tool kit called Zoho Remotely to help businesses make the shift to remote and hybrid working.

She is an industrial management graduate from the prestigious IIT Madras.

7

Mabel Chacko

Co-founder, COO

Open Financial Technologies

Mabel Chacko started Asia’s first SME neobanking platform

As co-founder of Asia’s first SME neobanking platform, Mabel Chacko has certainly earned her tech leadership stripes.

Mabel co-founded Open Financial Technologies (Open) in 2017, along with another female founder, Deena Jacob (CFO) and two male founders, brothers Anish and Ajeesh Achutha – Aneesh is Mabel’s husband.

Since its inception, Open has grown to become a leading player in fintech thanks largely to its success in the SMB market, leading to its widespread adoption. Today, the platform powers more than 3 million SMEs and processes over US$30 billion in annualised transactions. In 2022, Open achieved unicorn status, becoming India’s 100th unicorn.

Open is not Mabel’s first foray into startups. A serial entrepreneur, with 15 years in the fintech space, she has numerous startups under her belt, including, India’s first biometric payment startup (Touch2pay), contactless payment startup Cashnxt, NFC based platform Neartivity Wireless, and developer focused payment gateway Zwith.

She is also passionate about mentoring startups and along with Deena has set up a fintech accelerator in collaboration with Kerala Startup Mission to support startups with fintech solutions. 

Recognition of her achievements as a fintech leader are numerous, most recently being listed among the brightest corporate leaders and entrepreneurs in the Times of India’s 40 under 40, and being named Most Influential Woman of 2023 by Business World.

Mabel has secured numerous awards, too, including Startup Leader of the Year from the government, Disruptor of the Year (DLAI Women), and various women leader in fintech awards. 

8

Gazal Kalra

Co-founder

Rivigo

Co-founder of Rivago, Gazal Kalra has a passion for building purpose-driven businesses

Former McKinsey executive Gazal Kalra disrupted the logistics sector in 2014 when she launched Rivigo, a tech-enabled logistics startup, with close friend and colleague Deepak Garg.

With a passion for building purpose-driven businesses that create social impact, Gazal and Deepak came up with an idea to make logistics human. Not dissimilar to how airlines operate, Rivigo follows a relay trucking mode that tackles the challenges of poor pay and long working hours for truck drivers and ensures higher truck utilisation by changing drivers.

Gazal has led the development and products for truck drivers, and with it, created job opportunities in the backwaters of India. Owning and operating around 1,000 trucks, the Bengaluru-based startup has been especially successful with pharma and FMCG companies. Turning unicorn in 2019, the company is looking to IPO at some point.

Passionate about making logistics more sustainable, Gazal is an advisor for Switch Labs, providing strategic direction and operational support to enable the wwitch in their mission to drive the shift to clean mobility. She also sits on the World Economic Forum’s task force on zero emission mobility.

Gazal’s achievements have landed her a spot on Forbes’ 40 under 40 list as one of India’s brightest young minds.

Armed with a master’s in Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy, and an MBA from Stanford, Gazal kicked off her career as a business analyst at McKinsey. She also worked for the government as Chief of Staff to the public health foundation’s president and as chief of staff to a member of parliament. She has also acted as a consultant for the World Bank Group. 

9

Ruchi Kalra

Co-founder, OfBusiness

Co-founder and CEO, Oxyzo

Ruchi Kalra is the founder of two profitable unicorns

As co-founder of two profitable unicorns, Ruchi Kaira has certainly proven her entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking.

After eight years at McKinsey, where she worked mainly in the financial services practice, Ruchi started her own venture. She co-founded Ofbusiness in 2015 with three others, including her husband, and the following year later, she launched a second venture, Oxyzo.

As a B2B platform selling raw materials and industrial supplies, SoftBank-backed Ofbusiness has witnessed staggering growth, securing the backing of marquee investors such as Tiger Global and Norwest Venture Patners and. In October 2022, the procurement platform became the youngest unicorn to cross the 70,000 million revenue threshold with a hefty profit. The eight-year-old company turned unicorn in July 2021 and leapfrogged its way into the pentacorn ($5 billion valuation) league in December.

While Ruchi has been instrumental in the success of Ofbusiness, as an expert in financial services, her focus has been leading Oxyzo into profitability.

Growth for Oxyzo, which provides funds to the buyers on their platforms and functions as a lending arm to small businesses, has been more sedate, the startup has always been profitable securing revenue of 3.11 billion rupees in 2022. Oxyzo claims to serve more than 3,000 SMEs across India and has 30 billion rupees in AUM.

Saumya Singh Rathore is the female founder behind WinZo, known as the Netflix of gaming

Saumya Singh Rathore is the female talent behind Delhi-based WinZo, one of India’s fastest-growing vernacular gaming platforms, and a startup well on its way to unicorn status.

No stranger to startups, Saumya had spent the previous eight years as Chief of Staff leading growth and expansion at ZO Rooms, the Tiger Global-backed budget hotel room aggregator.

This is where she met Paavan Nanda, founder of ZO Rooms, who she partnered with in 2018 to launch WinZO. The business has grown quickly, reaching a valuation of over US$300 million within just three years. 

With backing from Courtside Ventures and Griffin Gaming partners, and with one of India’s most sellable names as brand ambassador (cricket legend MS Dhoni) the startup has secured more than US$90 million in funding and seen revenues from its operations surge by 287%.

Dubbed the Netflix of Gaming, WinZO serves as a platform for third-party game developers to host multiplayer games and now counts 25 million registered users and more than 100 games in six formats and in 12 languages. It works on a micro-transactional business model, generating massive employment for micro influencers and translators, and plans to push the influencer base from 100,000 to 200,000 within a year. Among its major influencers, Carry Minati and Bhuvan Bam.

As one of the few women leaders in India's gaming industry, Saumya frequently takes to the stage to discuss women in STEM, sharing her own battles with gender stereotypes and encouraging women to take leadership roles.

That said, gaming was never the original game plan for Saumya, who trained as a psychologist at the UK's University of Manchester, before kicking off her career at big four firm KPMG in London.

She then spent six years at the Times Group, India, where she worked on the launch of ET Now, spearheaded the post-merger integration process of various companies, and led the restructuring and optimisation process of the English Entertainment Cluster. Her achievements here earned her among the top 1% performers in the company.

She then joined ZO Rooms in 2015, where she spent eight years as Chief of Staff leading and growth and expanding the brand. 

10

Supriya Paul

Co-founder and CEO

Josh Talks

Supriya Paul is co-founder and CEO of Josh Talks

The idea for successful startup Josh Talks came to Supriya Paul in her final year of study at Delhi University in 2014. After meeting co-founder Shobhit Banga and discovering a shared passion for education , Supriya and Shobhit took the plunge and launched Josh Talks in 2015.

Josh Talks started as an offline platform by showcasing stories of relatable role models from the grassroots of India, before scaling into edtech and skilling with Josh Skills – a Coursera-like approach that provides affordable, employability-enhancing skills via its Android application. New content category Josh Money has since launched.

Not only has the regional content and upskilling platform been massively impactful, with its flagship offering (the Spoken English course) unlocking employment opportunities for its users, but it has bagged some big-name investors, including Ankur Capital, Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharm and New York-based Media Development and Investment Fund.

It has also partnered with organisations such as Omidyar Network India, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Meta, Educate Girls amongst others to co-create programs that align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Josh claims to run one of the largest networks of non-entertainment channels on YouTube in India, with more than 100 million monthly views across its channels and the native app, while the skills app has seen more than 3.2 million downloads since its launch and has over 200,000 paid subscribers.

Beyond Josh, Supriya is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and lends her skills as a mentor both to the Founder Institute, the world’s largest pre-seed startup accelerator, and the Atal Innovation Mission, the government’s platform for creating a culture of innovation.

She also sits on WEF’s advisory panel.

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