5 Indian startup stories for your dose of Monday motivation!
If you have an idea, you just gotta start – this is one common idea that all these startup stories share! Here are 5 inspiring startup stories shared by successful entrepreneurs who dared to dream!
“Neeraj and I are childhood buddies. Growing up as small towners, the mention of Mumbai and IIT sounded so aspirational. We’d hear people say, ‘IIT Bombay mein admission koi aasan kaam nahi.’ So we decided to study as a team to get into IIT. During our prep days in Kota, we used to live with 3-4 flatmates. To save money, we’d travel by train and survive on the food from the mess. Sometimes, we’d treat ourselves to street food.
And when we got into IIT Bombay, Neeraj and I ended up in the same cryptography class. We’d spend time playing games, discussing crypto, and the future! It was our dream to start something we could call our own – our own startup!
But after I graduated, I got placed at Sony Japan; I worked there for a while and was making a good living. But when Neeraj would call and say, ‘Kaisa hai, bhai?’ I’d miss India, and our chats about building our dream startup. So I paid attention to how corporations functioned, gathered some experience and then came back to launch my own startup.
My startup had barely started when my partner was diagnosed with cancer. All the pressure fell on me. I was the HR, the operations manager, and the tech person! When hardworking employees moved on, it hurt. I had almost used up all my savings. Neeraj would help me out after his work hours.
On disappointing days he’d say, ‘We’ll get through it together.’ I tried my best, but I knew I had to shut my company down. It was heartbreaking; Neeraj said, ‘Sometimes it’s important to let things go. There’s something better waiting.’ I not only lost money, but my confidence too. It felt surreal waking up to no work; I sustained myself on savings. Neeraj motivated me to use my time to learn from other entrepreneurs. We’d continue having those, ‘Oh! Wow! What?’ moments while discussing crypto. It was an untapped market, so we decided to take a leap of faith and start a business in that space.
We launched CoinDCX from Neeraj’s flat; our venture would help traders build strong crypto exchanges. We only had enough savings to sustain for 3 months. So we tried convincing people to work for a low pay. Everyone told us, ‘You’re investing in a market that’s niche.' We had to borrow from our families to stay afloat.
And then, RBI ordered banks to stop trading with cryptocurrency companies. Our investors backed out; we were devastated. We could either give up or change our strategy. We chose the latter; Neeraj said, ‘Nothing worse can happen to us. We can only move up now.’ So with a team we could count on our fingertips, we worked tirelessly. We got our own office, and after the reversal of the ban our investors came back; we’d weathered the storm!
Today, it’s been 3 years since; we’ve hired over 150 people, we have over 2 million users, and our daily turnover is 100 crores. We’re changing the way people perceive crypto! Neeraj and I chuckle when we recount working out of a flat, almost broke to pay the rent. But no matter how tough the times got, we knew we’d be able to pick each other up and keep moving because the hustle never stops...and neither do we.”
“I got my first period at the age of 12 and I was told to keep it a secret from everyone - my father and brothers included. From there on, during those 7 days I was considered impure - I couldn’t enter the kitchen, sit on the sofas, and of course…no entry into a place of religion. My teachers in school would blow over this part of biology and ask us to go through it on our own.
I used a cloth (which I washed and rewashed and hid in a damp corner when I wasn’t menstruating) because it was considered ‘shameful’ to ask a chemist for sanitary napkins in a small town like mine. Ironically, most of the time, these restrictions are imposed by the older women in our families. I grew up being ashamed of my body, considering it impure and dirty during periods.
It was only after I went to boarding school and met my husband that I could discuss my period in the open. He was shocked to know about the restrictions imposed upon girls when they are on their periods. That’s when we started Menstrupedia – a startup comic strip that teaches young girls about menstruation and any problems they might have, because there are so many girls today who are still kept in the dark about menstruation.
My question is…why are made to hide what shouldn’t be hidden and why isn’t enough respect given to the fact that it is because of a woman’s period that life itself exists?"
"I was a pizza delivery boy who was fed up with his job. I’d spend half my day stuck in traffic. I was earning Rs 30,000, but because I’d only completed high school, I couldn’t be promoted to the position of a store manager. I knew I’d be a delivery boy all my life if I didn’t do something about it.
While I was stuck in a jam in 2019, I realised many people, like me, must feel hungry. That’s when I thought of a business idea to sell packed vada pavs with a bottle of water for Rs 20 during peak hours. Before the traffic light turned green, I decided to name my venture, ‘Traffic Vada Pav.’
When I resigned from my job to start the business, mom didn’t take it well. 'You have a family. How can you be so irresponsible?' she asked. But I sat her down and told her I wanted us to live a better life. In the end, she showed her faith in me by lending me Rs 1 lakh to invest. Those were all her savings. I purchased some equipment and packaging. While mom and I cooked, my wife packed the snacks.
We cooked 50 vada pavs on the first day and sold none. I lied to my family and told them that we sold out. I’d borrow money from friends and pretend I was earning. At night, I’d cry. I’d console myself saying, 'It was one bad day.' I tried again and slowly, I was able to sell a few more. There were days where I would barely earn Rs 200. I moved around in the Mumbai heat and rain for hours every day. Still, I was facing severe losses. At the time, my 52-year-old mother was earning Rs 25,000; we were living off her salary.
I was under pressure to earn; I decided to become a familiar face to commuters at junctions. As I became popular, the demand for my vada pav rose and after a year, I was able to sell 100 packages! That was the first day I didn't lie to my family about sales.
I always thought a delivery boy had no right to be a businessman, to have a startup. I’d think, ‘I don’t have a degree, who will take me seriously?’ But that day, I felt like I could be anyone I wanted! Through it all, my wife was my backbone; she managed the house and helped me with the business. We worked as a team and over time, we started selling over 800 vada pavs a day! We even employed 8 delivery partners. We also serve free packages to beggars we see at these junctions. Now, if customers don't find our boys selling vada pav, they call to inquire. We’ve even rented two kiosks!
And my proudest moment was repaying my mom double the amount after 2 years. My business now makes 2 lakhs per month and I’m saving up to buy a house for us. I still remember that first day when I spent 5 hours on the streets making no sales. It would have been easy to give up, but I'm glad I didn't. Now I can do the 2 things I love every day– eat vada pav and dream big!”
“I was 17 when a conversation with my professor set the course for the rest of my life. While speaking about my career choices, he said, ‘You should be an entrepreneur!’ That was it; that's what I was set on becoming. So, I studied hard, got into IIT, and then pursued my MBA. There, I learned the most important lesson of my life, ‘You can be an entrepreneur only by actually being one!’ So even though I got a great job offer, I declined it. Several people, including my parents, questioned my choice 'What are you proving by not taking up the job?' But I didn’t let them get to me.
At 23, I moved to Bombay. I lived in a matchbox house that would flood during monsoon. My savings were diminishing; I’d hardly ever go out because I was on a strict budget. But I pushed on. I even started a venture, but it didn’t work as planned. For the first time in 5 years, I doubted myself–had I taken the job, I wouldn’t be struggling to make ends meet.
At that point, I started running. It helped me clear my head and eventually, I started running marathons. Each finish line I crossed brought a sense of accomplishment and clarity. After a year, I felt brave enough to give entrepreneurship another shot with Fab Bag–a beauty subscription startup. But after research, I realised the need for quality cosmetics for Indian women–that’s how my startup SUGAR was born!
I invested my own money and even got funded! But being a woman in a ‘man’s world’ had its challenges–once, an investor refused to hold a meeting just with me. He wanted to have the business talk with a ‘man’. But I decided to let my work do the talking; I continued to run. I even completed the Ironman Triathlon! That win kept me going, especially when the company ran out of funds.
I’d also just become a mom. So there were times when I’d be pumping breast milk, working out, handling office calls, all the while hoping to not wake my son up. I’d have back-to-back sleepless nights, but I was exhilarated; I was finally in love with what I was doing. After a year, it paid off–we were recognised as the best lipstick brand!
It’s been 5 years since; we’re now a team of over 1500 – 75% of which are women! And I’m continuing to do everything I love. I run my company, I’ve run marathons even when I was 6 months pregnant and run circles around my children. Still, people question my choices. I’m often asked, ‘How will you raise 2 kids and run a company?’ But why is it so tough to believe that a woman can play more than 1 role? I walk into the office with my files in one hand and my baby in another. The juggle is real, but it’s also totally worth it.”
“You should’ve seen the look on my husband’s face when I showed him a handmade paper rickshaw and said, ‘We’re going to sell this!’ He thought I was bonkers. It’d been 7 years since we’d gone through the hustle of starting our 1st company and we were finally profitable – why would we want to take a risk? But I just knew it would work! We live in such a fast paced world – I wanted to give adults a chance to switch off and relax. So we hit the drawing board and revamped the startup to ‘Sky Goodies’ – a world of DIY crafts!
But before we could even launch, we faced a setback–someone broke into our office and stole our computers with all our work. With those losses, and a 4-year-old daughter to raise, we almost pulled the plug. We had many difficult conversations and realised we had to give it a shot– we would just have to figure out a way to raise both our babies!
We pumped our life’s savings into the business and even built a play corner in the office for Ashi. But when we launched, no one understood our concept. We cold-called customers, saw zero profits and participated in exhibitions in vain. On bad days, Ashi would make us laugh by pointing at the crafts and saying, ‘I like’ or ‘I don’t like!’
After 3 months, we finally got our break at an art fest– we sold out! One girl told us that she made up with her boyfriend while making our kit and an old lady gave us a hug and said she had something to look forward to everyday!
Word spread after that and the orders poured in – big brands and airports wanted to sell our products. Within 4 years, we even launched our own store! All the while, we continued to live simply and put every spare Rupee into our startup. When COVID-19 broke out, we anxiously prepared to work from home and cut back our expenses drastically. But when physical stores shut down, our sales dropped by 90% – even our online orders got delayed.
We were worried that as time passed, we would have to let the team go and shut shop. So, we decided to stop drawing our own salary and even took up freelance jobs on the side to pay our employees. Ashi was eager to pitch in as well. She’d say to us, ‘Don’t worry about the dishes, I’ll do them!’ Even our customers backed us up– those who didn’t get their orders told us, ‘Don’t give us a refund, we’ll wait!’
So now, we’re just taking it one day at a time. Honestly, the uncertainty is scary, but the only thing we’re certain about is that we’re not giving up – we live for the hustle!”
Humans of Bombay is all about bringing you extraordinary stories of ordinary people. We hope these stories gave you enough Monday motivation to last you a week! If you’d like to read more such stories, check out our book and dive into the diverse tales of Bombay.