5 Indian-origin CEOs of successful start-ups in North America

Indian-Americans continue to thrive in Silicon Valley

Diaspora

June 25, 2021

/ By / Gurugram

5 Indian-origin CEOs of successful start-ups in North America

Co-founder of Robinhood, Baiju Bhatt (left; photo: Steve Jennings) and Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta (right) are some of the Indian diaspora founders who have made multibillion-dollar companies in Silicon Valley, USA

Over the years, several Indian-origin entrepreneurs have made it big in Silicon Valley, global hotbed of innovation. That trend has progressed as Indian Diaspora entrepreneurs continue to launch start-ups, inspired by a range of issues faced by society.

For decades, first-or second-generation immigrants of Indian origin have worked in some of the most highly valued tech companies in America. Their accomplishments have been recognised by US President Joe Biden, who in his March 3 interaction with NASA scientists remarked, “Indian-of-descent Americans are taking over the country,” referring to vice president Kamala Harris and his speech writer, Vinay Reddy. Although the 2.7 million Indian immigrants in the United States make up only less than 1 pc of the total population, 8 pc of the founders of influential tech companies and one-third of Silicon Valley startups are people of Indian descent.

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2018 report noted that startups founded or co-founded by first-or second-generation immigrants of Indian origin were among the most highly valued private tech companies in the US. Here are some tech entrepreneurs of Indian-origin in the United States today.

Robinhood: A better path to financial independence for Millennials

Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, co-founders of Robinhood

37-year-old Baiju Bhatt, a second-generation Indian-American and Stanford alum born to immigrant parents, co-founded Robinhood, a financial services company, in 2013. Inspired by its namesake, the company’s mission is to “provide everyone with access to the financial markets, not just the wealthy.” Bhatt’s idea behind Robinhood stemmed from the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests, when the creators realised the severity of issues within the financial industry. Offering commission-free stock trading and exchange-trading funds, the service cuts out the high fees charged by trade brokers.

In particular, the app became known for allowing millennials to gain access to a world that may have seemed inaccessible or too intimidating for someone without a lot of funds to begin with, allowing users to invest in top stocks at major companies like Amazon Inc. for as little as USD 1. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, as more people were stuck at home trying to find new ways to make money or use up free time, the app gained 3 million users with a 250 pc spike in revenue from 2019. As of the most recent funding round in 2021, the app’s valuation stands at a whopping USD 40 billion, the highest on this list.

Clubhouse: Connecting to people amidst social distancing

Rohan Seth, co-founder of Clubhouse, with his wife and daughter, Lydia (Photo: Twitter)

One of the newest startups on this list, Rohan Seth and Paul Davidson’s social media app “Clubhouse” was started in 2019. Like Bhatt, the two co-founders of Clubhouse met during their time at Stanford University, and after a string of unsatisfying attempts, together decided to give social media startups “one last try.”

Clubhouse gained traction in the early months of the pandemic, when the need for human interaction rose sharply. The app is an invitation-only voice chat room and skyrocketed to popularity when it gained influential users such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerburg. In 2021, it reached unicorn status within less than a year of funding, a financial term for being valued at USD 1 billion, and now has more than 8 million downloads. Compared to some other chatroom applications, it is unique because conversations are prohibited from being recorded or shared. However, this has caused some controversies due to instances of racism, bullying, and misinformation about Covid-19 being spread a result of the lack of monitoring.

Seth met Davidson at a difficult time in his life when he was looking for funding for Lydian Accelerator, a not-for-profit open-source platform that aims to customise genetic treatments for children with severe genetic mutations. Seth and his wife named it after their daughter Lydia, who was born with a rare genetic mutation that caused mental and physical impairments. The platform represents his true passion, which is to advocate for more accessible genetic treatments and help other parents who are going through the frustrating journey of searching for cures, despite being warned of the minimal chances.

“There are millions affected by one-off genetic mutations. People call them rare, and move on, but these are not rare,” Seth shared on his website.

Instacart: A godsend for many during the pandemic

Apoorva Mehta, founder and CEO of Instacart (Photo: Youtube)

The CEO of Instacart and a Forbes ’30-under-30’ winner, Indian-Canadian Apoorva Mehta finally succeeded in 2012 after 20 failed attempts at launching different startups. Mehta always had the desire to start his own entrepreneurial venture, and took the risky plunge after leaving his lucrative position at Amazon, finding the work environment at the company to be “slow and bureaucratic.” Interestingly, almost a decade later, Amazon, with its subsidiary Amazon Fresh, has become one of his biggest competitors.

Operating a grocery delivery and pick-up service in the United States and Canada, Instacart is yet another company that has drastically increased its profits because of the pandemic. A 218 pc increase was recorded as social distancing measures increased in 2020, and the company reached a valuation of USD 39 billion in March 2021.

Mehta attributes his eventual success to the importance of recognising need when trying to build an idea for a start-up, something he had learned after building an unsuccessful social networking site for lawyers before even confirming that there was any demand for it.

“The reason to start a company is not just to start a company,” he said. “It’s to solve a problem that you care about,” Mehta previously said.

Bloom Energy: A venture for bringing “positive global change”

K R Sridhar, founder of Bloom Energy, completed his Bachelor’s degree from NIT in Tamil Nadu (Photo: Jakub Mosur)

Founder of Bloom Energy K R Sridhar graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from the National Institute of Technology in Tamil Nadu, going on to complete his PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989.

Sridhar founded Bloom Energy with the mission of making clean, reliable energy affordable for everyone. Initially, he had led a project to build a device for NASA that used solar power and water from Mars to produce oxygen, but when NASA cancelled the 2001 Surveyor Lander mission, Sridhar worked on reversing the process by attempting to use oxygen and hydrogen to create power instead. In 2010, the company launched the ‘Bloom Box’, an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient fuel cell that produces electricity using natural gas and oxygen. On the website, Sridhar writes, “The growing demand for essential electricity and the knowledge that the climate cannot sustain the status quo require that we rethink how to shape this transforming global marketplace.”

Classpass: Motivating people to live healthy, inspired lives

In 2020, Payal Kadakia became one of the few female CEOs to reach unicorn status with her fitness app, Classpass (Photo: Youtube)

At the age of 30, Payal Kadakia started Classpass in 2013 as a way to easily connect users to a plethora of workout and dance classes worldwide, across 30 countries. The company’s main mission is to “revolutionise the fitness and wellness” industry. The idea was born out of Kadakia’s own frustrations with being unable to find a workout solution when she first started out. In 2020, Classpass became the first start-up to turn unicorn in this decade, which was a major achievement for Kadakia, as she became one of the few women of colour to accomplish the goal that, according to Forbes, is only achieved by 1 pc of venture-funded start-ups. Interestingly, she reached this milestone while being pregnant with her first child. Kadakia has also emphasised in interviews that it is crucial to find the “right people” when starting a company to get over the  prejudices and hurdles that pregnant women often face in their careers.

As a passion project, Kadakia had ealier started the dance company Sa Dance, which she credits with inspiring her and giving her courage to launch ClassPass. For Kadakia, the most important advice she gives is to constantly innovate and adapt in order to build a lasting business. In her Instagram post for the New Year, she said “As we go into the 2020s, I hope to continue to create even more positive impact through ClassPass.”

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