India is currently making a significant impact on the world stage. Not only is it the fastest-growing economy globally, but according to Piyush Goyal, an Indian cabinet minister, India aims to reach a GDP of 35 trillion to 35 million dollars by 2047, when it celebrates 100 years of independence.
He also mentioned that every Indian aspires to be second to none. Having lived in this country for birth years, I’ve witnessed this firsthand.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that we are witnessing a surge in Indian startups offering unique solutions.
While the United States and China still lead the world regarding startups, India is rapidly catching up.
It has emerged as the third-largest startup ecosystem globally, with over 99,000 recognized startups across 670 districts in the country as of May 31st, 2023.
To put this in perspective, in 2016, there were only 445 recognized startups. It’s important to note that while most startups face challenges and aren’t successful, a few do become profitable, and even fewer achieve the status of ‘unicorns.’
As of May 31, 2023, India has 108 unicorns with a combined valuation of 340.8 billion dollars.
To clarify, a unicorn is a company valued at over one billion dollars, and a ‘profitcorn,’ a relatively new term, generates profits rather than incurring losses. This article will explore the top 10 companies in this category, highlighting India’s top 10 ‘profitcorns.’ Let’s begin.
Zerodha, a well-known ‘profitcorn,’ was founded by two brothers, Nikhil and Nitin Kamath, in 2010.
Nikhil explains, “Our business provides a platform for people to buy, sell stocks, and trade derivatives.”
Today, Zerodha stands as an inspiring example for Indian startups, embodying sustainability and profitability.
Nikhil and Nitin initiated this venture due to their frustration with the high fees and lack of transparency in India’s stock broking industry.
In the last 13 years of Zerodha’s operation, they have never sought external capital. This might raise questions about their unicorn status – how can we determine if they’re worth more than a billion dollars if venture capitalists have never valued them?
However, by examining their revenue and especially their profits, it becomes evident that the company’s value exceeds a billion dollars.
What many admire about Zerodha is that they have shattered several startup myths over the years.
They have debunked the notion that you must move quickly and break things, or that raising venture capital is essential for rapid growth, or even the belief that hiring a large workforce and later downsizing is necessary.
Zerodha has defied the trend of unsustainable growth that is prevalent in the global startup landscape.
While many companies are now striving to adopt a more sustainable approach, Zerodha’s numbers tell an impressive story.
In the previous year, Zerodha reported a revenue of 4,964 crore rupees, with net profits of 2,094 crore.
The company has consistently experienced growth in the past few years. In FY 21, their profits were 1,122 crore rupees, and the year before that, they reached 424 crore rupees.
Today, Zerodha proudly holds the title of the largest stock broker in India, serving over one crore clients.
2. Physics wallah
It’s hard to imagine an ed-tech company on this list because the entire industry in India is facing significant challenges.
For instance, BYJU’S is struggling to repay its debts, and Unacademy, after a prolonged effort to reduce its losses, recently announced its first-ever cash flow positive month.
However, Physicswalla stands out in the edtech sector, consistently setting new records. In FY 23, Physicswalla reported total revenue of 780 crore rupees and a profit of 108 crore rupees.
The primary reason behind this success is Physicswallah’s minimal customer acquisition cost.
While other edtech companies are investing hundreds of crores in TV and cricket jersey advertisements, Physicswallah’s customer base primarily comprises loyal students who admire its rock star founder, Alakh Pandey.
Alakh Pandey began offering free educational content on YouTube in 2014. It wasn’t until 2020 that he launched his company and started charging students for his courses.
Over the years, his dedication and hard work have paid off handsomely, enabling him to build a sustainable and highly profitable business.
Infras Market is tackling a formidable challenge in India, which revolves around organizing the highly disorganized construction industry.
Founded by two IIM graduates in 2016, Infras Market serves as a platform that connects buyers and sellers of construction materials while also offering a range of value-added services, including financing and logistics.
This approach significantly enhances the efficiency of the construction process and adds substantial value to the entire supply chain.
Infras Market collaborates extensively with numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to meet the demand for construction materials such as tiles, electrical supplies, sanitary ware, walling solutions, and steel.
The company has also secured partnerships with ambitious projects like the Chennai Metro, Delhi Metro, and Mumbai Metro.
However, it’s worth noting that this company hasn’t been without its share of controversies. For instance, last year, an income tax audit revealed that they had recorded bogus purchases totaling approximately 400 crore rupees.
Despite such issues, Infras Market has earned its place on this list due to its impressive achievement of generating a profit of 186 crore rupees in FY22.
The company has experienced its fair share of challenges, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At one point, they held the position of the most valuable Indian startup. While they may no longer occupy that position, they’ve diligently worked over the past few quarters to transform into a cash flow positive business.
In fact, they recently reported their first-ever profitable quarter in FY 23. The company I’m referring to here is Oyo, and its impact on India’s hospitality sector is truly unmatched.
Oyo’s founder, Ritesh Agarwal, has had an incredible journey. Before starting Oyo, he used to sell SIM cards in Odisha.
A pivotal moment occurred when he had a bad experience booking a hotel room, leading him to embark on the challenging task of formalizing India’s hotel industry.
The concept behind the business was simple: recognizing that there were numerous poorly maintained budget hotels unable to provide satisfactory services, and travelers had no convenient way of locating these establishments.
Thus, Oyo was founded in 2013. Today, the company operates in over 80 countries and 800 cities, managing a total of 43,000 properties globally, comprising a total of 10 lakh rooms. Regarding their financials, while we lack revenue figures for FY 23, for FY 22, they reported revenue of 4,780 crore rupees. They anticipate reaching 5,700 crore rupees in revenue for FY 23.
Notably, the last quarter marked a significant milestone for Oyo, as they achieved cash flow positivity with a surplus of 90 crore rupees.
We have a ‘profitcorn,’ which, until very recently, held the title of the most valuable fintech company in all of India – Razorpay.
They are the market leader in India’s online payment gateway sector and were founded by two IIT Roorkee alumni in 2014.
Interestingly, their initial startup idea, which they wisely abandoned, was to create a crowdfunding platform.
However, they soon recognized a more significant problem – the considerable difficulty small and medium-sized businesses, especially e-commerce platforms, faced with online payments in India back in 2014.
To address this challenge, Razorpay was born. The company originally started in Jaipur and later relocated to Bengaluru to explore better opportunities.
For those unfamiliar with their business model, Razorpay provides online payment gateway services to companies, charging a small service fee for each transaction.
These transaction fees typically range from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent. Currently, Razorpay boasts a user base of more than 8 million merchants on their platform, processing over 10 billion dollars in payments every month.
Now, let’s delve into their most recent financial figures. In FY 22, they reported revenue of 1,481 crore rupees, accompanied by a net profit of 7.3 crore rupees
We have India’s most valuable SaaS startup, which is headquartered in Mumbai – BrowserStack. The idea for BrowserStack originated from a deeply personal problem faced by the company’s founders while working on a website for their previous startup called DownCase.
Although they managed to build the website in just two days entirely on their own, neither of them wanted to tackle the next step – testing the website on different browsers.
That’s when they realized that this was a universally disliked task among developers, presenting an opportunity they could solve and monetize. This realization gave birth to BrowserStack.
BrowserStack offers an easy-to-use platform for cross-browser testing of websites and mobile and web applications.
Today, over one million developers from 200,000 companies, including prominent ones like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Meta, use this product.
BrowserStack has been profitable since its inception and achieved $20 million in revenue before securing its first external investment. The company remains profitable and reported profits of 75.3 crore rupees in FY22.
Another startup born out of a personal problem faced by husband-and-wife co-founders, Duo Gazal and Varun Alagh, is MamaEarth.
If you’re not familiar with the company yet, let me introduce you. Their first child, Agastya, was born with a skin condition called eczema, aggravated by the toxins commonly found in everyday skincare products.
This personal challenge inspired them to seek a solution, not just for their child but for millions of other Indian children facing the same issue.
What they ended up creating were products designed to bridge the gap for toxin-free mom and baby care products.
This journey began in 2016, and since then, MamaEarth has launched various eye-catching campaigns to attract customers and promote their products.
They also made a significant push into influencer marketing, a strategy not widely adopted by brands in India at the time.
This approach enabled MamaEarth to achieve a significant milestone – reaching a revenue of 100 crore rupees within just three years of founding, making them the fastest FMCG company to do so in India.
They managed to scale this achievement tenfold by FY 22, surpassing a thousand crore rupees in revenue.
Although the company sustained losses for most of its journey, it achieved profitability for the first time in FY 22, with a net profit of 19.8 crore rupees
We have one of India’s fastest-growing consumer electronics brands – boAt. This company was founded in 2016 by Aman Gupta, a former CA with a passion for marketing, and Sameer Mehta.
They embarked on their entrepreneurial journey when they encountered a common problem faced by many iPhone users: easily broken charging cables due to poor quality.
This challenge prompted Aman and Sameer to explore the broader consumer electronics market in India, where they discovered a dominance of inexpensive and low-quality Chinese products.
This realization gave birth to boAt, an affordable, durable, and stylish brand designed for the younger generation in India.
Describing their brand, the founders say, ‘We’re like the Zara of electronics – not highly priced like luxury brands, nor cheap like Chinese products.’
It’s worth noting that many of boAt’s products are assembled and manufactured in China. Nevertheless, their timing was impeccable.
By 2020, boAt had risen to become one of the top five largest wearable brands globally. In FY 23, their revenue reached 4,000 crore rupees, although they haven’t disclosed their profits for FY 23. For FY 22, their profit stood at 68 crore rupees.
We have the omnichannel baby care brand – FirstCry. Its founders, Supam Maheshwari and Amitava Saha, have achieved something remarkable.
Together, they’ve built not one but two profitable unicorns in India. In addition to FirstCry, they’ve also established a logistics giant called Xpressbees.
Furthermore, Supam, individually, has created a third unicorn, a house of brands called GlobalBees.
Now, let’s focus on FirstCry. The company was founded in 2010 when its founders recognized that India’s baby care industry was valued at 50,000 crore rupees and was predominantly offline.
In addition to selling baby care products both online and offline, one of the unique aspects of FirstCry is their practice of giving parents a gift box in the first few days of their baby’s life.
They collaborate with hospitals across India to distribute these free gift boxes, effectively turning the parents into micro-influencers who share their gratitude on social media.
According to research, FirstCry reaches 12 lakh families in India each year through this program, making it an incredibly effective marketing campaign.
In FY21, FirstCry reported a revenue of 1,740 crore rupees, with a substantial profit of 215 crore rupees. Their achievements in the baby care industry are truly impressive.
In India’s SaaS landscape, Zoho stands as a prominent player. While it might not fit the traditional startup definition due to its longevity, we believe it deserves recognition and a spot on this list because of its impressive accomplishments.
Originally known as AdventNet Inc, Zoho was founded in 1996 by Sridhar Vembu and Tony Thomas.
What’s remarkable is that, even after more than a quarter of a century, this company remains privately owned; it has never gone public, and its founders still retain ownership.
In 2009, Zoho’s headquarters were relocated from Chennai, India, where the company’s international headquarters now resides, to the United States.
Along with this move came a change in the company’s philosophy to ‘Made in India, Made for the World.’ Since then, Zoho has developed a wide range of web products and business tools, most notably its online office suite, Zoho Office Suite, which boasts over 90 million users worldwide.
Zoho offers more than 55 products designed to assist in sales, marketing, support, collaboration, finance, and recruitment. In addition to software products, Zoho provides various services such as cloud hosting, disaster recovery, and IT consulting.
When it comes to financial performance, Zoho is incredibly profitable. In fact, they hold the title of the most profitable tech company in India, reporting a profit of 2,748.83 crore rupees in FY 22.
That concludes our list of the top 10 proficorns in India. We wanted to make this blog in 2023 because a paradigm shift is underway in India’s startup ecosystem.
The focus is shifting away from burning vast amounts of money and rapidly expanding at any cost, towards building sustainable, scalable businesses with profitability in mind.
We’ve witnessed this shift recently in the food delivery sector, with companies like Zomato and Swiggy both announcing their profitability.
Paytm, a listed company, also turned operationally profitable earlier in 2023, despite being loss-making at the time of its 2021 listing.
In the edtech space, Unacademy reported its first-ever profitable quarter since its inception. Additionally, other companies like Ola and PhonePe are on track to become profitable unicorns.
This shift has generated optimism within India’s startup ecosystem. The public, investors, and the market at large are increasingly pressuring loss-making companies to strive for sustainability, break-even, and eventually generate profits.
By the end of 2023, we expect to see more Indian startups achieving profitability and taking pride in that accomplishment.
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