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Thesis: The last few years of the risk capital-fuelled business environment have changed the definition of what it takes to build for the long-term. Frequent fundraises, senior hires (even promoted as co-founders), short-term revenue pivots, slash-and-burn growth hacks, and the like are common startup features. Manish Gupta, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of healthtech services company Indegene, says one can build a unicorn and a sustainable company by being “boring” and measuring up to the traditional business metrics. 

In its 22nd year of operations—with nearly a decade of 25% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR)—Indegene clocked $223.8 million in revenue in the year ended March 2022, up from $90.8 million in the year ended March 2020. More than 95% of this revenue is from international markets. 

None of this is public knowledge. Nor is the fact known that the highly profitable Indegene has turned a unicorn, and by a wide margin, whether one takes a trailing twelve months (TTM) or a forward revenue multiple.

 “We used to joke that our childhood was tormented” 

 You become an interesting company by doing funky things, whereas we built Indegene in the textbook sense. It’s nothing like companies that hire senior people every other day, raise money frequently, or make swift acquisitions. Startups are even doling out co-founder titles. That’s strange—either you are a founder, or you are not. 

But these things keep a company happy these days. 

From a strategy perspective, we don’t want to be dhobi ka kutta na ghar ka na ghat ka (loosely translated as: a rolling stone that gathers no moss). We are trying to build something that will outlast us; we’d never add two new things just to show some short-term growth.

We’ve been prudent from day one. We used to joke that our childhood was tormented. Right after we started in 2000, we saw the dot-com bust and 9/11. Even high-profile investors were looking for jobs. As a result, independence was strongly ingrained in us. Revenue growth has been important, and so have been cash flows, Ebitda Ebitda Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation margins, and profitability—which any old and boring business would value—while working in new terrain.

When we started, like everyone else, we wanted to change the world. We said healthcare was broken, and we’ll fix it with technology. After the dot-com bust in 2000, we had no cash, and we knew funding would be hard. In our first year of operations, in March 2001, we had Rs 25 lakh ($31,000) in revenue.

AUTHOR

Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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