When a call between Ashneer Grover and a Kotak Bank employee leaked into the public domain on 5 January, it exposed an ugly side to the entrepreneur. The audio featured Grover lashing out at the employee for failing to secure a share allocation for Grover during cosmetic retailer Nykaa’s initial public offering (IPO).

Thus far, the Indian public only knew Grover—the co-founder and MD of payments unicorn BharatPe—as a curmudgeonly investor on reality show Shark Tank. The call made it clear that this wasn’t an act, and that Grover’s abrasiveness only ramped up once the cameras stopped rolling.

Matters have snowballed since the audio clip went viral. Grover took a voluntary leave of absence even as murmurs of a toxic work culture at BharatPe and Grover’s role in it grew louder. According to a report report Mint BharatPe likely to fire co-founder Ashneer Grover amid fraud concerns Read more from business daily Mint, BharatPe’s board is even looking to oust Grover from the company. A source close to the company’s board confirmed the same to The Ken. “There is more consensus [on the board] and everyone is aligned [about Grover’s exit]. Everyone is shaken with this level of brashness.”

Unflattering stories about Grover’s conduct aren’t new in fintech circles. Even one of the company’s earliest investors—Sequoia Capital India—has been on the receiving receiving The Economic Times BharatPe’s Grover had a run-in with Sequoia's MD Sethi too Read more end of his attitude as early as 2020. But with BharatPe’s valuation skyrocketing since its inception in 2018, investors and the company’s board seemed content to look the other way to avoid derailing the gravy train. Sequoia declined to participate in this story.

In three short years, BharatPe has grown its user base to 15 million merchants, 3.5 million of whom are considered active users. It processes $16 billion in transactions annually, and on the back of that has disbursed close to Rs 3,000 crore ($401 million) in loans. The company’s audited revenue for the year ended March 2020 was Rs 12.8 crore ($1.7 million). While BharatPe has not released its audited financials for the subsequent financial year, wire agency PTI quotes quotes Business Standard BharatPe fiscal 2021 revenue jumps over six times to Rs 700 crore Read more BharatPe CEO Suhail Sameer as saying that revenue grew from Rs 110 crore ($14.7 million) to Rs 700 crore ($93.5 million) in the year ended March 2021.

Its valuation has also grown in leaps and bounds—from $900 million at the start of 2021 to $2.85 billion in August of the same year after a $370 million investment from Tiger Global.

AUTHOR

Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She writes the newsletter Ka-Ching! ever Monday. She lives in Bengaluru and has spent over 12 years reporting and writing on various subjects.

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