A billion dollars is cool…or is it?
Imagine you are a startup founder in India.
Imagine you wake up one day and find yourself a billion dollars richer.
A billion dollars in hard cash, not in company stock puffed up by Ponzi valuations.
If you are in the cohort of 99.99% of startup founders, you would be ecstatic—you are a billionaire, and the world is your oyster.
If you are in the remaining 0.01%, you would answer to the name “Sachin Bansal”.
A dream exit. A requiem for a dream
Rs 1,00,000 crore.
That was the size of the cheque that Walmart wrote to acquire Flipkart. By any measure, it was a dream exit, the likes of which we might never see again in India.
Everyone from the founders and employees to angels and VCs made money— life-changing amounts of it. Accel Partners, Flipkart’s earliest backer, made over a billion dollars at a return multiple that matches exits in legendary companies such as Facebook, Google and WhatsApp. Tiger Global, Flipkart’s largest shareholder, finally managed to make a long-awaited exit from its biggest Indian bet—prompting it to return to making new startup bets in India after staying away from the market for the last few years. Even SoftBank, the largest VC fund in the history of venture investing, made a handsome multiple that it touted in its financial results.
Sachin Bansal, Flipkart’s co-founder, made approximately one billion dollars.
But unlike the other stakeholders, Bansal would have seen this victory as a consolation prize at best.
It might seem inconceivable and incongruous that a founder making a billion dollars can be considered a consolation win.
And yet it is so.
Startup lore would lead you to believe that the only goal of an entrepreneur is to deliver a big exit. While that may be true for VCs, for founders, money at best is a valuable by-product of a startup journey; a collateral benefit rather than the primary goal. For most founders, a startup is an opportunity to write your own story—a chance to forge an identity and brand that lasts beyond your lifetime; your mouthful of sky. To a founder, the startup journey is a path in which the company’s brand subsumes your personal identity.
Sachin Bansal will forever be known as Flipkart’s founder. But as it turns out, it is apparent that he is being increasingly remembered as a side-note rather than the primary driver of Flipkart’s victory. So much so that certain quarters of the media are uncharitably painting him as an “outcast” in Flipkart’s scheme of things.