The Ride So Far Of India’s First Unicorn From Jaipur

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CarDekho happened in 2008 when brothers Anurag and Amit Jain, both IIT-Delhi graduates, had gone to New Delhi from Jaipur to buy their first BMW at an Auto Expo. They saw a lot of good cars and later when they searched for the information on them online, it wasn’t available. That prompted them to start the portal, CarDekho. The founders’ own need for information on cars and the lack thereof then paved the way for CarDekho. 

Company Handout

The founders then went back to the Expo, collected all the brochures, stacked them in the boot of their car, and created a site with a friend’s help. “Experimenting with a few ideas, starting from a non-metro city (Jaipur), non-availability of talent, digitizing an otherwise traditional business, scaling and rightsizing the company and making it profitable even before the first fundraise, expansions, etc., were challenges we faced. But we remained optimistic, put our best foot forward and took calculated risks,” said Amit Jain, CEO and co-founder, CarDekho. 

We built a team of like-minded people who too had an entrepreneurial spark and aced every hurdle and most of the employees who joined us at the beginning of our journey are still a part of CarDekho and it’s a great feeling, Amit added. 

CarDekho’s founders were very passionate about solving the various problems faced by customers in the auto space, digitizing the ecosystem and building scalable products. Over time, as their solutions got widely adopted and appreciated by industry stakeholders, they kept launching more products and the company kept growing. “We have carefully built an automobile ecosystem that touches every aspect of the Indian personal mobility space. We started CarDekho as a discovery platform for new cars, followed by foraying into the used car business, further strengthening our position with a global presence along with domestic business expansion in finance and insurance (automobile, health and Life Insurance) verticals,” said Amit.  

The Unicorn Label

In October 2021, the company raised $250 million in a pre-IPO round, with a $1.2 billion valuation. “Becoming a unicorn won’t have been possible without the contribution of each and every member of the CarDekho family. The journey was not easy but we strived to make CarDekho India’s number one auto-tech ecosystem. While business valuation is important, customer appreciation and adoption is what really matters to us,” said Amit. 

He went on to add that the company’s vision is to disrupt the personal mobility space in India. “Our journey has just begun! CarDekho is a value-focused company. We have always emphasized on creating business value for all our stakeholders, which has earned us widespread recognition and established us as a respectable organization. Our innovation, speedy implementation, hard work, dedication and dynamic approach have always been acknowledged by our stakeholders/friends and family. Building a successful enterprise is possible only by having the right people with you and inculcating a culture that is respected across,” he said.  

When asked about whether the Unicorn tag has changed the way they are perceived, he said, “There has been no change internally. We continue to work very closely with all our stakeholders and follow the same level of transparency across tiers and operations. Whoever has been with us in this journey has believed in us and we have worked for a common goal. Becoming a Unicorn is definitely a milestone in our journey, but we still have a long way to go.”

But, was Unicorn a goal from the beginning? “When we launched our company, we did have an ambition: to make it large and possibly a billion-dollar company one day. We have been persistent. If you persevere and believe, then you will always find a solution. We persisted against all odds. We ran the organization unfunded for a good seven years. We managed to be the No.1 portal without any funds raised or a single dollar in marketing spend. Becoming a Unicorn has been the result of the hard work we put in over the years. But as I said earlier, valuation is important, but customer appreciation and adoption is what really matters,” he said.

The Pandemic Impact 

The Jaipur-based company was growing exponentially before COVID-19 suddenly brought plans to a standstill. With zero auto sales happening for almost two months, the lockdown forced them to re-evaluate its growth investment. During COVID-19, they saw a marked consumer preference for personal mobility as social distancing became the new normal. 

Thankfully, automobile sales have shown significant recovery post the lockdown. Since December 2020, every subsequent month has been the best month for the group in terms of revenue, it claims.

The group is divided into various verticals including new auto business or digital platforms, used car business and finance business. We are an ecosystem player. We are into new cars, used cars, insurance, finance, and now we are getting into refurbishment. We are a platform player. In the finance and insurance businesses, we control 9 per cent of the used car lending market in India and 2.5 per cent of Indian auto market insurance. Our gameplay is very varied. We recognize that a person buying a car also takes finance and insurance. He also sells his car in about four-six years and buys another car. If you can ensure that a customer stays with you for all their mobility needs, that’s when you optimize the lifetime value of a customer,” added Amit.  

CarDekho claims to be the largest Indian automobile video platform, with 4 million-plus hours of content watched in 2020. CarDekho Gaadi stores are operational in 100-plus markets across the country through either a physical store or by offering home inspection service. CarDekho mall in Jaipur is among the biggest used car malls in India giving a variety of options to consumers.  

One thing I’ve learned is to dream big. Believe in it and then work hard to overachieve it. That’s where the challenge and fun lie. Then your thinking, your brain processes, your activities change. When we started, there weren’t many startups in India, more so in a small city like Jaipur. We took the plunge and never looked back,” he said.

 The Team Culture

The company is based out of Jaipur, a city known more for its family-owned traditional businesses and less for startups. However, it is competing with more evolved startups and tech hubs like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune and the NCR. 

Thus it was challenging to attract talent and scale up, but the startup has succeeded nevertheless. The current team size is 6,000 employees pan-India. “From the outset, we were determined that the company had to be culturally correct and employee-friendly. Five-day work week, work from home, recreational zone, gaming arena and having a chief people officer were some initiatives unheard of at the time in Tier-II cities like Jaipur. In keeping with the company’s innovative culture, we created a mobile app for employees that provides all the information they need about the company’s initiatives and approach. In no time, CarDekho became one of the most desired places to work for the city’s youth and soon among the best places to work in India,” he said. 

The company has undertaken various initiatives and schemes including periods leave for female employees, paternity leave, and leaves for newly married couples, a mandatory yearly leave, unlimited Covid leaves, Covid caregiver leaves, free vaccination, and Covid allowance.

The startup’s mission is to become an OEM of used cars and also establish an ecosystem of finance and insurance. Further, apart from Indonesia and Philippines where it is present, the founders are trying to establish a presence in Malaysia. And, lastly, IPO is in the cards 18-24 months from now. “I don’t think too much beyond building a good and trustworthy company,” said Amit.

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