Two Indian startups—Apna, a professional networking platform for blue and gray collar workers, and e-sports and online gaming firm Mobile Premier League (MPL)—have entered the USD 1 billion club on Wednesday after landing USD 100 million-plus checks from global VC firms.
This takes the number of startups that became unicorns this year to 27 and the total number of billion-dollar-plus firms in India to 59 amid the investment frenzy. About USD 21 billion in venture capital has been pumped into Indian startups this year.
This is a big jump from last year when local startups raised USD 12.1 billion in funding, and 11 startups made it to the coveted unicorn club.
Notably, both startups are quite young and have scaled up exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. In fact, Apna has emerged as the fastest Indian startup to turn into a unicorn—in mere 21 months—leaving behind business-to-business commerce startup Udaan, which breached the USD 1 billion valuation mark within 26 months of its inception.
The two-year-old startup said it has raised a USD 100 million round led by existing investor Tiger Global, which doubled its valuation to USD 1.1 billion. A slew of new investors, including Owl Ventures, Maverick Ventures, and GSV Ventures, also participated in the deal, aside from existing backers Sequoia Capital India and Insight Partners.
Tiger Global had come onboard Apna’s cap table barely three months back when it co-led its USD 70 million Series B round valuing the startup at USD 570 million, five times more than its valuation in March 2021 when it raised a USD 12.5 million Series A round. To date, the Bengaluru-based company has raised over USD 190 million.
Founded in 2019 by Nirmit Parikh, Apna (Hindi for “our”) connects job seekers with recruiters through its app, facilitating the job application process. The company’s platform hosts many types of job listings, such as office assistants, content writers, carpenters, electricians, and more, as well as provides re-skilling and upskilling opportunities.
Apna, which has doubled its presence to 28 cities since June, has more than 16 million users at present. It counts companies like Zomato, Burger King, Delhivery, Teamlease, G4S Global, Swiggy, Shadowfax, and 1mg as those which rely on its platform to fulfill hiring needs. Overall, the startup said it has catered to the needs of more than 150,000 employers across 70 verticals.
The startup plans to utilize the fresh capital for product development and hire new people to strengthen its 280-member team across its engineering and product divisions. Apna also aims to use the money to expand overseas to Africa, the Middle East, and the United States next year.
“Apna’s viral adoption is driven by a novel social and interactive approach to connecting employers with job seekers. We expect job seekers in search of meaningful connections and vetted opportunities to drive Apna’s continued explosive growth across India, and the world,” said Griffin Schroeder, partner at Tiger Global, in a media statement.
Meanwhile, MPL has become the second gaming platform to attain unicorn status after fantasy gaming company Dream11. The three-year-old startup said it has raised a Series E round led by UAE-based Legatum Capital at a pre-money valuation of USD 2.3 billion, without disclosing the fundraising size. Existing investors, including Sequoia Capital India, SIG, RTP Global, Go-Ventures, Moore Strategic Ventures, and Play Ventures, among others, also participated in the round.
A report by local media Economic Times, citing sources, said MPL has raised a USD 150 million round, which bumped up its valuation by 2.5x compared to its previous funding round. The three-year-old startup was reportedly valued at USD 945 million in February 2021, when it raised its Series D round. So far, it has raised more than USD 370 million in funding.
MPL will use the fresh infusion of capital to finance its global expansion, invest in its home-grown technology, and drive continued growth in the Indian market, it said in a statement.
Founded in 2018 by Sai Srinivas and Shubham Malhotra, MPL is one of India’s leading online gaming platforms. Currently, it offers over 70 real money games, including fantasy sports, rummy, chess, pool, and ludo. It also hosts e-sport tournaments, wherein users enter a tournament by paying a nominal fee to stand a chance to win a bigger pool of money worth millions. Earlier in April, MPL acquired esports firm Gaming Monk to develop a full suite of esports and livestreaming capabilities.
It recently began operations in the US and completed two years of operations in Indonesia. It claims to have a user base of over 85 million globally and employs over 800 people across Bengaluru, Pune, Jakarta, Singapore, and New York.
“This investment is a recognition of the potential of the Indian gaming and esports industry and an endorsement of the capability of MPL to expand globally,” said Sai Srinivas, co-founder and CEO of MPL.