Kaivalya Vohra, a Stanford dropout, is the co-founder of the only Indian startup to have become a unicorn this year. The TOI #Unstoppable21 jury has picked the Bengaluru youngster as one of the Unstoppable 21 Indians under 21 years
Kaivalya Vohra dropped out of Stanford University’s coveted computer science programme at the age of 18 to start his own company. Along with his friend, Aadit Palicha, he started Kiranakart – an online platform that would deliver groceries within 45 minutes.
Kiranakart laid the groundwork for their instant grocery startup Zepto, which took off during the pandemic when online delivery culture flourished. In August, Zepto was declared India’s first unicorn of 2023 and Kaivalya India’s richest youngster. A wealth survey values his net worth at Rs 1,000 crore. And he is only 20.
Kaivalya, who hails from Bengaluru, was raised in Dubai.
Though it makes for a prized mention on one’s CV, how was he certain about leaving college without completing his degree? He says he always planned to start a business of his own though originally he had a traditional roadmap for his career. Fascinated by technology’s dominance and the growth of apps like Uber and Ola, he thought of working at a multinational company for a few years after finishing college to learn the ropes, and eventually start something of his own. But early on, Kaivalya recognised that the business idea of taking grocery shopping online and delivering to doorsteps in quick time, which evolved into the ‘10-minute’ delivery model, was right for the circumstances during the pandemic.
But it wasn’t smooth. He had to get his parents on board regarding his decision to leave college. When he co-founded Zepto in September 2020, many in the industry didn’t take him seriously at board meetings. “The problem that we were trying to solve was very big,” he says.
Though valued at $1.4 billion after the latest fundraising round, Zepto has stiff competition from industry giants. There was the initial euphoria and dopamine rush of having touched these milestones, he says, but now the focus is on evolving the company into an institution. “Aadit and I often think of what’s going to happen to Zepto many years from now, when we are long gone. All our decisions are in line with that,” he told TOI.
Their mentor Suvir Sujan, associate vice-president of Nexus Venture Partners, says the co-founders got good advice early on and didn’t let success get to them. “They’ve always been self-aware and handled things maturely. They also surround themselves with the right leaders to fill the gap of experience,” the venture capitalist says. Not being taken seriously because of one’s age isn’t necessarily a “disadvantage”, he adds.
Kaivalya’s mother, meanwhile, still asks him if he wants to return to college and get a degree someday. He says “no”. He believes he is at that juncture in life when he’s setting goals for the next few decades. He wants to build a legacy.
He typically works long hours. Waking up every morning and thinking of a new problem to solve, he says, is “exciting” for him. “This excitement will not let me feel burned out or get bored for the next decade, or more,” he adds.
He travels periodically and manages to catch up with his childhood friends every three to six months. “For now, I don’t want to think about work-life balance because it takes a lot to build a company. I am ready to give it my all,” he says.
He is a fitness enthusiast. He takes out time thrice a week to work out at the gym. The hour he spends at the gym without gadgets is “therapeutic” for him. “I meditate daily for at least 10 minutes, either before starting work or on my way to work,” he says.