(From left) Meesho co-founders Vidit Aatrey and Sanjeev Barnwal have also invested in over 30 startups in India and Southeast Asia
Image: Selvaprakash Lakshmanan for Forbes India
About a year ago, Vidit Aatrey recalls a woman telling him: “Itne bure din kaise aa gaye ki ghar ki bahu ko kaam karna pade? (How did our days turn so bad that the bride of the house has to earn?)” The lady was alluding to the opposition at her home to her desire to use the Meesho app and make money by selling dresses and household items.
Aatrey was comparing the growth of Meesho in South India with states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and the North, where the co-founders hail from. Women in the South had a little more freedom and Meesho’s early uptake was stronger in the region.
Aatrey and friend Sanjeev Barnwal founded the social commerce venture towards the end of 2015. As with most startups, there were course corrections and pivots, but by the time the Covid pandemic hit, Meesho had millions of women using it. In 2021, the number of women micro entrepreneurs surged 2.5x to cross nine million, the company said in a press release on December 2. And Meesho is beginning to make a dent even in the conservative small-town and village communities in the country.
Meesho itself is changing, with the founders ready to go after a much bigger vision—one that has come a long way from the early years of WhatsApp group-based purchases. “We are building the single shopping destination for the next billion consumers in India,” Aatrey says.
That means building a “horizontal platform” to bring a 100 million small businesses and merchants online from the smallest of towns and eventually villages. “Today, I’m super proud that five percent of all households in India come to the Meesho app every day,” Aatrey says. Another change is that Meesho is now used by a growing number of consumers as well.
Investors took their time initially as Aatrey and Barnwal figured out their business model, but now can’t get enough of them. After its latest round of funding—$570 million in Series F—Meesho is privately valued at nearly $5 billion, making it one of the most valuable startups in India. Investors include Fidelity Management & Research Company, B Capital Group, Prosus Ventures, SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Facebook.
“Meesho is a phenomenal story. It is a category-creating startup, not just a category-defining one,” says Amit Somani, managing partner at Prime Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm in Bengaluru. “It will probably be ranked alongside companies like Airbnb.”
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