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“If you choose to work with your spouse, there should be no hesitation in designating them as co-founders as well as giving them a seat on the board”

“It is important to remember that the investor is just another vendor”

“To my mind, the concept of a related-party transaction in India is totally irrelevant.”

“Rajnish (Rajnish Kumar, former SBI chairman) was my fourth hiring mistake — the other three being Suhail Sameer (CEO), Jasneet (CHRO) and Sumeet Singh (GC).”

“I wrote to Sequoia that they should call off the dogs. This peeved Shailendra (Singh), who, in turn, called Micky Malka (Ribbit Capital), to tell him that I was becoming too big for my boots.

“Put yourself first, always. Liquidate your stock at every secondary sale opportunity”

It’s not hard to fathom why Ashneer Grover’s tell-all book, Doglapan: The Hard Truth about Life and Start-Ups, is a bestseller on Amazon. In the hallowed and politically correct corridors of India Inc, Grover’s memoir is like a chapter that is out of syllabus.

Most Indian entrepreneurs, even the younger, new-age ones, are circumspect about what they say in public for fear of offending their many stakeholders — be it existing investors on their cap table, potential investors, regulators, clients, or employees.

But Ashneer Grover, the proverbial bad boy of the Indian startup ecosystem, doesn’t play by these rules. The Shark Tank (a reality show) persona he cultivated in the last year — of a blunt, hard-charging, straight talker — is writ large here.

Over the course of 185 pages, the ousted co-founder and MD of fintech unicorn BharatPe is at his controversial, provocative and polarising best, as he goes about blaming a series of actors for his cataclysmic fall from being a hugely successful startup operator.

At one level Doglapan (which means double standards, a term that Grover popularised when he was on the jury of Shark Tank), is a gift that keeps giving, if you’re seeking a peek beneath the veneer of sophisticated investors, dizzying valuations and founder egos.

The crux of the Ashneer Grover and BharatPe saga is very well-known now: Earlier this year, Grover, the co-founder and CEO of Sequoia and Ribbit-backed BharatPe, and his wife Madhuri Jain Grover (former head of controls at BharatPe) were ousted from the fintech amid lapses in corporate governance.

By then, Grover had already become a controversial public figure, over an alleged audio where he was abusive, even as his popularity soared on Shark Tank. He continues to own 8.43% equity in BharatPe, worth $240 million.

Last week, the company sued the couple over alleged financial irregularities, filing three cases including one seeking to revoke his right to use the founder title. One of the cases in fact goes into details of related-party transactions, where it accuses Jain of signing off on payments to vendors who did not provide any services and had close ties to the couple.

As it happens, in his book, Grover not only says the spouse should be made co-founder and inducted on the board but also appears to endorse related-party transactions. This seems to be coming from his own sour experience, where he was ousted by a board run by professionals he hired, apart from investors.

In fact, a sense of being shafted is a recurring theme in Grover’s book — from his formative years in Malviya Nagar, a middle-class neighbourhood in Delhi, through school, his education at premier institutes such as IIT Delhi and IIM A, to his stints at Kotak, Grofers and BharatPe.

These initial chapters are an uphill trudge, as Grover brags about his accomplishments, and bitterly complains when he is not paid his due. Money, in fact, is a big motivator, whether it is detailing his CTC and bonuses as an investment banker in Kotak, the pay he negotiated at Grofers (now Blinkit), or the salary he drew at BharatPe.

However, Grover’s earthy and unfiltered way of looking at things provides comic relief in many chapters. For instance, he says he opted for a Kailash Colony centre for his MBA coaching because “the girls there were more happening.” It’s where he would meet his future wife, Madhuri.

While he is all about making money, he also talks about how Mumbai’s charm wore off once he made enough. “Your life’s aspirations are reduced to having your first house in Borivali and your cremation in South Mumbai.”

Take, for example, the part where he talks about how Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal is idolised by IIT Delhi alumni. “In the start-up chronology of things, Deepinder had founded Zomato, from where Albinder had branched off and founded Grofers, and then I had left Grofers to start BharatPe. In terms of start-up lineage, therefore, Deepinder is the grandfather, while I am his grandson”, he writes, adding that all three of them are passionate about big cars.

Or how he figured out that his investor was messing with him. “I knew something was wrong the moment he started to speak to me in formal English,” he says, while talking about a fallout he had with Harshjit Sethi of Sequoia Capital India.

The language of the book is trademark Ashneer, if you have watched or read his interviews — informal in tone, uninhibited, with liberal doses of one-liners in Dilli-style Hindi.

Even for those familiar with the Ashneer and BharatPe story, the details make this book riveting for anyone interested in startups, venture capital investors or how founders operate.

For example, he writes that CRED founder Kunal Shah, who is usually responsive on WhatsApp and has invested in a zillion startups, did not respond to Grover’s request for an early investment. “Kunal Shah was incommunicado”, he writes.

He also touches on the big fight with PhonePe, initially over a trademark and later over the usage of the suffix ‘Pe.’ Interestingly, Paytm, which also competes with PhonePe, is described by Grover as the “saner” competition. “I simply loved the guy and the vision he had,” he says about Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma at one point.

Things between BharatPe and PhonePe reached a point where an audacious Ashneer wrote to the Walmart board making them an offer — for them to sell the merchant side of their investee company PhonePe while offering them a non-compete — that BharatPe wouldn’t enter the consumer side.

His rivalry with Pine Labs and its CEO Amrish Rau also finds mention, stemming from an argument they had in 2020 when Rau took pot-shots at BharatPe on Twitter.

“I decided to WhatsApp Rau to ask him why he was putting out these tweets. His reply, that we were spoiling the market and that there were people in the ministry who shared his views, irked me. ‘Ministry ki dhamki kise de rahe ho (Who are you threatening with the ministry)?’ I asked. I wrote to Sequoia in unequivocal terms that they should call off the dogs, he recounts.

It finally took his board member and Jupiter founder Jitendra Gupta to cool things down between both parties.

Ashneer goes on to allege that Sequoia played a starring role in his ouster as they wanted to merge BharatPe with Pine Labs, in which they owned a majority stake.

But it is not just Sequoia that is at the receiving end.

The fact that Penguin went ahead and published this book is a miracle, because Ashneer is unsparing when it comes to attacking his investors, media, lawyers, as well as individuals such as BharatPe’s original founder Bhavik Koladiya, incumbent CEO Suhail Sameer and its chairman Rajnish Kumar.

But he glosses over the many controversies he is embroiled in — he maintains that the leaked Kotak-Nykaa audio, where he is abusive, is fake and summarily dismisses any wrongdoing or fraud.

The book’s epilogue is perhaps the most controversial, as he talks about putting founders and their families first. Management, investors, and other stakeholders are incidental.

Ashneer Grover’s Doglapan hits the stands during a week when one of India’s most storied and respected companies, Infosys, is celebrating four decades. Infosys and its founders, in many ways, are the antithesis of Grover- respect from all stakeholders was their number one target, they believed in deferred gratification and kept family members at an arm’s length.

Founders need to make a choice. Do they want to play the long game and build a company that does right by every stakeholder or put their selfish interests ahead of everyone else?


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