What had begun with a leaked audio clip has led to a dramatic resignation less than two months later.
BharatPe MD and Director Ashneer Grover has resigned from his post, two days after a Singapore Tribunal had refused to entertain his plea to stop an inquiry into his conduct while at the company. He announced the resignation in a searing letter to investors, in which he went on the claim that they’d treated him like their slave. Grover however said that he would continue to to be the largest shareholder of BharatPe.
“I write this with a heavy heart as today I am being forced to bid adieu to a company of which I am a founder,” Grover wrote in a letter which was addressed to BharatPe’s board. “I say with my head held high that today this company stands as a leader in the fintech world. Since the beginning of 2022, unfortunately, I’ve been embroiled in baseless and targeted attacks on me and my family by a few individuals who are ready not only to harm me and my reputation but also harm the reputation of the company, which they are ostensibly trying to protect,” he wrote.
Grover then went on to highlight his achievements, including his IIT-IIM degree, his stint with Grofers, and how he’d built BharatPe into one of the largest fintech companies of India. But Grover lambasted BharatPe’s investors, and said that they’d believed in “gossip and rumours” while turning against him.
“It is sad that you have even lost touch with the founder,” his letter said, addressing BharatPe’s investors. “For you, the founder of the company has been reduced to a button to be pressed when needed. I cease to be a human for you. Today, you have chosen to believe in gossip and rumours about me instead of having a frank conversation,” said Grover, said while referring to the board.
Grover then went on to allege that none of the investors had even visited BharatPe’s office, and said they were completely out of touch with the realities of building a business in India. He said that the investor-founder relationship was one of a master and a slave.
“You treat us founders as slaves,” Grover raged. “Pushing us to build mutli-billion-dollar businesses and cutting us down at will. Investor-founder relationship in India is one of master-slave. I am the rebel slave who must be hung by the tree so that none of the other slaves will dare to be like me again,” he claimed.
Somewhat dramatically, Grover ended the letter with a challenge to his investors. “While I maintain that you will not find a single act of impropriety against me, I will not be participating in your charade. Since you clearly believe you can run this Company better without me – I am leaving you with this challenge,” he said. “Build incrementally even half of the value I created so far – I am leaving you with three times the funds I’ve utilised till date” he said.
“I have founded and built BharatPe into what it is today, and none of you can take that away from me,” he concluded.
Grover’s resignation is a stunning culmination of a series of events which had begun with a purported leaked audio clip on social media, in which he was heard threatening a Kotak Bank employee. As eyebrows were raised over his language in the clip, BharatPe’s board had instituted an enquiry into his conduct. The enquiry, though, reportedly found that Grover’s wife, who was also the Director of Controls at the company, had siphoned off nearly Rs. 50 crore of the company’s money through fake invoices. She’d also spent over a crore of the company’s money on electronic gadgets, skincare and travel. Last week, she’d been fired by the Board. Grover had approached a tribunal in Singapore to stop the enquiry, but his plea had been turned down.
Grover continues to maintain his innocence, but has now resigned in dramatic fashion. Grover isn’t the first startup founder who has been forced to leave his own company after a tussle with investors — in 2015, Housing CEO Rahul Yadav had also been made to similarly resign after a protracted battle with his board. Internationally, Uber founder Travis Kalanick too had been forced to resign by his own investors, and a similar fate had befallen WeWork founder and CEO Adam Neumann.
While it still remains to be seen what the result of BharatPe’s inquiry is — one wonders why Grover had to resign if his conduct had indeed been above board — the resignation underscores the power differential that exists between investors and founders in India. Founders may think of the business idea, create a company, hire employees, and spend years building their products, but investors — who’ve put in the money — ultimately seem to prevail in the end.