2021 is drawing to a close, but it continues to churn out jaw-dropping startup records in India.
Brand-of-brands startup Mensa has become India’s fastest unicorn startup after a $135 million fundraise. The fundraise was led by Alpha Wave Ventures, and saw participation from existing investors including Accel Partners, Norwest Venture Partners and Tiger Global Management. The round values Mensa at over $1 billion, and turns Mensa — which was founded just 6 months ago — into India’s 37th unicorn of 2021.
Mensa’s stunning 6-month unicorn milestone is partly down the fact that it’s founded by someone who’s been there, done that — Mensa Brands’ founder is startup veteran Ananth Narayanan, who had worked at McKinsey for 15 years before being appointed the CEO of Myntra in 2015. He had then co-founded online pharmacy MedLife in 2019, which had been acquired by PharmEasy earlier this year. After his exit from Medlife, he’d founded Mensa Brands in May 2021.
Mensa Brands partners with direct-to-consumer brands, and helps scale and grow them into large companies. In a model popularized by Thrasio in the US, Mensa Brands aims to run several diverse brands under a single umbrella. Mensa can then use best-in-class technology, help optimize logistics, and use big data to rapidly grow these brands.
“We are truly platform neutral and our brands are present across different platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, Meesho and others,” said Mensa Brands founder and CEO Ananth Narayanan. “We are excited to back more founders and brands and scale them further. Our deep focus on technology and digital brand building, as well as our people, has allowed us to grow three times of our initial plan and we are primed to build global breakout brands from India,” he added.
Thus far, Mensa has acquired brands including silk sarees brand Karagiri, jewlery brand Priyaasi, casual shirts brand Dennis Lingo, women’s clothing brand Ishin, clothing and accessories brand Hubberholme, women’s ethnic wear brand Anubhutee, smart home brand Helea and men’s products brand Villain. Mensa picks up anywhere between 51% and 75% stake in these companies, and aims to grow them along with their original founders. Mensa says it is largely focusing on categories like fashion, beauty and personal care, and home.
Narayanan claims that Mensa Brands helps turbocharge the brands’ growth — he says that the majority of the brands it has acquired so far are growing at 100% year-on-year since their integration with Mensa. And he seems to indicate there’s still lots of headroom to grow, saying that there India doesn’t have enough brands, and it would be good if more people were working on building new brands in the country.
It’s a model that does hold promise. Building brands in the digital age requires a whole new set of skills including online marketing, online ad optimization, SEO and logistics, and it’s possible that Mensa Brands can utilize its expertise and help grow the many brands under its large umbrella. Having several brands under one roof can help share costs and learnings across companies, and with both Mensa and founders holding a part stake in the brands, both parties would be incentivized to see their companies succeed.
But there could be questions asked around whether Mensa Brands — or any company for that matter — can command a billion dollar valuation within six months of being founded. Until 2018, India’s fastest unicorn had been chat app Hike, which had reached the milestone in three and a half years. It had been displaced as India’s fastest unicorn by e-commerce company Udaan, which had become a unicorn in 26 months, and Udaan in turn had been displaced this year by hiring app Apna, which had turned unicorn 21 months after being founded. Mensa, though, has now blown all these companies out of the water by becoming a unicorn in 6 months flat. It remains to be seen if Mensa can build on its early promise, but as its unicorn status in six short months shows, India’s startup space is currently turbocharged like never before.