8 Newsmakers Of 2023: The People Behind The Biggest Indian Tech Stories Of The Year

8 Newsmakers Of 2023: The People Behind The Biggest Indian Tech Stories Of The Year


From Tim Cook to Narayana Murthy and from Isha Ambani to Bhavish Aggarwal — these are the newsmakers that drove prominent themes and trends throughout the year in Indian tech

What’s a newsmaker in the context of startups and tech? Is it an outspoken founder or investor who was among the headlines over allegations and controversies, or is it someone who creates phenomena with their statements and thoughts?

Over the past month, we have recounted the personalities that found themselves among controversies and success stories of the year — from public listings to startups that turned profitable and from founder exits to shutdowns in the Indian startup ecosystem, While these were some of the bigger stories of 2023, we believe newsmakers are those who drove themes and trends that remained prominent throughout the year.

There were founders and leaders who earned prominence for other reasons too, such as Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal or Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma for turning around their large businesses to some extent.

Or even founders of Honasa (Mamaearth), Zaggle, ideaForge and others that successfully navigated public markets for public listings. Plus, major VC ecosystem developments such as Omidyar Network’s exit from India or Peak XV Partners rebranding from Sequoia Capital also garnered plenty of attention.

But in our recap, we have chosen eight newsmakers who had a more profound influence on Indian tech. As part of Inc42’s 2023 In Review series, we are looking at these founders, CEOs and tech leaders who shaped the discourse and sparked off debates this year.

From Ola Electric founder Bhavish Aggarwal who launched a new company this year to join the generative AI revolution to Tim Cook, who turned into something of a global ambassador for the Make-In-India movement. And from Isha Ambani carrying the torch forward for Reliance’s retail legacy, to Narayana Murthy’s comments that stirred up the work-life balance debate all over again — these are the personalities that drove conversations throughout 2023.

Bhavish Aggarwal: Dominating EVs & Eyeing Generative AI

Last year, the Ola Electric founder found himself in the thick of social media disputes with competitors in the automobile industry, but this year, Aggarwal’s focus turned to pumping up Ola Electric’s two-wheeler sales figures and announcing the launch of the next generation of EV two-wheelers by the end of 2024. There are also plans for an electric car in 2025.

With Aggarwal leading the marketing push on his personal social media channels, Ola’s EV business has seen tremendous growth — nearly 50% higher monthly sales in November 2023 as compared to September 2023.

And with Ola’s growth, the overall adoption for EV two-wheelers has also picked up for other players — sales nearly doubled in November as compared to June 2023.

The Aggarwal-led company also put its IPO plans into full throttle by converting into a public company, after raising INR 3,200 Cr in a year when mega rounds were a rare occurrence. The pre-IPO filings are expected to come in December and there will be a lot of eyes on what Ola and Aggarwal expect from the public markets.

And while most of the focus has been on Ola Electric, Ola Cabs also introduced plenty of changes from ONDC integration to the Ola Prime Plus tier. But Ola Electric is clearly the biggest motivation for Aggarwal currently.

Of course, towards the end of the year, some of his focus turned to generative AI. At a time when the global gen AI fight seems to be centred around big tech giants, Aggarwal’s third venture Krutrim is looking to disrupt the space with an AI-centric cloud infrastructure, developing AI models for Indian languages and more.

Here’s a deep dive into Krutrim’s plans, and what we are more interested in seeing is whether Aggarwal changes the game in AI just as Ola did for EVs and mobility.

Isha Ambani: Revamping Reliance’s Retail Legacy

Reliance is one of the biggest newsmakers in tech every year for everything that Reliance Jio does, but this time around it’s the retail business that has taken centre stage with Isha Ambani leading the line.

Last year, Isha was elevated to chairman and managing director of Reliance Retail and the company’s moves this year signal a change towards digital-first brands, tech-driven platforms and a new-age omnichannel approach.

This year, the retail major forayed into the BPC market with Tira, and Reliance Retail’s digital and new commerce revenue surged to INR 50,000 Cr in FY23, a fifth of the overall revenue. Reliance Retail also raised over INR 15,000 Cr (nearly $2 Bn) from sovereign funds to press the accelerator on the digital commerce businesses, and acquire brands or exclusive rights to international labels.

While Mukesh Ambani and Akash Ambani helm Reliance Industries and Reliance Jio, Isha’s focus has squarely been on Tira and AJIO (fashion), along with JioMart. The revenue contribution just shows how key these platforms will be for long-term growth for Reliance’s retail business.

But that’s not all — the newly-created Jio Financial Services (JFS) has brought Isha on board as a director, and with JFS’ plans to increase credit penetration in the retail market, we could see some interesting developments between Reliance Retail and JFS in the year ahead.

Narayana Murthy: Wading Into The Work-Life Balance Debate

Narayana Murthy is no stranger to being among the headlines, but this year, the Infosys cofounder and former CEO jumped into a hot debate that has polarised the tech ecosystem.

The Padma Shri awardee argued that work productivity in India is one of the lowest in the world and urged youngsters to volunteer to work 70 hours a week. But this caused a lot of furore among certain sections of those who follow Murthy, even as many other entrepreneurs advocated for the same.

To be fair, the work-life balance debate has been a hot topic of discussion pretty much every year. In 2022, Bombay Shaving Company founder Shantanu Deshpande urged startup employees to put in 18 hours every day, which raised concerns about the pressures of working in a startup, work culture and employee happiness.

But Murthy’s comments have been particularly criticised as he cited his own experience with founding Infosys and working long hours as an example. Many pointed out that given his ownership of the company, his motivation was not unnatural, but most entry-level employees have personal goals and commitments that do not justify long working hours. Others also pointed out the low salaries paid by IT giants such as Infosys to entry-level and mid-tier talent.

Besides this Murthy was caught in a deepfake campaign where a video featuring his likeness and voice was used to promote a stock trading platform. The veteran entrepreneur was one of several celebrities seen in AI-generated fake videos this year.

But it doesn’t end there: Murthy also took a stance against government subsidies for infrastructure, saying “nothing should be given for free”. He is believed to have suggested that those availing government subsidies should be made to contribute back to the betterment of society in some form or the other.

His comments, made at the Bengaluru Tech Summit 2023 in December, are particularly ironic given that so much of Indian tech today revolves around digital public infrastructure, which is essentially a free service for users, subsidised by government and policy push.

Rahul Yadav: Return Of The ‘Bad-Boy’ Entrepreneur

While Ashneer Grover continues to cause controversies with each statement, the biggest founder-related governance issues this year have come from Broker Network and its founder Rahul Yadav.

As we recounted in our original and deep investigation into Yadav’s latest venture, Broker Network burnt over INR 280 Cr in less than 18 months, and the founder is alleged to have built a web to syphon off funds from the company.

The biggest surprise with Broker Network is that Info Edge invested INR 280 Cr in the company after being convinced by Yadav that the Housing.com ouster and the Intelligent Interfaces’ no-show are behind him.

Essentially, even one of the most experienced investors in India — led by Sanjeev Bikhchandani, one of the most reputed entrepreneurs in the country — was swayed by a pitch, which eventually turned out too good to be true. Investors have tightened up their due diligence processes for potential investments a lot in the past two years and Info Edge’s bruising experience is only likely to increase their scrutiny into founders and potential bets.

Today, Yadav is dealing with multiple cases. The Economic Offences Wing has registered an FIR against him and is looking into the bigger complaint by Info Edge. Even former employees have filed FIRs against Yadav for furnishing bad cheques. Will 2024 see Yadav being prosecuted and charged for the Broker Network saga?

Rajeev Chandrasekhar: Cementing India’s Place In Global Tech 

Few policymakers and legislators in India wade into tech debates as frequently as Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who as Minister of State (MoS) for Information Technology, is second in command after Ashwini Vaishnaw, the union minister for IT.

But Chandrasekhar has been nearly omnipresent when it comes to speaking about the government’s stand on everything from AI regulations in light of the generative AI revolution, or net neutrality given the battle between telcos and over-the-top (OTT) service providers over network fees.

As per reports, Chandrasekhar, during a meeting with his Dutch counterpart Alexandra van Huffelen, is said to have pushed for a greater role for India in swiftly putting in place global regulations for emerging tech.

The MoS for IT also pushed for greater manufacturing in India by tech giants across sectors — particularly focussing on how Apple has managed to expand its manufacturing footprint in India (more on this later). In addition to electronics manufacturing, Chandrasekhar is said to have liaised with Elon Musk-led EV giant Tesla to bring EV manufacturing to India and procure components locally.

With India looking to carve out a bigger piece of the global tech manufacturing pie in light of the China+1 movement, Chandrasekhar has emerged as the face of India’s tech policy in many ways.

Robin Raina: Eyeing An IPO For A Bankrupt Business 


There are CEOs that seem to grow into mature leaders as their companies head to the public markets, and there are the likes of Robin Raina, whose outlandishness never seems to wane.

The Ebix, Inc. and Ebix Cash CEO has had to face many tough questions in light of the company’s INR 6,000 Cr IPO plans in India, particularly related to the sorry state of its financials and its high indebtedness.

Raina joined Ebix way back in 1997 and quickly rose up the ranks, but the company’s operations have been under a cloud in the past year, especially after the Hindenburg Research report that questioned a lot of the company’s claims. Despite this, Raina has looked to stay in the limelight with his penchant for the high life — particularly, the glamour shots with his Ferrari and other luxury vehicles.

Ebix’s lenders have unsuccessfully chased the company for funds, but Raina took home a $1.8 Mn bonus in September 2023 even as the business was coming close to bankruptcy. In December 2023, Ebix Inc filed for bankruptcy in the US, after defaulting on a $617 Mn loan and several covenants associated with this debt.

The entire episode shows us the severity of corporate governance lapses in some companies, even those that aspire to raise money from public markets. And there’s also a question of how regulators approved the IPO plans for a company that has so many red flags in its leadership.

Sam Altman: The Posterboy Of Generative AI

Fired and back again in five days. Few founders and CEOs can boast of having survived such drama as Sam Altman did with OpenAI in late 2023, after being thrown out of his own company. His dismissal and subsequent reinstatement set off shock waves across the global tech ecosystem, sparking off a debate about the power struggle between a founder and a company’s board.

Altman, considered by many as the face of generative AI, has been in the news all year long — largely because generative AI itself has grabbed headlines and the attention of the world. There were reports about a DDoS attack on OpenAI in early November as well as the company’s close ties with Microsoft, its lead investor.

In the Indian context, however, controversies around Altman started much before the boardroom shenanigans at OpenAI.

Altman’s visit to India and his public appearance attracted the who’s who of the Indian tech ecosystem. But when he was asked whether Indian companies could compete with OpenAI, his answer did not please many. He called it a “totally impossible” endeavour, but later clarified that he was simply responding to a question about trying to compete with OpenAI valued at over $25 Bn+ using just $10 Mn.

Of course, all this was forgotten by the time Altman was sacked by the company’s board and then brought back swiftly, If anything, his reinstatement only seems to reinforce the notion that Altman is not only the most influential person at OpenAI, but arguably also in generative AI.

The rise of OpenAI has fuelled the generative AI revolution with a slew of startups now looking at building LLMs and models for specific needs. Case in point: Indian AI startups Bhavish Aggarwal’s Krutrim or Lightspeed-backed Sarvam AI. Plus, companies across sectors are adopting ChatGPT and generative AI en masse for their operations.

Tim Cook: Making India The Apple Of His Eye

He’s the CEO of the world’s most valuable company, and one could argue that no CEO has backed India in as big a way as Apple’s Tim Cook did this year.

In contrast to the visit of Jeff Bezos in 2020, Cook’s tour of India saw Apple launch its first own-brand retail stores in Mumbai and Delhi. But this was a relatively minor development when seen in the context of Apple’s larger plans for India.

Firstly, the tech giant expanded its manufacturing base in India and is eyeing making more than just iPhones in the country. Given the fact that accessories such as chargers and wireless earphones (Airpods) sell in larger quantities than smartphones, it could be argued that this represents the biggest push for global electronics exports from India.

Apple’s lead in India has since been followed by the likes of Google, which said it would manufacture Pixel smartphones in India from 2024.

Some of the goodwill earned by Apple has been tarnished with allegations around anti-competitive practices by its App Store, as well as the alleged hacking of iPhones of some elected officials. But these were minor blips in the Apple story.

Cook and Apple’s India plans underscore the wider China+1 movement in the tech industry, as many major players are looking to diversify their manufacturing bases away from China and to India and other geographies.

Of course, Apple being the largest company in the world by market cap, seems to dominate all discussion around the Make-In-India success story, but going forward the efforts of the company would be to boost local manufacturing of smaller electronics and components for its devices, so that it has to rely on fewer imports when assembling and making products in India.

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