W Power 2024

Varun Sanghi: Surviving the sharks

At 21 years old, Sanghi incubated an auto finance product against the odds that his age presented. At 27, the young founder orchestrated the Rs520 crore acquisition of OLX India

Rajiv Singh
Published: Feb 23, 2024 01:30:29 PM IST
Updated: Feb 23, 2024 01:36:54 PM IST

Varun Sanghi: Surviving the sharksVarun Sanghi Head of CarTrade Ventures Photo By: Mexy Xavier; Directed By: Kapil Kashyap Outfit: Zara; Jewellery: Inox; Styled By: Zainab Shakir; Assistant Stylists: Mannat Bhalla, Samridh Gupta

Varun Sanghi | 27
Head, CarTrade Ventures

The trainee was thrown into the deep sea, which was infested with sharks. The undergrad, who was specialising in finance from HR College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai, was not strapped with any swimming tube. In fact, Varun Sanghi didn’t even know to swim. All that the 19-year-old knew was a stern message—it was more of a warning—from his father. “Learn on your own. Don’t come for any advice,” was the blunt message from Vinay Sanghi, the third-generation entrepreneur who started CarTrade in 2009. Junior Sanghi was aware of the rules of the game. “We don’t discuss business either at office or home,” says the apprentice who was suddenly all at sea. “We don’t work together,” underlines Sanghi, who dabbled in accounting, sales, marketing, and familiarised himself with the operations during his part-time stint.

Two years later, in May 2017, when he joined as a full timer and was officially inducted as a product manager, Sanghi found himself under pressure on two fronts. The first stress was natural. He was the son of Vinay Sanghi. “People had high expectations from me,” recalls the young founder. The second stress, though, was man-made. “What if I go wrong? It would be really embarrassing if it happens…” All kinds of vexing thoughts started playing on the minds of the greenhorn, who was also weighed down by his own expectations. “I didn’t want people to look at me as his son,” says Sanghi.

His new identity, ironically, clashed with the established identities of the people he was interacting with. He incubated an auto finance product for the company—the idea was to digitise the loan process, which was quite tedious for the consumers—and reached out to a clutch of bankers to stitch a partnership. The banking pundits, though, were dismissive of the disruptive idea, and the finance grad was treated as a novice. The banking veterans couldn’t digest the fact that a 21-year-old newbie was trying to teach them a new lesson in business. The reaction was predictable: “Are you nuts? How can loans be done online? You think you know more than us?” The other stakeholders in the market too were sceptical. “He is young, brash and inexperienced,” they mocked. The sharks were waiting for the prey.

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Sanghi, though, knew how to swim. He persisted with his plans. Four years later, in 2023, the young founder was leading from the front. Global investor Prosus had put OLX India business on the block, there were multiple bidders in the fray, and Sanghi, who had been heading CarTrade Ventures—a $100-million fund for M&A and incubation set up in 2021—managed to clinch the deal. “Varun has been driving digital innovation and business growth in the automotive sector for the past eight years,” contends Aneesha Menon, group CFO at CarTrade Tech. “He orchestrated the ₹520-crore acquisition of OLX India, marking it the largest transaction of 2023,” she adds.

Varun Sanghi: Surviving the sharks

The young gun, for his part, is hungry and gunning for more glory.

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