On March 14, the 35-year-old had stepped out for a walk at night when he was arrested on charges of cheating a vendor. For over a week, he was not allowed a court hearing for bail. In protest, more than 1,000 of India's biggest names in tech including Paytm's Vijay Shekhar Sharma, OLA's Bhavish Aggarwal wrote to the government, stating that his case would sully India's reputation in Silicon Valley and dissuade other young people from launching start-ups.
"Hauling people from the road and arresting them it is nothing but legally kidnapping people. How do you do it?" he asked in an interview that airs tonight on NDTV at 8.30 pm IST. He also questioned the filing of a criminal rather than civil case. "It is not for police in the thaana (station) to decide the case is civil or criminal. You cannot get justice by stamping on somebody else's right to justice." He claims, the proof given to him by the ad agency were photoshopped and grounds for him to withhold payment.
Stayzilla was launched in 2010 to work like Airbnb by creating an online marketplace for home-stay. Together with his partner, Yogi raised 34 million for the company, but in February, he announced that the company's business plan had failed and said a "reboot" would follow. 600 people were laid off. A case was filed against him in March this year by an advertising agency, also based in Chennai, accusing him of fraud and cheating because Stayzilla had defaulted on a payment of 1.7 crores.
Then there were accusations by his family and co-founder of receiving threatening letters including voodoo dolls. After he was jailed, his wife published a blog that he had written in case of his arrest. On the other side, the ad agency says that it was warned to drop its case against him; citing evidence of this, the police argued against his bail.
On being asked whether his time in jail has given him insight into the downside of the start-up universe which involves - quick launches, big fund-raising, and sudden crashes that leave detailed business plans irrelevant, he said he was third time lucky. "I have understood it is not a problem for startups alone. It is problem for any businessman entrepreneur who has a funded or non-funded project", he added.
His case has also raised questions about the high failure rate for start-ups and where that leaves their vendors or other contractors who are abandoned with large unpaid bills. "That's a fair ask," the entrepreneur said, "Nobody is saying it's an unfair ask, nobody is denying the right of justice to the people in this cases as a company we have assets, we have people who owe us the money, but shouldn't there be a right process for it...?"