Ashneer Grover, the public face of BharatPe, the unicorn fintech startup he co-founded, is taking a leave of absence from work for two months after serious questions have been raised about his conduct.
The startup, valued at $2.85 billion and backed by Tiger Global and Ribbit Capital, said on Wednesday its board members had agreed to Grover's request to take a voluntary leave of absence from the startup until the end of March.
In a statement, Grover said he has"relentlessly" worked at the startup for almost four years and needed some time off to "rejuvenate and refresh." He said he will return "on or before" April 1.
Other factors may have contributed to the decision.
Recording of a phone call surfaced and went viral on social media earlier this month in which Grover appeared to have abused and threatened a staff of Kotak Mahindra Bank for refusing him financing to buy shares in online fashion startup Nykaa’s IPO.
Grover initially labeled the recording as “fake” in a tweet, which he later deleted. A Kotak Mahindra Bank spokesperson said the company was evaluating actions against Grover and confirmed the authenticity of the call.
Indian newspaper Economic Times reported over the weekend portions of a surprising and heated discussion between Grover and a partner at Sequoia Capital India. The venture capital firm was not comfortable with Grover selling millions of dollars' worth of shares in a secondary transaction in the startup’s Series B, the years-old email said, according to the newspaper.
Grover in the reported email was concerned about the additional time Sequoia Capital India, the most prolific venture capital firm in the South Asian market, was taking in giving a term sheet to the startup.
For industry observers, Grover's recent conduct has been anything but surprising. Grover, who until recently served as the startup's chief executive, has attracted criticism for being too harsh to younger founders on the Indian version of Shark Tank show. He has also publicly taken shots at rivals PhonePe and Paytm for having Chinese investors on their cap tables.
After Paytm performed poorly on its market debut last year, Grover criticized the startup for poor execution and cautioned that it could send the wrong signals to foreign investors and spook retail backers.
The recent developments may create additional complications for BharatPe, which has been scrutinized for toxic workplace culture. The startup has engaged with a couple of investors in recent weeks to raise a new round of financing at a valuation of about $4.5 billion, two sources familiar with the matter said.