He was denied an H-1B. Now he competes with Amazon

Kunal Bahl had a business degree
from the University of
Pennsylvania, a job with
Microsoft ( , Tech30 ) in
Seattle and a dream of moving to
Silicon Valley to start his own

That was 2007. Then U.S. immigration officials
rejected his application for an H-1B visa, putting an
end to those dreams.
“If they want me here, I would love to be here
because I can learn a lot,” Bahl said in an interview
with CNN in 2012, explaining his thinking at the time.

“But if it’s going to be that hard for me, then I’m
better off just going back to India and starting a

India’s tech industry has been rattled this week by
reports that President Trump may make it harder
for skilled workers to enter the U.S. It makes heavy
use of H-1B visas to hire engineers to provide
services to big U.S. firms.
For Bahl, the forced change of direction worked out
well. Denied a career at Microsoft, he returned to
India and launched Snapdeal with his friend Rohit
Bansal in 2010.

Snapdeal is now one of India’s top online retailers,
valued at about $7 billion. It is backed by global
players such as China’s Alibaba ( , Tech30 )
and Japan’s Softbank ( ), and competes with
Amazon ( , Tech30 ) and local market leader

“When we first started, we thought that if we did a
hundred orders in a day, that would be a big, big
step for us,” the entrepreneur told CNNMoney.
“Within a matter of a month or two, we were doing a
hundred orders a minute.”

Snapdeal has around 50 million users on its
platform and over 300,000 vendors selling
everything from shoes to TVs across 6,000 Indian
cities and towns.

It branched out into digital payments two years ago
when it bought Freecharge. That service is gaining
millions of users after India suddenly banned 86% of
its cash last November.
“We are extremely strong in the smaller towns and
cities of India, which is where a significant chunk of
the demand going forward is going to come from,”
Bahl said.

Much bigger rivals share his conviction. Bringing
the south Asian nation’s rural population of more
than 900 million people online is a challenge Google
and Facebook are trying to figure out. So is the
Indian government.
Related: India plans to give free WiFi to over 1,000
India will soon have more smartphone users than
the U.S. and e-commerce is one of the country’s
fastest growing industries. Amazon has invested
over $5 billion in the country since 2013.

“What is today a $15 billion market will become
potentially a $300 billion market in the next ten
years,” Bahl estimated. “There’s tremendous
growth still ahead of us.”
And the 33-year-old CEO is equally optimistic about
the opportunities for young Indians in the country he
returned to nearly a decade ago.

Related: India freaks out over U.S. plans to change
high-skilled visas
“We have the best engineers in the world, we have
a large English-speaking population, we have a
large digitally connected population,” he said.
“Many of our team members will start their own
companies and team members of their companies
will start their own companies,” he says. “What our
country needs right now is more entrepreneurs, not
more policy.” 

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