The ONDC platform has potential to create dozens of unicorns and $100 bn in economic value, says Antler’s Nitin Sharma

The ONDC platform has potential to create dozens of unicorns and $100 bn in economic value, says Antler’s Nitin Sharma
  • Early stage venture capital firm Antler India partners with ONDC to foster businesses that are built on a protocol and not a platform.
  • In a platform business, the winner takes it all while in a protocol-based business, the winner shares all.
  • Startups designed to operate on ONDC will drive the next phase of unicorns in India that can also create economic value of $100 bn.

The next set of unicorns are likely to be companies that are solving problems that are unique to India and based on protocols and not platforms and where the winner shares all rather than takes all. Solving problems for India requires solutions that are designed for scale rather than copycat business models that may have worked 20 years ago. Platform businesses have wiped out local businesses but the protocol based businesses will give these local businesses a new lease of life.

ONDC and world’s largest venture capital platform Antler are working precisely on a plan that will spawn scores of new startups that are designed to democratise online commerce after digital payments. And to do this, the startup ecosystem has to bypass the existing platform thinking and think local.

So far, ONDC has been onboarding sellers across sectors and enabling them to sell directly to their consumers without the gatekeepers that some platform businesses have become. But this may not be enough to bring India’s 100 mn small and medium businesses online. For a country that has issued 1.35 bn digital identities, clocks over $1.5 trillion UPI transactions in a year cannot have only 6% of its small businesses selling online. In a bid to solve India’s digital commerce problem, ONDC and the venture capital ecosystem has decided to create an ecosystem that will reimagine commerce through the filter of a protocol and not a platform.

The question to ask is what is the need for a new protocol when platforms like Meesho, Amazon and Flipkart are there to offer a suite of services – logistics, discovery through online advertising and collecting payments. Clearly, this model is not working going by the abysmal number of small businesses that are selling online at the moment. Nitin Sharma, Partner & Co-founder at Antler India, says that only 5-6% of the 90-100 mn MSMEs in India are participating in digital commerce. Only 15-20% are discoverable through online websites, social media like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.


The internet of commerce requires reimagining commerce from ground up. Sharma says: “It is not just about capital, as a catalyst we are focused on content, community and capital. There are founders who are already identifying opportunities around ONDC, we want to help catalyse those ideas.”

This new approach to commerce has to be decentralised, unbundled and interoperable. Today, sellers are unaware of where their consumers come from and who they are. What ONDC is gives businesses the freedom to choose their partners and take business decisions that are most effective for them economically. ONDC is striving to make online commerce cost effective for India’s small businesses. One of the reasons small businesses are not selling online is because their gross margins are at 30% or less, which makes it unviable for them to sell online given the commission structure of most platforms.

The ONDC initiative has already gathered significant momentum since its launch, with over one lakh daily transactions across use cases. For instance, Namma Yatri, a ride-hailing app, has organically facilitated over 67 lakh auto rides and onboarded more than 16 lakh users and 85 thousand auto drivers without any marketing spend. It is perhaps time for a protocol and not a platform that allows businesses to thrive by enabling the ecosystem in a way that is fair to all. Those tracking listed and unlisted platforms may know that they often have run-ins with sellers or delivery partners for unfair trade practices. The ONDC network seeks to end this tussle by levelling the playing field.

Antler in partnership with Nandan Nilekani’s FIDE (Foundation for Interoperability in Digital Economy) and ONDC seeks to create an ecosystem that will spawn not just new startups that are designed to function on this protocol (Beckn and ONDC) but will also help refine ideas that have the potential to become enterprises. These businesses will not just become unicorns, but will also create more than $80-100 bn in economic value. ONDC promises to change the way India transacts online, bringing the next 500 million plus consumers and 90 million plus MSMEs online.

Projected to create over $80 billion in value over the next five years and $200 billion over a decade, ONDC has the potential to be India's next startup catalyst. The platform will facilitate problem-solving sessions, office hours with prominent figures in the digital public infrastructure ecosystem, and potential fast-tracking to Antler India Residency for those seeking a founding team.

The time is now ripe for a second round of disruption because the India stack has demonstrated that technology can solve problems of scale. The Antler-ONDC platform, therefore, is very important because it seeks to offer pre-seed capital of $300K and additional investment potential of up to $200K from key partners within its extensive network, including unicorn founders and strategic backers, for ready-teams with innovative ideas.

Explains Sharma, “With the backing of Nandan Nilekani and the ONDC and FIDE leadership, we are getting in early and the hope is to expand the global opportunity for startups. There is a yawning gap between digital identities, digital payments and commerce. More than 400 founders have already applied under this programme. We are also creating a lot of content around this so that those founders who don’t have a business plan yet can also understand how it works and resolve problems.”

What sets the Antler ONDC platform apart is its holistic approach to fostering entrepreneurship. They are committed to nurturing not only established teams but also early-stage founders and even those without a concrete idea yet. Their curated community of experts, operators, and influential network participants, such as Namma Yatri,, SellerApp, Magicpin, and more, will be there to guide and mentor aspiring entrepreneurs. The platform will facilitate problem-solving sessions, office hours with prominent figures in the digital public infrastructure ecosystem, and potential fast-tracking to Antler India Residency for those seeking founding teams.