This IIT-IIM startup founder denies Shark Tank offer, sells his entire inventory over the weekend

This IIT-IIM startup founder denies Shark Tank offer, sells his entire inventory over the weekend
  • Ganesh Balakrishnan, the co-founder of Flatheads Shoes received an offer that valued his company at ₹2.25 crore from two sharks on Shark Tank India S2.
  • Balakrishnan, who had earlier invested personal money to keep the venture afloat, rejected the offer.
  • The shoe business that started right before the pandemic ran into trouble as lockdowns forced people to stay indoors.
  • After the episode aired last Friday, the startup managed to sell off its entire inventory over the weekend, Balakrishnan said on social media.
Last Friday, Shark Tank India S2 aired the season’s most emotional episode when Ganesh Balakrishnan made a pitch for his venture, Flatheads Shoes. The startup creates ‘all-day casual shoes for the urban workforce’ priced between ₹1,000-₹5,000 a pair. It also offers India’s first linen sneakers, and the world’s first banana fibre sneakers.

At the time Balakrishnan’s episode was shot, his company was on the verge of a shutdown. He said on the show that he personally invested ₹35 lakh to keep the business afloat, in the last two months. His co-founder Utkarsh Biradar, who helped design the shoes, too invested the same amount. Biradar exited the startup in 2022 but still holds 30% equity.

In spite of his mounting troubles, Balakrishnan rejected the only deal he received on the show. Sharks Peyush Bansal (co-founder, Lenskart) and Vineeta Singh (co-founder, Sugar Cosmetics), offered ₹75 lakh for 33.3% equity in the company. The offer values the company at ₹2.25 crore.

Balakrishnan had asked for a valuation of ₹25 crore as its company generated sales to the tune of ₹3.4 crore in FY22. The company had raised ₹5.2 crore in April 2021, at a pre-money valuation of ₹28 crore, from angel investors. Pre-money valuation refers to the value of a startup that does not include external funding – basically a startup’s value before it raises funds.

Once in a generation troubles


Balakrishnan started Flatheads Shoes in 2019, right before the pandemic struck. In less than a year, the company had no customers - as India stayed indoors, people barely needed shoes, much less urban workwear.

“It’s not that I can’t run a company. I am capable of it. Thing is, when you step into the market and for 4 months nobody is wearing shoes, because nobody is stepping out only - such situations arise once in generations. And it happened to us,” said Balakrishnan on the show. He also said that angel investors were not willing to invest further in the business.

‘Need to evaluate my priorities in life’

Even as he rejected the offer, Balakrishnan admitted that he needed to change his perspective, re-evaluate his priorities, and gain more experience before entering the D2C market.

“I need to evaluate my priorities in life right now. I will go out there and work with a D2C brand and understand how to do this before I come back and try again. I need a couple of years. But that perspective needs to be built. And the best way to build it is to work with somebody who’s done this before,” said Balakrishnan on the show.

Balakrishnan’s emotional admission left all the judges teary-eyed, with’s founder Anupam Mittal remarking, “Shark Tank is not just about getting funding, but also perspective.”

Every tear has a silver lining

When Balakrishnan pitched on the show, most of the Sharks asked him to shut down the business and instead, look to make a living through a regular job, leveraging his educational qualifications and work experience. While boAt’s founder Gupta shared his personal experience of going down the same road, Mittal even offered him a job.

Shortly after the episode aired though, Flatheads Shoes trended on social media and consequently received enough orders that it almost sold out its inventory in India.

“We've almost sold out our inventory in India, so pardon us if you aren't able to find your size on,” shared Balakrishnan on his LinkedIn account.

The product is featured on the Shark Tank India website. The brand also has international ambitions. It launched its products in the US in October 2021 and plans to expand its international market in the US and UAE.

As Balakrishnan admitted on the show, Flatheads enjoys a ‘price advantage’ in the US because people are willing to pay a premium price for a sustainable product.

The serial entrepreneur

After graduating as a mechanical engineer from IIT Bombay in 1999, Balakrishnan worked with an industrial technologies MNC Ingersoll-Rand International (India) for five years, before pursuing an MBA degree from IIM, Bangalore.

He worked with Bain & Company and Honeywell, before starting his entrepreneurial journey in 2013 with Windsleeve, a retail technology product company, and Momoe, a mobile payments product company.

While Windsleeve shut down in a year, Momoe ran for three years, before being acquired by Shopclues in 2016, in a cash and stock deal. In 2019, Balakrishnan entered the startup space again with Flathead Shoes, inspired by his personal experience of dealing with reeking and ill-fitting shoes.

Balakrishnan is married and has a 10-year-old daughter. Currently, his household income is managed by his wife, who’s working with a German company. His daughter is an artist who also wants to be an entrepreneur and is already taking orders for calendars created with her paintings.

“Did I mention that my 10-year-old daughter wants to be an entrepreneur? She says she is a fan of Peyush's no-nonsense mindset, and I know that she admires Vineeta for her cheerfulness and positivity. She is super proud that I managed to get an offer from both of them,” stated Balakrishnan on his LinkedIn post.

His perseverance and honesty on the show left the Shark Tank India panel and the audience so impressed, that the admiration translated into sales.

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