Gulf Business


The Asian nation offers new hope for tech investors amidst a fundraisin­g blitz


July marked a watershed for technology startups in India, as a record bout of fundraisin­g shifted attention to the world’s secondmost populous market, just as investors were becoming spooked by a crackdown on internet companies in China. Food-delivery app Zomato became the nation’s first unicorn to make its stock-market debut, raising $1.3bn with backing from Morgan Stanley, Tiger Global and Fidelity Investment­s. The parent of digital payments startup Paytm filed a draft prospectus for what could be India’s biggest IPO at $2.2bn, while retailer Flipkart Online Services raised $3.6bn at a $38bn valuation, a record funding round for an Indian startup.

“Indian entreprene­urs have been quietly building startups for a decade now, the country’s internet infrastruc­ture has vastly improved in that time and there’s a very good appetite for tech stocks globally,” said Hans Tung, the Silicon Valley-based managing partner of GGV Capital, which manages $9.2bn in assets. “Investors are beginning to see the huge upside and they expect India to be a China.”

Lenskart, an online retailer for eyewear, also said that it raised $220m from investors including Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and Falcon Edge Capital. It raised money earlier from KKR & Co and Japan’s SoftBank Group.

Unlike China, where online usage is much more developed, many of India’s 625 million internet users are just dipping their toes into the world of video streaming, social networking and e-commerce. Opportunit­ies in online shopping are particular­ly attractive, as e-commerce accounts for less than 3 per cent of retail transactio­ns. Tech startups in India are still paying to build supply chain and delivery networks.

India’s population is expected to overtake China’s this decade and the mood now among investors could not be more different in the neighbouri­ng nations. China is reining in its tech companies, wiping over $800bn off market valuations from a February peak and shaving billions off the net worth of its most famous entreprene­urs. This month, the government abruptly pulled ride-hailing service Didi Global from app stores, months after regulators forced Jack Ma’s Ant Group to halt a blockbuste­r IPO at the eleventh hour. The clampdown is expected to continue, as regulators curb the power of internet companies and wrest back control of user data.

Indian tech companies “can attract global investors who’ve burnt their hands in Chinese tech companies,” said Nilesh Shah, group president and managing director at Kotak Mahindra Asset Management in Mumbai. The successful listing of a few loss-making startups could lead to re-rating of many existing companies and send the market higher, he said.


India had a record $6.3bn of funding and deals for technology startups in the second quarter, while funding to China-based companies dropped 18 per cent from a peak of $27.7bn in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to data from research firm CB Insights.

Flipkart, one of India’s two dominant e-commerce players along with, is among a slew of startups planning to tap public markets in the next 24 months, with a line-up that includes insurance marketplac­e Policybaza­ar’s parent ETechAces Marketing & Consulting, logistics provider Delhivery and ANI Technologi­es’ Ola ride-hailing service. The IPOs will give retail investors a chance to own a stake in the startups, which had been available only to global private investors.

In those private markets, India has been minting startups valued at $1bn or more in recent months at unpreceden­ted speed. In April, half-a-dozen unicorns were born within a span of four days, while intervals between fundraisin­g rounds have contracted to weeks for many startups. A Credit Suisse Group AG report this year found there are about 100

unicorns in India with a combined market value of $240bn, in sectors from e-commerce and fintech to education, logistics and food delivery.

“$1bn is the new $100m,” said Krishnan Ganesh, a serial entreprene­ur who now promotes companies that have attracted investors such as Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Qualcomm Ventures. “Global investors see the potential upside in India’s huge, under-penetrated market and capital flows have multiplied 10 times.”

Optimism about India is tempered as one of the worst coronaviru­s outbreaks in the world threatens to erode decades of economic gains, with over 31 million infections and more than 400,000 deaths. At least 200 million Indians have regressed to earning less than the $5 minimum daily wage, Bangaloreb­ased Azim Premji University estimates, while the middle class shrank by 32 million in 2020, according to the Pew Research Institute.

Nor are investors in India free of political risks. Technology startups also face a tightening regulatory regime with Narendra Modi’s government clamping down on foreign retailers, social media giants and streaming companies.

On top of that, some analysts are concerned that stock markets are a bubble waiting to burst and that many company valuations are far above their fundamenta­ls. They caution that retail investors in new-age companies that have yet to generate profits will need to look beyond traditiona­l value measures like EPS and P/E and must be able to assess factors such as investment in building a loyal customer base as the startups scale up.


“Many of these businesses are in the habit-forming stage of acquiring customers and hence the losses can be front-loaded,” said Ramesh Mantri, a director of investment­s at Mumbai-based White Oak Capital. “What really matters is the potential to generate cash flows.” The new ventures also have competitiv­e advantages over many traditiona­l bricks-and-mortar rivals, which have high real estate costs and often suffer from broken distributi­on chains and complicate­d structures. Those constraint­s mean the many retail, banking and healthcare chains haven’t arrived at even the smaller cities, let alone the millions who live in remote rural areas.

“The proliferat­ion of smartphone­s and the internet has allowed tech entreprene­urs to create new age business models to reach the country’s farthest corners,” said entreprene­ur Ganesh.

“Global investors see the potential upside in India’s huge, under-penetrated market and capital flows have multiplied 10 times”

And the promise of attractive returns for major investors as startups increase the number of public share sales could spur further rounds of funding. For example, SoftBank, which sold out of Flipkart three years ago for a profit, returned to invest in its recent round.

“India’s consumer internet companies have come of age,” said tech tycoon Nandan Nilekani, chairman of outsourcer Infosys whose 1993 IPO introduced investors to an IT services industry that now has almost $200bn in annual sales and made billionair­es of its founders. “When these new startups convert their pole position to earnings and cash flow, their future is assured,” Nilekani said.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Arab Emirates