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India’s Reliance Jio Platforms to sell $750 million stake to Abu Dhabi Investment Authority

Mukesh Ambani has courted the seventh major investor for his telecommunications business in just as many weeks.

On Sunday, Reliance Jio Platforms said it will sell a stake of 1.16% for $750 million to Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), continuing its eye-catching run of investments at the height of a global pandemic.

The three-and-a-half-year-old digital unit of oil-to-retail giant Reliance Industries, the most valuable firm in India, has now secured nearly $13 billion from seven investors including Facebook, and U.S. private equity firms Silver Lake and General Atlantic by selling close to 20% stake.

Today’s announcement from ADIA, one of the world’s largest investors, is the third deal that Reliance Jio Platforms, India’s largest telecom operator with over 388 million subscribers, has secured this week.

Jio Platforms, valued at $65 billion, said earlier this week it was selling $1.2 billion stake to Abu Dhabi-based sovereign firm Mubadala. On Friday, it also announced that U.S private equity firm Silver Lake was pumping an additional $600 million to increase its stake in Jio to 2.1%.

The deal further captures the growing appeal of Jio Platforms to foreign investors looking for a slice of the world’s second-largest internet market. Jio, which launched its commercial operations in the second half of 2016, upended the telecommunications market in India by offering mobile data and voice calls at cut-rate prices.

“The incumbent players (Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, BSNL) in India did the opposite of what companies in their position do elsewhere in the world when a new player emerges in the market. The existing players expect the newcomer to compete aggressively on price. They often lower their prices – some times steeply — to reduce the latter’s attractiveness. Newcomers often complain to the regulators about anti-competitive practices of incumbents,” said Mahesh Uppal, director of communications consultancy firm Com First.

“In India, the opposite happened. It was the existing players who ran to regulators with complaints. So we saw a major miscalculation from incumbent players that had already missed out on taking any major step before the launch of Jio,” he said.

India has emerged as one of the biggest global battlegrounds for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms that are looking to win the nation’s 1.3 billion people, most of whom remain without a smartphone and internet connection.

Media reports have claimed in recent weeks that Amazon is considering buying stakes worth at least $2 billion in Bharti Airtel, India’s third largest telecom operator, while Google has held talks for a similar deal in Vodafone Idea, the second largest telecom operator.

Hamad Shahwan Aldhaheri, who oversees private equity deals at ADIA, said Jio Platforms is poised to benefit from major socio-economic developments and “transformative effects of technology on the way people live and work.”

“The rapid growth of the business, which has established itself as a market leader in just four years, has been built on a strong track record of strategic execution. Our investment in Jio is a further demonstration of ADIA’s ability to draw on deep regional and sector expertise to invest globally in market leading companies and alongside proven partners,” he added.

The new capital should help Ambani, India’s richest man, further solidify his commitment to investors when he pledged to cut Reliance’s net debt of about $21 billion to zero by early 2021, said Com First’s Uppal. The firm had no debt in 2012, but things changed when it raced to build Jio.

Moreover, Reliance Industries’ core business — oil refining and petrochemicals — has been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Its net profit in the quarter that ended on March 31 fell by 37%.

“I am delighted that ADIA, with its track record of more than four decades of successful long-term value investing across the world, is partnering with Jio Platforms in its mission to take India to digital leadership and generate inclusive growth opportunities. This investment is a strong endorsement of our strategy and India’s potential,” said Ambani.

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KKR to invest $1.5 billion in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms has agreed to sell 2.32% stake to U.S. equity firm KKR in what is the fifth major deal the top Indian telecom operator has secured in just as many weeks.

On Friday, KKR announced it will invest $1.5 billion in the top Indian telecom operator, a subsidiary of India’s most valued firm (Reliance Industries), joining fellow American investors Facebook, Silver Lake, Vista Equity Partners, and General Atlantic that have made similar bets on Jio Platforms.

The investment from KKR, which has written checks to about 20 tech companies including ByteDance and GoJek in the past four decades, values Reliance Jio Platforms at $65 billion.

The announcement today further shows the appeal of Jio Platforms, which has raised $10.35 billion in the past month by selling about 17% of its stake, to foreign investors that are looking for a slice of the world’s second-largest internet market.

Ambani, the chairman and managing director of oil-to-telecoms giant Reliance Industries that has poured over $30 billion to build Jio Platforms, said the company was looking forward to leverage “KKR’s global platform, industry knowledge and operational expertise to further grow Jio.”

In recent years, India has emerged as one of the biggest global battlegrounds for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms that are looking to win the nation’s 1.3 billion people, most of whom remain without a smartphone and internet connection.

Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Xiaomi, and TikTok-parent firm ByteDance among several others already count India as one of their most important overseas markets. In the past decade, nearly half a billion Indians came online for the first time, thanks in large part to Reliance Jio, which has amassed over 388 million subscribers.

An advertisement featuring Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan for Reliance Jio (Image: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Launched in the second half of 2016, Reliance Jio upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans and free voice calls, forcing incumbents such as Airtel and Vodafone to significantly revise their prices to sustain customers and many to consolidate and exit the market.

Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, operates the telecom venture, called Jio Infocomm, that has become the top telecom operator in India.

Reliance Jio Platforms also owns a bevy of digital apps and services including music streaming service JioSaavn (which it says it will take public), on-demand live television service and payments service, as well as smartphones, and broadband business.

“Few companies have the potential to transform a country’s digital ecosystem in the way that Jio Platforms is doing in India, and potentially worldwide. Jio Platforms is a true homegrown next generation technology leader in India that is unmatched in its ability to deliver technology solutions and services to a country that is experiencing a digital revolution,” Henry Kravis, co-founder and co-chief executive of KKR, said in a statement.

“We are investing behind Jio Platforms’ impressive momentum, world-class innovation and strong leadership team, and we view this landmark investment as a strong indicator of KKR’s commitment to supporting leading technology companies in India and Asia Pacific,” he added. This is the single-largest investment (in equity terms) made from KKR’s Asia private equity business to date.

The new capital should also help Ambani, India’s richest man, further solidify his last year’s commitment to investors when he pledged to cut Reliance’s net debt of about $21 billion to zero by early 2021 — in part because of the investments it has made to build Jio Platforms. Its core business — oil refining and petrochemicals — has been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Its net profit in the quarter that ended on March 31 fell by 37%.

In the company’s earnings call last month, Ambani said several firms had expressed interest in buying stakes in Jio Platforms in the wake of the deal with Facebook. Recent investments also pave the way for an initial public offering of Jio, which could happen within five years.

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General Atlantic to invest $870M in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms has agreed to sell its 1.34% stake to General Atlantic, the latest in a series of deals the top Indian telecom operator has secured in recent weeks.

On Sunday, New York-headquartered private equity firm General Atlantic said it would invest $870 million in the Indian telecom operator, a subsidiary of India’s most valued firm (Reliance Industries), joining fellow American investors Facebook, Silver Lake, and Vista Equity Partners that have also made sizeable bets on the three-and-a-half-year old Indian firm.

General Atlantic’s investment values Jio Platforms at $65 billion — the same valuation implied by the Silver Lake and Vista deals and a 12.5% premium over Facebook’s deal, the Indian firm said.

Sunday’s announcement further illustrates the growing appeal of Jio Platforms, which has raised $8.85 billion in the past one month by selling about 14.7% of its stake, to foreign investors that are looking for a slice of the fast-growing world’s second largest internet market.

General Atlantic, a high profile investor in consumer tech space that has invested in dozens of firms such as Airbnb, Alibaba, Ant Financial, Box, ByteDance, Facebook, Slack, Snapchat, and Uber, has been a key investor in India for more than a decade though it has avoided bets in consumer tech space in the country.

It has cut checks to several Indian startups including NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that helps those looking to rent or buy an apartment connect directly with property owners, edtech giants Unacademy and Byju’s, payments processor BillDesk, and National Stock Exchange of India. The PE firm, which has invested about $3 billion in India, said last week that it was looking to invest an additional $1.5 billion in Indian firms by next year — this time focusing on the players operating in consumer tech category.

Reliance Industries chairman Ambani, who has poured more than $30 billion to build Jio Platforms, said the telecom network would “leverage General Atlantic’s proven global expertise and strategic insights across 40 years of technology investing.”

“General Atlantic shares our vision of a digital society for India and strongly believes in the transformative power of digitization in enriching the lives of 1.3 billion Indians,” he added.

Prepaid SIM cards of Reliance Jio at a retail store. (Photo: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images)

Launched in the second half of 2016, Reliance Jio upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans and free voice calls. Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, operates the telecom venture, called Jio Infocomm, that has amassed 388 million subscribers since its launch to become the nation’s top telecom operator.

Reliance Jio Platforms also owns a suite of services including music streaming service JioSaavn (which it says it will take public), smartphones, broadband business, on-demand live television service and payments service.

“In just three and a half years, Jio has had a transformational impact in democratizing data and digital services, propelling India to be positioned as a leading global digital economy,” said Sandeep Naik, MD and Head of India & Southeast Asia at General Atlantic, in a statement.

The new capital would help Ambani, India’s richest man, further solidify his last year’s commitment to investors when he said he aimed to cut Reliance’s net debt of about $21 billion to zero by early 2021. Its core business — oil refining and petrochemicals — has been hard hit amid the coronavirus outbreak. Its net profit in the quarter that ended on March 31 fell by 37%.

In the company’s earnings call last month, Ambani said several firms had expressed interest in buying stakes in Jio Platforms in the wake of the deal with Facebook . Bloomberg reported last week that Saudi Wealth Fund was also in talks with Ambani for a stake in Jio Platforms.

Facebook said that other than offering capital to Jio Platforms for a 9.99% stake in the firm, it would work with the Indian giant on a number of areas starting with e-commerce. Days later, JioMart, an e-commerce venture run by India’s most valued firm, began testing an “ordering system” on WhatsApp, the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million active users in the country.

29-year-old Akash Ambani, the oldest son of Mukesh, said in a statement, “Jio is committed to make a digitally inclusive India that will provide immense opportunities to every Indian citizen especially to our highly talented youth.”

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Indian education startup Byju’s is fundraising at a $10B valuation

Byju’s, an education learning startup in India that has seen a surge in its popularity in recent weeks amid the coronavirus outbreak, is in talks to raise as much as $400 million in fresh capital at a $10 billion valuation, said three people familiar with the matter.

The additional capital would be part of the Bangalore-based startup’s ongoing financing round that has already seen Tiger Global and General Atlantic invest between $300 million to $350 million into the nine-year-old startup.

That investment by the two firms, though, was at an $8 billion valuation, said people familiar with the matter. Byju’s was valued at $5.75 billion in July last year, when it raised $150 million from Qatar Investment Authority and Owl Ventures.

If the deal goes through at this new term, Byju’s would become the second most valuable startup in India, joining budget lodging startup Oyo, which is also valued at $10 billion, and following financial services firm Paytm that raised $1 billion at $16 billion valuation late last year.

The talks haven’t finalized yet and terms could change, said one of the aforementioned people. This person, along with the other two, requested anonymity as the matter is private.

Spokespeople of Byju’s and Prosus Ventures, the largest investor in the startup, declined to comment. A spokesperson for Tiger Global did not respond to a request for comment.

Byju’s has seen a sharp surge in both its free users and paying customers in recent weeks as it looks to court students who are stuck at home because of the nationwide lockdown New Delhi ordered in late March.

The startup told TechCrunch last month that traffic on its app and website was up 150% in March and it added six million students to the platform during the month.

Other edtech startups, including Unacademy, which was recently backed by Facebook, and early-stage startups such as Sequoia Capital India-backed Classplus, and Chennai-based SKILL-LYNC, have also seen growth in recent weeks, they told TechCrunch last month.

Through its app, tutors on Byju’s help all school-going children understand complex subjects using real-life objects such as pizza and cake. The app also prepares students who are pursuing undergraduate and graduate-level courses.

Over the years, Byju’s has invested in tweaking the English accents in its app and adapted to different education systems. It had amassed more than 35 million registered users, about 2.4 million of which are paid customers as of late last year.

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Indian tech startups raised a record $14.5B in 2019

Indian tech startups have never had it so good.

Local tech startups in the nation raised $14.5 billion in 2019, beating their previous best of $10.6 billion last year, according to research firm Tracxn .

Tech startups in India this year participated in 1,185 financing rounds — 459 of those were Series A or later rounds — from 817 investors.

Early stage startups — those participating in angel or pre-Series A financing round — raised $6.9 billion this year, easily surpassing last year’s $3.3 billion figure, according to a report by venture debt firm InnoVen Capital.

According to InnoVen’s report, early stage startups that have typically struggled to attract investors saw a 22% year-over-year increase in the number of financing deals they took part in this year. Cumulatively, at $2.6 million, their valuation also increased by 15% from last year.

Overall, there were 81 financing deals of size between $25 million and $100 million, up from 56 last year and 36 the year before, and 27 rounds above $100 million, up from 17 in 2018 and and 9 in 2017, Tracxn told TechCrunch.

Also in 2019, 128 startups in India got acquired, four got publicly listed, and nine became unicorns. This year, Indian tech startups also attracted a record number of international investors, according to Tracxn.

This year’s fundraise further moves the nation’s burgeoning startup space on a path of steady growth.

Since 2016, when tech startups accumulated just $4.3 billion — down from $7.9 billion the year before — flow of capital has increased significantly in the ecosystem. In 2017, Indian startups raised $10.4 billion, per Tracxn.

“The decade has seen an impressive 25x growth from a tiny $550 million in 2010 to $14.5 billion in 2019 in terms of the total funding raised by the startups,” said Tracxn.

What’s equally promising about Indian startups is the challenges they are beginning to tackle today, said Dev Khare, a partner at VC fund Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a recent interview to TechCrunch.

In 2014 and 2015, startups were largely focused on building e-commerce solutions and replicating ideas that worked in Western markets. But today, they are tackling a wide-range of categories and opportunities and building some solutions that have not been attempted in any other market, he said.

Tracxn’s analysis found that lodging startups raised about $1.7 billion this year — thanks to Oyo alone bagging $1.5 billion, followed by logistics startups such as Elastic Run, Delhivery, and Ecom Express that secured $641 million.

176 horizontal marketplaces, more than 150 education learning apps, over 160 fintech startups, over 120 trucking marketplaces, 82 ride-hailing services, 42 insurance platforms, 33 used car listing providers, and 13 startups that are helping businesses and individuals access working capital secured funding this year. Fintech startups alone raised $3.2 billion this year, more than startups operating in any other category, said Tracxn.

The investors

Sequoia Capital, with more than 50 investments — or co-investments — was the most active venture capital fund for Indian tech startups this year. (Rajan Anandan, former executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, joined Sequoia Capital India as a managing director in April.) Accel, Tiger Global Management, Blume Ventures, and Chiratae Ventures were the other top four VCs.

Steadview Capital, with nine investments in startups including ride-hailing service Ola, education app Unacademy, and fintech startup BharatPe, led the way among private equity funds. General Atlantic, which invested in NoBroker and recently turned profitable edtech startup Byju’s, invested in four startups. FMO, Sabre Partners India, and CDC Group each invested in three startups.

Venture Catalysts, with over 40 investments including in HomeCapital and Blowhorn, was the top accelerator or incubator in India this year. Y Combinator, with over 25 investments, Sequoia Capital’s Surge, Axilor Ventures, and Techstars were also very active this year.

Indian tech startups also attracted a number of direct investments from top corporates and banks this year. Goldman Sachs, which earlier this month invested in fintech startup ZestMoney, overall made eight investments this year. Among others, Facebook made its first investment in an Indian startup — social-commerce firm Meesho and Twitter led a $100 million financing round in local social networking app ShareChat.

Source: TechCrunch