The American company sees big potential in the country’s nascent e-commerce market. Both sides view a troubled grocery store chain as the key to success.
During a visit to India in 2014, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos made a splashy announcement: His firm was investing $2 billion in the South Asian nation, just a year after beginning operations in the country.
Amazon’s announcement underscored how far India had come to open up to foreign firms. The nation, which had largely kept doors shut to international giants between its independence in 1947 to liberalization in 1991, has slowly transformed itself into the world’s largest open market.
In a televised interview in 2014, Bezos said that there was a perception about India not being an easy place to do business. But Amazon’s growth in the country, he said, was proof that this belief is not accurate.
“Are there obstacles? There are always obstacles. Anywhere you go, every country has its own regulations and rules,” he said.
Six years, and more than $4.5 billion of additional investments later, Amazon today appears to be facing more obstacles than ever in India, the second-largest internet market with more than 600 million users.
Long-standing laws in India have constrained Amazon, which has yet to turn a profit in the country, and other e-commerce firms to not hold inventory or sell items directly to consumers. To bypass this, firms have operated through a maze of joint ventures with local companies that operate as inventory-holding firms.
India got around to fixing this loophole in late 2018 in a move that was widely seen as the biggest blowback to the American firm in the country at the time. Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart scrambled to delist hundreds of thousands of items from their stores and made their investments in affiliated firms way more indirect.
Now the nation is set to further toughen this approach. Reuters reported last week that New Delhi is considering making adjustments to some provisions that would prevent affiliated firms to hold even an indirect stake in a seller through their parent.
The Confederation of All India Traders, an Indian trade body that claims to represent over 80 million businesses, told the publication that Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has assured the organization that it is working to shortly address concerns about alleged violations of current rules.
The forthcoming policy change is only one of the many headaches for the world’s largest e-commerce firm in India.
Amazon is aggressively fighting a battle to block a deal between its estranged partner Future Group and Reliance Retail, the two largest retail chains in India.
Last year, Future Group announced that it would sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses to Reliance Retail for $3.4 billion. Amazon, which in 2019 bought stakes in one of Future Group’s unlisted firms, says that the Indian firm has breached its contract (which would have given Amazon the right to first refusal) and engaged in insider trading.
Despite technology giants and investors ploughing more than $20 billion to create an e-commerce market in India in the past decade, online retail still accounts for only a single-digit pie of all retail in the country.
In recent years, Amazon, Walmart and scores of other startups have embraced this realization and sought to work with neighborhood stores that dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India.
With Reliance Retail and telecom giant Jio Platforms, two subsidiaries of one of India’s largest corporates (Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries) entering the e-commerce market, and receiving the backing of global giants including Facebook and Google last year, cornering a big stake in Future Group is one of the few ways Amazon can accelerate its growth in India.
The American e-commerce firm has had little luck so far in overturning the deal between the Indian firms. Last year, Amazon reached out to Indian antitrust body Competition Commission of India, and market regulator SEBI to block this transaction. Both the bodies have ruled in favor of Future Group and Reliance Retail.
Amazon must have foreseen this outcome because it initiated the legal proceedings at an arbitration court in Singapore. It’s no surprise that the firm chose to also pursue its legal argument outside of India.
Most cases that reach the Singapore International Arbitration Court have come from India in recent years. Vodafone, which has invested more than $20 billion in India, and has been dealt with billions of dollars in unpaid taxes by the country, is another high-profile name to have knocked on the door in Singapore. After losing in India, it emerged victorious in the Singapore arbitration court last year.
Amazon on Monday filed a new petition in Delhi High Court in which it is seeking to enforce SIAC’s ruling (which ordered last year that the deal should be temporarily halted) and prevent the Indian firm from going ahead with the deal based on CCI and SEBI’s judgements.
The company alleges that Future Group “deliberately and maliciously” disobeyed the international arbitration ruling from SIAC. In its petition, Amazon is also seeking detention of Kishore Biyani, the founder and chairman of Future Group.
“Vocal for Local”
As India grappled with containing the spread of the coronavirus last year, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the 1.3 billion citizens to make the country “self-reliant” and “be vocal for local.”
The move to turn inwards contrasts with his major promise in the first few years of assuming power in 2014 when he pledged to make India more welcoming to foreign firms than before. In recent years, India has proposed or enforced several regulations that hurt American firms, though none appear to suffer as much as Amazon.
Last year, New Delhi started to enforce a 2% tax on all foreign billings for digital services provided in the country. The U.S. Trade Representative said earlier this month that India was taxing numerous categories of digital services that are “not leviable under other digital services taxes adopted around the world.”
The aggregate tax bill for U.S. companies could exceed $30 million per year in India, USTR’s investigation found. In conclusion, it found India’s digital tax move to be inconsistent with international tax principles, unreasonable and burdening or restricting U.S. commerce.
Modi’s new way of life for India will be music to the ears of Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, an ally of the prime minister and India’s richest man.
Before selling stakes worth over $20 billion in Jio Platforms and more than $6 billion in Reliance Retail to marquee foreign investors, Ambani famously made a speech in 2019 in which he urged the need to protect Indians’ data in patriotic terms.
“We have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India — in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian,” he said.
Why so many international firms have invested in one of Reliance’s properties remains a big question. A senior executive at an American firm told TechCrunch on the condition of anonymity (out of fear of retribution) that the investments in Jio Platforms, which is India’s largest telecom network with nearly 410 million subscribers, and Reliance Retail is a déjà vu moment for the nation, where a few decades ago one of the only ways to do business in the nation was to partner with a local firm with massive political clout.
In a series of tweets, Raman Chima, a former policy executive at Google and who now works at nonprofit digital advocacy group Access Now, alleged that the Android-maker had weighed in 2011-12 partnering and investing in a firm like Reliance to “turn-the-page on Indian political risks.”
The idea prompted concerns about Google’s values, he claimed. “More than one executive involved in those discussions flagged concerns around Reliance’s reputation, particularly around problematic approaches towards gaining influence with policymaking civil servants and politicians, money, ethics in govt-business relationships.”
Amazon itself was rumored to be interested in getting a multi-billion-dollar stake in Reliance Retail last year, but it appears the two firms have stopped engaging on any matter.
While Amazon sorts out these issues, last week delivered another blow to the firm. A senior executive with the firm as well as Indian makers of a mini-series for Amazon Prime Video are under threat of criminal prosecution in the country after Modi’s ruling party deemed the show offensive to the country’s Hindu majority.
A Hindu nationalist group, politicians with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and a BJP group representing members of India’s lower castes, were among those who had filed police reports against the nine-part mini-series “Tandav” and Amazon. The company bowed to the pressure and edited out some scenes.
“The true reason for the complaints against ‘Tandav’ may be that the show holds up a mirror uncomfortably close to Indian society and some of the problems blamed on Mr. Modi’s administration. In the opening episode, the show features protesting students and disgruntled farmers, echoing events that have taken place in recent months,” The New York Times wrote.
“Mirzapur,” another show of Amazon, also attracted a criminal complaint in India last week for hurting religious and regional sentiments and defaming the Indian town. The Indian Supreme Court has issued notices to the makers of “Mirzapur” and has sought responses.
In the aforementioned interview, Bezos said Amazon’s job was to follow all the unique rules various countries require it to comply with and “adapt our business practice to those rules.”
In India, the company is increasingly being asked how far it is willing to adapt its business practice. How far is it willing to bend that it’s no longer the Amazon people cared for.
Indian stock exchanges approved the $3.4 billion deal between retail giants Reliance Retail and Future Group on late Wednesday in yet another setback for Amazon, which has invested over $6.5 billion in the world’s second largest internet market and sought to block the aforementioned deal.
The Bombay Stock Exchange said in a notification that it had spoken with India’s markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), and had no objection or adverse observation on the deal.
Wednesday’s notification is the latest setback for Amazon, which had written to SEBI and Indian antitrust watchdog to block the multi-billion deal between Future Group and Reliance Retail, the two largest retail chains in India. Last year, India’s antitrust group gave a go ahead to the deal to the Indian firms.
“We hereby advise that we have no adverse observations with limited reference to those matters having a bearing on listing/de-listing/continuous listing requirements within the provisions of Listing Agreement, so as to enable the company to file the scheme with Hon’ble NCLT [National Company Law Tribunal],” the notification read. SEBI has advised Future to share various aspects of its ongoing litigation with Amazon to NCLT, whose approval for the deal is pending.
Amazon bought 49% stake in one of Future’s unlisted firms in 2019 in a deal that was valued at over $100 million. As part of the deal, Future could not have sold assets to rivals, Amazon has said in court filings.
Things changed last year after the coronavirus pandemic starved the Indian firm of cash, Future Group chief executive and founder Kishore Biyani said at a recent virtual conference. In August, Future Group said that it had reached an agreement with Ambani’s Reliance Industries, which runs India’s largest retail chain, to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses for $3.4 billion.
Amazon later protested the deal by reaching an arbitrator in Singapore and asked the court to block the deal between the Indian retail giants. Amazon secured emergency relief from the arbitration court in Singapore in late October that temporarily halted Future Group from going ahead with the sale.
The two estranged partners also fought at the Delhi High Court last year, which in a rare glimmer of hope for the American giant rejected Future’s plea for an ad-interim injunction to restrain Amazon from writing to regulators and other authorities to raise concerns over — and halt — the deal between the two Indian giants.
An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that the firm will continue to pursue legal remedies. “The letters issued by BSE & NSE clearly state that the comments of SEBI on the ‘draft scheme of arrangement’ (proposed transaction) are subject to the outcome of the ongoing Arbitration and any other legal proceedings. We will continue to pursue our legal remedies to enforce our rights,” the spokesperson said.
At stake is India’s retail market that is estimated to balloon to $1.3 trillion by 2025, up from $700 billion in 2019, according to consultancy firm BCG and local trade group Retailers’ Association India. Online shopping accounts for about 3% of all retail in India.
The protesting farmers fear that new laws will help giant corporations and leave them at their mercy.
The Public Investment Fund, which has this year invested $1.5 billion in Mukesh Ambani’s telecom venture Jio Platforms and more than half a billion dollars in his fiber-optic business, has returned to back yet another empire built by India’s richest man.
The sovereign wealth fund is investing $1.3 billion in Reliance Retail for a 2.04% equity stake in the largest retail chain in India. The investment values Reliance Retail, which was founded in 2006, at $62.4 billion (up from about $58 billion last month), the Indian firm said.
Reliance Retail, which serves more than 3.5 million customers each week (as of early this year) through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country, has now raised over 6.4 billion since September this year.
“We at Reliance have a long-standing relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. PIF is at the forefront of the economic transformation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I welcome PIF as a valued partner in Reliance Retail and look forward to their sustained support and guidance as we continue our ambitious journey to transform India’s retail sector for enriching the lives of 1.3 billion Indians and millions of small merchants,” said Ambani, who runs Reliance Retail’s parent firm, Reliance Industries, in a statement.
More to follow…
Reliance Jio Platforms, the telecom venture run by India’s richest man (Mukesh Ambani), had 405.6 million subscribers in the quarter that ended in September, becoming the first operator outside of China to cross 400 million subscribers in a single country market.
The Facebook and Google-backed telecom operator said its finances has improved, too, despite the pandemic. Its EBIDTA run-rate crossed $1 billion in the aforementioned quarter, while net profit jumped to $409 million. The average revenue it clocks per user now stands at Rs 145 ($1.94), up from $1.88 the quarter before. In the past two quarters, the company has expanded its workforce by 30,000 people, it added.
Jio Platforms also operates a range of services including JioTV, JioMusic, and JioMoney. Kiran Thomas, President of Reliance Industries (parent firm of Jio Platforms), said in an earnings call Friday that the company has proven that its services can be feasibly built in India, and the company plans to expand them outside of the country. However, he did not share a timeline for this expansion.
Reliance Industries, the most valuable firm in India, announced some more investments in its businesses, continuing its eye-catching funding spree at the height of a global pandemic.
The oil-to-retails giant announced that Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will invest $1.01 billion in the company’s digital fibre business as the Indian firm makes further push in deploying its broadband line across the country.
Abu Dhabi Authority and Saudi Arabia’s PIF are also an investor in Jio Platforms, which this year has raised about $20 billion. A Reliance Jio spokesperson told TechCrunch that the investment announced today are separate and not part of the two firms’ previous deals.
Reliance Retail, India’s largest retail chain, said on Sunday evening that its proposed deal to acquire Future Group’s assets for $3.4 billion — against which Amazon has filed a legal proceeding — is fully enforceable under the Indian law and it intends to complete the deal “without any delay.”
The American e-commerce group, which indirectly bought a 3.58% stake in Future Group’s Future Retail business last year, reached out to a Singapore arbitration panel over the multi-billion dollar proposed deal.
Amazon’s deal with Future Retail had given the American e-commerce giant the first right to refusal on purchase of more stakes in Future Retail, the Indian firm had said at the time. Amazon, Walmart’s Flipkart, and Reliance Industries, the most valuable firm in India, are locked in an intense battle to shape how hundreds of millions of Indians would shop in the future.
In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company was “grateful for the order which grants all the reliefs that were sought. We remain committed to an expeditious conclusion of the arbitration process.”
At the moment, it is unclear whether today’s injunction is enforceable in India. Indeed, in a statement, a Reliance Industry spokesperson said that Reliance Retail’s transaction for acquisition of assets and business of Future Retail were conducted under “proper legal advice” and the “rights and obligations are fully enforceable under Indian law.”
Reliance Retail “intends to enforce its rights and complete the transaction in terms of the scheme and agreement with Future group without any delay,” the spokesperson added.
The legal proceeding in Singapore has come as a surprise to many in the industry, as Amazon is said to be preparing to acquire a multi-billion-dollar stake in Reliance Retail, according to earlier reports by ET Now and Bloomberg.
With e-commerce commanding only between 3 -7% of all retail sales in India — and Reliance Retail launching its own e-commerce business to fight Amazon and Flipkart — Amazon’s reported future deal with Reliance Retail is already been seen by many industry analysts as crucial for the American e-commerce firm’s future in India. Amazon, which kickstarted its journey in India seven years ago, has invested more than $6.5 billion in its local business in the country.
Founded in 2006, Reliance Retail serves more than 3.5 million customers each week (as of early this year) through its nearly 12,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country.
The retail chain, run by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, has raised about $5.14 billion by selling about an 8.5% stake in its business to Silver Lake, Singapore’s GIC, General Atlantic and others in the past two months.
Ambani’s other venture, Jio Platforms, this year raised over $20 billion from more than a dozen marquee investors, including Google and Facebook.
Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which invested $750 million in Indian telecom giant Jio Platforms in June this year, has returned to invest just as much capital in Mukesh Ambani’s other venture.
Reliance Retail, India’s largest retail chain, said on Tuesday that it is selling a 1.2% stake in the business to Abu Dhabi Investment Authority for about $752 million. Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is the seventh investor to secure a stake in Reliance Retail — at a pre-money valuation of $58.5 billion — in the past one month.
Reliance Retail, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries (India’s most valuable firm), has raised about $5.14 billion by selling about 8.5% stake in its business to Silver Lake, Singapore’s GIC, General Atlantic and others. Mukesh Ambani, who controls Reliance Industries, said in July that he was looking to sell stakes in Reliance Retail to investors. Earlier this year, Jio Platforms raised about $20 billion from more than a dozen high-profile investors including Facebook and Google.
Founded in 2006, Reliance Retail serves more than 3.5 million customers each week (as of early this year) through its nearly 12,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country. Reliance Retail operates supermarkets, electronics chain, fashion outlets and a cash-and-carry wholesaler. In recent months, the firm has rushed to widen its dominance in the retail market. It bought several parts of Future Group, India’s second largest retail chain, for $3.4 billion in late August.
Late last year, it also entered the e-commerce space with JioMart. JioMart, a joint venture between Reliance Retail and Jio Platforms, has presence in over 200 Indian cities and towns, and maintains a partnership with Facebook for WhatsApp integration. Facebook, which invested $5.7 billion in Jio Platforms earlier this year, has said it will explore various ways to work with Reliance to digitize the nation’s 60 million mom and pop stores as well as other small and medium-sized businesses.
“Reliance Retail has rapidly established itself as one of the leading retail businesses in India and, by leveraging both its physical and digital supply chains, is strongly positioned for further growth. This investment is consistent with our strategy of investing in market leading businesses in Asia linked to the region’s consumption-driven growth and rapid technological advancement,” said Hamad Shahwan Aldhaheri, Executive Director of the Private Equities Department at ADIA, in a statement.
Physical retail commands about 97% of all retail sales in India, according to estimates from several research firms.
Triller, an app that functions similarly to TikTok, has inked a strategic partnership with a platform owned by India’s richest man to cash in on the Chinese app’s ban in its biggest international market.
The Los Angeles-headquartered firm said on Monday it has partnered with Reliance’s JioSaavn music app to embed Triller videos into the streamer “front and center.”
As part of what Triller said was the “first of many announcements to come from these two digital powerhouses,” JioSaavn app will also provide a “prominent” button on its main screen that will enable its users to create a triller video, the American firm said.
The announcement comes as scores of local startups have rushed to fill the void New Delhi’s ban on TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps over cybersecurity concerns created at the end of June this year.
Some of the local firms that are attempting to cash in on TikTok’s absence include on-demand video streaming service Zee5, news aggregator app DailyHunt, and Times Internet’s music streaming service Gaana and video streamer MX Player.
Triller claims JioSaavn has amassed over 300 million users in India. I don’t think so: Its Android app had fewer than 30 million weekly active users earlier this month, according to one of the top mobile insight firms. And a press release from two months ago on JioSaavn’s website says it had over 104 million monthly active users.
But what is more interesting about this partnership is that it exists at all. As of early this month, Reliance Industries, the firm that runs telecom giant Jio Platforms, was in early-discussions with ByteDance to invest in TikTok’s operations in India. (Jio Platforms, which has raised over $20 billion from Facebook and a dozen other investors this year, operates a bouquet of digital services including JioTV, JioCinema, and Haptik.)
At any rate, Rishi Malhotra, co-founder and chief executive of JioSaavn, said the partnership with Triller will enable “artists to create and express our culture in the most innovate ways. We are confident that this partnership will exponentially grow both companies.”
Bobby Sarnevesht, executive chairman of Triller, said he was pleased, too, in a statement.
The American e-commerce giant is in preliminary talks to acquire a 9.9% stake in Reliance Retail, local TV news channel ET Now reported Thursday afternoon, citing unnamed sources.
Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, is the largest retail chain in India. It serves over 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country.
Reliance Industries, which is the most valuable firm in India and runs Reliance Retail and Jio Platforms, declined to comment on the report. Amazon also declined to comment.
The reported talks between Amazon and Reliance Retail comes days after Ambani, who is India’s richest man, said several firms had expressed interest in backing the retail chain. Ambani’s other venture, Reliance Jio Platforms, has secured over $20 billion by selling 33% stake to more than a dozen investors including Facebook, Google, Silver Lake, and General Atlantic since April this year.
During Reliance Industries’ annual general meeting earlier this month, Ambani said the company will “induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in the next few quarters.”
Reliance Industries’ new venture JioMart is increasingly becoming a new challenger to Amazon, which has invested more than $6.5 billion in its India business, and Walmart’s Flipkart in recent months.
Morgan Stanley, which served as the financial advisor to Reliance Industries for Jio Platforms’ deals, recently valued Reliance Retail at about $29 billion.
Both Amazon and Reliance Retail, according to local media reports, have also been locked in a battle to acquire majority stake in Future Retail, India’s second largest retail chain.
Google has become the latest high-profile firm to back India’s Reliance Jio Platforms. The search giant is investing $4.5 billion for a 7.73% stake in the top Indian telecom network, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani said on Wednesday.
The investment today from Google is one of the rare instances where the Android-maker has joined its global rival Facebook in backing a firm. Facebook invested $5.7 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 400 million subscribers in less than four years of its existence, in April this year for a 9.99% stake in it. Facebook is the largest minority stakeholder in Jio Platforms.
Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries (India’s most valued firm) has raised over $20.6 billion in the past four months from 13 investors by selling about 33% stake in the firm.
Google’s new investment gives Jio Platforms an equity valuation of $58 billion — the same valuation implied by Facebook. Other investors including General Atlantic, Silver Lake, Qualcomm, Intel, and Vista have paid a 12.5% premium for their stake in Jio Platforms.
As part of Wednesday’s strategic announcement, Google and Reliance Jio Platforms will work on a customized-version of Android operating system to develop low-cost, entry-level smartphones to serve the next hundreds of millions of users, said Ambani.
“Getting technology into the hand of more people is a big part of Google’s mission,” said Sundar Pichai, chief executive at Google, via a video chat on Wednesday. “Together we are excited to rethink, from the ground up, how millions of users in India can become owners of smartphones. This effort will unlock new opportunities, further power the vibrant ecosystem of applications and push innovation to drive growth for the new Indian economy,” he said.
The new deal further illustrates the opportunities foreign investors see in Jio Platforms that has upended the telecommunications market in India with cut-rate voice calls and mobile data tariffs. This is not the first time Jio Platforms has expressed interest in mobile operating system or handsets. The company has shipped at least 40 million JioPhone powered by KaiOS. These “smart feature” phones support a handful of apps including Facebook’s WhatsApp. Google is an investor in KaiOS’ eponymous developer.
Analysts at Bernstein said last month that they expect Jio Platforms — which competes with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, a joint venture between British giant Vodafone and Indian tycoon Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Aditya Birla Group, in India — to reach 500 million customers by 2023, and control half of the market by 2025.
Google, which like Facebook reaches nearly every online user in India, said on Monday that it planned to invest $10 billion in Asia’s third largest economy over the next five to seven years.
Jio Platforms also operates a range of digital services including a music streaming player and a video conferencing app. On Wednesday, Jio Platforms unveiled its newest offering: the Jio Glass.
Jio Platforms executives said users will be able to perform video calls and access more than two dozen apps while wearing the Jio Glass. No word on when Jio Platforms plans to make this available to consumers and what it would cost.
Some investors have told TechCrunch in recent months that Reliance Jio Platforms’ owner — India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani — and his closeness to the ruling political party in India are also crucial to why the digital unit of Reliance Industries is so attractive to many.
They believe that buying a stake in Jio Platforms would lower the regulatory burden they currently face in India. The investors requested anonymity as they did not wish to talk about the political tie ups publicly.
A person familiar with the matter at one of the 13 firms that has backed Reliance Jio Platforms said that the Indian firm is also enticing as globally companies are trying to cut down their reliance and exposure on China.
India, and the U.S., in recent months have taken actions to limit their reliance on Chinese firms. New Delhi last month banned 59 apps and services including TikTok that are developed by Chinese firms. Reliance Jio Platforms has interestingly yet to raise capital from any Chinese investor.
“Jio, for its part, has made an extraordinary contribution to India’s technological progress over the past decade. Its investments to expand telecommunications infrastructure, low-cost phones and affordable internet have changed the way its hundreds of millions of subscribers find news and information, communicate with one another, use services and run businesses. Today, Jio is increasing its focus on the development of areas like digital services, education, healthcare and entertainment that can support economic growth and social inclusion at a critical time in the country’s history,” said Pichai.
Reliance Industries has said it plans to list Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, another subsidiary, within five years.
It’s raised $5.7 billion from Facebook. It’s taken $1.5 billion from KKR, another $1.5 billion from Vista Equity Partners, $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, $1.35 billion from Silver Lake, $1.2 billion from Mubadala, $870 million from General Atlantic, $750 million from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, $600 million from TPG, and $250 million from L Catterton.
And it’s done all that in just nine weeks.
India’s Reliance Jio Platforms is the world’s most ambitious tech company. Founder Mukesh Ambani has made it his dream to provide every Indian with access to affordable and comprehensive telecommunications services, and Jio has so far proven successful, attracting nearly 400 million subscribers in just a few years.
The unparalleled growth of Reliance Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of India’s most-valued firm (Reliance Industries), has shocked rivals and spooked foreign tech companies such as Google and Amazon, both of which are now reportedly eyeing a slice of one of the world’s largest telecom markets.
What can we learn from Reliance Jio Platforms’s growth? What does the future hold for Jio and for India’s tech startup ecosystem in general?
Through a series of reports, Extra Crunch is going to investigate those questions. We previously profiled Mukesh Ambani himself, and in today’s installment, we are going to look at how Reliance Jio went from a telco upstart to the dominant tech company in four years.
The birth of a new empire
Months after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his telecom network Reliance Jio, Sunil Mittal of Airtel — his chief rival — was struggling in public to contain his frustration.
That Ambani would try to win over subscribers by offering them free voice calling wasn’t a surprise, Mittal said at the World Economic Forum in January 2017. But making voice calls and the bulk of 4G mobile data completely free for seven months clearly “meant that they have not gotten the attention they wanted,” he said, hopeful the local regulator would soon intervene.
This wasn’t the first time Ambani and Mittal were competing directly against each other: in 2002, Ambani had launched a telecommunications company and sought to win the market by distributing free handsets.
In India, carrier lock-in is not popular as people prefer pay-as-you-go voice and data plans. But luckily for Mittal in their first go around, Ambani’s journey was cut short due to a family feud with his brother — read more about that here.
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, General Atlantic by selling close to 20% stake.
Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’s announcement is the third deal Reliance Jio Platforms, which is India’s largest telecom operator with over 388 million subscribers, has secured just this week. Jio Platforms is selling $1.2 billion stake to Abu Dhabi-based sovereign firm Mubadala, it said earlier this week. The company 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 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 market 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.”
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 — in part because of the investments it has made to build Jio Platforms, said Uppal.
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%.
“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.
Silver Lake is doubling down its bet on India’s Reliance Jio Platforms. The U.S. private equity firm said Friday it is buying an additional stake worth $600 million in the top Indian telecom operator, which has now raised $12.2 billion in less than two months — at the height of a global pandemic.
The Menlo Park-headquartered firm, which invested nearly $750 million in Reliance Jio Platforms last month, said the additional infusion increases its stake in the Indian firm to 2.08%, up from 1.15%.
Silver Lake’s new investment is now technically the seventh deal Reliance Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of India’s most valued firm (Reliance Industries), has secured in just as many weeks by selling nearly 20% stake. Earlier on Friday (local time), Abu Dhabi-based sovereign firm Mubadala said it would invest $1.2 billion in Jio, a firm run by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man.
Mr. Egon Durban, co-chief executive and managing partner at Silver Lake, said, the recent investment momentum in Reliance Jio Platforms “validates a compelling business model and underscores our admiration for Mukesh Ambani, his team and their courageous vision in creating and building one of the world’s most remarkable technology companies.”
“We are excited to increase our exposure and bring more of our co-investors into this opportunity, further supporting Jio Platforms in its mission to bring the power of high-quality and affordable digital services to a mass consumer and small businesses population,” he added.
Silver Lake manages nearly $40 billion in combined assets and committed capital and has invested in dozens of tech firms over the years including in video game engine maker Unity, audio and video communication service Skype, consultancy firm Gartner, Alibaba’s Ant Financial, computer giant Dell, and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing.
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Abu Dhabi-based sovereign firm Mubadala has become the latest investor in Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms, joining five American firms including Facebook and Silver Lake that have secured stakes in India’s biggest telecom operator at the height of a once-in-a-century global pandemic.
Mubadala said it had agreed to invest $1.2 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms for a 1.85% stake in the firm. The deal valued the Indian telecom operator, which launched in the second half of 2016, at $65 billion.
A subsidiary of Reliance Industries, the most valued firm in India whose core businesses are in oil refining and petrochemicals, Reliance Jio Platforms has raised $11.5 billion in the last seven weeks.
“Through my longstanding ties with Abu Dhabi, I have personally seen the impact of Mubadala’s work in diversifying and globally connecting the UAE’s knowledge-based economy. We look forward to benefitting from Mubadala’s experience and insights from supporting growth journeys across the world,” Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, said in a statement.
The announcement today further shows the appeal of Jio Platforms to foreign investors that are looking for a slice of the world’s second-largest internet market. 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.
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.
Khaldoon Al Mubarak, managing director and group chief executive of Mubadala Investment Company, said, “We have seen how Jio has already transformed communications and connectivity in India, and as an investor and partner, we are committed to supporting India’s digital growth journey. With Jio’s network of investors and partners, we believe that the platform company will further the development of the digital economy.”
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 — in part because of the investments it has made to build Jio Platforms, said Mahesh Uppal, director of Com First, a communications consultancy.
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%.
The rationale behind the deluge of dollars flooding into billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms is beginning to become more clear as his e-commerce venture JioMart starts rolling out to more people across India.
An e-commerce venture between the nation’s top telecom operator Jio Platforms and top retail chain Jio Retail, JioMart just launched its new website and started accepting orders in dozens of metro, tier 1 and tier 2 cities including Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Bokaro, Bathinda, Ahmedabad, Gurgaon, and Dehradun.
Before the expansion on Saturday, the service was available in three suburbs of Mumbai. The service now includes perishables such as fruits and vegetables, and dairy items in addition to staples and other grocery products as it makes its pitch to Indian households across the country.
Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $10 billion in the last month by selling a roughly 17% stake, has amassed over 388 million subscribers, more than any other telecom operator in the country.
Earlier this week the American e-commerce giant entered India’s food delivery market to challenge the duopoly of Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy and Ant Financial-backed Zomato. Amazon is making a massive hiring push in India, and is looking to hire close to 50,000 seasonal workers to keep up with the growing demand on its platform.
Meanwhile, Ambani’s Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, remains the largest retailer in India by revenue. It serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns.
JioMart may have Amazon and Flipkart in its sights, but in its current form, however, the company is going to be more of a headache for Grofers and BigBasket, the top grocery delivery startups in India.
Reliance Industries, the most valued firm in India and parent entity of Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, plans to expand JioMart to more than a thousand districts in a year and also widen its catalog to include electronics and office supplies among a variety of other categories, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. A Reliance Jio spokesperson declined to comment.
Facebook announced it would invest $5.7 billion in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms last month and pledged to work with the Indian firm to help small businesses across the country. JioMart’s WhatsApp account currently does not support the expanded regions.
Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, first unveiled his plan to launch an e-commerce platform last year. In a speech then, Ambani invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s work and said India needed to fight another fresh battle.
A handful of firms have attempted — and failed — to launch their e-commerce websites over the years in India, where more than 95% of sales still occur through brick and mortar stores. But Ambani is uniquely positioned to fight the duopoly of Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart — thanks in part to the more than $10 billion in investment dollars the company recently raised from KKR, Facebook, Silver Lake, Vista Equity Partners, and General Atlantic. In addition to scaling JioMart, the fresh capital should also help Ambani repay some of Reliance Industries’ $21 billion debt.
“We have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India — in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian,” Ambani said at an event attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi .
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 investment in the top Indian telecom firm in just as many weeks.
On Friday, KKR announced it will invest $1.5 billion in the Indian top 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 the Indian firm that has amassed over 388 million subscribers.
The investment from KKR, which has wrote checks to about 20 tech companies to date including ByteDance and GoJek, values the nearly four-year-old Reliance Jio Platforms at $65 billion. The announcement today further shows the growing 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 Reliance Industries and who has poured more than $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.”
“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.
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