KKR closes $15 billion fund targeting consumption and urbanization in Asia

KKR has just closed $15 billion for its Asia-focused private equity fund, exceeding its original target size after receiving “strong support” from new and existing global investors, including those in the Asia Pacific region.

The new close came nearly four years after KKR raised its Asian Fund III of $9.3 billion and marks the New York-based alternative asset management titan’s ongoing interest in Asia. It also makes KKR Asian Fund IV one of the largest private equity funds dedicated to the Asia Pacific region.

KKR itself will inject about $1.3 billion into Fund IV alongside investors through the firm and its employees’ commitments. The new fund will be on the lookout for opportunities in consumption and urbanization trends, as well as corporate carve-outs, spin-offs, and consolidation.

KKR has been a prolific investor in Asia-Pacific since it entered the region 16 years ago with a multifaceted approach that spans private equity, infrastructure, real estate and credit. It currently has $30 billion in assets under management in the region.

The firm has been active during COVID-19 as well. On the one hand, the pandemic has accelerated the transition to online activities and singled out tech firms that proved resilient during the health crisis. Market disruption in the last year has also made valuations more attractive and pressured companies to seek new sources of capital. All in all, these forces provide “increasingly interesting opportunities for flexible capital providers like KKR,” the firm’s spokesperson Anita Davis told TechCrunch.

Since the pandemic, KKR has deployed about $7 billion across multiple strategies in Asia.

While KKR looks for deals across Asia, each market provides different opportunities pertaining to the state of its economy. For deals in consumption upgrades, KKR seeks out companies in emerging markets like China, Southeast Asia and India, said Davis. In developed countries like Japan, Korea and Australia, KKR observed that continued governance reform, along with a focus on return on equity (ROE), has driven carve-outs from conglomerates and spin-offs from multinational corporations, Davis added.

Specifically, KKR’s private equity portfolio in Asia consists of about 60 companies across 11 countries. Some of its more notable deals include co-leading ByteDance’s $3 billion raise in 2018 amid the TikTok parent’s rapid growth and bankrolling Reliance Jio with $1.5 billion in 2020.

“The opportunity for private equity investment across Asia-Pacific is phenomenal,” said Hiro Hirano, co-head of Asia Pacific Private Equity at KKR. “While each market is unique, the long-term fundamentals underpinning the region’s growth are consistent — the demand for consumption upgrades, a fast-growing middle class, rising urbanization, and technological disruption.”

The Asian Fund IV followed in the footsteps of KKR’s two other Asia-focused funds that closed in January, the $3.9 billion Asia Pacific Infrastructure Investors Fund and the $1.7 billion Asia Real Estate Partners Fund.

#asia, #asia-pacific, #finance, #funding, #investment, #new-york, #private-equity, #real-estate, #reliance-jio

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Forget winning, can Amazon survive in India?

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.

Offline retailers in India have long expressed concerns about what they allege to be unfair practices employed by Amazon in India. Last year, during Bezos’ visit to the country, they held several protests. (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

BJP MLA Ram Kadam and his party workers protest against the Amazon Prime web series Tandav outside Bandra-Kurla Police station, on January 18, 2021 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

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.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #entertainment, #flipkart, #government, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #reliance-retail, #walmart

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India cabinet approves setting up a ‘massive network’ of public Wi-Fi hotspots

More than one billion people in India today have a mobile connection, thanks in part to the proliferation of low-cost Android smartphones and the world’s cheapest mobile data plans in recent years.

This scale was unimaginable just three decades ago, when India had fewer than 2.5 million telephones in the country. One of the earliest and most pivotal efforts that expanded the reach of telephones in the country took place in the late 1980s.

That was when the Indian government backed the idea of setting up telephone booths, or public call offices, across cities and towns. No longer did people need to buy expensive telephones, or pay exorbitant fees and bills. A person could just walk to a nearby mom and pop store, place a call for a couple of cents and move on.

On Wednesday, India’s cabinet approved a proposal that seeks to replicate the decades old strategy — and its success — with democratizing Wi-Fi in the world’s second largest internet market.

India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government will launch PM WANI (Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface) to “unleash a massive network in the country.”

The neighborhood stores that served as public call offices could now be public data offices, he said. To make the program a success, the government will not charge any license or registration fee, he said.

These public data offices will work in tandem with public data aggregators that are tasked to collaborate with small and large telecom companies to utilize their optical fibre network.

The program will “create millions of inter-operable Wi-Fi hotspots in the country and democratise content distribution and broadband access to millions at affordable rates,” said R.S. Sharma, former chairman of Indian telecom regulator TRAI. He likened the program to UPI, a payments infrastructure built by retail banks, which has become the most popular way Indians pay digitally today.

Hundreds of millions of people came online in India for the first time in the last decade. But just as many are still unconnected. The new program from the Indian government, in part, aims to bridge this gap.

“This is expected to be more business friendly and in line with efforts for ease of doing business.COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated delivery of stable and high speed Broadband Internet (data) services to an increasingly large number of subscribers in the country including areas which do not have 4G mobile coverage. This can be achieved by deployment of Public Wi-Fi,” the cabinet said in a statement. “Further, the proliferation of public Wi-Fi will not only create employment but also enhance disposable incomes in the hands of small and medium entrepreneurs and boost the GDP of the country,” it added.

Wednesday’s announcement is the latest effort to bring more people online in India. Global giants Google and Facebook, both of which are counting on emerging markets such as India to sustain their growth, have previously attempted to make internet access more affordable in the country. While Facebook’s marquee effort, Free Basics, was banned in the country over net neutrality violation charges, Google voluntarily shut down its free Wi-Fi program at 400 railway stations this year.

As mobile data prices got cheaper in many markets, including India, Google Station was no longer necessary, Caesar Sengupta, VP of Payments and Next Billion Users at Google, said at the time.

Jayanth Kolla, chief analyst and founder of consulting firm Convergence Catalyst, told TechCrunch that the Indian government should have launched this program seven to eight years ago.

He said the launch of Jio Platforms, which has become the largest telecom operator in India in just four years thanks to its cutrate mobile data tariffs, solved much of the challenges that PM WANI seeks to address.

#asia, #facebook, #google, #government, #india, #reliance-jio

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Reliance’s Jio Platforms says it will roll out 5G in second half of 2021

Reliance’s Jio Platforms, the largest telecom operator in India, plans to roll out a 5G network in the country in the second half of 2021, top executive Mukesh Ambani announced on Tuesday.

“India is today among the best digitally connected nations in the world. In order to maintain this lead, policy steps are needed to accelerate early rollout of 5G, and to make it affordable and available everywhere. I assure you that Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021,” said Ambani, who controls Jio Platforms’ parent firm Reliance Industries, at a trade conference.

The announcement comes as a surprise as India has yet to grant spectrum for 5G network to telecom networks in the country. At this moment, it is also unclear when India will begin auctioning the 5G spectrum.

Ambani, who is India’s richest man, said he was hopeful that the rollout of 5G network in India will enable the world’s second largest internet market to lead what he termed as the fourth industrial revolution. “Jio Platforms, with its family of over 20 start-up partners, has built world-class capabilities in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data, machine learning, internet of things, blockchain, etc,” he said.

The telecom operator, which has raised over $20 billion this year from a roster of high-profile investors including Facebook and Google, said the company is also hopeful that its bouquet of services in education, healthcare, financial services and new commerce categories “once proven in India, will be offered to the rest of the world to address global challenges.”

Gopal Vittal, the chief executive of Airtel (India’s second largest telecom operator), said the company was hopeful that India would have established a nation-wide 5G network in two to three years. He, however, did not share a timeline for when the rollout of 5G on his network would begin. (In a recent earnings call, Vittal had warned that the proposed price of the spectrum of 5G was “very, very expensive” — something that won’t support any kind of business model.)

During his speech, Ambani also urged industry players to rely on locally produced hardware and components. “As the digitalisation of the Indian economy and Indian society picks up speed, the demand for digital hardware will grow enormously. We cannot rely on large-scale imports in this area of critical national need.”

Airtel has previously said that it is open to the idea of collaborating with global firms for components. “Huawei, over the last 10 or 12 years, has become extremely good with their products to a point where I can safely today say their products at least in 3G, 4G that we have experienced is significantly superior to Ericsson and Nokia without a doubt. And I use all three of them,” said Sunil Mittal, the founder of Airtel, at a conference earlier this year. In the same panel, US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross had urged India and other allies of the US to avoid Huawei.

Vittal today also urged that India should adopt the global 5G standard. “There is sometimes talks that India must have its own 5G standard. This is an existential thread which could lock India out of the global ecosystem and slow down the pace of innovation. We could let down our citizens if you allow that to happen.”

On today’s panel, which was attended by Mittal as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ambani said stakeholders also need to think about ways to serve nearly 300 million people who are still on 2G networks in India. “Urgent policy steps are needed to ensure that these underprivileged people have an affordable smartphone, So that they too can benefit from Direct Benefit Transfer into their bank accounts, and actively participate in the Digital Economy,” he added.

#airtel, #asia, #government, #india, #jio-platforms, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-jio

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Jio Platforms backs SF-based AR gaming startup Krikey

Jio Platforms, the biggest telecom operator in India and which has raised over $20 billion from Facebook, Google and other high-profile investors this year, is leading a financing round of a San Francisco-based startup that develops augmented-reality mobile games.

Jio has led the Series A fundraise of Krikey, founded by sisters Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram, the Indian firm said on Wednesday. They did not disclose the size of Krikey’s Series A round, but Jio said Krikey has raised $22 million to date.

Krikey has previously not disclosed any financing rounds, according to their listings on Crunchbase, CBInsights, and Tracxn.

As part of the announcement, Krikey has launched YAATRA, a new AR game that invites users to step in an action-adventure story to defeat a monster army. “Using weapons such as the bow and arrow, chakra, lightning and fire bolts, players can battle through different levels of combat and puzzle games,” Krikey said.

Jio subscribers in India will get exclusive access to a range of features in Krikey, available on Android and iOS, including a 3D avatar, and entry to some game levels and weapons.

Krikey has developed two additional games in the past, including Gorillas, a game the startup developed in partnership with Ellen DeGeneres’s wildlife foundation. “We believe AR has a huge potential in not just gaming but in many other industries to disrupt the way people interact with the world around them. We are very excited to use the phone as the window back into the natural world and hope that people’s experiences in empathising with birds and guerrillas and different ecosystems will encourage them to start to take real-world conservation behaviour changes,” said Jhanvi in an interview with Cheddar last year.

“Our vision with Krikey is to bring together inspiration and reality in an immersive way. With augmented reality, we are able to bring fantasy worlds into your home, straight through the window of your mobile phone,” said Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram in a joint statement today. They have previously participated in Apple’s female entrepreneur camp.

In a statement, Akash Ambani, Director of Jio, said, “Krikey will inspire a generation of Indians to embrace Augmented Reality. Our vision is to bring the best experiences from across the world to India and the introduction of Yaatra is a step in that direction. Augmented Reality gaming takes the user into a world of its own, and we invite every Jio and non-Jio user to experience AR through Yaatra.”

Jio has previously acquired music streaming service Saavn (which has since been rebranded to JioSaavn), and Haptik, a startup that develops conversational platforms and virtual assistants.

We have reached out to Jio and Krikey for more details.

#apps, #asia, #funding, #jio-platforms, #reliance-jio

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India approves Google’s $4.5 billion deal with Reliance’s Jio Platforms

India’s antitrust watchdog has approved Google’s proposed investment of $4.5 billion in the nation’s largest telecom platform Jio Platforms, it said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Google announced in July that it would be investing $4.5 billion for a 7.73% stake in the top Indian telecom network. As part of the deal, Google and Jio Platforms plan to collaborate on developing a customized-version of Android mobile operating system to build low-cost, entry-level smartphones to serve the next hundreds of millions of users, the two companies said.

Jio Platforms is planning to launch as many as 200 million smartphones in the next three years, according to a pitch the telecom giant has made to several developers. These smartphones, as is the case with nearly 40 million of Jio’s feature phones in circulation today, will have an app store with only a few dozen apps, all vetted and approved by Jio, according to one developer who was pitched by Jio Platforms. An industry executive described Jio’s store as a walled garden.

The Indian watchdog, Competition Commission of India (CCI), was said to be interested in reviewing the data sharing agreement between Google and Jio, Indian newspaper Economic Times reported last month, citing an unidentified source.

The announcement today comes days after the CCI announced it had directed an in-depth investigation into Google to verify the allegations of whether the Android-maker promotes its payments service during the installation of an Android smartphone (and whether phone vendors have a choice to avoid this); and if Google Play Store’s billing system is designed “to the disadvantage of both i.e. apps facilitating payment through UPI, as well as users.”

The call for this in-depth investigation was prompted after the CCI concluded in its initial review that requiring Google Pay to be used to buy apps or make in-app payments was an “imposition of unfair and discriminatory condition, denial of market access for competing apps of Google Pay and leveraging on the part of Google,” the watchdog said.

Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 400 million subscribers, has this year raised over $20 billion from 13 high-profile investors including Facebook, which alone invested $5.7 billion into the Indian firm. That deal has also been approved by the CCI. Jio Platforms is a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, India’s most valued firm. It is run by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man.

#asia, #facebook, #google, #government, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms

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Indian startups explore forming an alliance and alternative app store to fight Google’s ‘monopoly’

Google, which reaches more internet users than any other firm in India and commands 99% of the nation’s smartphone market, has stumbled upon an odd challenge in the world’s second largest internet market: Scores of top local entrepreneurs.

Dozens of top startups and firms in India are working to form an alliance and toying with the idea of launching an app store to cut their reliance on Google, five people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The list of entrepreneurs include high-profile names such as Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of Paytm (India’s most valuable startup), Deep Kalra of travel ticketing firm MakeMyTrip, and executives from PolicyBazaar, Sharechat and many other firms.

The growing list of founders expressed deep concerns about Google’s “monopolistic” hold on India, and discussed what they alleged was unfair and inconsistent enforcement of Play Store’s guidelines in the country.

The conversations, which began in recent weeks, escalated on Tuesday after Google said that starting next year developers with an app on Google Play Store must give the company a cut of as much as 30% of several app-related payments.

Dozens of executives “from nearly every top startup and firm” in India attended a call on Tuesday to discuss the way forward, some of the people said, requesting anonymity. A 30% cut to Google is simply unfeasible, people on the call unanimously agreed.

Vishal Gondal, the founder of fitness startup GOQii, confirmed the talks to TechCrunch and said that an alternative app store would immensely help the Indian app ecosystem.

TechCrunch reached out to Paytm on Monday for comment and the startup declined the request.

In recent months, several major startups in India have also expressed disappointment over several of the existing industry bodies, which some say have failed to work on nurturing the local ecosystem.

The tension between some firms and Google became more public than ever late last month after the Android-maker reiterated Play Store’s gambling policy, sending a shockwave to scores of startups in the country that were hoping to cash in on the ongoing season of Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

Google temporarily pulled Paytm’s marquee app from the Play Store citing repeat violation of its Play Store policies. Disappointed by Google’s move, Paytm’s Sharma said in a TV interview, “This is the problem of India’s app ecosystem. So many founders have reached out to us… if we believe this country can build digital business, we must know that it is at somebody else’s hand to bless that business and not this country’s rules and regulations.”

Google has sent notices to several firms in India including Hotstar, TechCrunch reported last month. Indian newspaper Economic Times reported on Wednesday that the Mountain View giant had also sent warnings to food delivery startups Swiggy and Zomato.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, lauded the banding of Indian entrepreneurs and likened Silicon Valley giants’ hold on India to the rising days of East India Company, which pillaged India. “Modern day tech companies pose a similar risk,” he told TechCrunch.

Some of the participating members are also hopeful that the government, which has urged the citizens in India to become self-reliant to revive the declining economy, would help their movement.

Other than its reach on Android, Google today also leads the mobile payments market in India, TechCrunch reported earlier this year.

The giant, which has backed a handful of startups in India and is a member of several Indian industry bodies, invested $4.5 billion in Mukesh Ambani’s telecom giant Jio Platforms earlier this year.

India’s richest man Ambani, who runs oil-to-retails giant Reliance Industries, is an ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jio Platforms has attracted over $20 billion in investment from Google, Facebook, and 11 other high-profile investors this year.

The voluminous investment in Jio Platforms has puzzled many industry executives. “I see no business case for Facebook investing in Jio beyond saying we need regulatory help,” said Miten Sampat, a high-profile angel-investor on a podcast published Wednesday.

“This is a white-collar way of saying there is corruption involved, and if the government gets upset, I have invested somewhere with some friend of the government. All of us are losing at the benefit of one company,” he said. Sampat’s views are shared by many industry executives, though nobody has said it on record and in such clear terms.

Google said in July that it would work with Jio Platforms on low-cost Android smartphones. Jio Platforms is planning to launch as many as 200 million smartphones in the next three years, according to a pitch the telecom giant has made to several developers. Bloomberg first reported about Jio Platform’s smartphone production plans.

These smartphones, as is the case with nearly 40 million JioPhone feature phones in circulation today, will have an app store with only a few dozen apps, all vetted and approved by Jio, according to one developer who was pitched by Jio Platforms. An industry executive described Jio’s store as a walled-garden.

A possible viable option for startup founders is Indus OS, a Samsung-backed third-party store, which last month said it reaches over 100 million monthly active users. As of earlier this week, Paytm and other firms had not reached out to IndusOS, a person familiar with the matter said.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google, #india, #jio-platforms, #payments, #paytm, #reliance-jio, #sharechat

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Reliance Retail to raise $1 billion from Silver Lake

Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s retail venture Reliance Retail said on Wednesday it will raise $1.02 billion from Silver Lake, kickstarting a fundraising spree months after its sister venture Jio Platforms raised $20 billion earlier this year.

The investment in Reliance Retail will grant Silver Lake a 1.75% equity stake in India’s largest retail chain. The deal values Reliance Retail at $57 billion pre-money, its parent firm Reliance Industries said in a statement.

Reliance Retail, which last month acquired several parts of Future Group (India’s second largest retail chain), has 12,000 stores across the country. In the financial year that ended in March, it reported a net profit of $726.4 million. In recent quarters, Oil-to-retail giant Reliance Industries has looked to further expand the reach of Reliance Retail by entering e-commerce space.

JioMart, a joint venture between Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, has presence across 200 cities and towns in India.

“The success of JioMart in such a short time span, especially while India, along with the rest of the world, battles the COVID-19 pandemic, is truly unprecedented, and the most exciting growth phase has just begun. Reliance’s New Commerce strategy could become the disruptor of this decade. We are thrilled to have been invited to partner with Reliance in their mission for Indian Retail,” said Egon Durban, Co-CEO and Managing Partner of Silver Lake, in a statement.

Today’s announcement widens the bet Silver Lake has made on Ambani, India’s richest man. The Menlo Park-headquartered PE firm also invested $1.35 billion in Jio Platforms earlier this year. On Tuesday, it led a $500 million investment round in Indian edtech giant Byju’s.

“I am delighted to extend our relationship with Silver Lake to our transformational efforts of building an inclusive partnership with millions of small merchants while providing value to Indian consumers across the country in the Indian retail sector. We believe technology will be key to bringing the much-needed transformation in this sector so that various constituents of the retail ecosystem can collaborate to build inclusive growth platforms. Silver Lake will be an invaluable partner in implementing our vision for Indian Retail,” said Ambani in a statement.

#asia, #funding, #india, #reliance-jio, #reliance-retail, #silver-lake

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Indian telecom giant Vodafone Idea rebrands as ‘Vi’

Vodafone Idea, one of the largest telecom operators in India, has rebranded as ‘Vi’ as it looks to better leverage the unified venture between British telecom giant Vodafone Group’s India business and billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Idea Cellular two years after they merged in the country.

“As the integration of two businesses is now complete, it’s time for a fresh start. That’s why we believe that now is the perfect time to launch Vi, one company which provides the strength of Vodafone India and Idea,” Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read said at a virtual conference on Monday.

Vodafone Idea, once the largest telecom operator in the country with over 400 million subscribers, has lost more than 100 million subscribers in recent years to new comer India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani’s telecom venture Jio Platforms as it scaled to the top with its cut-rate mobile data tariff.

Jio Platforms has also attracted over $20 billion in investment from high-profile firms including Facebook and Google in recent months.

The logo of Vi (Image: Vodafone Idea)

“India is the second largest telecom market and the largest data consumer, globally. With 1.2 billion Indians accessing voice and data services at the world’s lowest tariffs across 500,000 villages, the ubiquitous wireless network in India is unmatched for its reach and impact in people’s lives,” said Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of Aditya Birla Group and Vodafone Idea, at the conference today.W

“With our new brand — Vi, we stand committed to partner with government to accelerate India’s progression towards a digital economy, enabling millions of citizens to connect to the digital revolution and build a better tomorrow.”

Vodafone Idea — or Vi,  has yet to turn a profit since it joined forces. The company said it will continue to invest in 4G wireless technology, which now reaches more than 1 billion people in India, double the coverage at the time of merger announcement.

Last week, the company received approval from shareholders to sell stake worth $3.4 billion by selling shares and raising debt. The company received a much needed relief in India earlier this month after nation’s apex court granted Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, another giant telecom operator in India, with 10 years to pay billions they owe to the government.

Prior to the court ruling, Vodafone Group had warned that Indian government’s short-deadline of three months to clear the dues were not feasible for the telecom firm and it would have no choice but to exit the market.

#airtel, #asia, #bharti-airtel, #india, #reliance-jio, #vodafone, #vodafone-idea

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Facebook tests TikTok-style video format on its main app in India

Facebook is going all in on short-form videos. After flirting with the idea in Lasso, a TikTok-clone it tested in select markets, and adding a similar feature to Instagram recently, the company is exploring a new venue for this TikTok-esque experience: The big blue app.

The company confirmed to TechCrunch that it is testing short-form videos in the Facebook app in India, its biggest market by users. In the current avatar, ‘Short Videos’ has a dedicated section within the news feed. On top of it sits the ‘Create’ button, tapping which prompts Facebook Camera to launch, and users can browse through videos by swiping up.

“We’re always testing new creative tools so we can learn about how people want to express themselves. Short form videos are extremely popular and we are looking at new ways to provide this experience for people to connect, create and share on Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Matt Navarra, a social media consultant, first revealed the existence of the new test.

The test comes as Facebook continues to cash in on the absence of TikTok, the ByteDance -owned app that was banned by India in late June, in the country. Facebook launched Reels in India last month weeks before launching it to dozens of additional markets. A source familiar with the matter said the daily engagement of Facebook’s services in India has increased by more than 25% since the ban on TikTok.

Scores of local startups, including Twitter-backed ShareChat and Times Internet’s Gaana and MX Player streaming services, have launched standalone apps or integrated features to replicate the social experience TikTok provided to users in recent weeks. The local apps have claimed to have added tens of million of new users during the period.

YouTube has also rolled out a similar feature, still in testing phase, to more users in India in recent weeks.

Image: TechCrunch

The urgency in Facebook’s attempt to court users with short-form videos comes as TikTok is plotting ways to re-enter the market. ByteDance is engaging with Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries to sell stake in TikTok’s local business, TechCrunch reported earlier this week.

#apps, #asia, #bytedance, #facebook, #facebook-india, #instagram, #instagram-reels, #jio-platforms, #lasso, #reliance, #reliance-jio, #social, #techcrunch, #youtube

0

Amazon launches online pharmacy in India

Amazon has launched an online pharmacy in Bangalore, the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state, as the e-commerce group looks to spread its tentacles in more categories in one of its key overseas markets.

The company said on Friday its new service, called Amazon Pharmacy, has started accepting orders for both over-the-counter and prescription-based medicines in Bangalore. (In India, antibiotics and several other drugs can often be purchased from pharmacies without prescriptions.)

Amazon Pharmacy is also selling traditional herbal medicines and some health devices such as glucose meters, nebulisers, and handheld massagers.

“This is particularly relevant in present times as it will help customers meet their essential needs while staying safe at home,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

Online sales of medicine in India, for which New Delhi currently does not have clear regulations, presents yet another major opportunity for Amazon that has invested more than $6.5 million to date into its India operations and where it competes with Walmart-owned Flipkart.

For Amazon, pharmacy is not a new idea. The company, which has hired several health experts in recent years, acquired online pharmacy startup PillPack for nearly $1 billion in 2018.

Scores of startups such as 1mg, Netmeds, Medlife, and PharmEasy currently sell medicines in India online and deliver to most parts of the country. 1mg, which has raised more than $170 million, today delivers orders in more than a 1,000 cities in the country, for instance.

These startups, as with any e-commerce player, offer enticing discounts to customers on each order to increase their market share. On that front, Amazon says it is also offering up to 20% discount on all orders.

In recent months, Amazon has expanded into a handful of new categories in India. It launched its food delivery service in parts of Bangalore in May and received approval to sell and deliver alcohol in the state of West Bengal a month later.

Last month, the company started to sell auto-insurance in India and said it planned to expand its insurance service to offer coverage on health, flight and cabs in the future.

Its expansion into more categories comes as Flipkart is also entering new spaces including hyperlocal delivery that it piloted in Bangalore late last month.

Both the firms are now facing an emerging challenger: India’s richest man. Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail, the largest retail chain in India, began testing e-commerce venture JioMart late last year.

The service, which is now operational in over 200 cities and towns across India, reported selling over 400,000 orders a day last month, surpassing daily peak figures of grocery delivery startups BigBasket and Grofers.

Local media has reported that Amazon is eyeing a multi-billion dollar stake in Reliance Retail. Ambani’s other venture, telecoms giant Jio Platforms, has raised about $20 billion from Facebook, Google, and 11 other high-profile investors in recent months. Ambani said last month that the company had concluded fundraise for Jio Platforms and is looking forward to “induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in the next few quarters.”

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #jiomart, #mukesh-ambani, #online-pharmacy, #pharmacy, #reliance-jio, #reliance-retail, #walmart

0

ByteDance in talks with India’s Reliance for investment in TikTok

Chinese giant ByteDance is engaging with India’s Reliance Industries Limited, the parent firm of telecom giant Jio Platforms, for investment in TikTok’s India operations in a move to potentially save the short form video app’s fate in its biggest market by users, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The two companies began conversations late last month, and have yet to reach a deal, the sources said. TikTok’s India business, where it had amassed over 200 million users before it was banned in late June, is being valued at more than $3 billion, one of the sources said. ByteDance did not respond to a request for comment.

An investment by Reliance would help the oil-to-retails giant make deeper connections with consumers. Even as Jio Platforms has amassed nearly 400 million users in India in the less than four years, its consumer-facing apps have struggled to gain wider appeal.

Since late April this year, Indian giant’s digital venture has raised about $20 billion from 13 high-profile investors including Facebook and Google.

This is a developing story…

#bytedance, #facebook, #india, #reliance, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #tc, #tiktok

0

Amazon reportedly in talks to buy a 9.9% stake in India’s Reliance Retail

Amazon may join its global rivals Google and Facebook in backing one of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s ventures.

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.

#amazon, #asia, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flipkart, #funding, #google, #india, #jio-platforms, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #walmart

0

WhatsApp to pilot projects to deliver credit, insurance and pension to users in India; wants to help expand UPI to more markets

WhatsApp plans to offer credit, insurance and pension products to lower income individuals and those in rural areas in India and help digitize local small and medium-sized businesses as the Facebook -service looks to make a digital payments push in its biggest market by users.

The instant messaging app maker has been working with banks — including ICICI, Kotak Mahindra, and HDFC– in India for the past one year to explore ways to bring financial services to individuals who are yet to become part of the banking population, said Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp’s head in India at Global Fintech Fest conference via video chat on Wednesday.

This work over the past year has already proven that banks can leverage WhatsApp’s reach — with ICICI Bank and Kotak Mahindra reaching more than 3 million new users, said Bose, who announced that Facebook-owned app is now planning to work with additional partners to bring insurance, micro-pension and credit to lower wage workers and the informal economy over the next one and a half year.

WhatsApp will pilot several programs with partners to test solutions to bring these services to people, he said.

“Based on the results, we will co-invest and scale. Even a small conversion of the demand will translate into an infusion of significant savings into the financial system,” he said. “Over the next two years, we are committing to opening in entrepreneurial ways we never have before. We will launch many experiments.”

Banks today face a number of roadblocks such as the level of presence they have in a small city or town and their heavy reliance on middlemen to sell financial services that have limited the number of people they can reach, said Bose.

With a reach of over 400 million users in India — more than any other app in the country — WhatsApp is uniquely positioned to bring more people into the financial ecosystem.

Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp’s head in India, delivering a speech on Wednesday.

Facebook made clear of its plan to enter India’s digital payments market in 2018 when it launched WhatsApp Pay to a small number of users in the country. But the company has been stuck in a regulatory maze since then that has prevent it from rolling out WhatsApp Pay to all its users.

The company says it has complied with all the requirements mandated by New Delhi’s central bank, signalling that it could receive the final approval for a wide rollout of WhatsApp Pay any day now.

WhatsApp also plans to digitize businesses and help them secure working capital, said Bose. Facebook invested $5.7 billion in India’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms in April this year and said the two companies had agreed to explore ways to serve small businesses such as mom and pop shops.

“These small businesses are critical to the Indian economy. If you look at Facebook as a company, there has always been a focus on helping these businesses,” Facebook India head Ajit Mohan told TechCrunch in an earlier interview. “These small businesses, first-time entrepreneurs and new ventures leverage the Facebook platform to find new customers and expand to additional markets.”

Bose said Wednesday that he is hopeful that some of its financial services bets will work in India and it will be able to replicate those models in other markets.

One platform from India that Facebook wishes to help bring to other markets is UPI, a payments infrastructure built by a coalition of banks in the country and backed by the local government, said Bose.

UPI has amassed over 100 million users on its platform in less than four years, and the infrastructure — which allows users to exchange money with one another across any bank in India as easy and fast as sending a text message — is being used to facilitate more than 1.3 billion transactions a month.

At stake is India’s mobile payments market that Credit Suisse estimates could reach $1 trillion by 2023. Dozens of heavily backed local startups and international giants are competing to claim a slice of this opportunity. Google Pay and Walmart’s PhonePe currently dominate the market, TechCrunch reported last month.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #finance, #india, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #whatsapp

0

Give us your seed round and we will send back double

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week was full of news of all sorts, but as we recorded both Danny and Natasha “not Tash” Mascarenhas were still locked out of their Twitter accounts after a proletariat revolution on the social platform saw the ruling Blue Checkmark Class forced into silence. That’s not really what happened, but it sounds better than actually went down at Big Social.

Anyway, Twitter accounts or not, the three of us gathered to parse through a wave of news:

It was a lovely time and there is a bit of show news. Namely that Equity is coming back to YouTube either this week or the next. So if you want to see us talk, soon you will be able to! Again!

Oh, and follow the show on Twitter. If you can, that is.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #gohealth, #liteboxer, #ncino, #reliance-jio, #startups, #tc, #the-browser-company, #udemy

0

Daily Crunch: Google backs India’s Reliance Jio

Reliance Jio continues to add billions of dollars to its bank account, Apple scores a tax victory in Europe and researchers test a system for undersea Wi-Fi (with lasers!). Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 15, 2020.

Google invests $4.5 billion in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

Another giant tech company has invested in India’s largest telecom, following Facebook’s investment a couple of months ago. Reliance Jio has raised about $20.2 billion in the past four months — more than the entire Indian startup ecosystem raised last year. Google and Reliance Jio will also be working together to develop low-cost Android smartphones.

“Getting technology into the hands of more people is a big part of Google’s mission,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “Together we are excited to rethink, from the ground up, how millions of users in India can become owners of smartphones.”

The tech giants

Apple and Ireland win appeal against the European Commission’s $15 billion tax ruling — Four years ago, the European Commission said that Ireland had failed to collect around $15 billion in taxes from Apple, but the European Court of Justice has annulled that decision.

Zoom introduces all-in-one home communications appliance for $599 — The new Zoom for Home – DTEN ME includes a large tablet with three wide-angle cameras and eight microphones.

Snap debuts a 13-week remote program to help developers create deeper Snap Kit integrations — Yellow Collabs is an expansion of Snap’s Yellow division, which previously consisted only of a startup accelerator.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Fraud detection startup Ravelin secures $20M Series C — The startup’s goal is to use machine learning to improve the fraud detection process, giving merchants more confidence in accepting customers and transactions.

Lemonade launches pet insurance — This is Lemonade’s first new vertical since it launched renters and homeowners insurance in 2016.

Substack launches Defender, a program offering legal support to independent writers — The newsletter platform said it will determine who to support on a case-by-case basis, covering up to $1 million in legal fees (or even more in “exceptional cases”).

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How to do remote work right, from the teams that know it best — Tips from Zapier CEO Wade Foster, FlexJobs CEO Sara Sutton, Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson and others.

Emergence’s Jason Green thinks some of the tech backlash is justified, but the B2B opportunities still outweigh the challenges — The VC also described the death of George Floyd as “a profound moment and shift for me personally.”

Generative algorithms are redefining the intersection of software and music — Generative algorithms and growing amounts of computing power are increasingly changing what computers can do with music today.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Researchers develop laser-based underwater Wi-Fi system for sub-sea data networks — The researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology managed to use their system to do Skype calls and move files back and forth, but they also burned out the Raspberry Pi using lasers that overwhelmed its capabilities.

Nissan stakes its EV future on the 300-mile-range Ariya crossover — The Ariya is an all-electric SUV with a starting price of $40,000.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#daily-crunch, #google, #reliance-jio, #tc

0

Google invests $4.5 billion in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

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.

#asia, #funding, #india, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms

0

Qualcomm to invest $97 million in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

Qualcomm has become the newest high-profile backer of four-year-old Reliance Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $15.7 billion in the past 12 weeks from as many investors.

On Sunday evening, Qualcomm Ventures said it will invest $97 million in Reliance Jio Platforms to acquire a 0.15% equity stake “on a fully diluted basis” in the top Indian telecom operator.

Reliance Jio Platforms, which competes with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea in India, has disrupted the Indian telecommunications market by offering cut-rate voice and data plans. It has amassed nearly 400 million subscribers to become the top carrier in the world’s second largest internet market in less than four years of its existence.

Its dominance in the Indian telecom operator while maintaining an ARPU (average revenue per user) that match those of its rivals has made Reliance Jio Platforms — a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, India’s most valued firm — an attractive firm for a roster of high-profile investors. Facebook, Silver Lake, General Atlantic, Intel are some of the firms that have backed Jio Platforms at the height of a global pandemic. Jio Platforms has sold 25.24% stake in the firm during the period.

The digital unit for Reliance Industries also operates a number of digital services including streaming services for music, live TV channels, and movies and TV shows. Earlier this month, the Indian firm added a new service to its arsenal: A video conferencing service.

Steve Mollenkopf, chief executive of Qualcomm, said the firm believes that Reliance Jio Platforms “will deliver a new set of services and experiences to Indian consumers” in the future.

“With unmatched speeds and emerging use cases, 5G is expected to transform every industry in the coming years. Jio Platforms has led the digital revolution in India through its extensive digital and technological capabilities. As an enabler and investor with a longstanding presence in India, we look forward to playing a role in Jio’s vision to further revolutionize India’s digital economy,” he said in a statement.

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 12 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.

“Qualcomm has been a valued partner for several years and we have a shared vision of connecting everything by building a robust and secure wireless and digital network and extending the benefits of digital connectivity to everyone in India,” said Ambani in a statement Sunday.

#asia, #china, #funding, #india, #qualcomm, #qualcomm-ventures, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms

0

India’s richest man takes on Zoom

India’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which recently concluded a $15.2 billion fundraise run, is ready to enter a new business: Video conferencing.

On Thursday evening, the firm — backed by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man — formally launched JioMeet, its video-conference service.

Like Zoom and Google Meet, JioMeet offers unlimited number of free calls in high definition (720p) to users and supports as many as 100 participants on a call. But interestingly, it’s not imposing a short time limit on a call’s duration. Jio Platforms says a call can be “up to 24 hours” long. The service currently has no paid plans and it’s unclear if Jio Platforms, which has a reputation of giving away services for free for years, plans to change that.

Jio Platforms, which began beta testing JioMeet in May this year, said the video conferencing service offers “enterprise-grade” host controls. These include: password protection on each call, multi-device login support (up to five devices), and ability to share screen and collaborate.

Other features include the ability to switch “seemingly” from one device to another, and a ‘Safe Driving Mode’ for when a participant is in commute. Hosts can also enable a ‘waiting room’ to ensure participants have to ask for permission to enter a call.

Reliance Jio Platforms is taking on Zoom with JioMeet, which looks a lot like Zoom

JioMeet is available for use through Chrome and Firefox browsers on desktop, as well as has standalone apps for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. It also has an Outlook plugin.

In a call with analysts earlier this year, Jio executives had described JioMeet as a platform that they think would some day have features to enable doctors to consult their patients, prescribe them medicine, and have a system in place to let them buy medicines online and get test results digitally. Similarly, they said JioMeet will allow teachers to host virtual classrooms for their students, with the ability to record sessions, assign and accept homework, and conduct tests digitally.

JioPlatforms, which is India’s top telecom operator with about 400 million customers, operates a number of digital services including JioMusic, a music streaming service; JioCinema, which offers thousands of TV shows and movies; and JioTV, which allows users to watch more than 500 TV channels. All of these services are available at no additional charge to Jio Platforms subscribers. It costs less than $2 a month to be a Jio subscriber.

The launch of JioMeet today comes as tens of millions of Indians are working from home and using video conferencing services for work and to stay in touch with friends.

Zoom app, currently the most popular video conference service in India, on Android had about 35 million monthly active users in the third week of July, up from about 4 million users during the same period in March, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. (Android powers nearly 99% of smartphones in India.)

#apps, #asia, #google-meet, #india, #jio-platforms, #microsoft-teams, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #zoom

0

Amazon launches ‘Smart Stores’ in India to win mom and pop

For Amazon, it’s never too late to try something in India. The e-commerce giant is exploring ways to further spread its tentacles in the largely offline, technology-free neighborhood stores in one of its key overseas markets.

The American firm’s latest attempt is called “Smart Stores.” For this India-specific program, Amazon is providing physical stores with software to maintain a digital log of the inventory they have in the shop, and supplying them with a QR code.

When consumers walk to the store and scan this QR code with the Amazon app, they see everything the shop has to offer, as well as any discounts and past reviews from customers. They can select the items and pay for it using Amazon Pay. Amazon Pay in India supports a range of payments services including the popular UPI, and debit and credit cards.

Amazon told TechCrunch that it piloted this project two months ago and is formally launching it now after seeing the early feedback. More than 10,000 shops, ranging from mom and pop stores to big retail chains including Big Bazaar, MedPlus and More Supermarkets have deployed the company’s system, it said.

The company said these “digital storefronts” are a win-win for both consumers and shop owners. Consumers do not need to stay inside the store and worry about handling plastic cards or cash — that is, to maintain social distance  — and they will also get rewards for using Amazon Pay.

Amazon’s QR code at display at a store. Photo: Amazon

Customers also get the ability to use Amazon’s Pay Later feature that enables them to pay for their purchases in installments. All of this means that merchants, most of whom shut stores until recent weeks to comply with New Delhi’s lockdown order in late March, are seeing increased footfalls and improving their sales. Amazon said it is not taking any cut from merchants or customers.

The company has been aggressively engaging with physical stores in India in recent quarters, using their vast presence in the nation to expand its delivery network and warehouses and even just relying on their inventory to drive sales.

The company’s push in the physical retails, which accounts for the vast majority of sales in India, comes as Facebook, Flipkart, Google, and Reliance Jio Platforms, which recently raised $15.2 billion, also race to capture this market. On Thursday, Google said it plans to offer loans to merchants in India by the end of this year.

These mom-and-pop stores offer all kinds of items, are family-run and pay low wages and little to no rent. Since they are ubiquitous — there are more than 30 million neighborhood stores in India, according to industry estimates — no retail giant can offer a faster delivery. And on top of that, their economics are often better than most of their digital counterparts.

“Amazon Pay is already accepted at millions of local shops, we are trying to make customers’ buying experience at local shops even more convenient and safe through Smart Stores. Further, through EMIs, bank offers and rewards, we seek to make these purchases more affordable and rewarding for customers, and help increase sales for merchants.” said Mahendra Nerurkar, chief executive of Amazon Pay, in a statement.

Amazon’s tardy but increasingly growing interest in the Indian physical retails market is not surprising. The company has often taken longer than most firms in India to study the market and then adds its own spin to tackle those challenges. Another recent case in point: Its foray into food delivery market in India.

Despite ubiquitous interest in the physical retails market, one thing that that no company is talking about yet is just how they plan to commercially incentivize these merchants.

The technology solutions built by these companies is unarguably driving sales for them, but a significant number of these small businesses take cash and under report their revenues to pay less tax. That incentive is multifold of any other incentive for many of them. 

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #google, #google-india, #payments, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #walmart

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A reading guide to Reliance Jio, the most important tech company in the world

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has brought much of the fundraising community to a standstill. However, amidst it all India’s hyper0growth telco Reliance Jio Platforms has put its fundraising efforts into full gear.

Over the past three months, Jio has raised over $15.5 billion from a cohort of investors that include prominent financial institutions like KKR and Silver Lake Partners, massive sovereign wealth funds like Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and some of the biggest names in tech including Facebook.

The recent deals have cemented Mukesh Ambani’s ambition to make his oil-to-retails giant Reliance Industries (India’s most valuable firm) a top homegrown internet giant.

On Friday, he said he plans to publicly list Reliance Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, the largest retail chain in the country — also controlled by him — in the next five years.

As Reliance Jio Platforms, which has become the India’s top telecom operator with over 388 million subscribers in less than four years, continues its funding spree, at Extra Crunch we are doubling down on our focus on covering everything Jio from here and out.

As we’ve attempted to get up to speed on the company, we’ve compiled a supplemental list of resources and readings that we believe are particularly helpful for learning the story of Jio, which remains a mysterious firm to many.

#asia, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #india, #kkr, #mukesh-ambani, #private-equity, #reliance-jio, #silverlake-partners, #telecom, #venture-capital

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Reliance Jio Platforms says $15.2 billion fundraise is good for now

If your venture fund was not one of the ten investors that backed Reliance Jio Platforms in recent weeks, you won’t be able to plough cash into the fast-growing top Indian telecom network for at least a few quarters now as it is no longer scouting for fresh deals.

Reliance Jio Platforms, which has raised $15.2 billion in the past nine weeks, said today that Saudi Arabia’s PIF $1.5 billion investment on Thursday marked the “end of Jio Platforms’ current phase of induction of financial partners.”

Mukesh Ambani, who controls Reliance Industries (the parent firm of Jio Platforms and a range of other businesses), said that Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, the largest retail chain in the country, “have received strong interest from strategic and financial investors,” but he will now “induct leading global partners in these businesses in the next few quarters.”

India’s richest man added that he plans to publicly list both Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail within the next five years. “With these initiatives, I have no doubt that your company will have one of the strongest balance sheets in the world.”

Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of the Reliance Industries Ltd., arrives for the company’s annual general meeting in Mumbai, India, on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The announcement today caps perhaps the buzziest fundraising news cycle that lasted for nearly three months. Reliance Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 388 million subscribers in less than four years, announced in April that it had secured $5.7 billion from Facebook.

In the weeks since, the telecom operator has raised an additional $9.5 billion from a roster of nine high-profile investors including Silver Lake, KKR, and General Atlantic .

The huge capital infusion at the height of a global pandemic accounted for more than half of the investment into telecom companies globally this year, according to Bloomberg. By raising $15.2 billion, Jio Platforms, which Ambani describes as a “startup,” alone mopped up more capital than India’s entire tech startup ecosystem last year.

On Friday, Ambani also confirmed a market speculation about why Reliance Jio Platforms was raising money at all. Ambani said that the capital has helped him repay Reliance Industries’ net debt of $21 billion well ahead of schedule. The oil-to-retail giant, which was debt free in 2012, is now “net debt free,” he said.

Last August, Ambani promised shareholders that Reliance Industries, which is India’s most valued firm, would repay its debt by early 2021.

“Today I am both delighted and humbled to announce that we have fulfilled our promise to the shareholders by making Reliance net debt-free much before our original schedule of 31st March 2021,” he said.

#asia, #facebook, #funding, #general-atlantic, #india, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance, #reliance-jio, #silver-lake

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India’s antitrust watchdog is reviewing Facebook’s $5.7B deal with Reliance Jio Platforms

Facebook’s $5.7 billion investment in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms that could help the American social media juggernaut make inroads into tens of millions of shops in the country is being reviewed by the local antitrust watchdog.

The Competition Commission of India said on Wednesday that it is reviewing Facebook’s multi-billion dollars investment in Reliance Jio Platforms for a 9.9% stake in the top Indian telecom operator.

Bloomberg first reported about the antitrust review, citing CCI chairman Ashok Kumar Gupta. The Indian watchdog declined to elaborate the aspects of its examination, but told the outlet that it assesses every deal that could misuse users’ data and may consider amending the current rules for some mergers and acquisitions in the country.

A Facebook spokesperson in India did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a recent filing, Facebook said the proposed transaction and commercial agreement with Reliance Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 388 million subscribers, are “pro-competitive, benefits consumers, kirana stores (neighborhood stores) and other small and micro local Indian businesses, and take forward the vision of digital India.”

Analysts have said that Facebook’s proposed investment in Reliance Jio Platforms, its biggest investment in recent years, could help the social media giant expand its reach in India, which is already its biggest market by users count.

Facebook’s eponymous service reaches about 350 million users in India, while its messaging service WhatsApp has amassed over 400 million users. WhatsApp is by far the most popular service in the world’s second largest market.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #cci, #competition-commission-of-india, #facebook, #india, #reliance, #reliance-jio

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India’s Reliance Jio Platforms to sell $250 million stake to L Catterton

Speaking of Reliance Jio Platforms, the top Indian telecom operator said on Saturday it has secured another investment.

L Catterton, a U.S. private equity firm will invest $250 million for a 0.39% stake in Jio Platforms, becoming the ninth investor to back the Indian firm at the height of a global pandemic.

L Catterton, a firm known to invest in consumer tech businesses, has backed dozens of young and established firms over the years including Peloton, <span style=”font-size: 1.125rem; letter-spacing: -0.1px;”>Vroom, ClassPass, Owndays and PVR Cinemas.

The announcement, which makes L Catterton the ninth investor to back Jio in eight weeks, comes hours after the three-and-half-year-old telecom network said it was selling stake worth $600 million to TPG. The new investment, like that of TPG, values Jio Platforms at $65 billion.

Reliance Jio Platforms has now secured more than $13.7 billion by selling about 22.3 stake to Facebook, Silver Lake, KKR, Vista Equity Partners, General Atlantic, Mubadala, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, TPG, and L Catterton in the past eight weeks.

“We look forward to partnering with Jio, which is uniquely positioned to execute on its vision and mission to transform the country and build a digital society for 1.3 billion Indians through its unmatched digital and technological capabilities,” said Michael Chu, co-chief executive of L Catterton, in a statement.

Investors’ bullishness on Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 388 million subscribers, shows their growing interest in India’s telecom 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.

Jio Platforms also operates a bevy of digital apps and services including music streaming service JioSaavn (which it says it will take public), on-demand live television service JioTV and payments app JioMoney, as well as smartphones, and broadband business. These services are available to Jio subscribers at no additional charge.

Pankaj Jain, a high-profile angel investor, told TechCrunch that Jio Platforms’ digital services suite appeared to have helped it attract foreign investors. “Foreign investors see that owning the pipes is a race to the bottom in terms of ARPU (average revenue per user) but having so many bundled services seems like it’s the future for telecommunications companies. By solidifying their content strategy, they have appealed to investors that are seeing this same strategy play out in other markets,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it’s still to be seen whether content can help increase margins significantly in India.”

Though Reliance Jio Platforms has not revealed why it is raising so much money, this capital could be deployed to cut oil-to-retails giant Reliance Industries’ net debt of about $21 billion, said Mahesh Uppal, director of communications consultancy firm Com First, in a conversation with TechCrunch.

Ambani pledged to clear Reliance’s due by early 2021. Reliance Industries had no debt in 2012, but that changed when the company decided to enter the telecommunications market.
“I particularly look forward to gaining from L Catterton’s invaluable experience in creating consumer-centric businesses because technology and consumer experience need to work together to propel India to achieving digital leadership,” said Ambani in a statement today.

#asia, #classpass, #funding, #l-catterton, #peloton, #reliance, #reliance-jio, #tpg, #vroom

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India’s Reliance Jio Platforms to sell $600 million stake to TPG

American private equity firm TPG will invest $600 million in Jio Platforms, joining a roster of high-profile investors including Facebook and Silver Lake that have backed India’s top telecom operator at the height of a global pandemic.

TPG said it is acquiring a 0.93% stake in Jio Platforms, giving the Indian firm a valuation of $65 billion. TPG, which manages $79 billion of assets and has backed several tech firms including Uber, Spotify and Airbnb, is the eighth investor who has agreed to back Mukesh Ambani’s telecom network in just as many weeks.

Reliance Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 388 million subscribers, has secured $13.49 billion by selling nearly 21% stake in the company.

More to follow…

 

#asia, #funding, #india, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-jio, #silver-lake, #tpg, #tpg-capital

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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, 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.

#abu-dhabi, #asia, #facebook, #funding, #general-atlantic, #mubadala, #mubadala-investment-company, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #silver-lake, #telecommunications, #united-states

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Reliance Jio Platforms to sell additional $600 million stake to Silver Lake

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.

More to follow…

#abu-dhabi, #alibaba, #ant-financial, #asia, #companies, #dell, #didi-chuxing, #digital-services, #funding, #india, #menlo-park, #mubadala, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #silver-lake, #united-states, #unity

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Mubadala to invest $1.2 billion in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

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%.

#abu-dhabi, #asia, #facebook, #funding, #india, #mubadala, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio

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Amazon reportedly considering $2 billion stake in Indian telecom operator Bharti Airtel

Amazon .com may follow its American peer Facebook’s footsteps in securing a slice of India’s booming telecom market.

The e-commerce giant, which has invested over $6.5 billion in India, is in early-stage talks to buy a 5% stake worth at least $2 billion in Bharti Airtel, the third-largest telecom operator in India, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters.

Amazon’s interest in Bharti Airtel comes as Google is said to be in separate talks to buy stake in Vodafone Idea, the second largest telecom operator in India. In April, their fellow rival Facebook bought a 9.99% stake in the nation’s top telecom operator, Reliance Jio Platforms. According to local media reports, Microsoft is also in talks with Reliance Jio Platforms and could invest as much as $2 billion.

Facebook’s investment shows India is a major new battleground for Big Tech, said Amit Pau, a former Vodafone Global Group MD and now COO and Partner at Accloud. “Facebook’s focused attack on Amazon in Indian e-commerce through its partnership with Jio Platforms is the firing gun of an epic showdown between the world’s biggest companies that will see Indian consumers win better services through digitization and boost the economy.”

The American giants have formed multiple partnerships with telecom operators in India, a key overseas market for them, over the years to expand their reach in the nation. Microsoft has a partnership with Reliance Jio to bring Office 365 to millions of small businesses at subsidized cost. Google maintains a similar partnership with Airtel for its Google Cloud suite.

Amazon, which leads the cloud market in India, currently does not maintain any similar deals with a telecom operator — though it had a partnership with Bharti Airtel in the past.

#amazon, #amazon-com, #asia, #bharti-airtel, #ecommerce, #facebook, #google, #india, #microsoft, #reliance-jio, #vodafone, #vodafone-idea

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JioMart, the e-commerce venture from India’s richest man, launches in additional cities

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.

The money comes as Ambani’s various companies begin entering a market already teeming with fierce competitors like Amazon, Walmart’s Flipkart, BigBasket, MilkBasket, and Grofers.

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.

The expansion to more cities comes a month after JioMart launched its WhatsApp business account, enabling people to easily track their order and invoice on Facebook -owned service.

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, FacebookSilver LakeVista 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 .

#amazon, #ant-financial, #asia, #bigbasket, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flipkart, #grofers, #mukesh-ambani, #narendra-modi, #prosus-ventures, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #walmart, #whatsapp, #zomato

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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 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.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #companies, #facebook, #funding, #general-atlantic, #india, #kkr, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #silver-lake, #united-states, #vista-equity-partners

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