India’s best know startups Flipkart and Paytm got a pat on their back from Masayoshi Son, founder and chairman of Japanese investment bank SoftBank. The companies benefitted from Son, who invested in the two firms from his company’s $ 100 billion Vision Fund.
Son’s praise comes at a time when Paytm is planning a $1 billion investment to ramp up its payments business and build a financial services platform to expand the scope of its operations in the financial services space. Flipkart, too, is flying high after it managed to stay ahead of Amazon during the peak festive period sales during September and October, vindicating its growth prospect after a large round of investment during the year.
Softbank which claims to have cumulative investment of $6 billion in India, is banking on the Indian unicorns to help his massive $100 billion fund deliver good returns. Analysts had earlier claimed that Softbank’s Vision Fund was so massive that it size is more a liability than a blessing, as Son would have to find larger and late stage investments to deploy his capital.
However, late stage investments aren’t that profitable as risky early stage investments. To that extent, for Son, the success of investments in the likes of Flipkart and Paytm is crucial for Vision Funds overall performance.
“I believe, after China in terms of size, India should be next, and in a market with such huge potential Flipkart has 60 per cent market share which is a good start,” said Son on Monday while announcing Softbank’s result. Son grew to fame with his early investments in Yahoo and Alibaba, which gave him stupendous returns.
Now, his vision fund has investors ranging from the Saudi Arabia Soveirgn fund to Apple and is considered the 800-pound gorilla of the investing world. “Flipkart, India’s number one e-tailer has 60 per cent share in the domestic e-commerce market and is bigger than Amazon in India. It is very difficult to see someone who is bigger than Amazon,” added Son.
Flipkart claims it has captured 70 per cent of India’s e-commerce market after seeing huge success in the recent festive sale period, and is almost twice the size of its rival Amazon. The company is aggressively looking at expanding its market share after raising $1.4 billion led by Tencent and another $2.5 billion from SoftBank earlier this year.
Son said the Vision Fund’s other big investment in India, Paytm, controls 58 per cent of the digital payments market, and that the company had grown by 230 per cent year-on-year in the 12 months to March 2017.
“In China, Alipay has been successful as a business model and Alipay and SoftBank support Paytm.Again, thanks to the Alibaba Group, we are the second-largest shareholder in Paytm,” Son added. SoftBank has 20% stake in Paytm's parent One97 Communications.
Paytm was benefitted massively from the government’s demonetisation exercise in November last year, which helped it extend its lead over rivals such as FreeCharge and MobiKwik. So far, India’s digital payments had space lacked a large foreign player, but with the recent entry of Google’s Tez and the upcoming launch of WhatsApp payment feature, Paytm is likely to face competition. Paypal is also expanding operations in India.
Softbank committed more than $4 billion to India’s startup ecosystem in 2017, double of what it investment in the country since 2014. Son feels that given the early stages of e-commerce, India, with its huge market, population and economic growth holds as much opportunity as China. Softbank has invested in Paytm, Flipkart, Ola, Hike Messenger, grocery e-tailers Grofers and Oyo rooms, spreading its investment across fast growing payments, e-commerce and ride-sharing segments. Overseas, Softbank is an investor in Uber and is said to be eyeing an investment in Lyft, the latest version of ride-sharing business.
While Son is bullish on India’s e-commerce market, his past bets have not panned out as planned. One of Softbank’s early high profile investment in Housing.com, a online real estate portal, petered out after the firm lost its way overspending their initial investment. After investing nearly $1 billion in Snapdeal, he was forced to write it off as a loss when an attempted merger with Flipkart did not go through. Softbank then decided to double its investment in Flipkart, rising its stake in the Indian e-commerce market.