In a year when valuations crashed, funding dried up, and a number of deals were put in cold storage, a $130 million deal made waves. In September, PayU, owned by South African Internet company Naspers, bought Citrus Pay in one of the largest all-cash deals in the Indian startup space, giving a healthy four to five times return to investors and allowing many of its employees to vest their stakes.
Some 18 months before this, the Citrus Pay founder, Jitendra Gupta, was on the road desperately seeking funds. With CEO Amrish Rau, Gupta met some 100 investors from across the world, and there was not even the whiff of a termsheet. This was when millions of dollars were being pumped in by the likes of Softbank, Tiger Global, and Alibaba, all wanting a slice of the Indian startup market. “And here, we were in our fifth year as a startup, with revenues, and no one was willing to commit,” says Gupta.
The problem, he realised, was that they were asking for too much; they were looking to raise $100 million at a valuation of $300 million in their third round, when Citrus Pay had been valued at $30 million in the second round. “We thought that if Paytm could get $575 million [from Alibaba], since our revenues were more than Paytm at that time, why not ask for the sky,” says Gupta. Asking was one thing; getting, quite another. So, Gupta and Rau began asking investors to value the business. “We started getting valued around $100 million and decided to go with that. It was a big learning to keep your head on your shoulders in a booming market.”
Even as he got the funds, Gupta realised that the consumer payments business was going to get tough with big names like Alibaba in the fray. He wanted to explore this space further but didn’t want to be hampered by having to hunt for investors. So, he decided to sell his company to PayU, part of the Naspers group, and stayed on to head the consumer business of the new company, PayU India.
Mohit Bhatnagar, managing director at Sequoia, the earliest investor in Citrus, says: “Consumer brands tend to be more volatile, but the high risk can also bring in high rewards if done correctly. The merchants business, on the other hand, is a lot more stable, but it isn’t able to raise money at a high value because of its steady growth path.” That’s what Gupta is looking to fix now.
He’s fine-tuning LazyPay, a ‘pay later’ app, which allows users to make a purchase in a single click, regardless of connectivity issues and whether the actual transfer of money from buyer to merchant was complete. By offering the merchant a 100% conversion and increasing the return on his marketing dollar, Gupta hopes to earn a commission from him, underlining the monetisation model for his app. He’s also working on a peer-to-peer digital wallet experience.