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.

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.

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

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

The deal further captures the growing appeal of Jio Platforms to foreign investors looking for a slice of the world’s second-largest internet market. Jio, which launched its commercial operations in the second half of 2016, upended the 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,” he added.

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

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

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

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 written checks to about 20 tech companies including ByteDance and GoJek to date, values 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.”

Reliance Jio, which launched in the second half of 2016, upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans and free voice calls. Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, operates the telecom venture, called Jio Infocomm, that has become the top telecom operator in India.

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

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

“We are investing behind Jio Platforms’ impressive momentum, world-class innovation and strong leadership team, and we view this landmark investment as a strong indicator of KKR’s commitment to supporting leading technology companies in India and Asia Pacific,” he added.

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

In the company’s earnings call last month, Ambani said several firms had expressed interest in buying stakes in Jio Platforms in the wake of the deal with Facebook .

The investments also pave the way for an initial public offering of Jio, which could happen within five years.

More to follow…

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

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

On Sunday, New York-headquartered private equity firm General Atlantic said it would invest $869.8 million in the Indian telecom operator, a subsidiary of India’s most valued firm (Reliance Industries), joining Facebook, Silver Lake, and Vista Equity Partners that have also made sizeable bets on the three-and-a-half-year old Indian firm.

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

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

General Atlantic, a high profile investor in consumer tech space that has invested in dozens of firms such as Airbnb, Alibaba, Ant Financial, Box, ByteDance, Facebook, Slack, Snapchat, and Uber, has also been a key investor in India. It has cut checks to several Indian startups including NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that helps those looking to rent or buy an apartment connect directly with property owners, edtech giants Unacademy and Byju’s, payments processor BillDesk, and National Stock Exchange of India.

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

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

Reliance Jio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Duolingo’s quiet $10M raise

Earlier this month, edtech unicorn Duolingo raised $10 million in new venture capital from General Atlantic, per an SEC filing. With the raise, the online language learning platform accepted its first outside investor in almost three years. General Atlantic will take a board seat at the company, per Duolingo.

The company, which was last valued at $1.5 billion, says the round has increased its valuation, but it declined to share by how much.

General Atlantic has invested in a number of edtech companies around the world, like OpenClassrooms, Ruangguru and Unacademy. Duolingo said that General Atlantic’s global platform and experience with online education in Asia would help guide its own growth, specifically pointing to its plans to scale up the Duolingo English test.

The e-learning company last raised $30 million in December at that $1.5 billion valuation. To raise a smaller sum a few months later is uncommon. Historically, that type of raise could happen for a number of reasons: a company is accepting a later investment as part of the same funding round, it needs more cash and this is an easy way to raise it or the company tried to raise a new large round and failed to secure past $10 million.

So where does the language learning unicorn fit?

In Duolingo’s case, it said the $10 million was raised because it wanted to bring a new investor on, but didn’t need a massive amount of primary capital. Duolingo says it is cash-flow positive.

In the past few weeks, Duolingo launched a new app to help children read and write, passed one million paying subscribers for Duolingo Plus and disclosed that its annual bookings run rate is $140 million. The company also recently hired its first CFO and general counsel.

“Because our business has been growing very fast and we have more than enough capital, there was limited need for us to raise more primary capital. However, over the last year, we developed a relationship with General Atlantic,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

Tanzeen Syed, a managing director for General Atlantic, said that Duolingo is a “market leader in the language learning space. Syed also said Duolingo has a “profitable, efficient business model while maintaining hyper-growth characteristics.”

Another key factoid here is that along with the $10 million, there was a larger secondary transaction, which occurs when an existing stockholder sells their stock for cash or to a third party, or to the company itself while the company is still private.

In this case, an existing investor in Duolingo sold a small portion of their existing stake to allow General Atlantic to have a bigger stake in the company.

The company declined to share the size of the secondary market transaction.

In light of this new information, Duolingo’s expansion to Asia, which has a robust market of English learners, welcomed one investor and lessened the stake of another.

Based on what we know, the transaction signals that a preexisting investor in Duolingo was looking for liquidity at a time where the public markets are tightening and private markets are pausing. And at a time when companies are staying private longer than ever before, secondary transactions are hardly rare.

Sometimes, however, secondary transactions signal a lack of faith from a preexisting investor in the company’s current trajectory.

Duolingo is full steam ahead on its goal to expand across the world — and now has new cash in the bank, and a new seat on the board, to prove it.

India’s NoBroker raises an additional $30M from General Atlantic

NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that helps those looking to rent or buy an apartment connect directly with property owners, has extended its previous financing round to add $30 million to it.

General Atlantic has invested $30 million in NoBroker’s Series D round, which the startup unveiled in October last year. The round, now closed at $80 million, pushes five-year-old NoBroker’s to-date raise to $151 million, the startup’s founders told TechCrunch.

NoBroker helps people looking to buy or lease an apartment avoid brokers, who charge a significant fee. The startup has expanded to six new cities in the last three months (now serving a dozen cities in total), and has expanded to new categories including gate keeping, moving and packing, helping tenants secure home loans, formulating agreements between tenants and the property owner, and fulfilling furniture and other decor needs.

The most remarkable thing about this fundraising is, of course, its timing. In a joint interview with TechCrunch, NoBroker’s founders Amit Kumar Agarwal, Akhil Gupta, and Saurabh Garg said the investment is an “endorsement” to the faith General Atlantic, its biggest investor, sees in the startup. The new capital will also give enough runway to NoBroker, they said.

Several prominent investors in India have cautioned startups that they might face additional challenges in raising fresh capital as they enter the “worst” times.

NoBroker founders acknowledged that the demand has weakened in the market, but said they were hopeful that it would bounce back as soon as schools reopen, which sees tens of thousands of families move to different cities each year.

New Delhi ordered a 21-day nationwide lockdown last month — which it has since extended to May 3 — that has restricted people’s movements and shut schools, malls, theatres and other public places.

“Our plan is to keep adding more properties to the platform, and serve more customers,” said Kumar, who serves as the chief executive of NoBroker. “We also want to grow our other services to become a one-stop solution for all of a tenant’s needs and maintain the market leading position,” he said.

These new categories also allow NoBroker to levy a cut of 10 to 20% on leads it generates. One of the areas that the startup has expanded to is society management, which helps people keep a log on visitors and their approval to enter the premises and stay connected with one another.

This service has been adopted by over 2,000 societies that house more than 500,000 residents. NoBroker recently also partnered with BigBasket to help in grocery delivery.

“NoBroker Pay, NoBroker Hood, NoBroker Home Services and several such innovations are deepening the engagement of owners, tenants, buyers and community residents with its platform making it a go-to-destination beyond its core offering of rental and sale transactions,” said Shantanu Rastogi, Managing Director at General Atlantic, in a statement.

NoBroker has more than 3.5 million properties registered on its platform and has served more than 8.5 million individuals.

Indian education startup Byju’s raises $200M from General Atlantic

Indian education startup Byju’s said on Friday that General Atlantic, an existing investor in the startup, has pumped additional money to join the new ongoing financing round. While the startup did not disclose the size of General Atlantic’s check, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that it had invested $200 million in the new round at a valuation of $8 billion.

The announcement today comes weeks after Tiger Global committed to invest about $200 million in the nine-year-old startup, which claimed to have reached profitability.

In a statement, Byju Raveendran, founder and chief executive of BYJU’s said, “General Atlantic has been one of our strongest partners and this additional investment shows their confidence in our vision, growth and future. We are happy to see an ever increasing acceptance for our learning programs in small towns across the country.”

“Today, over 65% of our students are from outside the top 10 cities. This is a validation of how technology can make high-quality learning content more accessible to students, irrespective of their geographies. In fact, technology as an enabler has a lot of potential to further innovate the way in which learning can be made personalised and impactful,” he added.

More to follow…

A conversation with ‘the most ambitious female VC in Europe’

Blossom Capital, the venture capital firm co-founded by ex-Index Ventures and LocalGlobe VC Ophelia Brown, just raised a new $185 million fund.

The firm’s remit remains broadly the same: to be the lead investor in European tech startups at Series A, along with doing some seed deals, too. In particular, the firm says it will continue to focus on finance, design, marketplaces, travel, developer-focused tools, infrastructure and “API-first” companies.

Pitched as a so-called “high conviction” investor, Blossom backs fewer companies by writing larger cheques and claims to have close ties to U.S. top-tier investors ready to back portfolio companies at the next stage.

Just two years old, its portfolio companies include travel booking platform Duffel, which received two follow-on investment rounds led by Benchmark and Index Ventures; cybersecurity automation platform Tines, which received follow-on investment led by Accel Partners; and payments unicorn Checkout.com, which is also backed by Insight Partners.

Good timing, therefore, to have a catch-up call with Brown, where we talked investment thesis, why Europe is at an “inflection point,” diversity in the investor community and the increasing money coming into Europe from American VCs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.