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How SoftBank's local portfolio firms have fared as chairman Son visits India

Not many investors can boast of a portfolio which is more than half full of unicorns. Japanese telecom and Internet conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp happens to be one such investor in India.

Of its seven portfolio firms, four – Hike, Ola, Snapdeal and InMobi – are unicorns, meaning each startup has been valued at more than $1 billion.

While SoftBank invested in InMobi for the first time in 2011, it made a bang in the Indian investment industry in the second half of 2014, when it announced infusion of a whopping over $800 million in two firms – Snapdeal and Ola – within a couple of days. And it could announce more during chairman and managing director Masayoshi Son's ongoing visit to India; he is taking part in events organised by HT Media Ltd on Friday and IT industry body Nasscom on Saturday.

The Japanese company led a $627 million funding round in e-commerce marketplace Snapdeal and a $210 million round in cab-hailing firm Ola. Overall, the firm has invested nearly $2.8 billion in India so far, according to VCCEdge, the data research arm of News Corp VCCircle.

SoftBank is probably looking to replicate its Alibaba success in India, an infantile mobile/Internet economy. SoftBank is the largest shareholder in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. It invested $20 million in the firm in 2000 when it was a small e-commerce platform. In 2014, when Alibaba went public, SoftBank's 34% stake was valued at an eye-popping $54 billion.

Still, an Alibaba kind of home run seems far away. At least for now. For FY15, its portfolio companies in India had cumulative losses of nearly $450 million, according to filings with the Registrar of Companies.

A SoftBank spokesperson, in response to an email from Techcircle, refused to comment on portfolio companies or investment strategies. But the spokesperson said: "SoftBank is very bullish on India and invested in the market for the long term."

Portfolio performance SoftBank may not want to comment on its portfolio but it has marked down the value of its investments in India. Last month, SoftBank once again marked down the value of its investments in Ola and Snapdeal. The firm reported a loss of ¥58.1 billion ($555 million) from its financial instruments for the six-month period ended 30 September, largely due to a decline in the fair value of preferred stock investment, including embedded derivatives investments in Ola and Snapdeal. Of this, nearly half has been booked as a loss due to the appreciation of the Japanese yen.

In the first quarter ended 30 June, SoftBank had booked a loss of ¥30.2 billion ($295 million then) from the decline in the fair value of Snapdeal and Ola, mainly due to the appreciation of the Japanese currency against the rupee. This means SoftBank has doubled the book losses on value of investment last quarter. Let's look at each portfolio firm:

Snapdeal SoftBank holds a significant minority stake in Snapdeal. It had led a $627 million round of investment in the company in late 2014 followed by another round of $500 million last year. In a deal early this year, Snapdeal was reportedly valued at $6.5 billion.

In total, Snapdeal has raised around $1.65 billion from about two dozen investors. It has held preliminary talks exploring merger with two bigger rivals—Flipkart and Amazon. However, Snapdeal had denied this.

Separately, it has been in talks with existing and new investors to raise funding for its wallet Freecharge.

Ola The talks about Ola's next fundraise have been getting louder in the past couple of months as its key rival Uber said it is looking to ramp up India business even as it gave up the fight in China.

To date, Ola has raised around $1.3 billion in external funding and has been valued around $5 billion.

Housing.com Realty portal Housing.com has been in the news for about two years now. From public pot shots by then chief executive and co-founder Rahul Yadav, directed at the company's investors and board members, which led to his ouster later, to high cash burn, the once revered startup has been struggling to get back on its feet.

SoftBank recently put in an additional $5 million (Rs 34 crore) in Housing.com, besides the $15 million it invested in the company in January.

Meanwhile, the industry is abuzz with speculation over a possible merger of housing.com with one of its leading rivals.

Grofers Food and grocery delivery startup Grofers raised $120 million (nearly Rs 780 crore) in funding led by SoftBank in November 2015.

A few months ago, Grofers scrapped its app-only model and launched its desktop website. The move came at a time when the Gurgaon-based startup is struggling with margins and unit economics.

Grofers, one of the most heavily funded grocery delivery startups, has been facing mounting challenges. Earlier this year, Grofers had to let go of some employees and revoked campus job offers as part of a restructuring of operations.

Grofers, which earlier operated on a marketplace model, has now shifted to a 70% inventory-led business where it sources products from different brands directly and stores them in its warehouses for further delivery.

OYO Hotel room booking marketplace Oyo had last year raised $100 million (Rs 635 crore then) in a round led by SoftBank with participation from Sequoia, Lightspeed and Greenoaks Capital.

Earlier this year, OYO, which is the most-funded budget hotels aggregator in India, expanded its operations to Malaysia, its first overseas market. In February, it acquired Tiger Global-backed smaller rival Zo Rooms in an all-stock deal. In May, OYO Rooms said it has attained profitability at an aggregate level.

InMobi Mobile advertising company InMobi was one of the first companies to enter the Unicorn club in India. It is facing severe competition from Facebook and Google, which are seeing massive traction when it comes to ads.

It has raised $220.5 million in equity and $100 million in venture debt. InMobi had losses of $40.91 million in 2015-16 and $45.5 million in 2014-15. To turn profitable, the company has laid off approximately 15-20% of its workforce.

Hike In August, SoftBank-backed messaging app Hike Ltd raised $175 million (Rs 1,170 crore) from China's Tencent Holdings Ltd, Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group and other investors in a round that propelled it to the elite list of unicorns.

For SoftBank, this was the first major investment in an Indian company since the departure of its president and chief operating officer Nikesh Arora in June. The India-born executive, once considered as the heir apparent to SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son, had led its investments in India for the past couple of years including in Snapdeal and Ola.

Hike claims to have 100 million users and is posting losses.

Loss-making portfolio: Should investors be concerned? Industry insiders say the Indian consumer Internet sector will be a game of patience and strategy. Backing leaders is one such move. If you watch closely, you will notice that SoftBank has typically invested in the second largest, if not the largest player, in any industry – be it cab aggregators, e-commerce players, messengers or hotel aggregators.

"It has been seen that investors have made money without companies making money," said Sanjeev Krishan, transaction services and private equity leader at PwC India. "None of the consumer Internet companies has been profitable and it's the same case for almost all large investors. Two years ago, the question was raising capital. It was known that these firms would take three to five years to gain momentum and sustain. That's how one needs to look at it." Also, the interest for India is unabated. SoftBank's investments in India may surpass $10 billion in five to 10 years.

"SoftBank has a telecom background and they understand that it takes time for companies to mature on the mobile and Internet platforms. India has the second-largest population in the world and adoption of mobiles is certainly attractive for investors like them," said Anil Joshi, managing partner at Unicorn India Ventures.

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