List of 10 Indian Unicorn Startups with Chinese Investment

In the last year alone, Indian startups raised a total of $14.5 billion and out of that $4 billion came from Chinese investors. While taking a closer look, you realize that 18 out of 30 Indian startup unicorns are funded by China. It is evident that China has been playing an active role in India’s startup ecosystem for the last 4-5 years.

The reason for growing foreign investment and more importantly Chinese investment in Indian startups is simple. India does not have global tech giants like Alibaba, Google, Microsoft, Tencent or Facebook that can invest millions of dollars that are required by Indian startups to grow.

With the changes in India’s foreign direct investment (FDI) policy and PM Modi’s call for going ‘vocal for local’, it is worth introspecting the scale of Chinese investment in Indian startups.

Let’s take at 10 Indian unicorn startups that have raised Chinese investment over the last couple of years:

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Paytm

Founded by Vijay Shekhar Sharma in 2010, Paytm started as online recharge platform for prepaid mobile, DTH and data card with an initial investment of $2 million from the founder himself.

Today Paytm is more than just a fintech company. It has ventured into e-commerce with the launch of Paytm Mall in 2016, wealth management with Paytm Money and online gaming with Paytm First Games in 2018.

While Vijay is the man behind Paytm, he currently owns less than 20% of his own company. Chinese technology giant Alibaba owns over 40% stake in Paytm. If we talk about overall Chinese ownership, both Alibaba and SAIF Partners together own about 60% of Paytm.

Till date, Paytm’s parent company One97 has raised a total of $4.4 billion and according to Crunchbase data, more than $900 million comes from the Alibaba Group.

Flipkart

Founded by Sachin and Binny Bansal, Flipkart was started as an online bookstore back in 2007. At the time, online shopping was not as common as it is now and in a sense, Flipkart’s growth from an online bookstore to a full-fledged e-commerce company is synonymous with the adoption of online shopping in India.

While Flipkart was led by the Bansals for a decade, it was acquired by the American retail giant Walmart in 2018 for $16 billion, making it the biggest acquisition in the Indian startup ecosystem. Even though Walmart owns 81% of Flipkart, there are still Chinese investors who own minority stakes in the company.

Till date, Flipkart has raised $7.7 billion from multiple investors and talking about Chinese investors we have investors like Tencent Holdings and Steadview Capital who have invested an estimated $300 million in the company.

OYO

Founded by an 18-year-old college drop-out Ritesh Agarwal in 2012, OYO started as Oravel Stays by adopting Airbnb’s concept but after Ritesh’s stint at Thiel Fellowship, he pivoted to aggregating budget hotels which had a bigger market opportunity in India leading to the birth of OYO in 2013.

Fast forward to today, OYO is not only India’s leading hotel chain but it has expanded its presence globally in the last eight years. OYO has more than 43,000 hotels in its portfolio with over 1 million rooms across 800 cities across 80 countries.

Till date, OYO has raised $3.2 billion from its investors with Japan’s Softbank being its majority stakeholder with 48% ownership. While OYO has largely remained free of Chinese investors, just last year it received $100 million from Chinese transportation company Didi Chuxing.

Ola

Founded by Bhavish Agarwal and Ankit Bhati in 2010, Ola aims to build mobility solutions for a billion people. Ola is doing this through its ride-hailing platform that connects over 1.5 million drivers with millions of customers serving more than a billion rides every year across 250 cities in India and also countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Recognizing the toll of millions of vehicles on the environment, the company has also started its latest venture Ola Electric which aims to bring 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2021.

In order to achieve such lofty goals in such a short time, every company needs cash. Till date, Ola has raised $3.8 billion from its investors. Like most Indian unicorns, Ola has raised a lot of the funds from foreign investors to support its goals.

First Chinese investment in Ola came from Steadview Capital in 2014. Later in 2018, Chinese gaming behemoth Tencent Holdings participated in a massive $1.1 billion funding round along with Softbank and RNT Capital, making it a major shareholder with 10.4% stake in Ola. Other Chinese investors in Ola include China Eurasian Economic Cooperation Fund and Sailing Capital.

Udaan

Founded by former Flipkart employees Sujeet Kumar, Vaibhav Gupta and Amod Malviya in 2016, Udaan offers a technology platform that connects traders, retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers on a single platform.

Their technology platform helps small businesses to grow their business by discovering new buyers and sellers offering competitive prices for their products, providing access to capital, new markets, low-cost and reliable logistics and secure payment solutions.

This startup with no CEO became one of the fastest to join the coveted unicorn club after it raised $225 million in its series C round from DST Global and Lightspeed India Partners in 2018. However, next year is when Chinese conglomerate Tencent Holdings and investment firm Hillhouse Capital bought a stake in Udaan and helped the company raise even bigger funding round bringing in $585 million.

Swiggy

Founded by Sriharsha Majety, Nandan Reddy and Rahul Jaimini in 2014, Swiggy started its operations as a hyperlocal food delivery platform by partnering up with a few restaurants in Bengaluru. In merely six years, Swiggy now has more than 1,40,000 restaurants on its platform serving 20 million customers in over 500 cities across India.

Chinese investors have been a part of Swiggy’s journey since its early days. Hong Kong-based SAIF Partners was the first company along with US-based Accel to invest $2 million in its first institutional funding round in 2015.

Since then, Chinese giants like Meituan-Dianping, Tencent Holdings and Hillhouse Capital Group have invested an estimated more than $500 million. Till date, Swiggy has raised a total of $1.6 billion across multiple rounds.

Zomato

Founded by Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah in 2008, Zomato started as a search and discovery platform for restaurants in the Delhi-NCR region as Foodiebay. It was later rebranded as Zomato in 2010 and started food its delivery service in 2015.

Earlier this year, Zomato further strengthened its position in food delivery space by acquiring UberEats in India. Today, Zomato is delivering food across more than 500 cities in India and its restaurant search and discovery business is present in over 10,000 cities across 24 countries, including India.

For the most part of their early days, Zomato’s growth was funded by Indian online giant Info Edge. However, Alibaba’s financial services company Ant Financial became a stakeholder in Zomato in 2018 with an investment of $200 million.

Later in the same year, Ant Financial invested another $210 million. According to Crunchbase, Zomato has raised a total of $914.6 million across multiple rounds and Ant Financial alone has invested over $750 million. According to media reports, Ant Financial owns over 20% stake in Zomato, making it one of the largest stakeholders in the company.

BigBasket

Founded by Abhinay Choudhari, Hari Menon, Vipul Parekh, VS Sudhakar in 2011, BigBasket is one of India’s largest online food and grocery store offering over 60,000 products from 1,000 brands. The company caters to over 10 million customers across 25 cities.

Online grocery delivery is one of the toughest markets to crack as it has low margins and high churn rates. A lot of early grocery delivery startups have either failed or had to pivot just to survive. BigBasket is one of the few online grocery delivery startups that made it and it also became India’s first grocery delivery unicorn in 2019.

However, its success came at a price as the founders had to give up equity to bring in new investors who could help them scale their business.

Till date, BigBasket has raised over $1 billion and most of which has come from foreign investors. Alibaba became BigBasket largest shareholder when it helped the company raise $300 million in its series E round in 2018. As of 2019, Alibaba Group was still the largest stakeholder with 26.26% stake in the company. Since then Alibaba has made a couple more investments in BigBasket.

Snapdeal

Founded by Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal in 2010, Snapdeal is a value-focused online marketplace offering products required by the people who are coming online for the first time. This is the reason why a majority of Snapdeal’s orders come from tier 2 and tier 3 cities.

However, this was not always the case for Snapdeal, like its competitors Flipkart and Amazon, Snapdeal was also caught up in the frenzy of gaining more market share and increasing its revenues by focusing on the gross merchandise value (GMV).

In order to grow at such a pace and compete with the likes of Flipkart and Amazon, Snapdeal had to raise a lot of funds. While they already had foreign investors, the company went looking for more funds and new investors in 2015 and that’s when Chinese investors Alibaba Group and Foxconn Technology Group found an opportunity to lead a $500 million funding round. That is a considerable investment considering that till date, Snapdeal has raised a total of $1.8 billion.

Dream11

Founded by Bhavit Sheth and Harsh Jain in 2008, Dream11 is a fantasy gaming platform that enables users to play fantasy games like cricket, football, basketball and hockey. The users can either play these fantasy games for free or win cash prizes while playing. With 80 million users, Dream11 has emerged as India’s largest fantasy gaming platform.

Dream11 became a unicorn after it raised an undisclosed amount of funds from the Chinese asset management firm Steadview Capital in 2019. Earlier in 2018, Tencent Holdings became its first Chinese investor when it invested $100 million into the company.

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