Venture capital (VC) and private equity (PE) firms cut investments in Indian start-ups by almost a quarter on a sequential basis in the three months to March, the second consecutive quarter they did so, as investors starved of exits and fearful of souring bets hold back cash.
Investors infused some $1.15 billion into Indian start-ups in the first quarter of this year, down as much as 24% from the December quarter, which itself had seen a slump in investments of 48% from the preceding three months, according to a joint report by KPMG and CB Insights.
The $1.15 billion reported by KPMG includes at least $150 million of secondary share sales that went from one set of investors in Snapdeal (Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd) to another.
The number of start-up deals fell 4% to 116 in the quarter, the report said.
The largest deals in the January quarter included $150 million received by online grocer BigBasket; $150 million raised by online marketplace Shopclues; and $50 million raised by Snapdeal, India’s second most valuable e-commerce firm.
“With mounting investor hesitation and concerns of overvaluation, Indian investment continued to decline in the first quarter,” KPMG and CB Insights said in the report.
After pumping more than $9 billion into Indian start-ups since the beginning of 2014, investors started pulling back late last year because of a mix of global macroeconomic factors such as a growth slowdown in China, as well as concerns over massive losses incurred by start-ups.
This year, investor caution has increased manifold, resulting in an acute slowdown in funding, fall in valuations and delayed deal closures.
“We have not been in contact with investors to raise funds but the sense we are getting is that there is a wait-and-watch situation that is going on,” said Ashish Goel, chief executive at online furniture retailer UrbanLadder. “There is definitely lesser investment in early-stage start-ups when compared to the last 4-5 months and (the number of) deals have certainly reduced.”
Even India’s top start-ups are struggling to raise cash at their current valuations.
Mint reported on 14 April that Flipkart Ltd and Snapdeal have held funding talks with several investors over the past six months, all of whom have refused to invest in the companies at their preferred valuations of $15 billion and $6.5 billion, respectively.
Both denied that they have been trying to raise fresh funds.
There are two main reasons why companies are struggling to raise money, said Aseem Khare, co-founder of home services start-up Taskbob, which raised Rs.28 crore in February.
“First, companies have been using investor money for giving away discounts that have beefed up top-line numbers but have not been able to create brand loyalty. Due to this, the percentage of revenue that comes through discounts is very high and has put doubts on the business model. The second reason is that of unit economics. There are businesses that are solving a problem, but the margins are too low for them to be sustainable or operationally profitable,” Khare said. By unit economics, Khare’s reference is to the cost and revenue from one transaction—say, a food delivery order taken online, and fulfilled.
The funding slowdown is not restricted to Indian start-ups alone, said Varun Khaitan, chief executive at home service app UrbanClap.
“The US has much bigger problems. And since some of the biggest investors are US-based, this problem has flowed into India. But if a company is doing well, then irrespective of the environment, it will attract investors,” he said.
The report by KPMG and CB Insights confirmed Khaitan’s views and said start-up deals in the US were much lower in the first quarter compared with the peak levels seen in 2015.
This article was originally published in Live Mint
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