Listen to this article
This is an experimental feature. Give us your feedback. Thank you for your feedback.
What do you think?
Masayoshi Son is looking to strengthen his grip on the global ride-hailing market, with SoftBank entering talks to become the dominant shareholder in Ola, Uber’s local rival in India.
The Japanese conglomerate that Mr Son founded is in negotiations to buy some or all of the 13-14 per cent stake held by US hedge fund Tiger Global in ANI Technologies, Ola’s parent company, according to three people close to the talks. SoftBank already holds about 25 per cent of ANI’s shares so this would make it by far the largest backer of the Indian company.
A deal would further concentrate SoftBank’s power in the car-booking market worldwide. The company is negotiating a $10bn investment in Uber and also has invested in Didi Chuxing in China as well as Grab, which operates across Southeast Asia.
“Ola is a strategically important investment in our global portfolio,” SoftBank said. “We are confident that our support will help them grow and become one of India’s most valuable companies.”
Referring to Mr Son, one venture capitalist remarked: “He wants to control the whole ride-sharing space.”
Ola and Tiger Global declined to comment.
SoftBank’s attempt to buy more of Ola comes a month after the company took part in a funding round in which the Indian company raised $1.1bn.
It also underlines SoftBank’s renewed commitment to backing Indian technology companies, having made large investments in 2014 and 2015 but then holding back last year amid signs the market might have become overvalued.
In the past financial year the Japanese group has written down the value of its Indian investments by $1.4bn. But in the past six months it has also poured $2.5bn into ecommerce group Flipkart and a further $1.4bn in digital payments provider Paytm. This has helped make 2017 a record year for funding into Indian technology start-ups.
The potential deal between SoftBank and Tiger Global is creating some nervousness however, both in the technology industry and among those who have invested in it.
None of the companies involved would say what valuation the purchase would place on Ola, but one person close to the talks said it was likely to be at least double the $3bn at which it was valued following a funding round a year ago.
Some investors believe SoftBank is crowding out other backers with overly high valuations. One Mumbai-based venture capitalist with ties to Ola said: “SoftBank is spoiling the whole eco system. Entrepreneurs are only focused on chasing valuations because of them.”
Meanwhile others worry that individual companies will lose control as SoftBank increases its grip on key parts of the technology market.
Earlier this year the Japanese group tried to engineer a merger between Snapdeal, the Indian ecommerce site it had backed at an early stage, and its biggest rival Flipkart. When those efforts collapsed, SoftBank decided to invest heavily in Flipkart anyway, leaving Snapdeal to pursue a future as an independent but much smaller company.
Earlier this year, Ola moved to prevent a similar thing happening by imposing a rule that shareholders could only buy out other stakeholders with prior approval from the company’s founders, Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati.
Ola would not comment on whether its founders would consider vetoing a deal between SoftBank and Tiger Global.