Naspers, the South African internet and media group, has emerged one of the smartest investors in India, say venture capital (VC) funds. Unlike a Tiger Global or a SoftBank who are financial investors, Naspers doesn't invest, but simply buys companies it likes and then backs them to emerge as leaders in their categories.
Naspers bought travel portal goibibo.com, which brought redbus - while the later is the undisputed leader in bus ticketing, the travel portal has emerged a close number 2 in the online travel space led by Makemytrip.com.
"Once I buy, I can invest unlimited money and don't invest $100 million for a 10 per cent or 25 per cent stake in a business," says Anand Lunia, founder at venture capital firm India Quotient, throwing light on Naspers thinking and investment approach.
"They acquire the company if they are convinced and spend a lot of money to stay on top. Goibibo, for instance, has comparable market share in online travel space today," adds Lunia. Last week, Naspers-owned PayU bought Citrus Pay for $130 million, its fourth major investment in India. The only exception to this approach has been Flipkart, where Naspers came in early as a strategic investor in 2012.
Since then, it has invested $495.5 million (as of June 2015) for a 15.83 per cent stake. Flipkart has raised $2.4 billion in five rounds in which Naspers participated. But it has stayed away from investing in Flipkart's last few rounds of funding. Naspers did not respond to an e-mailed questionnaire.
According to reports, Naspers invested an additional $250 million in Ibibo Group this year and owns now 90 per cent; Tencent and founder Ashish Kashyap own the rest. "The Indian e-commerce market, and the online travel segment offers exciting growth prospects for us," Bob van Dijk, Naspers Group chief executive had said in an earlier statement.
"Naspers has been successful with certain models and brought them to India. Travel marketplace Ibibo is one, where they have taken a position and shown the commitment . There's an opportunity to create a unique and differentiated business," says Sundeep Murthy, partner, Lightbox.
"Ibibo has been aggressively discounting. Naspers has a big balance sheet. They can build scale and then optimise," says the partner with another VC firm, which has invested in a travel firm. ''Money can help you buy customers but you have to find ways to retain them," he adds.
Ibibo, which acquired online bus services redBus for about $100 million in 2013, is trying penetrate deeper into the hotels segment, by trying to double the number of hotels on its platform to 100,000.
Naspers also owns classified business OLX, which competes with Quikr. Olx operates in 40 countries and Naspers invested $144 million in 2010. Naspers follows an operating model like Rocket Internet, but is far more successful as it understands local problems better, say VCs.
Naspers investments in China and Russia paid off, and investors say it was keen to replicate them in India. Its investment in WeChat owner Tencent drove the Naspers stock 500 per cent since 2010, helping it touch a market cap of $66 billion at its peak.
One of its subsidiaries, Myriad International Holdings, owns 28.7 per cent stake in Digital Sky Technologies (DST), the Russian firm behind investments in Facebook, Groupon and Zynga. China's Tencent also made a strategic investment (to the tune of $300 million) in DST; 35 per cent of Tencent is owned by Naspers.