Facebook, Google wanted a piece of Jio—but Softbank said no thanks

Image: REUTERS/B Mathur
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The $100 billion Softbank Vision Fund (SVF) chose to opt-out of investing in Mukesh Ambani’s new tech arm Jio Platforms and retail business Reliance Retail because it didn’t believe the two firms would meet its expectations, SVF’s CEO Rajeev Misra has told Business Today.

The two entities, owned by Reliance Industries, raised several billion earlier this year from global heavyweights such as Facebook, Google, Intel, Qualcomm, and General Atlantic, among others. When asked Misra regretted not having the Reliance firms in his portfolio, he said, “How can I regret when we decided not to participate?”

Jio Platforms, which dabbles across new technologies such as cloud, media, digital commerce, financial services, gaming, education, healthcare, agriculture, e-governance, and smart cities, has raised over $20 billion (Rs1.52 trillion) from 13 investors this year.

A slew of the Jio Platforms investors was also on a spending spree in Reliance Retail, which has so far raised Rs47, 264 crore.

Softbank’s decision to sit out Reliance’s companies comes at a time when the investor has been facing flak for poor performance by some of their most prominent portfolio companies such as Oyo, which has been criticised for its disastrous downfall owing to unsustainable business models and expansion plans, toxic work culture, and poor customer feedback on its properties.

Lately, Softbank has reportedly adopted a more cautious approach to its Indian investments, focussing on experienced, second-gen entrepreneurs. And the investment corpus is getting more reserved, too.

“Why have we deployed only $3 billion in SVF II in the last 7 months? We used to do one single investment of $10 billion,” Misra said. “It’s not that we don’t see every investment. We are the biggest technology investor. Everybody wants to have us as an investor because of other benefits. We see them all.”

It’s also policing existing portfolio companies more. Softbank’s November 2019 investment in Paytm reportedly came with a five-year deadline for the fintech company to IPO.

Moreover, Misra himself, along with three other internal directors, stepped down from the Softbank Group’s board this week to make way for external members who’d perhaps exercise better corporate governance.

Besides, the Vision Fund has earned a reputation for backing startups rather than conglomerates. Reliance subsidiaries would perhaps not need the kind of handholding SVF offers, Misra suggested.

After all, Reliance’s domestic and global aspirations have already set sail. In May, rumours were afloat that Jio Platforms would list abroad. Last month, Qualcomm and Jio Platforms tested 5G solutions. Reliance Retail, meanwhile, already runs nearly 12,000 stores across 7,000 Indian towns and cities and is among the world’s top 200 retail chains.