Home >Companies >Start-ups >Lenskart gets Ratan Tata on board in latest funding round

Mumbai: Ratan Tata has invested in Lenskart Solutions Pvt. Ltd,the online retailer that sells eyeglasses, sunglasses, contact lenses and eyewear accessories, according to three people aware of the development.

The investment by Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons Ltd, is part of Lenskart’s latest fund-raising initiative, wherein the firm is looking to raise almost 400 crore, said one of the three people cited above, requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak with reporters.

“The quantum of his (Tata’s) investment is small, keeping in line with his investment thesis. His approach is more of a mentor/adviser rather than a financial investor," he said, declining to comment on the exact quantum of investment made by Tata.

Tata is not known to write big cheques when making investments in the consumer Internet companies. In October, Mint had reported that Tata has made investments of as low as 10 lakh.

In August, Tata had made an investment of that amount in Bengaluru-based Actoserba Active Wholesale Pvt. Ltd, owner of online lingerie store Zivame. Before that in May, he invested 95 lakh in taxi aggregator Ola.

The latest round of fundraising will value Lenskart Solutions, formerly known as Valyoo Technologies, at about 1,600 crore (about $240 million), said the second person cited above.

“IFC (International Finance Corp.) is the lead investor in this round. Discussions are still going on with them. Existing investors TPG Growth and IDG Ventures are likely to participate in this round," he said. The funding will help the company grow its distribution network across tier II and III cities through the offline franchisee partner network, this person added.

IFC, an arm of World Bank, had in February disclosed that it is considering an investment of 170 crore in Lenskart.

IFC stated that Lenskart will use the funds to set up a state-of-the-art manufacturing, processing and assembly facility with a capacity to process more than 20,000 pairs of eye glasses daily by the financial year 2021.

“The company has provided quality eyewear products at affordable prices to over 600,000 people in FY15, and this number is projected to increase to more than 5 million by FY21," IFC said.

Emails to Lenskart founders Peyush Bansal and Neha Bansal on Friday went unanswered.

Tata, his investment arm RNT Associates Pvt. Ltd and IDG Ventures did not respond to emails. TPG Growth declined to comment on the development.

Lenskart, which was incorporated in 2008, has till date raised almost $36 million (about 200 crore) in funding from investors.

In January 2015, Lenskart had raised 135 crore in a series C round led by TPG Growth. Hong Kong-based TR Capital and IDG Ventures also participated in the round. Earlier in 2013, the company raised 53 crore from Ronnie Screwvala-led Unilazer Ventures Pvt. Ltd and IDG Ventures.

Lenskart recently increased its focus towards building an offline presence through a network of franchisee partners.

The Economic Times in February cited founder Peyush Bansal as saying that Lenskart plans to expand by opening 1,000 brick-and-mortar shops through the franchise model. “These shops, which will also enable delivery, service and return of products ordered online, will enable the company to expand quickly, while remaining asset-light," said Bansal.

According to industry experts, several Internet companies have in the recent past tried their hand at having an offline presence, in the hope of achieving better conversion rates by allowing customers to experience products before they purchase online.

“A lot of companies in the online space, having better understood their target segment and the buying pattern, have felt the need to incorporate an aspect of offline in their models. Having an offline presence helps them in building more awareness and providing more comfort for customers to close the purchase," said Sumir Verma, managing director at investment bank Merisis Advisors.

Companies such as online furniture retailers, jewellery portals as well as those in the apparel space have tried this strategy, he said.

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