India doesn’t have a robust M&A market for tech firms: Sapphire’s Jai Das
Mumbai: Venture capital firm Sapphire Ventures has previously invested in companies such as Paytm, Just Dial and Newgen Software Technologies. The company, which was once the corporate venture capital arm of enterprise software giant SAP, is currently investing out of its third fund with a corpus of $1 billion. In an interview, Jai Das, managing director at the B2B/enterprise tech-focused VC firm, talks about the fund’s focus on India, growing interest in B2B start-ups and new emerging opportunities in the enterprise software space that investors are chasing. Edited excerpts:
While your first fund made several investments in India such as Newgen and One97 Communications, your second fund saw only one investment in India. With the firm now investing out of its third fund, what is the strategy for India going to look like? Will you increase your focus on India?
We look for the best enterprise-focused companies across the globe and help them scale and grow once we invest in them. Given that we’re beginning to see more enterprise-focused companies in India, we will be spending more time looking for potential opportunities there. We will also look for companies started in the US, but with a strong development team in India.
From an exit point of view, could you give us a sense as to how your experience has been with your investments in India?
We have been very successful in exits in India either through an IPO (JustDial and Newgen) or via private sale to a new investor (Paytm). However, exits are still challenging in India. India does not have a robust M&A market for tech companies and also the Indian IPO process is not as smooth as it is in the US. Lastly, very few Indian companies have listed on an US exchange, so the exit scenarios for start-ups are still challenging in India.
What is attractive about the Indian enterprise tech start-up space? What kinds of businesses are you looking for in India?
One of the most attractive points is the amount of technical talent that is available in India. The passion to build global companies is also present in Indian entrepreneurs. We are looking to invest in companies that are building products for global enterprises and that we believe will become companies of consequence.
Globally, what are the emerging themes, new business models in the enterprise tech space that you are seeing?
The emergence of hybrid clouds, digital transformation of the enterprise, and augmented real-time analytics are areas in B2B/enterprise software that we are investigating for investment opportunities. The business models are also changing driven by Amazon Web Services i.e. enterprise software is increasingly being priced by the amount of usage.
After years of consumer craze, have VCs now come back to investing in the B2B/Enterprise space? What is driving this trend?
VCs have always been investing in the B2B/enterprise space. However, these markets are hard to understand and are not always the most interesting topics from a layman’s perspective. Also, consumer internet companies touch the lives of many consumers directly on a daily basis; so these consumer internet companies have better brand and are spoken/written about a lot more which gave the impression that there was no investments happening in the B2B/Enterprise space.
What are the major challenges that Indian enterprise tech companies face today?
The biggest challenge for Indian enterprise tech companies is the lack of potential initial customers who are willing to bet on a start-up. Most large Indian enterprises would rather purchase software products from large established vendors than buy cutting edge software from a startup. Therefore, a lot of Indian enterprise software companies get their first few customers in the US or Europe.
From your $1 billion fundraise, do you have an approximate allocation to India? How much capital could you end up investing in India from this fund?
We don’t have specific allocations for any geography. We look to invest in the companies we believe will become companies of consequence.