Mumbai: Unlike a lot of startup investors in India, Lee Fixel is celebrated not merely for how much he invested in the country, but for the time in which he invested, the exits he made, and the sheer impact he had on a new sector that looked like it was running out of steam.
Fixel not only has a remarkable list of companies in his portfolio, but also fuelled the ambitions of a few young entrepreneurs, including those who aspired to take the plunge straight out of college.
His faith in these individuals and the investments in the companies they founded helped form the core of the Indian startup ecosystem. He has so far backed Flipkart, Ola, Delhivery, Quikr, Shopclues, MakeMyTrip and Saavn, among others.
“His impact on the late-stage venture capital ecosystem has been nothing short of transformational," says Niren Shah, managing director, Norwest Venture Partners India, which has co-invested with Fixel in several deals, including in online classifieds portal Quikr, one of India’s earliest unicorns (startups valued at more than a billion dollars).
Known for his speed and ability to write a fat cheque after a brief Skype interview, Fixel joined Tiger Global in 2006 and quickly became one of the most important startup investors across the world. His aggressive investment approach took his peers by surprise, but also got him global attention. In Forbes’ “The Midas Touch" list, he appeared six times in the last 12 years.
“He is the fastest investor I have known. He does his homework like no one else and closes deals faster than anyone else," says Sasha Mirchandani, managing partner, Kae Capital, and one of India’s earliest startup investors.
“A founder called me up in 2008 and said, ‘I just spoke to Lee Fixel for 45 minutes and he wants to give me $10 million. Should I take it?’ I told him, yes, and without a second thought," said one person close to Fixel, requesting anonymity.
Fixel has backed 49 home-grown startups, according to data from Tracxn. Not all of them have paid off, but the outsized pay-offs Fixel got from his early bets in Flipkart and Ola, both storied companies now, is undeniable.
“He backed Flipkart when no one else did, backed Ola early, and drove the Myntra merger. He is a constant in India’s big startup moments," said another person who was involved in those discussions, requesting anonymity.
Among all of Fixel’s investments, though, it was his faith in Flipkart’s founders and the brand that stood out. Towards the fag end of 2015, when Amazon upped the ante in the market with billions of dollars, Flipkart was found wanting. Its market share floundered and investors started showing an intent to push out co-founder Sachin Bansal from the chief executive officer’s (CEO’s) position so that Kalyan Krishnamurthy, who is the current CEO of Flipkart, could be brought back.
Fixel, however, shared a close bond with the Bansals, in whom he saw hunger and modesty. In Sachin Bansal, he saw a man willing to sacrifice any dream to pursue his idea. But he had to respond to the investor lobby. Cleverly, Fixel replaced Sachin with Binny to ensure the founders’ vision wasn’t compromised. Finally, in June, with Flipkart still struggling, Fixel gave Krishnamurthy, his right hand man at Tiger, a vague but all-powerful role at the company to prevent it from being overrun by Amazon, Mint had reported in a profile on Lee Fixel in May. He also enjoyed storied exits from investments.
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“Fixel made the Flipkart exit (to Walmart) possible (which was) an enormous milestone for the startup ecosystem and investors’ and founders belief in it," said Abhay Pandey, general partner at A91 Partners, a $300 million venture fund set up by him and two of his fellow managing directors from Sequoia Capital.
His first Indian bet, on local search engine Justdial in 2009, was followed up with a $10 million bet on Flipkart in 2010, a round where no other investor participated. While Justdial went public in 2015 and fetched exits of over 20 times, he pumped in over a billion dollars in Flipkart over the next few years. He sold his stake in Flipkart for close to $4 billion when Walmart acquired Flipkart last year.
“He supported Flipkart during a very challenging period…," said Ashish Dave, who heads venture capital investments for Mirae Global Asset Management in India.
“And hence became the preferred choice of capital for founders."