Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms has agreed to sell its 1.34% stake to General Atlantic, the latest in a series of deals the top Indian telecom operator has secured in recent weeks.
On Sunday, New York-headquartered private equity firm General Atlantic said it would invest $870 million in the Indian telecom operator, a subsidiary of India's most valued firm (Reliance Industries), joining fellow American investors Facebook, Silver Lake and Vista Equity Partners that have also made sizable bets on the three-and-a-half-year old Indian firm.
General Atlantic's investment values Jio Platforms at $65 billion — the same valuation implied by the Silver Lake and Vista deals and a 12.5% premium over Facebook’s deal, the Indian firm said.
Sunday's announcement further illustrates the growing appeal of Jio Platforms, which has raised $8.85 billion in the past month by selling about 14.7% of its stake to foreign investors that are looking for a slice of the world’s second-largest internet market.
General Atlantic, a high-profile investor in the consumer tech space that has invested in dozens of firms such as Airbnb, Alibaba, Ant Financial, Box, ByteDance, Facebook, Slack, Snapchat and Uber, has been a key investor in India for more than a decade though it has avoided bets in consumer tech in the country.
It has cut checks to several Indian startups including NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that helps those looking to rent or buy an apartment connect directly with property owners, edtech giants Unacademy and Byju's, payments processor BillDesk, and the National Stock Exchange of India. The PE firm, which has invested about $3 billion in India, said last week that it was looking to invest an additional $1.5 billion in Indian firms by next year -- this time focusing on the players operating in the consumer tech category.
Reliance Industries chairman Ambani, who has poured more than $30 billion to build Jio Platforms, said the telecom network would "leverage General Atlantic’s proven global expertise and strategic insights across 40 years of technology investing."
"General Atlantic shares our vision of a digital society for India and strongly believes in the transformative power of digitization in enriching the lives of 1.3 billion Indians," he added.
Prepaid SIM cards of Reliance Jio at a retail store. (Photo: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images)
Launched in the second half of 2016, Reliance Jio upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans and free voice calls. Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, operates the telecom venture, called Jio Infocomm, that has amassed 388 million subscribers since its launch to become the nation’s top telecom operator.
Reliance Jio Platforms also owns a suite of services including music streaming service JioSaavn (which it says it will take public), smartphones, broadband business, on-demand live television service and payments service.
"In just three and a half years, Jio has had a transformational impact in democratizing data and digital services, propelling India to be positioned as a leading global digital economy," said Sandeep Naik, MD and Head of India & Southeast Asia at General Atlantic, in a statement.
The new capital would help Ambani, India’s richest man, further solidify his last year’s commitment to investors when he said he aimed to cut Reliance’s net debt of about $21 billion to zero by early 2021. Its core business — oil refining and petrochemicals — has been hard hit amid the coronavirus outbreak. Its net profit in the quarter that ended on March 31 fell by 37%.
In the company’s earnings call last month, Ambani said several firms had expressed interest in buying stakes in Jio Platforms in the wake of the deal with Facebook . Bloomberg reported last week that Saudi Wealth Fund was also in talks with Ambani for a stake in Jio Platforms.
Facebook said that other than offering capital to Jio Platforms for a 9.99% stake in the firm, it would work with the Indian giant on a number of areas starting with e-commerce. Days later, JioMart, an e-commerce venture run by India’s most valued firm, began testing an “ordering system” on WhatsApp, the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million active users in the country.
29-year-old Akash Ambani, the oldest son of Mukesh, said in a statement, "Jio is committed to making a digitally inclusive India that will provide immense opportunities to every Indian citizen, especially to our highly talented youth."