SoftBank has offered to invest as much as $1 billion in a new financing round for Ola, as the ride-hailing company plans to aggressively grow its food delivery business. This is as per a report in the Economic Times.
Further the taxi aggregator may invest in areas such as e-pharmacy and is said to be close to finalising an investment in this fast-growing sector.
It’s not clear if Ola’s cofounder Bhavish Aggarwal will accept more capital from SoftBank and allow the investor to ratchet up its shareholding from about 26% at present. However, he may consider a smaller amount from the Japanese investor.
The offer from SoftBank is being considered. Ola may bring in other investors too for the new round of funding, the sources said. A SoftBank spokeswoman declined to comment on what it called speculation. An Ola spokesman said “no comments.”
Ola has already ensured funding from Flipkart cofounder Sachin Bansal and existing backer Steadview Capital. These infusions will total up to around $200-250 million. Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek is also likely to infuse primary capital in the company as part of the ongoing financing round.
The capital-raising plan comes at a time when growth in the ride-hailing industry is slowing, pushing Ola to expand into new areas.
SoftBank’s proposal to back Ola with such a huge sum is significant because it comes after the most influential tech investor globally had attempted to buy additional stake in the company from Tiger Global last year.
These discussions happened without Aggarwal’s consent as has been reported earlier. Since then Ola founders have altered their rights to safeguard the company from a possible sale or merger.
While Aggarwal has been shoring up his rights against SoftBank and adding allies to the company board since last year, there is now also a thaw in the relationship with its largest shareholder. What will also help Aggarwal is the entry of Temasek, which has aligned its voting rights with the founders, besides the entry of Sachin Bansal.
Both Bansal and Temasek will together hold 7-8% in the company along with the Ola co-founders who have a combined 10-11% stake. Yuri Milner’s DST Global, which owns about 6% stake, like in all its portfolio companies had given its voting rights to Ola founders at the time of the investment in 2015. This would give Aggarwal control of about 25% voting rights in the company.
Having an over 25-26% stake allows blocking special resolutions proposed by shareholders, which includes corporate actions like mergers & acquisitions (M&A). SoftBank holds 26% stake in the company, as of now. “Because of the increase in voting power Aggarwal is likely to be more open to raising more capital from SoftBank than before,” said an investor in the company.
New business routes
Ola is looking to leverage its distribution platform in adjacent categories where the supply and demand requirements are similar to the taxi aggregation business. One possible area of expansion could be pharma retail which is a high frequency category with healthy margins even after discounting.
It was reported around the 24th of September that Ola and Uber while increasing their absolute number of daily rides, saw growth decline to 20% on average in 2018 to 3.5 million rides across all segments, including taxis, autorickshaws, and shared cabs. That compares with 57% growth to 2.8 million rides a day in 2017 and 90% to 1.9 million in 2016. The data pertains to Ola and Uber.
In the past year, there has been a palpable slowdown in the taxi business, along with supply constraints with driver incomes falling. This has resulted in frequent strikes by drivers and an overall supply crunch. In order to shore up demand among investors, Ola has to show growth in new categories which is why it has decided to pump money in food delivery service Foodpanda and now in pharma delivery.
According to a news report dated 4th December, Foodpanda, aims to double the number of the restaurant partners on its platform by January 2019, from the current number of 60,000, the company said in a statement. The company also said that its delivery network is now operational in 100 cities across the country. Cities like Aizawl, Shillong, Raipur, Jodhpur, Bhavnagar, Patiala, Nellore, Durgapur, Shimla, Rewa, Bokaro were recently added to the company’s fold.
“Foodpanda has expanded into more than 60 cities ahead of Zomato and Swiggy but the issue is that the teams launching operations here are the same running the cab business. These are very small teams and aren’t equipped with the skills of executing for food delivery,” said an executive with one of the top food-delivery companies.