Ratan Tata Turns Venture Investor in Retirement Backing Teabox

  • Former chairman puts undisclosed amout of money in Teabox
  • Investment marks Tata's first funding into premium tea startup

Ratan Tata.

Photographer: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg

Ratan Tata, who stepped down as the chairman of the $100 billion Tata Group in 2012, is taking a stake in an online startup that sells premium teas, the latest example of the Indian businessman becoming an active venture capitalist in his retirement.

Tata is putting an undisclosed amount of money into Teabox, an Indian startup based in the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s the latest of about 25 personal investments that he has made in startups, helping spark an e-commerce boom in India along the way.

His investments include stakes in three of India’s unicorns, or startups worth more than $1 billion, the ride-hailing app Ola, online retailer Snapdeal and a mobile payment venture called Paytm. He has also put money into Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp., the most highly valued startup in Asia. Separately, he has joined three venture capital firms -- IDG Ventures, Kalaari Capital and Jungle Ventures -- as an adviser.

“We’re very excited because it’s a validation of our business from one of the most iconic businessmen of India,”said Teabox founder and Chief Executive Officer Kaushal Dugar.

Tata has a history of pioneering business strategy. He was chairman of Tata Group when it cut what was then the biggest takeover in Indian corporate history. In 2000, Tata Tea Ltd. acquired the U.K.’s Tetley Tea, which was the inventor of the teabag and three times its size. Tata said at the time he hoped other Indian firms would follow, and some did.

Teabox, which was founded in 2012, raised $6 million from investors that included Texas billionaire Robert M. Bass and Accel Partners in the latest round in 2015.

Teabox works with 150 plantations in Darjeeling, Assam and Nepal. Teas go to the firm’s cold storage within 48 hours of production where they are vacuum packed and shipped to customers around the world in about a week, according to Dugar. Traditionally it takes three to six months for the teas to reach consumers.

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