Tycoon Usmanov Sticks With Alibaba, Bets on India, Unmanned Cars

  • Russian billionaire invested in Indian clones of Amazon, Uber
  • Usmanov’s fund USM has $1.3 billion invested in global tech

Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov is sticking with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. after having already made a six-fold return on his investment in the Chinese e-commerce operator. His $1.3 billion fund is now also betting on internet retailing in India and technology for autonomous vehicles.

“We’re staying invested in Alibaba and believe its market value may rise further," Ivan Streshinskiy, chief executive officer of USM Advisors, which manages Usmanov’s assets, said in an interview in St. Petersburg. “The company’s growth strategy is sustainable -- it’s expanding into new areas including payment technology."

Alisher Usmanov

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Usmanov, whose first big tech investment was a stake in Facebook Inc., in recent years has invested in India’s largest online retailer, Flipkart, Chinese smartphone producer Xiaomi Corp. and regional Uber clones -- Ola Cabs in India and Didi in China. These assets are set to reap “manyfold returns" as USM entered them at a much lower valuations than now, according to Streshinskiy. Similar companies in the U.S. are just too expensive, he said.

"Assets from India and China account for majority of our portfolio,” he said. “We are interested in U.S. tech assets as well, but these have gigantic valuations."

Facebook Stake

USM has exited its investments in Facebook, Groupon Inc. and Apple Inc., Streshinskiy said. Usmanov bought a stake in Facebook in 2009 with Russian tech guru Yuri Milner, when the company’s valuation was about $10 billion, before rising to $100 billion in its 2012 IPO and $327 billion now. USM also invested in Alibaba in 2011 when it was valued at less than $35 billion versus its current market value of $195 billion.

In North America, it only makes sense to buy into tech assets at a very early stage, Streshinskiy said. One of USM’s new investments in the U.S. is a firm that produces so-called lidar, a computer vision system for unmanned cars, he said, declining to name the company.

"The world is moving to self-driven cars," Streshinskiy said, adding that they may account for more than 50 percent of vehicles by 2022. "We invested several dozen million dollars into this segment and hope it will generate a high return."