Uber Rival Ola Said to Be Seeking Funds at 40% Lower Value

  • Deal would mark the first ‘down-round’ for an Indian unicorn
  • SoftBank said to be joining the upcoming round but won’t lead

India’s foremost ride-hailing service Ola is pursuing a new round of funding that would give the company a 40 percent lower valuation than it had a year ago, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, as the startup tries to amass capital to stave off a challenge from Uber Technologies Inc.

The company is raising funds that value the company at $3 billion, a sharp reduction from the $5 billion figure during a previous financing round in November 2015. At the time it made Ola one of the nation’s four most valuable startups, alongside online retailers Flipkart and Snapdeal and digital payments operator Paytm.

If the deal goes through, Ola would become the first Indian unicorn -- a startup valued at a billion-dollars or more -- to accept funds at a lower valuation, in what’s known as a down-round.

Ola continues to negotiate with investors as it pursues a goal of raising over $600 million this time, but it’s had to peg its expectations lower, the person said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private. Global funding for startups is slowing and investors harbor concerns about an increasingly aggressive Uber, the world’s most valuable and best-funded technology startup. 

This year is shaping up to be the roughest ever for India’s young technology companies. Foreign giants like Amazon.com Inc. and Uber have trained their sights on Asia’s third-largest economy, exacerbating intense competition. Investors have grown wary: India’s technology startups raised $4.23 billion in the first three quarters of this year, less than half the total for the same period of 2015, according to researcher Preqin. Even leading players like Flipkart are under pressure. The country’s largest online retailer has laid off hundreds after a bad run that cost its chief executive his job.

“There is still plenty of money available. However, in the last one year investors have become more cautious, discerning and are taking their time,” said Sanjeev Bikhchandani, an angel investor and vice-chairman of Info Edge (India), which owns leading job listings website Naukri.com. “The implication is that funding rounds will get smaller and valuations will be under a microscope.”

Startups are usually reluctant to accept down-rounds because of how it could depress morale and the value of existing investors’ stakes. But companies that need capital to bankroll operations may have little choice in the matter. Ola declined to comment. India’s Economic Times earlier reported Ola’s willingness to take a lower valuation.

Ola is still drawing interest from new investors, the person said. Existing backer SoftBank Group Corp. will join its upcoming round but won’t lead the fundraising, the person added. Ola’s previous investors include Tiger Global Management, DST Global, Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital. Matthew Nicholson, a spokesman for SoftBank in Tokyo, declined to comment.

It’ll need the cash. Ola, whose parent is ANI Technologies Pvt, and Uber are trying to one-up each other in one of the world’s most attractive ride-hailing arenas. Ola currently holds the upper hand in the $10 billion Indian market but Uber has been stepping up competition, via driver incentives and promotions targeted at its rival’s existing markets. The U.S. firm is ratcheting up spending in other emerging markets after ceding China to rival Didi Chuxing.

Investors in India’s largest privately funded companies -- Ola, Flipkart and Snapdeal -- have marked down the value of their investments this year. This month, SoftBank announced a 58.1 billion yen ($513 million) investment loss, mainly on its assets in India. SoftBank’s investments in the country include Jasper Infotech Pvt’s Snapdeal.

Competition with Uber is mounting in other regions. Earlier this week, Careem Networks FZ, which competes with the San Francisco-based startup in the Middle East, was reported to be close to raising about $300 million in its first round of funding, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. In Europe, Daimler AG’s Mytaxi unit announced in July it would merge with one of the U.K.’s most popular cab-calling services, Hailo, to create Europe’s biggest taxi app and better challenge Uber in Europe.

— With assistance by Takashi Amano

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