Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce marketplace that’s often referred to as the “Amazon of India,” has raised another $160 million. This is an extension of the $200 million raise announced in July of this year, with the final $360 million Series E round the largest ever to be raised by an Internet startup in India. It brings the total raised by Flipkart since 2007 to $540 million.
The extra capital will give Flipkart the ammunition it needs to compete against the likes of eBay-backed Snapdeal — not specifically by building out into new product areas and tapping new customers, but by investing in improving what is already there. Funds will go to improving Flipkart’s technology and supply chain, hiring, and to “further enhance the end-user experience,” according to a statement from Flipkart. The company says it has some 10 million customers and 1 million uniques per day. Among the 17+ product categories that it covers, newer additions include clothes, footwear, toys, furnishings and ebooks, adding to a legacy business strong on electronics, books and home goods. It projects that it will make some $1 billion in gross merchandise sales by 2015 and it’s “more than halfway there,” CEO and co-founder Sachin Bansal tells me.
Flipkart doesn’t specify exactly what sorts of new services may get included in this round but a recent launch of PayZippy, a payment processing service not unlike PayPal, could be one area of investment. As in other developing countries, India has a strong offline payment system, where people pay for goods bought online only when they get delivered. PayZippy is Flipkart’s bid to try to change that.
This round adds several new investors to Flipkart’s balance sheet: Dragoneer Investment Group, Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Sofina and Vulcan Capital are all coming in on this round, also with participation from existing investors Tiger Global, whose first publicly disclosed investment in the company was in 2011 for $20 million. Other Flipkart investors include Accel Partners and ICONIQ Capital.
The news today was first announced by Bansal, confirming rumors that had been swirling already:
Flipkart then followed that up with a statement with more details about new investors.
The investment comes at an interesting point in India’s e-commerce landscape. Like other BRIC countries, India and its population of 1.24 billion people are coming a bit later to the e-commerce market than countries like the U.S. or those in Western Europe, but this also means less saturation and more opportunity. At the same time, there is a growing middle class, bolstered by improved data networks and affordable devices — smartphones, tablets and, yes, PCs — to use on them (many sold via Flipkart :)). Those consumers are switched on and taking to the internet by storm to buy goods and services.
That’s having a double effect in terms of business: the rapid rise of strong domestic players like Flipkart, and more interest from foreign investors and e-commerce businesses. Earlier this year, Snapdeal — probably Flipkart’s biggest competitor online — picked up a $50 million investment from eBay, and we understand that this was after a bidding war that also included Amazon.
“We are excited to work with a group of investors who strongly believe in our business strategy and are completely aligned with our long-term goals,” Bansal noted in that statement from Flipkart. “India’s e-commerce market is at a critical inflection point and this additional capital will allow us to further expand our leadership position.”
Update: From an interesting conversation with Bansal, I’ve picked up some more detail about the funding, and what Flipkart may be looking at next. For starters, there are no plans for international expansion right now. “It’s already very busy here, with a big opportunity,” he said. “Longer term it’s hard to say anything else.”
In terms of what the company will look to enhance with the new funding, Bansal pointed specifically to payments (the PayZippy business I mentioned above) and e-books. Right now, he says that about half of all purchases on Flipkart are paid for in cash on delivery, although non-cash payments are growing gradually with a strong push from companies like his, credit card providers, banks and others. This is where Flipkart’s investors will also come in handy. “New and existing investors have faced similar e-commerce experiences in China. They know the challenges,” he said.
This also relates to logistics and further developing this: given that cash and delivery are currently going hand-in-hand. One area this might go is to see at least better and more efficient forms of payment at the point of delivery. Mobile commerce in general is a big opporunity for Flipkart, not just as a way of giving more value to its logistics and fulfilment operation, but also because of the rapid rise of mobile devices and making it easier for consumers on those platforms to be able to buy after browsing, he said. Today, however, desktop still accounts for the majority of all purchases on Flipkart.
In that vein, e-books are also a “strategic” area for the company, he said. The idea is to capitalise on the already very large rise of tablet and smartphone usage in the country, not just among upper and middle classes but the more general population. This would also tap into the fact that right now margins and sales of printed, physical books are not actually that strong. “If you look at the average book buyer they don’t spend a lot on books,” he notes, but they have the devices to potentially be turned into e-book consumers.
For now, this will not lead to Flipkart itself making and selling hardware, a la Amazon and its Kindle business. “We will be evaluating that option in the future,” he told me. That option may be another Android tablet, which Bansal says it the platform everyone leans toward.
Flipkart’s not disclosing its valuation or whether this E Round takes it closer to the realm of going public. What it will do, however, is help it have the upper hand in whatever consolidation is bound to hit the Indian e-commerce market. Bansal notes that its competitors include not just global players like Amazon and eBay but also Germany’s Rocket Internet (which has been investing in building out a number of services in India), Snapdeal and more. The kinds of acquisitions that Flipkart might make would be either to pick up new classes of consumers, such as those who might use specialized online fashion storefonts, or those that can add new kinds of technology to Flipkart’s existing business to improve it.