Battle of billionaires as Son set to clash with Bezos in India

SoftBank is closing in on an agreement to combine its e-commerce company Snapdeal with market leader Flipkart to create a stronger domestic player to compete with Amazon, according to sources.

SoftBank Group Corp’s Masayoshi Son and Inc founder Jeff Bezos are heading for a clash in India. 

SoftBank is closing in on an agreement to combine its e-commerce company Snapdeal with market leader Flipkart Online Services Pvt, creating a stronger domestic player to compete with the American behemoth, according to people familiar with the matter. To get the merger done, Son is willing to cut Snapdeal’s valuation 85% to US$1bil (RM4.43bil), said the people, asking not to be named because the talk is private. 

Snapdeal’s founders and early investors had resisted such a steep cut, but SoftBank has argued the deal is necessary as venture funding dries up and competition intensifies, the people said. Talks are now in the final stages and a deal could be signed within weeks, they said, though it’s also possible they could fall apart. 

Snapdeal co-founder and chief executive officer Kunal Bahl raised the possibility of an acquisition in an e-mail to employees over the weekend, explaining he and co-founder Rohit Bansal are seeking to protect employees. 

“While our investors are driving the discussions around the way forward, I am reaching out to let you know that the well-being of the entire team is mine and Rohit’s top and only priority,” Bahl wrote, according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg. 

Flipkart, Snapdeal and SoftBank all declined to comment. 

The combination of India’s two leading e-commerce players is being called an arranged marriage, said the people, with Son playing the role of matchmaker. The Japanese billionaire, who owns about a third of Snapdeal parent Jasper Infotech Pvt, plans to contribute that equity to the merged entity and to infuse another US$500mil (RM2.21bil) to US$1bil (RM4.43bil) in Flipkart through a transaction with Flipkart backer Tiger Global Management, the people said. 

That would give Flipkart more firepower to battle Amazon in one of the world’s fastest growing online retail markets. The Seattle-based company has vowed to spend US$5bil (RM22.17bil) in the country and India chief Amit Agarwal has used the money to gain customers. 

Son financed a similar battle in China – and won billions. He was one of the earliest backers of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the e-commerce player that first defeated eBay in China and then successfully fended off Amazon. That investment remains one of his most successful to date, giving him stock worth more than US$80bil (RM354.84bil). 

Flipkart is already raising cash for the battle. The Bangalore-based company is said to have recently struck a deal for US$1bil (RM4.43bil) in funding from investors including Tencent Holdings, Microsoft Corp and eBay Inc. An alliance among Flipkart, Snapdeal and eBay would give the business customers, scale and technology, though it’s not clear how easily those could be integrated. 

“We will do all that we can, and more, in working with our investors to ensure that there is no disruption in employment and there are positive professional as well as financial outcomes for the team as the way forward becomes clear,” Bahl said in the e-mail. — Bloomberg

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