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[TOKYO] SoftBank said Tuesday it would invest US$627 million in Snapdeal, becoming the largest shareholder in India's leading online marketplace as the Japanese mobile carrier strengthens its presence in the fast-growing market.
The deal was expected to be completed by the end of November, said a SoftBank spokeswoman in Tokyo.
"With this investment, the SoftBank group will become Snapdeal's largest shareholder," she said, without disclosing further details.
Snapdeal is India's fastest-growing and largest e-commerce website, with more than 25 million registered users and over 50,000 business sellers.
The New Delhi-based company, which has annual sales of US$1.0 billion, has raised US$350 million since its founding in 2010.
But after the latest round of funding from SoftBank and others, Snapdeal's valuation will rise to an estimated US$2.0 billion with SoftBank as the single largest investor.
"Snapdeal is thrilled and honoured to have SoftBank as a strategic partner," co-founder and chief executive Kunal Bahl said in a statement.
"We are confident we will further strengthen our promise to consumers and create life-changing experiences for one million small businesses in India." Other investors in Snapdeal, which is backed by eBay, include Indian tycoon Ratan Tata, Singapore state-owned investment company Temasek and asset management firm BlackRock.
SoftBank, which made headlines last year after its more than US$21 billion takeover of US wireless giant Sprint, said the Snapdeal acquisition was aimed at boosting its presence in the booming Indian online market.
"We believe that India is at a turning point in its development and have confidence that India will grow strongly over the next decade," SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son said in a statement.
"As part of this belief, we intend to deploy significant capital in India over the next few years to support development of the market," he added.
Son met India's Telecoms and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad during a visit to New Delhi on Monday, as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India's online retail industry, valued at US$1.0 billion just two years ago, is expected to hit US$32 billion in sales in 2020, according to retail consultancy Technopak.
Separately, SoftBank also said Tuesday it would jointly invest US$210 million in India's ANI Technologies, better known as Ola Cabs, which provides a marketplace connecting consumers and taxi drivers through mobile apps, the web and call centres.
"Ola's current shareholders will join the investment but SoftBank will take the lead," another SoftBank spokeswoman said, without elaborating.
SoftBank is a holding company that boasts more than 1,300 subsidiaries and affiliates involved in a range of mobile communications, fixed-line communications and Internet services.
It holds about one-third of Chinese online giant Alibaba and has said it would probably book a gain of about US$4.6 billion from the firm's initial public offering, which raised a record US$25 billion last month.