SoftBank brings in new India head to help its startups address government and policy issues

Sandeep Soni

SoftBank, which has reportedly invested over $10 billion in top Indian startups including OYO, Paytm, Ola, Delhivery etc., has further strengthened its India office by moving its SB Energy Chairman Manoj Kohli to SoftBank India as the new Country Head, the group said on Wednesday. Kohli joins Sumer Juneja (former Partner at Norwest Venture Partners) who leads the SoftBank Investment Advisers (SoftBank's arm that runs the Vision Fund) in India and former Google India interim head Vikas Agnihotri who will be the first operating partner, once onboard, of the Vision Fund in India. On the other hand, Raman Nanda leads SB Energy Global.

"Kohli will be responsible for supporting SoftBank, SoftBank Vision Fund, and their portfolio companies' interests in India," SoftBank said in a statement shared with Financial Express Online. Kohli will also be looking at government relations and public policy efforts along with "working closely with portfolio company founders and CEOs to address government and policy issues and secure required approvals to enable their businesses to run smoothly and achieve their full business potential."

India has been among the key markets for SoftBank Vision Fund with OYO and Paytm among the crown jewels in Masayoshi Son's portfolio having put billions of dollars. In fact, Son has believed in giving technology entrepreneurs, which are leaders in their respective categories, with "Cash to fight" to "grow much bigger (and) quicker," he had said at an event in Riyadh in October last year.

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Kohli's appointment to look at "government and policy issues" to help portfolio companies do business without problems in India comes amid the government's increased scrutiny on the business models and business practices of digital platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, Zomato, OYO etc. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) had earlier this month asked tech companies in the e-commerce, food, hospitality etc for a 'clear and transparent' policy on data being collected on their respective platforms, alleged deep discounting practices, reviews and rankings etc. Last week, CCI had ordered a probe into Amazon and Flipkart with respect to their discounting model.

In the e-commerce, hospitality spaces, Softbank has stakes in Paytm Mall and OYO. Last year, Swiggy was reportedly in talks to raised funding SoftBank. Nonetheless, Kohli will also Softbank's other portfolio companies that are looking at India foray in the coming few years "by leveraging SoftBank's expertise in understanding and executing within the framework of public policies and building on the strong relationship of Softbank has, with the Government of India," SoftBank said.

SoftBank is currently in midst of raising funds for its second Vision Fund, which is estimated to be around $108 billion, to back technology entrepreneurs even as Son is now pushing its portfolio companies to focus on profitability instead of growth. Son had a challenging 2018 given his star startups Uber and Slack, which went public at astronomical valuations of $82.4 billion and over $20 billion, failed to put on great IPO performances. This was followed by WeWork's IPO  debacle. WeWork's founder Adam Neumann had raised overall nearly $11 billion from SoftBank and was likely to take the company public at $47-billion valuation but he failed to deliver even at a reported valuation of just $20 billion.