May 21, 2020 - Technology

Meet Jio, everyone's favorite Indian tech investment

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

It’s been no secret that India’s Jio Platforms has very big ambitions, but now it’s getting support from some of the biggest tech heavyweights in the world.

Driving the news: In less than a month, the company has raised nearly $9 billion from private equity firms Silver Lake, Vista Equity Partners, and General Atlantic, as well as Facebook — which invested more than the three others combined, bringing Jio's total valuation now to $65 billion.

  • Thursday the Financial Times reported that KKR is in "advanced talks" to plow another $1.5 billion into Jio.

The big picture: Jio Platforms is a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, created in 2019 to house the industrial and retail conglomerate's digital and telecom business.

  • Reliance is currently led by Mukesh Ambani, son of founder Dhirubhai Ambani, who took over part of the enterprise after his father’s death in 2002.
  • Reliance first ventured into the telecom industry in 2010 with the acquisition of Infotel Broadband Services Limited.
  • Today, Jio Platforms houses Reliance’s broadband assets, along with a bevy of digital apps and services for everything from chat to e-commerce and work tools. It is also making investments in and acquiring other services like Savaan, a music streaming app.

By the numbers: Jio Platforms now has 388 million users in India, according to Reliance Industries’ most recent financials, which represents about 35% of market share.

  • It added 17.5 million wireless subscribers during the fourth quarter, and its average revenue per user was 130.6 rupees ($1.73) per month.
  • It had revenue of $2.3 billion for the quarter, and a net profit of about $308 million, up 178% year-over-year.

Why it matters: Tech investors looking for big returns and tech giants looking for new markets have fewer places to turn than ever before, and China, the biggest market of all, has been difficult to access. India is the next biggest prize on the planet.

Between the lines: Unlike most telecom companies in the world that control only one portion of the chain, “Jio is the only company that is omnipresent across all of them,” Counterpoint Research senior analyst Hanish Bhatia tells Axios.

  • “It owns the digital ecosystem right from the network, devices, apps to retail. So Jio is much more than just a telecom firm now, it is a technology firm,” he adds.
  • "Investors are betting on Jio being the infrastructure for India's shift to digital, and becoming a local mobile champion in a country dominated by foreign players like Facebook/WhatsApp and Google," Axios's Dan Primack recently noted.

Facebook’s motives for forging a close partnership with Jio are not hard to imagine — that is, further solidifying its presence in the Indian market.

  • The companies already plan a partnership between Facebook-owned Whatsapp, the chat app that's hugely popular in India, and JioMart, Jio Platforms' online-to-offline service that lets users order online from local small businesses like grocery stores. The companies are already testing an initial tie-up.
  • As for Jio Platforms, "social media is still a missing part of the puzzle," says Bhatia. "Facebook will further bolster Jio’s capability to leverage these anonymized data trends and enable Jio to leverage the same to drive new revenue streams."
  • Part of Facebook's investment also quietly went into parent company Reliance Industries, which has consolidated net debt and liabilities of $21.3 billion, which it wants to get rid of by 2021.

Yes, but: Jio still faces some challenges — namely, that it's still only getting started.

  • "I think the biggest challenge for Jio is digital literacy in India," says Bhatia. "Although Jio scaled and broadened its service ecosystem faster than any other telco or technology firm in the globe, Jio is still scratching the surface of a much larger opportunity it is targeting. "
  • Jio's ambitions to touch every digital part of Indian consumers' lives means it'll have to go beyond smartphones.

What’s next: Expect the company to take on a few more large investors and to go public within a couple of years.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with information about KKR's potential investment in Jio.

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