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  • MAP Asia Pacific Ltd

Are Indian startup founders in denial?

On August 8, after SoftBank reported a record $23 billion quarterly loss, chief executive Masayoshi Son sent out a warning to founders of unicorn startups who are too attached to their companies’ pre-downturn valuations.

Those unwilling to accept a lower price tag to raise funds will face a longer funding winter than those willing to compromise, Son warned in a post-earnings briefing.

"Our Vision Fund saw huge losses but unfortunately unicorn company leaders still believe in their valuation and they would not accept the fact that they may have to see their valuation (go) lower than they think," he said.

Down rounds are rare in India

On July 19, Reuters reported online pharmacy PharmEasy was in talks with investors to raise $200 million, but at a valuation that could be 15% or even 25% lower than last year's $5.1 billion.

A 'down round' by PharmEasy -- when a firm sells shares at a lower valuation than before – will be the first for a high-profile Indian startup in recent times.

But that may be about to change

Several high-flying startups have had to let go of their treasured – but often highly inflated – valuations this year amid the recent carnage in global equity markets and lacklustre demand for new listings.

These include high-profile companies such as payments firm Stripe, Swedish buy-now-pay-later firm Klarna, crypto lender BlockFi, and delivery startup Instacart.

  • Instacart has cut its valuation by 40%, citing market turbulence due to red-hot inflation and fears of a looming recession.

  • BlockFi has seen its valuation drop by 67%, while Stripe’s is down 28%.

  • In July, Klarna raised funds in a down round at a valuation of $6.7 billion – a drop of more than 80% from the $46 billion price tag it commanded last year.

  • In the US alone, 81 US companies have had to take a valuation haircut this year, according to data from PitchBook.

"It will be very difficult for startups to maintain their high-valuations in the current market, and a down round may be better to level-set with founders and investors the reality of the situation," Miguel Fernandez, cofounder and CEO of Capchase, a New York-based investor, told Reuters.

The funding winter hasn’t spared India

Indian startups raised $6.9 billion across 409 funding rounds in Q2 2022 (April-June), 33% less than the $10.3 billion they raised in the previous quarter. In the same quarter last year (Q2 2021), they raised around $10.1 billion, according to a Tracxn report.

Late-stage deal volume stood at $4.6 billion in Q2 2022 — a 41% drop from the previous quarter. Early-stage deal volume fell 9.5% from the previous quarter, while early-stage deals were down 16%.

The number of startups that raised funds in Q2 2022 also fell 29% to 404 from 574 in the previous quarter.

Yet, a recent survey said startup founders in India are optimistic about raising funds.

In the third edition of the ‘India Sentiment Outlook Survey’ by venture capital firm 100X.VC, 52% of founders surveyed said they planned to raise funds in the next three months.

Almost half (49%) said fundraising has improved significantly post-pandemic, about 23% said it would be extremely difficult to raise funds going forward, and 28% said they expected no change from pre-pandemic times.

The next few months will tell whether this optimism is justified or many Indian founders are in deep denial.


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