WestBridge Capital goes back to the future with renewed tech focus

WestBridge Capital goes back to the future with renewed tech focus

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Madhav Chanchani

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Madhav Chanchani

121 reads

WestBridge is one of the largest alternative investment firms in the country, with almost $10 billion in assets under management. While the firm has primarily focused on non-tech prospects in public and private markets, it’s now making an aggressive push for more risky tech deals

November 10, 2022

15 MINS READ

When the four senior partners at Sequoia Capital India quit their jobs in February 2011, they shared a core belief. The bigger opportunity to generate returns was not in the private markets. Instead of venture capital investments, Sandeep Singhal, Sumir Chadha, KP Balaraj, and SK Jain were convinced the bigger opportunity for outsized returns lay in India’s public markets.  

The four decided to revive WestBridge Capital, the private equity firm they founded during the dotcom boom in 1999. WestBridge had its roots in technology investments. 

Some of its bets made during this time, such as online advertising startup Intercept and intranet services provider Workadia, did not work out as both companies fell victim to the dotcom crash. Others, however, did. Business process outsourcing company Firstsource (which went public in 2007) and software player MarketRx (which was acquired by Cognizant for $135 million in 2007), were some of the successes. 

The second coming of WestBridge, though, was more informed by the group’s stint at Sequoia India. Formed in 2005, the Silicon Valley-based venture firm Sequoia Capital launched its India operations by merging with WestBridge. The new entity was renamed Sequoia India, with a strategy split into separate venture and growth capital funds. 

Here, the original WestBridge team continued to make tech bets. Prominent among these were Guruji, which was building India’s answer to Google; a social network focused on college communities called Minglebox, and flight booking portal Travelguru. Most of Sequoia India’s early consumer tech bets failed due to the limited size of India’s internet market at the time. This wasn’t unique to Sequoia India, with other venture capital firms in the country also seeing similar results.

What generated better returns in less time were bets on more traditional companies. Those like gold loan NBFC Manappuram Finance, microfinance player SKS, and even pre-IPO bets on companies like Idea Cellular (now Vodafone Idea) and Edelweiss Finance. Several of these went on to list on the bourses, providing liquidity in the process.

Unsurprisingly then, WestBridge’s second act was defined by the desire to build “a pre-eminent, pre-dominant public investment firm”, as Chadha explained in 2012. 

“If you talk to some key guys in the industry who have been around for some time and made money, they will tell you that public investing is generally more attractive than late stage private investing” - VCCircle

Indeed, in the decade since, WestBridge has made numerous public market bets, taking minority stakes in companies such as Indigo, Havells, ICICI Bank, and Britannia Industries. 

Its biggest bet recently remains a public market deal, which has remained under wraps till now. WestBridge bought shares worth about $100-150 million in Freshworks, which is trading down by nearly 70% from its IPO price of $36 per share last year. From reaching a peak of $15 billion after its IPO last year, its market cap has slumped to $3.7 billion—close to its last private market valuation in 2019.

After 2014-15, the firm started to get active again in the private markets, but primarily focused on non-tech deals. WestBridge’s biggest private deals since then were majority stake purchases in companies such as Star Health Insurance, Fogg deodorant maker Vini Cosmetics, and mortgage lenders Aptus Value Housing and India Shelter Housing Finance.   

Over the last 24-30 months, however, something has changed. WestBridge has seemingly gone back to its roots. Earlier this week, for instance, it led a $57 million funding round in HR payroll software player Keka, Largely bootstrapped until now, Keka competes with unicorns such as Darwinbox, which is backed by investors like Sequoia, Lightspeed, and Salesforce. 

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