After ploughing about $2 billion in minority stakes in Indian e-commerce businesses over the past few years, Japan's SoftBank is upping the stakes, looking to play consolidator and take a more active role at a trio of leading start-ups.
According to sources, the solar-to-tech conglomerate is seeking to secure a piece of the market leaders in everything, from payment systems to online shopping and groceries, in a series of deals that would shake up the $65-billion sector.
Among the most high-profile plans is SoftBank's push to engineer a merger between Snapdeal, the No. 3 e-commerce player and one of its biggest Indian investments to date, and market leader Flipkart. The deal could be finalised as soon as next week, one of the sources said.
SoftBank has poured around $1 billion into Snapdeal since 2014, but competition in e-commerce has risen dramatically with US giant Amazon cranking up its presence and taking the No. 2 spot from Snapdeal.
Besides Snapdeal, SoftBank is close to finalising a cash infusion of more than $1 billion into Alibaba-backed digital payments company Paytm, giving it a more direct say in that group, according to a source.
Media reports have separately linked SoftBank to a tie-up between grocery delivery group Grofers, in which it has invested around $70 million, and market leader and rival BigBasket.
SoftBank, Snapdeal, Paytm and BigBasket did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Grofers said the company did not comment on speculation.
At the heart of the push is the charismatic Masayoshi Son, SoftBank's founder and chairman, the sources said. Son has taken a more active role in the group globally since last year, when he pushed aside his heir apparent, Nikesh Arora.
SoftBank is best-known for its hugely lucrative early stage bet in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, in which it is still the single-largest investor. But it has also been a long-time supporter of India. "Son is thinking India is the place where he will create one or two Alibabas,"said source, adding that the former sees the country as the "land of golden opportunity".
SoftBank is the biggest investor in leading ride-share player Ola, which competes with Uber, and its top hotel aggregator Oyo. Son and other partners have also pledged to pour $20 billion into solar projects.