FlyTitle: Technology in India

After a decade of phenomenal growth, one of the world’s biggest startup scenes is showing signs of trouble

经历了十年非凡的增长之后,全球最大的创业市场之一出现问题迹象

经济学人双语版-硅次大陆 Silicon subcontinent

WHEN ITINERANT venture capitalists land at Delhi airport, many head straight to Aerocity, a new development of glass, steel and Starbucks next door that would not look out of place in Silicon Valley, Singapore or Shanghai. Cyber City, another tech enclave 20 minutes away by Uber (traffic permitting), swarms with young programmers in T-shirts and jeans not unlike the Stanford students plotting the next disruptive app at Philz Coffee in Palo Alto. Many are one and the same.

当满世界飞的风险投资人抵达德里机场后,许多人直奔航空城(Aerocity)。这个新区的建筑使用了大量的玻璃和钢结构,星巴克随处可见,就算放在硅谷、新加坡或上海也不会显得突兀。搭乘优步去另一个高科技新城数码城(Cyber City)仅需20分钟(交通顺畅的话),那里到处是穿着T恤和牛仔裤的年轻程序员,与在帕洛阿尔托(Palo Alto)的菲尔兹咖啡馆(Philz Coffee)策划下一个颠覆性应用的斯坦福学子无异。他们中许多人就是斯坦福毕业的。

经济学人双语版-硅次大陆 Silicon subcontinent

What Delhi’s tech parks lack in the splendour of India’s historic business hub, in south Mumbai, they make up for in unpotholed roads, uninterrupted mobile connections and stable broadband. Between 2017 and 2019 the capital spawned 2,562 startups, according to Tracxn Technologies, a data provider. Other clusters, notably in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai, added a further 4,500 or so between them. India now has 80,000 startups (see chart 1). They raised $10bn in 2019, up from $3.1bn in 2012 (see chart 2). That puts India’s venture capital (VC) activity behind America ($114bn) and China ($34bn) but ahead of larger economies such as Germany or France.

与印度位于孟买南部历史悠久的商业中心相比,德里的高科技园区没那么光鲜显赫,但这里有平坦的道路、无处不在的移动连接和稳定的宽带。数据供应商Tracxn Technologies统计,2017年至2019年期间,在首都共成立了2562家创业公司。在其他创业集群地(特别是班加罗尔、孟买、海得拉巴、浦那和金奈)一共新成立了4500家左右。印度现有八万家创业公司(见图表1)。它们在2019年共融资100亿美元,2012年为31亿美元(见图表2)。这让印度的风投规模仅次于美国(1140亿美元)和中国(340亿美元),但领先于德国或法国等较大的经济体。

经济学人双语版-硅次大陆 Silicon subcontinent

PitchBook, a research firm, counts 18 unlisted “unicorns”, valued at more than $1bn apiece, grazing in India. They are worth a combined $72bn. Bright engineers and managers now aspire to work for them—or their VC backers—rather than settle for safe careers at a multinational, a bank or a state-run firm. Another 150-odd “soonicorns” may reach the $1bn mark shortly. They promise free cappuccinos, excitement—and, for a lucky few, riches. They may reconfigure parts of the national economy. Mohandas Pai, a VC-wallah and former finance chief of Infosys, a local tech giant, predicts that within a decade India’s startups will help triple its GDP.

研究公司PitchBook的统计数据显示,印度共有18家未上市的“独角兽”(估值超过10亿美元的企业),总估值达720亿美元。如今优秀的工程师和管理人员都渴望为它们或它们背后的风险投资商工作,而不愿满足于在跨国公司、银行或国有企业中谋求一条安稳的职业道路。还有150多个“独角兽苗子”可能很快会达到估值10亿美元的标准。它们承诺免费的卡布奇诺、激动人心的工作内容,以及让少数幸运儿成为巨富。它们可能会重构一部分国民经济。曾在印度本土科技巨头印孚瑟斯(Infosys)任首席财务官的风险投资家莫汉达斯·帕伊(Mohandas Pai)预测,未来十年内,印度的创业公司将推动印度GDP增长到现在的三倍。

Mr Pai is not alone in his bullishness. India’s business press revels in tales of startup wonder. Foreign VC firms have piled in. They hope to ape the success of Flipkart, an e-commerce platform in which Walmart bought a majority stake for $16bn in 2018. Yet despite startup India’s indisputable promise, pitfalls await the unwary.

对未来信心满满的不止帕伊一人。印度的商业新闻媒体乐于报道创业公司的传奇故事。外国风险投资公司蜂拥而至,希望能复制电子商务平台Flipkart的成功。2018年,沃尔玛以160亿美元的价格收购了Flipkart的多数股权。不过,尽管“创业印度”的美好未来无可争辩,不够谨慎的人也可能会遭遇陷阱。

The Indian VC scene has come a long way. In 2005, when Rajan Anandan, a partner at Sequoia Capital, a Silicon Valley VC titan, returned to India after a spell in America, all-important early-stage VC was close to non-existent. Foreign firms began to fill the gap. Californian stalwarts, including Accel, Matrix, Lightspeed, Bessemer and Norwest, have since set up mostly autonomous Indian offices. So have Singaporean sovereign-wealth funds, Temasek and GIC; Chinese tech giants, Tencent and Alibaba; and, inevitably given its startup covetousness, SoftBank of Japan. They have been joined by powerful local firms such as Blume Capital. Giant Indian conglomerates such as Tata, Reliance and Mahindra have launched VC arms. VC types say they get more than 5,000 pitches a year.

印度的风投市场已经取得了长足的发展。2005年,硅谷风投巨头红杉资本(Sequoia Capital)的合伙人拉詹·阿南丹(Rajan Anandan)在美国生活了一段时间后返回印度,那时至关重要的早期风投在印度几乎还不存在。外国公司开始填补空白。此后,Accel、Matrix、Lightspeed、Bessemer和Norwest等长期专注于加州的公司都开设了基本上独立运作的印度办事处。新加坡主权财富基金淡马锡和政府投资公司(GIC)、中国科技巨头腾讯和阿里巴巴也一样,当然还有盯着各种创业公司的日本软银。Blume Capital等强大的本地公司也加入了这一行列。塔塔(Tata)、信实(Reliance)和马辛德拉(Mahindra)等大型印度企业集团已设立风投部门。风投机构表示它们每年能收到5000多个项目推介。

Most of the money has gone into familiar platforms: ride-hailing (Ola), food delivery (Swiggy, Zomato), online grocers (bigbasket), car rental (Zoomcar), online education (Byju’s). The first new unicorn of 2020, HighRadius, offers software-as-a-service (SaaS), another tested business model which provides companies with things like accounting or customer support via the computing cloud.

大部分资金都投入了众所周知的平台:网约车(Ola)、外卖(Swiggy、Zomato)、日杂电商(bigbasket)、租车(Zoomcar)、在线教育(Byju’s)等。2020年的第一个新独角兽企业HighRadius提供软件即服务(SaaS),这是另一种经过验证的商业模式,可通过计算云为企业提供会计或客户支持等服务。

This penchant for the familiar is understandable. And the platforms work in India—just about—without the need to fix its rickety physical and digital infrastructure. But their growth is limited in a country rich in people but poor in disposable income. And, like counterparts in the West, few of them make any money (see chart 3). The reasons—and justifications—are the same, too: heavy investments are necessary to acquire new customers and achieve scale.

偏爱熟悉的投资对象是可以理解的。这些平台无需修补印度薄弱的实体和数字基础设施就基本可以运作。但是,在一个人口多但可支配收入少的国家里,它们的成长空间有限。而且,和西方国家同类型公司一样,它们基本都没赚钱(见图表3)。原因(以及自我辩护的理由)也都相同:获得新客户和扩大规模需要大量投资。

经济学人双语版-硅次大陆 Silicon subcontinent

Bharat biltzscaling

印度式闪电扩张

The success of this strategy is hard to gauge. Information on realised returns—the cash VCs get from their investments as opposed to unrealised capital gains from swelling valuations—remains scant. What little there is suggests a near absence of cash returns. People who have reviewed pitch books used to raise money say as much. True, only a few funds have been around the decade or so required for investments to ripen. But it may have something to do with weak operating performance. Oyo Rooms, a seven-year-old firm which sells tech-infused budget-hotel franchises and has expanded furiously across 800 cities in India and abroad, has had to sack workers and faces questions about its viability.

这种策略是否成功很难衡量。相对于估值膨胀带来的未实现资本收益,有关风投商从其投资中获得的已实现现金回报的信息仍然很少。从已有的极少量信息来看,几乎还没有现金回报。研究过融资项目推介书的人也持相同的看法。诚然,获得投资回报需要十年左右,而已经在此投资这么久的基金很少。但现金回报少也可能与经营不佳有关。成立七年的Oyo Rooms主打高科技经济型酒店特许经营,疯狂扩张到印度和国外的800多个城市,它已经不得不裁员,并面临外界对自己生存能力的质疑。

Individual companies’ valuations—including Oyo’s, long put at $7.5bn-10bn—are thus increasingly viewed with suspicion. Many are “marked to myth” rather than to market, as local wags put it. That in turn helps explain why clean exits, through a public listing or a private sale, are rare. Walmart’s Flipkart deal accounted for 80% of the ten biggest exits in 2018, according to Bain, a consultancy. Last year’s top ten raked in just $4bn. Half were sales of secondary stakes by one VC firm to another. Only one, of a 24-year-old e-merchant called Indiamart, was a public offering.

个别公司的估值受到的质疑因而越来越多,包括长期以来估值在75亿至100亿美元的Oyo。正如当地人调侃说,许多公司是“按神话估值”而不是按市价。这也有助于解释为什么很少有风投资本通过公开上市或私下出售完全退出。咨询公司贝恩称,沃尔玛收购Flipkart的交易金额占2018年十大风投退出交易的80%。去年前十大退出交易的总金额仅为40亿美元。有一半交易是一家风投公司向另一家转让股权。成立24年的电商Indiamart是唯一一家通过公开上市退出的。

Investor-unfriendly bureaucracy presents more hurdles to divestment. A term sheet related to incorporating in India, from the Indian branch of an American VC firm, can run to 12 pages, remembers an executive at a hot startup; one from its American office related to incorporating in America took up a single page. Some of those who invested in Flipkart are enmeshed in a fight with the government to recover a withholding tax imposed on their returns.

不利于投资者的官僚主义给资本退出带来了更多障碍。一家炙手可热的创业公司的高管回忆说,美国风投公司在印度设立分公司时,成立条款长达12页,而在美国成立公司时条款只有一页。一些Flipkart的投资者正在为追回对其投资收益的预扣税与政府争执不下。

To list on India’s main exchanges firms must demonstrate a few years of profits. Laws impede those whose management is based in India from floating overseas (the approach of many successful Israeli startups) without first going public at home. Complex and mutable levies on shares handed to investors and staff in effect give the government first dibs on a firm’s cash.

要在印度主要交易所上市,公司必须能证明已经实现了几年的盈利。由于印度法律限制,总部设在印度的公司在国内上市之前难以在海外上市(许多成功的以色列创业公司都选择了在海外上市)。政府对转给投资者和员工的股票的征税复杂又易变,实际上让政府先行从公司的现金收入中分钱。

Despite its pro-business rhetoric, the nationalist government of Narendra Modi has made life harder for startups in other ways. Like all of India Inc they contend with complex and constantly changing rules. Some are draconian and indiscriminate. In December the government blocked digital-payments providers from collecting fees from merchants who use their services, hurting the business model of Paytm, India’s biggest unicorn. It also launched a public payments system that competes with private providers. Flipkart has found itself facing restrictions on warehousing and discounting, slapped with a complex transaction tax, and under investigation by the competition authorities for long-standing sales arrangements.

尽管莫迪领导的民族主义政府在口头上表示支持商业发展,但它还从其他更多方面让创业公司的日子不好过。像所有印度公司一样,它们也要应对复杂且不断变化的法规。有些法规严苛而恣意。去年12月,印度政府禁止数字支付服务供应商向使用其服务的商户收取费用,这损害了印度最大的独角兽Paytm的商业模式。政府还启动了与私有供应商竞争的公共支付系统。Flipkart已面临仓储和打折上的限制,此外还受到复杂的交易税的打击,而且正在接受反垄断机构对其长期销售模式的调查。

The cost, complexity and chaos of India’s VC world is prompting many startups to try to incorporate elsewhere while they remain small. An analysis by Tracxn shows that of 73 SaaS firms that have received at least $20m each in funding, 50 have headquarters outside India. Many flee to Singapore, where expatriate managers can catch a six-hour flight to Delhi or Mumbai, which plenty do on a weekly basis. America is luring them with its vast market, better protection of intellectual property, lower taxes and a deep network of analysts, VC firms, lawyers and bankers. If India is to unleash its huge startup potential, it must first ask itself why some of its entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are so eager to leave. ■

印度风投市场的高成本、复杂度和混乱现状正促使许多创业公司在规模尚小时就尝试在其他国家设立公司。Tracxn的分析显示,在73家至少获得2000万美元投资的软件即服务公司中,有50家总部都设在印度以外。许多公司选择远走新加坡,外派到那里的主管们可以乘六小时飞机回到德里或孟买,很多人每周往返。美国以其广阔的市场、更完善的知识产权保护、更低的税率和更深厚的分析师、风投、律师与银行家网络深深吸引着印度创业公司。如果印度要释放其巨大的创业潜力,它必须首先自问,为何它的一些企业家和风险资本家如此渴望离开。