Securing the single-largest investment cheque in India’s digital landscape — for $1.4 billion — called for a celebration. It may have been too early yet for Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma to say how he would put the money to use but he was certain about whom he would raise a toast with.
“I will celebrate with Ravi,” a jetlagged Sharma said two weeks before announcing the funding from Japan’s SoftBank in May. The investment made Paytm second-most valued digital company in India with an estimated worth of about $7 billion and Sharma the country’s wealthiest internet entrepreneur.
That’s Ravi Adusumalli—India’s most-successful tech investor.
As managing partner at SAIF Partners, the reticent Adusumalli has often struck gold. The venture capital firm’s total $70 million investment in Paytm is now estimated to be worth about $1.5 billion. SAIF also earned more than $300 million selling a part of its stake in Paytm to SoftBank.
Another big payout for Adusumalli came from India’s largest online travel agency Makemytrip, in which SAIF had invested about $25 million. The firm sold its entire investment in the Deep Kalra-promoted company this year, earning nearly $400 million.
The stake sales in Makemytrip and Paytm make for the largest cash exits in the relatively short history of India’s venture capital industry. SAIF currently manages two India dedicated funds, with total capital invested in the country pegged at about $1 billion.
“If there is somebody who has made money in India (from startups) it is Ravi,” said Parag Dhol, director at venture capital firm Inventus Capital. “He has shown good timing in backing companies at a very early stage.”
Those who know Adusumalli, who is in his early forties, describe him as a no-nonsense straightshooter who inspires both respect and fear from peers as well as entrepreneurs.
Adusumalli graduated from Cornell University in 1998 with a degree in economics. Following that, he worked at Wasatch Funds and Credit Suisse First Boston and was then associate partner with Mobius Venture Capital, a $1.25-billion early-stage venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. He joined SAIF Partners in 2002.
Among his early successes was an investment in brokerage IL&FS Investsmart, which HSBC acquired in 2008. That earned Adusumalli a spot in the Forbes Midas list of top investors in 2008. The previous year, he led SAIF’s investment in the National Stock Exchange and has been pushing the bourse’s management towards an initial public offering of its shares.
Adusumalli has also led investments in local classifieds firm Just Dial, realty website Proptiger and online baby products retailer Firstcry. To be sure, not all his investment decisions have been successful, such as in apparel brand Zovi, television shopping firm Homeshop18 and online video aggregator iStream.
Since the turn of this decade, Adusumalli has focused on consumer internet companies, leveraging the experience of SAIF Partners’ affiliate in China.
What has allowed Adusumalli to keep a low profile is that he lives near Salt Lake City in Utah, United States, where he went to high school, away from the Indian startup ecosystem’s glare on Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Silicon Valley. He travels to India every 4-6 weeks, typically to attend board meetings and meet new startups.
Those who know Adusumalli believe he has only gained from staying away from the hubs of startup activity. “He understands the difference between noise and signal,” one of them said. According to two entrepreneurs ET spoke with, Adusumalli’s advice to startup founders mostly has to do with strategy, top-level hiring and controlling cash burn rates. He does not delve on operational nittygritties, an area where he doesn’t have much experience. “His advice to founders typically revolves around high-level strategy and he doesn’t interfere in the day-to-day operations,” said one of these entrepreneurs, who has worked with Adusumalli.