Investors bet on India social commerce startup in US$125m funding round

[BANGALORE] Facebook Inc is participating in a US$125 million fundraising for an Indian startup that is aiming to bring more commerce to social networks like, well, Facebook.

Meesho, based in Bangalore, is what's known in the tech industry as a social commerce startup, allowing people to build connections online and then sell through services such as Facebook and its WhatsApp and Instagram services. The funding round was led by South Africa's Naspers Ltd and also included Sequoia, Shunwei Capital, Venture Highway and Arun Sarin, the former chief executive officer of Vodafone Group.

Meesho is part of a crop of new e-commerce companies that are trying to take advantage of social connections to facilitate sales. The startup says that it has a network of more than two million "social sellers" in 700 towns across India, focusing on categories such as apparel, wellness and electronics.

"Our social sellers are small retailers, women, students and retired citizens, with 70 per cent being homemakers who have found financial freedom and a business identity without having to step outside their homes," said Vidit Aatrey, Meesho co-founder and CEO.

India has become an increasingly competitive market for e-commerce, the last unclaimed major country after took hold of the US and Alibaba Group Holding won China. Amazon is spending billions to gain share in India, while Walmart paid US$16 billion for control of local leader Flipkart Online Service.

Naspers has a history of backing startups in China and India - and reaping big profits. It invested in China's gaming giant Tencent Holdings and India's Flipkart, before the Walmart purchase. It led a US$1 billion funding round in the Bangalore-based online food company Swiggy in December.

Naspers shares have risen 23 per cent this year, valuing the company at about US$98 billion.