In many ways, Bose’s appointment is forced, but also strategic. It puts a face to an entity that has long operated in India without the need for one. In the recent past, this has become a bit of a problem with the powers that be in the Government of India.
Why do we need Data Localization?
The rollout of WhatsApp Pay has been stuck in a regulatory quagmire; the need for data localization, an India team that can be held accountable, stuff like that. Bose’s appointment is to solve this impasse. The company is clearly going out of its way to please the establishment because India will be WhatsApp’s first local team outside of its headquarters. Clearly, time is of the essence.
While WhatsApp has been dealing with issues, competitors are doubling down. Both the digital wallet platform Google Pay and Paytm* are no pushovers and can dominate the payments landscape.
Bose, of course, comes with strong credentials in understanding software, payments, merchants and regulation. Four key pillars of building a company that makes transacting on a smartphone using the internet possible. That he has spent the last decade in India, when the country has progressed from cash to a digital economy, one regulation after another, is a significant advantage. In his last assignment, Bose was the co-founder of Ezetap, a merchant payments platform. Before that, he was with Ngpay, a payments app.
As India’s head, where Bose should find himself out of depth is with fake news and political skirmishes. Specifically, the focus would be on if the company is doing enough to stop the spread of fake news on the platform. By its very nature—more human behavior than tech—this is going to continue to be a problem for the company. Especially as the country is heading into a significant election year. The tag of not doing enough isn’t something that Bose and his team will be able to shake off easily.
Founders tell good SoftBank stories. For instance, there’s this one story of a founder who wanted to reach out to SoftBank for funding. This is my deck, what do you think? That sort of conversation. But as hard as he tried, he could not identify the one person at SoftBank who he could reach out to.
Asking around didn’t help much. Nobody knew. Send an email to Nikesh Arora, said, someone. Google didn’t throw up names and email IDs either. News articles suggested that Rajeev Misra, executive vice-president of SoftBank and CEO of the Vision Fund, takes care of India investments. Does he?
As far as India is concerned, it is a bit of a mystery how SoftBank operates in the country. “I know I was trying to reach out for one of my portfolio companies,” said a venture capital investor, who requested not to be named. “And I got a few names but I didn’t know who is the right person.”
Sumer Juneja’s appointment last week as country head for SoftBank Investment Advisors, which will invest from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, should finally put that mystery to rest.
People I spoke with said Juneja is a curious choice to head the fund’s business in India. As a partner at Norwest Venture Partners, where he spent just under a decade, Juneja hasn’t made many technology investments.
Minus Swiggy and Quikr, his investments include the likes of the National Stock Exchange and banks IndusInd, Yes Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Cholamandalam Finance, among others.
“These are classically private equity plays,” said a second early-stage venture capital investor, who manages a fund of his own, and requested not to be named. “None of them are technology plays, whereas SoftBank is a tech, venture-focused fund.”
SoftBank’s India investments include Paytm, Ola, Oyo, and grocery delivery service Grofers, advertising platform provider InMobi and e-commerce company Snapdeal. The fund exited Flipkart this year and Housing in 2016. The fund’s global investments which are growing rapidly in the country include Uber and shared workspace WeWork.