One97 – From selling Astrology services over the phone to a Global Fintech Unicorn

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A glance at the infographic with the top global Fintech unicorns[1] (as of Q3), fired several thoughts. Gold and bronze position to Chinese born giants, Ant Financial and Lu. The top seven Fintech unicorns that could fit their balloons which reflect their relative size in USD, included no European born companies. The US gave birth to four out of the seven Fintechs, which still operate mostly locally – Stripe, Coinbase, Robinhood, and Sofi.

One97 with a $10bil valuation, sitting right in the middle, was the only one that I honestly didn’t recognize with a blink. Once I started looking into the entity, I realized that a visit to New Delhi is long due. India is where One97 Communications operates. It is the leading mobile internet company offering mobile content and commerce services to millions of mobile consumers. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of this Unicorn which was launched in 2000!

One97 is endorsed by international big brand name investors:

  • Alibaba Group and Ant Financial (AliPay), own 40% of One97 shares.
  • Japan’s SoftBank became a shareholder in May 2017, injecting $1.4 billion in One97 for a 14.2% stake.
  • Berkshire Hathaway invested $356 mln in One97 (3%-4%) on the 28th October 2018, which brought the valuation up to $10bln[2].

One97 Communications is the mama of the flagship Paytm, born in 2010. This is the brand name that we all recognize.

PAYTM, at a glance

Paytm is a leading payment solutions provider to e-commerce merchants using a semi-closed wallet, approved from the Reserve bank of India.

Paytm started off in 2010 as a prepaid mobile and recharge platform and added a data card, postpaid mobile and landline bill payments.

In 2014, it launched the Paytm Wallet, and the Indian Railways and Uber added it as a payment option. It continued into E-commerce with online deals and bus ticketing.

In 2015, Paytm broadened its services with use-cases like education fees, metro recharges, electricity, gas, and water bill payments. It also started powering the payment gateway for Indian Railways.

In 2016, Paytm launched movies, events and amusement parks ticketing as well as flight ticket bookings and Paytm QR. It later launched rail bookings and gift cards. Paytm in India is considered the pioneer of QR based mobile payments.

In 2017, Paytm became India’s first payment app to cross over 100 million app downloads. It launched Paytm Gold, a product that allowed users to buy as little as ₹1 of pure gold online (₹ the new Rupee sign as of 2010).

It also launched the Paytm Payments Bank and ‘Inbox’, a messaging platform with in-chat payments among other products.

In 2018, it started allowing merchants to accept Paytm, UPI and Card payments directly into their bank accounts at 0% charge.

It also launched the ‘Paytm for Business’ app, allowing merchants to track their payments and day-to-day settlements instantly.

The company also launched two new wealth management products – Paytm Gold Savings Plan and Gold Gifting to simplify long-term savings. And an Indian robo-advisor. Paytm Money with various mutual fund products.

It also stepped into gaming with a mobile games platform Gamepind.

Just a glance at the Economic Times under One97, is sufficient to realize how it continues to make the headlines:

Paytm registers 600% growth in UPI transactions in 6 months

Now, you can pay LIC premium through Paytm

One97 Mobility Fund, the ecosystem play

While One97 Communications is the proud mama of Paytm, they have launched a $100M fund that invests in early stage mobile companies  – the One97 Mobility Fund (OMF). Their portfolio currently includes:

  • Paytm
  • TheMobileGamerPublisher of mobile social games for South East Asia reaching out to over 500M mobile users.
  • Ciqual: enables Mobile Operators to improve their data services through customer insights.
  • RainingCloud Technologies: develops AppSurfer (previously known as DroidCloud), a platform enabling Android access across multiple devices like non-android phones and PCs.
  • Dexetra: focuses on Artificial Intelligence around personalized Search and Mobility.
  • Plivo: a cloud telephony solution which helps enterprises and service providers setup, manage and run their own private or public telephony clouds.
  • IImjobs: A job portal run focused on mid-to-senior level placements.
  • CRAFTBY PRODUCTS: Engrave is an India-based design collective engaged in the pursuit of creating lifestyle products with fine craftsmanship.
  • Santa Claus Couriers: is an Indian eCommerce platform
  • MobiSwipe Technologies: allows merchants to use Android mobile phones or tablets as Point of Sale.
  • Zepo Technologies: helps small business owners to setup their online shop.

Why One97?

197 was the telephone directory number in New Delhi. Vijay Shekhar Sharma launched a call center selling Astrology services over the phone, which he named as One97. Eighteen years later, One97 Communications is the 4th Fintech unicorn on the global marketplace. An Indian mobile internet company which has earned the liking of international large investors and which acts like an ecosystem.

[1] Included in the Redefining Financial Services newsletter

[2] Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/28/reuters-america-update-3-berkshire-hathaway-takes-stake-in-indias-paytm.html

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

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