In August 2017, business to business (B2B) e-commerce company Just Buy Live (JBL), had big news. The company claimed it had raised $100 million (~Rs 650 crore) from a Dubai-based investor. Employees were thrilled, for the money came with the promise of going international, which meant foreign postings. There had been chatter about this round for six months, and it was finally coming through. It looked like a time to celebrate.
Except, a few weeks in, instead of hiring people, JBL cut the sales team in half. The company went from 30 salespersons to 12 in Delhi. Employees were shocked. You see, the $100 million round had never happened.
And now, the company is on the verge of shutting operations.
Contrast this with Udaan, yet another B2B e-commerce marketplace. The company, started by three ex-Flipkart employees, recently raised $50 million (~Rs 325 crore). Udaan’s flight is fascinating though. It originally started out as an e-commerce company for retailers and is now gradually shifting to being a logistics provider for small businesses. According to people in the industry, Udaan pivoted because it couldn’t get enough traction when it came to B2B e-commerce.
This brings the entire sector back in sharp focus. B2B, in India, is a $300 billion market. It has legacy companies such as IndiaMart and startups alike. All of them have realised that there is an opportunity waiting. Because, in India, no matter who’s buying (be it retail customers or traders) and how much they’re buying (one bag of chips or 200) they want the process to be easy. Now, B2B may not be a topic as hot as Amazon—or regular e-commerce, in general—but it consistently raises funds when needed. Over the last three years, B2B businesses have raised $8.4 billion (~Rs 54,000 crore) according to Tracxn. Remember the funding winter of 2016 and 2017? No, B2B companies didn’t see any of that.
But it may be a while before India sees its first B2B e-commerce unicorn. Even though all the dominos are lined up, they don’t seem to be falling the right way.
Just last year, IndiaMart, a Delhi NCR-based B2B directory services company, had to shut down its spin-off, Tolexo. And now, the biggest company in that sector, JBL, is going down the same route. The company was founded in 2015 by Sahil Sani, known for running Sahil Electronics, one of the biggest distributors of the other JBL—JBL sound systems.
Multiple employees at JBL told The Ken that their salaries over the last two months have been delayed and that dues haven’t been cleared for former employees.