Five years ago, Kalaari Capital was arguably India’s top VC firm. Only Sequoia Capital had a larger corpus under management. Kalaari was also an early bird to the most important sector of that vintage—e-commerce. It boasted investments in marquee e-commerce startups like Snapdeal and Myntra.

The firm’s sheen stemmed from Vani Kola, its general partner (GP). Kola was recognised as one of the most powerful women in Indian business by Forbes and was the recipient of The Economic Times Midas Touch award for the best investor in the country in 2015.

Five years ago feels like a different lifetime. Today, Kalaari is a shadow of its glorious past. Its once reputed bets have soured. And Kola’s touch is anything but golden. Since 2018, the firm has been in the market to raise its fourth fund, but those ambitions never bore fruit…

Until last month. As February entered its home stretch, news broke that Kalaari’s fourth fund had finally gotten off the ground gotten off the ground Economic Times Scoop: Jio Platforms set to invest $200 million in Kalaari Capital Read more , courtesy of a massive investment from Jio Platforms—the holding company for Reliance Industries’ digital assets. Jio Platforms would invest upto US$200 million to anchor Kalaari’s new fund.

Quite what convinced Jio to throw its lot in with Kalaari, though, is a whole other matter. Despite its promising beginnings, Kalaari has lost its way over the years. It has bled team members, seen few significant exits, and had a large number of its portfolio companies either fall by the wayside or end in distress sales.

While Kalaari may have been early to the e-commerce party, it no longer seems to have the pride of place that once made it the VC name on everyone’s lips. In edtech, one of today’s hottest sectors, it doesn’t have a prize-winning horse in the race. Indeed, while edtech valuations are just peaking today, Kalaari exited the sector in 2019, selling its stake in Embibe to Reliance. It also missed the boat on other sunrise sectors like Software as a Service and fintech—both of which produced unicorns in the past few years, none of which were backed by Kalaari.

While Kalaari was once the country’s premier ecommerce investor, today it doesn’t even figure in the race. The fund is not on the cap table of any of the major players, nor does it have any promising next-generation e-commerce bets in its portfolio.

Its case to be considered a VC worth courting has also taken a battering over the past five years.


Sumanth Raghavendra

Sumanth is a serial entrepreneur with more than eighteen years experience in running startups. He is currently the founder of Deck App Technologies, a Bangalore-based startup attempting to re-imagine productivity software for the Post-PC era. Sumanth’s columns appear regularly in leading publications. He holds MBA degrees from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management, USA.

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