If you are an investor, you have two choices. Be the best possible partner so companies line up to make deals with you, or go with a “take-no-prisoners” approach, where you may have disgruntled partners but a happy bottom-line. Affle India Ltd, a publicly-listed mobile adtech platform, has seemingly chosen the latter.

Affle procures ads from advertisers and places them on publishers’ websites, apps, or app stores. It’s a booming business—advertisers are expected to spend spend Business Standard India ad spend likely to grow 23.2% in 2021, says GroupM report Read more nearly $3.7 billion in digital ads in the country this calendar year, according to media agency GroupM. With that much money in the game, both advertisers and publishers want to know how it’s being spent. (We wrote about Affle’s business model last year. Read it here here The Ken Affle rides on conversions to beat the adtech IPO curse Read more .)

Numerous adtech startups in India are building tech that meets this demand. The sector has seen nearly $8.6 billion in funding in the last five years, according to startup data tracker Tracxn.

For Affle, acquiring these startups for their tech has helped it grow into a company with a market capitalisation of $1.5 billion. Since 2018, it made seven acquisitions and two investments as a strategic investor, spending over $85 million, as per its latest earnings report and recent press releases. Over 50% of its revenue has come from the acquisitions it has made in the ad tech space, said a former employee at Affle.

Given how central acquisitions are to Affle, its public skirmish with its investee company, Indus OS, a regional language startup, came as a surprise. Indus OS’ move to sell a majority stake worth $60 million to Walmart-owned payments startup PhonePe in May this year turned into an ugly three-way legal battle battle The Ken Indus OS and the acquisition tug-of-war between PhonePe and Affle Read more .

This wasn’t the first time a startup was left holding an Affle-handed can. The Ken spoke with sources associated with four startups that entered into Faustian bargains with Affle, as well as senior employees from Affle and Indus OS. They all spoke on the condition of anonymity as they still have a working relationship with the company.

Acquisitions Acquisitions The Ken The tail of acquisitions wagging India’s funding dog Read more are the primary exit route for startups in India.


Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is Bengaluru-based. She is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She has spent over 10 years reporting and writing on various subjects. Previous stints were at Mint, Outlook Business and Reuters.

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