What’s he building in there, what the hell is he building in there,” asks Tom Waits in a song, helpfully called, What’s He Building. He is peering over a fence into his neighbour’s yard and is confused. He is sure there is something sinister at work. Admittedly, it isn’t Waits’ best work. He has done better. But the line isn’t too dissimilar to what can and must be asked of Kunal Bahl, Rohit Bansal and Snapdeal.

What are they building in there?

So let’s try and answer that question.

First, the news flash. On Tuesday, 8 November, Snapdeal rolled out a major reorganisation. Vishal Chadha, its senior vice president, would be its new Chief Business Officer – a position that didn’t exist earlier. Saurabh Bansal, formerly head of categories, was carrying out the job in concept. According to sources, who requested not to be named, Saurabh was offered to lead a business unit but he refused. It was only this May that he was made head of categories. His future remains up in the air.

In a move that mirrors that of its arch-rival and market leader Flipkart, CEO Kunal Bahl is stepping back from operational responsibilities to focus on fundraising and fund conserving, while his co-founder Rohit Bansal takes control of day-to-day activities. These changes are significant, especially with the drop in valuation as background. Snapdeal’s last confirmed valuation was at $4.8 billion last August, as reported by Mint, down from $6.5 billion in January. We also reported last week that VC firm Sequoia was apparently willing to sell its stake in Snapdeal at an even lower valuation of $3 billion.

Reorganising the workforce isn’t new for Snapdeal. It has tried everything in the book. Snapdeal has hired people, fired people; decided Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) was boss and then decided Daily Active Users (DAU) was the key metric. It focused on Exclusively.in to drive revenue and then wanted to acquire Jabong and is now hedging its bets on Freecharge. Snapdeal is doing everything that will return it to its glory days of nipping at Flipkart’s heels.

All of this would suggest, this is a farewell Snapdeal story. It is not. The company is evolving and is trying hard to stay relevant. Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal are not pushovers and they know how to put up a good fight. In June ‘16, Snapdeal had, according to sources, about $450 million sitting in the bank, giving it a runway of about 20 months. And buyers are circling. Snapdeal is the third biggest player in the market and you can swipe them away as an also-ran but do it at your own risk.

The evolution of Snapdeal will define how the market plays out.


Patanjali Pahwa

Patanjali has spent over seven years in journalism. He last worked at Business Standard as Principal Correspondent, where he wrote on startups, e-commerce companies and venture capital. He has worked at an array of institutions, which include Forbes India, Caravan and Outlook Business. He is a Mumbaikar, born and brought up. Patanjali did his BSc in IT from Mumbai University and then got his journalism degree from IIJNM in Bangalore. He is enamoured by Ernest Hemingway and Tom Waits and may try to sneak in references to them in his stories.

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