“Unfortunately, due to just one individual, Lee Fixel of Tiger Global, Flipkart has gone from being a poster child to being the single biggest risk to the technology ecosystem.” So opined Sharad Sharma, founder of iSpirt and a prominent angel investor in India in mid-2015. This is not an isolated opinion. Several others in the Indian startup ecosystem are wont to blame Lee Fixel for the purported funding bubble and the attendant risks it engenders.
Is this assertion true? Is Lee Fixel really the one who created a funding bubble in India?
These are questions that are important and merit scrutiny. Not so much because of the specific people and companies involved but more so to understand and appreciate how venture capital (VC) investing in India has evolved over the last decade. It is also a question that merits importance today given that the last year or so has been annus horribilis for investing in India with both funding levels and sentiment falling off a cliff, ostensibly as a reaction to Tiger Global pulling out of making further investments.
So let’s try to find the answers to this question. This is the Tiger’s Tale.
The beginning before the beginning
Most people associate Tiger Global with Flipkart and believe that Tiger’s journey in India started with their investment in this totemic company.
But this isn’t true.
India has seen four prominent Internet companies going for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) – Rediff, Naukri, JustDial and MakeMyTrip.
Two of these companies have something in common.
Lee Fixel of Tiger Global.
Contrary to what people believe, Tiger Global was not a clueless Johnny-come-lately who landed in India with bags of money and sprayed it indiscriminately. Rather, Tiger has been investing in India years before Flipkart. Take MakeMyTrip for instance. The first conversations between the company and Tiger took place in 2004 and the investment happened in 2007, long before Flipkart.
So who exactly is Lee Fixel and what is Tiger Global?
Tiger Global is a New York-based hedge fund founded in 2001 which makes investments in both public and private companies. According to an Octa Finance profile, Tiger managed more than $21 billion as of April 2014. Lee Fixel is one of the three partners in Tiger Global and heads its venture capital business globally. Prior to entering India, Tiger Global has a long history of backing marquee startups all over the globe—from Facebook and LinkedIn in the US to JD.com and Alibaba in China to the leading e-commerce companies in Brazil and South East Asia.
The Flipkart saga
At the time they went public, for two of the four Internet companies mentioned above (JustDial and MakeMytrip), Tiger was the largest shareholder on the cap table.