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'I want to invest in uniquely Indian companies': Palihapitiya

10 Aug, 2015

Chamath Palihapitiya, whose Silicon Valley-based VC firm Social+Capital Partnership last week unveiled a plan to invest $1 billion in India by 2025, is the latest investor to come with moneybags to back Indian startups.

A familiar name in Silicon Valley, Palihapitiya became the youngest vice president of AOL at 26, and is known for playing a key role in Facebook's growth to over a billion users from a few million in 2007 as its vice president. As a venture capitalist, the 38-year-old is also estimated to have reached assets under management worth $1 billion in a very short time.

Palihapitiya's four-year-old VC firm stumbled on many unicorns—one of its early bets enterprise social network Yammer got acquired by Microsoft for $1.2 billion within a year; other bets SurveyMonkey and workplace chat service Slack are now worth a few billion dollars.

Sri Lanka-born Palihapitiya, who migrated to Canada at a young age, is eloquent about his South Asia connection and unabashedly proud of his success at Facebook. The board room-hating chairman of multiple startups, including Indian payment solutions startup Ezetap (Social+Capital Partnership invested $20 million to lead a Series C round of funding in Ezetap and Palihapitiya became its chairman last week) is known to be outspoken—in his press meet in Bangalore last week, he said most VC investors are "status conscious, rigid and illogical."

Palihapitiya made a forceful case on how his VC firm stands out; "We, more than anybody else, understand how we get a critical mass and scale for a company. We do that by replicating a lot of things we did at Facebook—a lot of machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence)," he said.

"There is only one company in the world that has got to this level of scale on one product and that is Facebook and one person that has led it, which is me," he said.

Working with Indian startups, he said, will offer opportunities to address at a global scale "huge issues like water and to be able to sustain the world of seven to 10 billion people." In India, Palihapitiya looks beyond internet business and has a focus on financial services, infrastructure, energy, etc as areas to bet on.

Techcircle.in caught up with Palihapitiya for an exclusive interview on the sidelines of his press meet in Bangalore. He told us he would spend two weeks every quarter in India from now onwards and invest $100-200 million every year. Excerpts from the interview:

You plan to invest $1 billion in India over 10 years. How would you go about it?

I like financial services. There is a room to create really value-added services for customers. (I am) extremely fascinated by energy, agriculture and infrastructure. We are looking at a bunch of things out there. Eventually (we will also look at) healthcare and education.