OnMobile Global sold 8% of its 35% stake in VerSe Innovation, for around Rs. 10 crore (around $1.8 million), the company said on its earnings conference call. Ver Se Innovation is in the mobile classifieds space, aggregating job openings as SMS alerts for a Rs. 30 monthly subscription fee. The service is white labeled for telecom operators such as Airtel. OnMobile’s holding is now down to 27%, and OnMobile CEO Arvind Rao said that they will exit the investment over a period of time, with the next sale of stake in the next 12 months. OnMobile had incubating the company in 2007, with a total investment of Rs. 5.5 crore (for 51% stake). A little over a year ago, Matrix Partners had invested Rs. 20 crore in VerSe.
According to Rao, “the revenue growth (in VerSe) is north of 100% year on year, obviously because it’s on a smaller base. The margins are very attractive. We’ve got blue chip investors to take the company to the next stage of growth capital.” He added that OnMobile had invested in the company because they felt that the mobile classifieds space could be large, but “our R&D team did not have the time because of our backlog, and hence there was a market opportunity that would go unserved.” The founder of VerSe was an ex-OnMobile executive.
Strangely, Rao said that “We don’t want OnMobile to be a holding company or a venture capital company. We are not doing this investment to make money – of course we don’t want to destroy money or shareholder value. It was actually to open up a new market segment in the mobile classifieds space.We’re not a VC or a private equity investor. We’ve done our bit, we’ve incubated it. We’ve satisfied the operator with this new vertical, and it’s now our time to recover our capital and exit.”
So if the opportunity is large, and the company is doing well, why doesn’t OnMobile acquire it, or increase its stake? In response to our question Rao said that they played the role of an angel investor, and they don’t want to be at the “later end of the value chain in such things”.
And given that they had seen such an opportunity in the mobile classifieds space, would they look at entering it? OnMobile CTO Mouli Raman said that VerSe is on the OnMobile Developer Network, while Rao added that OnMobile will continue to have a partnership VerSe “so they can piggy back on us, particularly in overseas markets. But we have no intention of…that would be silly and stupid to do, to incubate something and exit, and immediately go after it. It’s unfair, immoral, unethical and not right, and we’re not going to do it.”
More from OnMobile’s conference call later.