Ratan Tata: The Accidental Startup Investor

Today, Ratan Tata needs no introduction as he is the most respected business tycoon in India. He is an Indian industrialist, philanthropist, former chairman of Tata Group and Tata Sons. Post his retirement in 2012 he has turned into an avid angel investor who has left an everlasting impact. He is well-known for investing in some of the most successful startups today.

So far, Ratan Tata has invested in over two dozen startups, including top unicorns of India, like furniture e-tailer Urban Ladder, digital payments app Paytm, ride-hailing company Ola and its electric vehicle arm Ola Electric Mobility, Cure.fit, Urban Ladder, etc. His investment may only be a few million dollars, according to industry sources, but what’s invaluable is having the 81-year-old tycoon’s name attached to a young startup.

First Investment

The 81-year-old also said that he became a startup investor by accident. He added that he used to look at the sector as exciting always but somewhat untouchable. Tata further mentioned that with two-three years into the sector, it has become a learning experience for him as he got to learn many aspects regarding investment in startups.

The business magnate, better known as the ''Accidental Startup Investor'', was always interested in the startup ecosystem. He mentioned that his tenure as the chairman of Tata Group as this sector meant conflicts if he would take up any entrepreneurial assignment. But once Mr. Tata retired, he wasted no time in becoming a full-time investor through his private investment vehicle—RNT Associates.

Ratan Tata said that when he retired, at first he started making small token investments in what he considered exciting companies. He admitted that in the beginning, he intended to take some more risks than he might have taken under different circumstances. With two-three years into this, it became a learning experience, as this sector is very active and has the best minds.

The first investment he made was in Snapdeal in 2014 which yielded great results. The CEO of Snapdeal, Kunal Bahl, has high regards for Ratan Tata and considers him to be a lucky charm for Snapdeal. He is believed to have bought a 0.17% stake in Snapdeal in August 2014, when he invested less than Rs 5 crore. Tata bought 256 shares from the e-commerce company’s angel investors, including Kenneth Glass.

Other Investments

Following this, he has invested in 31 startups. After Snapdeal, the online furniture retailer Urban Ladder secured funding from Ratan Tata in November 2015. It was Tata’s second personal investment in an e-commerce firm. It is a popular furniture selling platform based in Bengaluru. It is currently present in 12 cities around India.

Paytm, a Noida-based digital-payments company saw an overnight jump in subscribers by millions, after Demonetisation of announced by the government on November 8, 2018. The company had secured an undisclosed amount of funding from Ratan Tata in March 2015. Tata bought a stake in One97 Communications, the parent company of Paytm.

Ola Cabs is India’s answer to Uber. Much like Uber, Ola provides cab services across all price segments, ranging from economic to luxury. Beginning its operations in 2010, Ola secured funding from Ratan Tata in July 2015.

Ratan Tata is the first Indian to buy a stake in Chinese tech giant Xiaomi best known for its affordable smartphones. It’s true, the amount Tata invested in Xiaomi was not disclosed. Similarly, services marketplace UrbanClap raised an undisclosed amount in funding from Ratan Tata in December 2015. In April 2016, Lenskart, the popular online retailer that sells eyewear secured funding from Tata.

Ratan Tata Investment in Indian Startups
Ratan Tata has invested in More than 30 Start-ups

Tata, while referring to the growth of budding startups said, “We are looking at the India of tomorrow and the day after, and the start-up industry is entering the global field in a manner where competition is open. The fact is we (Indians) are entrepreneurs at heart. Maybe what we need is the opportunity to flourish and I think the startup industry is doing just that.”


Related: List of 23 Startups Funded by Ratan Tata


Sectors of Interest

Ratan N. Tata has invested in over 30 startups. Among these, there are several technology-based startups too. Tata has made all these investments in his personal capacity. Ratan Tata has not restricted himself to a sector and stepped into a variety of diverse strata, be it clothing, weather, pet care services, etc., but technology catches his attention.

He holds the view that technology can be applied and used in any sector and the future is all about technology. He has recently invested in Tork Motors and Ola Electric. Ratan Tata has been supporting Ola since 2015. He openly expresses his excitement of participating in new areas and encourages young minds to search for domains yet to be explored.

Ratan Tata believes startups should get funded by Indian investors. According to him, the startup sector is growing rapidly with the best of minds involved in it. He regrets seeing such companies having great potential that could add value to the Indian economy but being bound to foreign authorities. Thus, Tata finds it unfortunate that founders get driven by foreign investments in the hope of an eventual acquisition by a larger entity.

He tells his decisions are intuition-driven, but the steps he has taken by now proves his intuitions are calculated risk oriented. He prefers getting into conversation with founders, analyze their personality, skills, their maturity, and the seriousness and most importantly, their zeal and dedication. And like any other investor, he judges the future scope of pitched ideas. Tata has told in his case selection is more by intuition than by numbers. He further revealed that judging the intent of the founders and their seriousness influenced him more than any other factor.

Is Approaching Ratan Tata Difficult?

As a matter of fact, its not. He is as approachable as any other investor. A few things to keep in mind if you plan to seek investment from the business tycoon:

  • Your idea should be unique and hold great potential.
  • The startup should have begun its operations, at least on a small-scale.
  • Tangible feedback on the startup and its product or service is a must. Remember, Ola got funding from RNT Associates 5 years after it began.
  • He is a man of experience, so it is advisable to be realistic and honest. Sniffing out non-sense is easy for him.

Being a personal investor, he prefers keeping the details of his investment private. He hates it when the media makes such information public. You will find it difficult to find the exact amount of his investments online, even when it comes to the biggest players he’s backing.


Also Read: Greatest Indian Entrepreneurs of All Time you may not know about


When asked what makes a good entrepreneur, he told what probably drives an entrepreneur to start a business is the fire in his belly that there is a better way to do something that has been done or a good opportunity to make a difference because something has not been explored well enough. And the confidence of staying with it is deciding factor of a good entrepreneurs. This is one thing to keep in mind while approaching Ratan Tata for investment.

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About Varad Kitey

  • Pune
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