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Narayana Murthy inks joint venture with Amazon for e-commerce play

Shilpa Phadnis, The Times of India
Bangalore, 28 June 2014

Global e-tailing behemoth Amazon and N R NarayanaMurthy’s family office Catamaran Ventures have floated a joint venture to help small and medium businesses (SMBs) join the online bandwagon, taking advantage of a burgeoning number of online shoppers.

Cataraman holds a majority 51% in the JV — Taurus Business and Trade Services — that was incorporated in New Delhi in 2012. It has two active directors, Harish Bhardwaj and Kuldeep Singh Bisht.

"Catamaran and Amazon Asia formalized a partnership in May to help offline sellers and SMBs in India to take advantage of the potential of the fast growing online customer base in the country. The partnership will focus, accelerate and scale the inclusion of SMBs into the digital economy," said the spokesperson of Taurus Business and Trade Services.

The JV entity will equip SMB sellers with online tools and help them gain a larger customer base for their existing merchandise that will increase revenues and footfalls for SMB retailers, the spokesperson said.

However, the nature of the JV is unclear—whether it’s to beef up back-end delivery operations or if it is a structure created to get into direct e-commerce. At present the government does not permit FDI in e-commerce. Some sources said the JV could be a backdoor entry to foreign players in the multi-brand space or it could even accelerate the partnership to spearhead offline store launches in the near future.

"Till the time FDI is allowed in e-commerce, it’s a barrier for any foreign company to set up an outfit. Some e-commerce players have side-stepped in some form or the other by having arm’s-length relationships with Indian partners," said Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy firm Third Eyesight.

Last year, Catamaran Ventures exited from its Rs 200 crore investment in Manipal Global Education Services, selling its stake back to the promoters of the company. Catamaran has also invested in Gurgaon-based Hector Beverages that makes energy drink Tzinga. An email sent to Catamaran on how the entity is structured didn’t elicit a response.

(Published in The Times of India.)

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