SoftBank Group eyes partners to bid for TikTok's assets in India

Topics SoftBank | TikTok | Masayoshi Son

Indian start-ups backed by SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son include ride-hailing service Ola and hotel-booking app Oyo | Photo: Bloomberg
SoftBank Group is exploring assembling a group of bidders for TikTok’s India assets and has been actively looking for local partners, according to people familiar with the matter. 

Over the past month, the Japanese conglomerate, which owns a stake in TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance, has held talks with the heads of Reliance Jio Infocomm and Bharti Airtel, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details are private. While discussions have fizzled since, SoftBank is still exploring options, according to the people. 

Representatives for SoftBank, ByteDance, Reliance and Bharti Airtel declined to comment.

TikTok is considering selling its operations in several countries after local governments shut out the app, citing fears that sensitive user data was passing into the hands of China. India has taken a particularly tough stance, banning 59 of China’s largest internet services in July, including TikTok. India was one of TikTok’s largest markets, with more than 200 million users. In the United States (US), President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok and then ordered ByteDance to sell its assets in the country because of national security concerns.

Despite holding only a minor stake in ByteDance, SoftBank has played a particularly active role in negotiations. In the US, the Japanese company brought in Walmart as the main investor in a group of bidders that also included Google parent Alphabet. But the consortium fell apart after the Trump administration insisted a US tech company lead the investments, one of the people said. Google said it was no longer interested, while Walmart joined a bid led by Microsoft. It’s unclear which group SoftBank is currently working with in the country.

Centricus Asset Management, which is also a frequent adviser to SoftBank, teamed up with Triller in a bid for TikTok’s operations in the US and several other countries for $20 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter.

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has a long history of investing in India and a deep network of local business connections. Local startups backed by Son include e-commerce provider, ride-hailing service Ola Cabs and hotel-booking app Oyo Rooms.  

In December, SoftBank poured $275 million into eye-care provider Lenskart, minting India’s latest unicorn.  The company is also part of a solar power joint venture with Bharti Enterprises and Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology.

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