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Amazon draws the battle lines at home and abroad

October 26, 2020, 2:54 PM UTC

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Amazon is facing a battle for its current business as U.S. regulators seek to curb the tech giants and accuse them of monopolistic practices stateside. But in India, Amazon is fighting for its future—quite literally.

Over the weekend, Amazon won an emergency order to temporarily halt a deal that could give Mukesh Ambani—India’s richest man—an enormous leg up in the battle for e-commerce market share in India, a market that Amazon has sunk billions into already and expects to be among the largest in the world. 

On Sunday, Singapore arbitration court placed a temporary hold on Ambani’s Reliance Industries’ planned $3.4 billion deal for rival Future Group, a rival retailer. That comes after Amazon fought hard against the deal, accusing Future Group, in which it has a stake, of breaching its contract. According to Bloomberg, Amazon has the right to acquire shares in Future’s flagship, Future Retail, in coming years.

Reliance has well-known ambitions to dominate India’s e-commerce marketplace, and as India’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer, it has solid footing. Adding Future Group’s retail, wholesale, logistics, and warehousing units would more than cement that position.

Still, Amazon and even Walmart (which owns a majority stake in Flipkart) faces a larger uphill battle than just Reliance: India has grown increasingly wary of the influence foreign e-commerce players and their potentially monopolistic practices. Among other restrictions, in 2016, the government said such companies could still operate as marketplaces helping match buyers with sellers, but it could not sell their own products directly. And while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos visited India in 2014 posing in an ornately painted delivery truck while wearing a white Indian wedding suit, his most recent visit in mid-January was met with massive opposition in the form of protests from local retailers.

Complicating all of this back-and-forth between Amazon and Reliance Retail: The Indian retail company’s parent, Reliance Industries, reportedly offered to sell as much as 40% of the unit to the Bezos shop back in September. 

But as my colleague Vivienne Walt put in in 2015, just two years after Amazon made its first steps into India, the battle for e-commerce market share in the country “is a fight that Amazon is far from certain of winning, yet one it cannot afford to sit out.”

A SHIFT AT UPFRONT VENTURES: Los Angeles-based Upfront Ventures promoted Kara Nortman into the role of co-managing partner, putting her in the top leadership role alongside managing partner Mark Suster. That comes as the firm, whose investments include Ring and thredUP, is in the process of raising some $280 million for its seventh flagship fund. Nortman, who joined Upfront as a partner in 2014, has helmed investments in the realm of cybersecurity and e-commerce (Fleetsmith, Parachute Homes) and prior to that, was at Battery Ventures. Nortman credits Suster with mentoring her up through the ranks—a “coach” role she has also enjoyed taking on as a founding member at All Raise— though she clarifies “Mark is not going anywhere, he’s still pretty young,” she says.

Upfront Ventures is also a very locally focused shop: Some 45% of investments go to L.A.-based companies. When asked if she believed that percentage would change as the coronavirus pushes some out of large cities, Nortman says no—because the culture does shift with geography.

“Geography still matters—you need to have a shared culture and shared understanding and need to have shared hard conversations,” she says. “I still have a strong desire to invest in the L.A. community.”

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda


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