Affle’s has been a momentous journey of two Anujs — Anuj Khanna Sohum and Anuj Kumar. The two were together in school. Together they have steered Affle India to an IPO which was oversubscribed 86 times — a record for an Internet company in India.
There’s an interesting story behind Affle India going public. Khanna founded a tech startup while he was in the second year of his engineering, and sold it to a public company in his fourth year.
“Since then I have nursed this vision — to become a large, public company which acquires other companies, and which lasts beyond our lifetimes,” says Khanna. This was a vision shared by Kumar, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Affle, as both the founders explain, means “Affordable Mobile”. The two partners, one from a tech background and the other from a media and advertising background, started the company in India in 2006 when no one understood the media potential on the mobile device. “Basically, whatever we did on the PC is done on the mobile device now. We saw the trend coming way before others could.”
No one had heard about the term mobile apps then; no one had thought that advertising would subsidise the media on the mobile. The first app built by the team was SMS2.0. SMSes were the commonest application of feature phones like Nokia and Blackberry that were in vogue then.
“Our business model was inspired by the idea that advertisers would wish to be on the mobile. Our endeavour then was have consumer-acceptable advertising. Conversions were then delivered for the advertisers,” recalls Khanna, adding, “We deliver ads to the apps which consumers use for free. It’s free apps because it is supported by ads. Money is made by new user acquisition, repeat user engagement, and also through online to offline.”
While the holding company itself was founded in Singapore in 2005, they went public with the idea to get listed in July 2007, “when Facebook had not even launched a mobile version”. It was in August 2019 that the ambition was realised.
The response to the IPO was pleasantly surprising. “But, then, fundamentally, we have been successful people. In our 14-year journey, we have had many suitors but we didn’t give in. And then there were investors like Microsoft. This is due to the faith that we had in ourselves that one day we will be a public company,” recalls Kumar.
The co-founders then scouted for various options for the IPO. NASDAQ was first considered. But then the idea was quickly given up, because, “they would then be a small fish in a large ocean”. As for the Singapore market, the stock market was not considered that vibrant for a tech company.
Japan then was a seriously-considered option because three top tech Japanese companies were investors in the company. The founders even appointed Nomura as the banker.
It was Nomura that suggested to the duo to consider India as an option for an IPO. It was perhaps only logical, for, India is Affle’s biggest customer base. The Affle founders then met with the directors of Infoedge and Makemytrip to discuss the way forward.
ICICI Securities then was appointed as bankers, and the company was restructured as per Indian requirements. The SEBI approval came in October 2018, but the market then was down. They waited till the elections when they heard the refrain that “the IPO market is now open”. “In July, both of us came back from our annual leaves, and we had very little time to actually do this,” recounts Kumar.
The IPO was a roaring success. Franklin Templeton, Aberdeen Asian Smaller Companies Investment, Malabar India Fund, Goldman Sachs, L&T MF, Reliance MF were among the investors.
So what is a secret to a successful IPO? “The best time for an IPO is when the market is stable, or there’s a bull run. In that sense, we have been daring. Also, one odd year that we engaged with the institutional investors was rewarding.”