Head of EMEA & India Investing
Sumer joined SoftBank in 2018 to set up its local investing presence in India before expanding his remit to also oversee the firm’s investment activities in EMEA. Prior to joining SoftBank, Sumer was a Partner at Norwest Venture Partners, focusing on growth equity and venture investments in Indian companies across various sectors. He was formerly a founding member of Goldman Sachs' Asian Special Situations Group in India. Sumer holds a Bachelor of Science degree in politics and economics from the London School of Economics.
You've worked in some pretty diverse places. How has that shaped your career?
I've lived in London, Hong Kong, and Mumbai at different times in my career. I think that has made it easier for me to see all of those regions as both an insider and an outsider. Technology has made geographic barriers meaningless, but cultural differences are still very real. As a result, every new company will have a steep learning curve as it navigates unfamiliar business climates and cultures. I can empathize with that, and I can offer guidance that's grounded in my own experience.
Much of your investment track record focuses on India. How would you describe the opportunity there?
The opportunity is massive. India is an emerging market that has jumped over several generations of infrastructure. We went from having huge percentages of people without bank accounts or landlines to near-universal cell phone and data access. We're a country of a billion people, with about two-thirds of the population under the age of 35, more than 300 million smartphones, and some of the cheapest data in the world. Put those puzzle pieces together and you get a really fascinating picture.
The Indian entrepreneurial spirit continues to grow stronger, and it is now being supported with capital.
So that's why India is such an exciting place for business?
That is one of the reasons. Over the next two decades, I believe that India will see a huge leap in quality of life and spending power as the GDP grows and socioeconomic indicators like education and healthcare improve. The Indian entrepreneurial spirit continues to grow stronger, and it is now being supported with capital. So when you combine technology, a young population with an entrepreneurial spirit, increasing prosperity, and capital, it most definitely makes it an exciting place for business.
Your remit also covers oversight of the Fund's European portfolio, how would you compare the different operating environments?
As an investor it’s difficult to make direct comparisons between the two. On one level, Europe has multiple advantages. It has an annual GDP per capital of $54,000, vs $2,000 in India. For growth businesses, this consumer spending power is a big plus to accelerate scale. It’s also supported by a more mature ecosystem bringing together strong local VCs, academic institutions and established regulators. While less evolved, India in some ways is more dynamic; younger entrepreneurs and a younger workforce bring tremendous energy. There’s also more scope for competitive dealmaking with more flexible capital structures. What works in one market won’t necessarily translate in the other, I’m energized by both in different ways.
What is your role when you work with founders?
I think we bring a couple of critical things to the table. First, the knowledge of how to build a company and how to build technology. Second, our ecosystem. I really can't overstate the importance of just connecting founders to other founders—helping them discover people whose work dovetails with their own. And then there's our global expertise. We understand what it means to be part of this world economy, and I think that's essential for founders, who often know their own market extremely well but are less experienced in other contexts.
Are there common themes between successful companies in both regions?
I’d like to see growth companies become more competitive against their larger counterparts in the US. There is a great depth of engineering talent outside the US with many universities in Europe and India at the forefront of research innovation. The hurdle for us VC’s is there’s still a lack of liquidity and investor understanding of tech companies vs US IPOs. I’m hopeful this delta will narrow as we see more returning entrepreneurs and a more experienced investor community, we’re earlier in the journey, so the opportunity set is massive.