Yahoo! picks 30 percent stake in Indian Info Network firm

Yahoo! Inc has picked up 30 percent strategic stake in Chennai-based Info Network Management Company, which provides phone directory search service Call Ezee, the global search engine and news portal announced Thursday.

The one-third investment allows Yahoo! to join the five-member Info Network board with one representative director. Yahoo! declined to reveal the investment value, including premium paid for the stake.

Info Network too did not disclose its paid-up/authorised capital and investments made so far to launch Call Ezee in 2006.

This is the first round of fund-rising by the two-year-old Info Network, whose promoters hold 70 percent of the stake post-dilution.

‘The Yahoo! investment will enable us to scale operations and extend our reach across the country to 26 more cities by 2010 from 14 cities, including six metros – Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai,’ Info Network founder and chief executive T.S. Narayanaswamy told reporters here.

As a strategic partner, Yahoo! will also provide domain expertise in deploying networking products and services in Info Network infrastructure and train its people in the voice-based local search space.

‘Our investment will help Info Network to establish as a national player in the directory search service. The Indian local search market is seeing rapid growth, driven by increasing use of mobile phones by consumers to search and find local businesses and services,’ Yahoo! emerging markets head Keith Nilsson said.

As a 24×7 tele-information provider for 365 days, Info Network generates about 10,000 calls per day from consumers and helps two million customers across verticals to benefit from the service.

In the niche directory enquiry service space, the eight-year-old Just Dial is a major player in the Indian sub-continent, with first-move advantage over Call Ezee and other search service providers.

‘The funds raised will help us to increase coverage of Call Ezee. We are targeting 100 percent growth by this fiscal (2008-09) to post revenue of Rs.80 million from Rs.40 million in 2007-08,’ Narayanaswamy affirmed.

Going forward, Info Network plans to expand its customer base to 10 million by 2010 from two million in FY 2008.

‘We will leverage Yahoo!’s domain expertise in our products and services to generate about 50,000 calls per day over the next 18-24 months from our all-India operations to post a revenue of Rs.240 million by the end of fiscal 2009-10,’ Narayanaswamy claimed.

Info Network will ramp-up its headcount to 2,000 people in the next 12 months from 450-500 by this year-end to handle its expanded operations.

Call Ezee provides details to calling consumer with multiple choices of service providers and offers 24-hour helpline for medical emergencies.

This is the third investment Yahoo! making in Indian enterprises, after taking similar strategic stakes in portal and Tyroo Media Ltd during the last two-three years.

The Internet firm had participated in two rounds of funding in the matrimonial portal with other strategic partners. First in 2006 with Canaan Partners, jointly investing $8.7 million and later in early 2008, with Mayfied Fund and Canaan, jointly investing $11.75 million.

Similarly, Yahoo! invested $8.7 million in the Gurgaon-based ad network firm Tyroo for a strategic stake.

Yahoo!, however, has not disclosed the percentage of stakes it has in Bharatmatrimony as well as Tyroo, claiming confidentiality.



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