Zomato defends itself after HSBC says its valuation is only half a unicorn

In another sign of the challenges facing food delivery startups in India, HSBC said in a recent report that it believes Zomato’s valuation is $500 million—half of the $1 billion valuation the company was reportedly given after its eighth round of funding a year ago.

Sent last month to HSBC clients, the report was written about online classifieds company Info Edge, which owns a 50 percent stake in Zomato. In a copy obtained by Mint, its author, analyst Rajiv Sharma, said that based on discounted cash flow, Zomato’s business is worth “about 50% lower to the $1 billion valuation.”

He added that “Zomato is present in 23 markets so early on and none is profitable, which implies that to address both the investments in last-mile delivery and losses in international operations, fundraising will be a continuous phenomenon, suggesting current valuations don’t make much sense.” (HSBC declined to send a copy to TechCrunch because it does not share company-specific reports).

Info Edge founder and executive vice chairman Sanjeev Bikhchandani told Mint that the company disagrees with the report and has not marked down its own valuation of Zomato.

In a post on Zomato’s blog, founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal also defended its business, claiming that the HSBC report is an “outlier” from other research about its prospects.

“It claims that the US is an overcrowded market, and we will not be able to make inroads into the US. HSBC, because it never spoke to us, doesn’t know that we didn’t acquire Urbanspoon for its US presence,” he wrote. “We acquired it for Australia and Canada, and our traffic is kicking ass in these two markets.”

Goyal added  “our revenue has doubled over the past nine months. Costs have been rationalized. Burn is down 70 percent from the peak—it was high because we were experimenting with various business models and geographies, which we have cut down drastically—and we are now focused on the large opportunity in front of us in our core business and core markets. We do not need to raise another round of funding to sustain the business, or steer it to profitability.”

Zomato has raised about $223.8 million in funding in eight rounds, according to CrunchBase. Its last raise, a $60 million Series G, was disclosed in September.

Founded in 2008 as a restaurant discovery site, Zomato has not only expanded internationally since then through a series of acquisitions (including Urbanspoon), but continued to launch new products in India, its home market.

These include meal deliveries, as well as management/point-of-sale software systems and white-label apps for restaurants. The company has faced several setbacks, however, as it cut costs and focuses on generating revenue. The most significant was a mass layoff of 300 people—or about 10 percent of its workforce—in October 2015. It also stopped delivering in four Indian cities in January, citing the small size of the markets.

Zomato is not alone in its woes. Foodpanda and TinyOwl, two of its main competitors in India, have also held mass layoffs in an effort to reduce costs (which reportedly led to one of TinyOwl’s co-founders being held captive in a dispute over post-dated checks).