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Lenskart has signed a definitive agreement to raise $500 million from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, they said Wednesday, at the height of the market slump as the Indian eyewear retailer bulks up its offerings and scales to international markets.

The investment, an extension to last year’s round, helps the startup retain its $4.5 billion valuation. ADIA’s investment includes some secondary purchase of shares from some early backers of Lenskart, the startup said. According to data intelligence platform Tracxn, Lenskart has raised $1.5 billion to date in primary and secondary raises.

The 12-year-old Indian eyewear startup, which counts SoftBank and Alpha Wave Global among its backers, sells eyeglasses, sunglasses, contact lenses and other eyewear accessories. It has become one of the largest eyewear players in India by undercutting the competition, offering premium glasses at affordable prices.

Lenskart has been able to keep the prices low because it’s bringing more efficiency into the eyewear sector, Peyush Bansal, co-founder and chief executive of Lenskart, told TechCrunch in an interview. The firm has built the expertise to manufacture its own eyeglasses and contact lenses and for many technologies, it’s the exclusive licensing partner for global firms in India, he said.

The startup, which currently has operations in India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, sells its eye products online and through over 2,000 stores, three-fourths of which are in India. The startup is opening more than seven stores a week and plans to manufacture 20 million pairs of glasses next year, he said.

Hundreds of millions of Indians need vision correction, but only a fraction of this population is currently wearing glasses or contact lenses. Bansal said the company will continue to scale its operations in India and existing international markets where it has operations because they remain highly underserved.

But what has helped Lenskart, and the eyewear industry at large, is just how quickly Indians are adopting glasses, he said. People are buying as many as four pairs of glasses every two years, a figure that is closely growing to five, he said, pointing to a similar popularity in sneaker purchases.

The startup is also slowly expanding its premium offerings, thanks to the acquisition of Japanese eyewear brand OwnDays and its new in-house brands such as John Jacobs.

Lenskart, which posted a revenue of over $180 million in the financial year ending March 2022, is currently on a monthly run rate of about $50 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. Bansal declined to comment on revenue figures, but said the startup is profitable.

“The next phase at Lenskart is a journey of 10 to 100 where we are focusing on building a diverse culture that enables innovation and execution at scale while solving a large bottleneck hindering high quality vision for all. I hope we can continue to work hard with the same level of humility and dedication and transform the lives of a billion people eventually,” said Bansal.

The funding for Lenskart comes at a time when deal flow activity has slowed significantly in the Indian startup market, especially for late-stage startups. The number of $100 million or higher rounds fell 50% in India last year to just 48 — and the vast majority of them were closed in the first half of 2022, Bain and Company said in a report Wednesday.

Share of investments by leading investors also shrank to less than 20% (versus 25%+ in 2021) as global hedge funds and crossover funds exercised caution in H2 2022, the consulting firm said.

Lenskart is also cautious with its spending, Bansal said, asserting however that for startups with long-term visions, the mood of the funding cycles don’t matter as much. The firm is open to exploring more acquisition opportunities, he said.

“Lenskart has rapidly established itself as one of the largest and most innovative eyewear companies globally. Given its unique technology-enabled and vertically integrated business model, we believe the company remains well positioned to build on its leadership position. This investment is a continuation of our strategy of investing in highly differentiated, market leading businesses in Asia linked to the region’s consumption-driven growth and rapid technological advancement,” said Hamad Shahwan Al Dhaheri, executive director of Private Equities Department at ADIA, in a statement.

ADIA invests $500 million in Lenskart by Manish Singh originally published on TechCrunch

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