Why is Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten going global with a new $100m fund?

Why is Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten going global with a new $100m fund?

Rakuten Ventures, the VC fund belonging to Japan’s top e-commerce company, is going global after it announced a new $100 million fund. The fund is Rakuten Ventures’ second, it is the follow-up to an initial $10 million fund focused solely on Asia.

This time around, Rakuten Ventures is expanding its scope to the US and Israel as it seeks to identify companies and technologies that provide benefits and synergies to the mothership. The fund is again led by Singapore-based “one-man team” Saemin Ahn, who tells TNW that he plans to bring on hires to help cover the new geographies. Ahn is prioritizing new hires to cover the East and West coasts in the US within the next year.

“Hiring is always a mixed bag when it comes to investment,” he told TNW in an interview. “No VC comes from same school of thought — everyone thrives from their own skew of distinction.”

Rakuten is the sole investor in the fund, which puts Ahn in the rather unique position of being able to do deals in his own time, and cut checks based wholly on his own needs and opinions. To date, the fund has backed one startup per quarter, and Ahn believes that this self-imposed target will continue.

Ahn’s focus is fairly diverse. He says that he balances the need to find startups with obvious parallels and potential to the mother company, with betting on new areas and niches that could prove useful to Rakuten in the future. Ahn says data and data-consumption, payments, ad technology and mobile technology are particular areas of interest, but he isn’t making assumptions about deals based on geography.

“I’m not looking at it in terms of global, I’m staying true to the philosophy of targeting opportunities. In many ways, my job is like a broker — I think of important themes for Rakuten, and look out for deals and availability in the market,” he explains.

Ahn — who says that he is close to announcing the fund’s first investments in the US and Israel — believes that he and Rakuten are able to offer startups focused mentoring and access to quality networks, as well as financial support.

“Liquidity isn’t the issue — I can give as much money as I want,” he says. “I spend an inordinate amount of time talking to startups to find what they need and what they want. For example, with [Singapore-based C2C marketplace] Carousell, I was able to link them up with other companies and experienced mentors, as well as bringing on angel investors.”

Ahn will remain based in Singapore, but he is spending increased amounts of time in the US and also has an office in Israel by way of Viber, the mobile messaging startup that Rakuten bought for $900 million earlier this year.

Importantly, the fund will not initially be active in India and China, two markets where Rakuten does not have a consumer-facing presence. Ahn says that’s because the countries are “different microcosms on their own,” though he admits that there is “interest to move into this regions” in the future.

Rakuten’s new fund comes hot on the heels of similarly sized and focused funds in Asia from GREE Ventures, CyberAgent, SoftBank, and new entrant Monks Hill Ventures.

Image via 401k2012 / Flickr

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