June is barely over, but Rakuten has already had a busy year. In addition to purchasing messaging app Viber for $900 million, the Japanese consumer Internet conglomerate also made investments in several companies based in Southeast Asia or Japan, including Carousell, Visenze, Coda Payments, and Send Anywhere, from its $10 million fund dedicated to the region.
Now Rakuten is eyeing companies in the rest of the world with the launch of its new $100 million global investment fund, which will focus on startups in Israel, the U.S., and the Asia Pacific region.
The new fund, which is based in Singapore and will be run by Rakuten Ventures managing partner Saemin Ahn, supports “Rakuten Ventures’ broader goal of long-term investments with startups that have the technology and potential to enable better user experience and facilitation,” says Ahn. “Over time, this will include an increased focus on growing the ecosystem, technology, membership, and financial returns.”
Though Rakuten has yet to disclose which companies it has an eye on, it says that investments will be startups that have “strategic significance” and may eventually turn into acquisitions.
Though Ahn says the new fund will not strictly target mobile companies, Rakuten’s investments in Southeast Asia have been focused on mobile commerce companies like Carousell, which is a consumer-to-consumer marketplace, and e-payments company CodaPayments, as well as digital content consumption such as Visenze, a visual search tech startup.
Over the past two years, Rakuten’s investments and acquisitions seem to have been geared toward turning the company into a major competitor for global e-commerce conglomerates like Amazon. For example, in addition to Viber, its acquisitions have also included e-reading platform Kobo for $315 million in cash, streaming video service Viki for $200 million, and Spanish streaming video service Wuaki.tv for an undisclosed amount.
Rakuten was also a lead investor in the $100 million round that valued Pinterest at $1.5 billion in May 2012.
Ahn declined to comment specifically on Rakuten’s overall strategy, but says the company has been diversifying its holdings.
“When I look at Rakuten as a whole, we are always trying to enforce a strong methodology in having a moat and castle,” says Ahn. “Our castle is e-commerce and then we have multiple moats that help keep users in the ecosystem. It’s not that different to what Google does with search as a castle, and then moats like Android and YouTube.”