Naspers, the South Africa-based firm that famously backed Chinese giant Tencent in its infancy, is in talks to invest in Singapore-based startup Carousell, according to two sources with knowledge of discussions.
Carousell offers a mobile app that combines listings with peer-to-peer selling across Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. That makes it well-aligned with Naspers’ portfolio, which features some of the world’s largest classifieds services including OLX, which covers 45 countries, Letgo in the U.S. and Avito in Russia.
TechCrunch understands that Naspers is pursuing a deal with Carousell with a view to making it the firm’s key play in Southeast Asia and other parts of the APAC region.
Discussions are at a relatively early stage so it isn’t clear what percentage of the company that Naspers is seeking to acquire, although it would be a minority investment that values the Carousell business at over $500 million. The deal could be a first step towards Naspers acquiring a controlling interest in the business further down the line, one source said.
Carousell declined to respond when asked for comment.
“It is our company’s policy to neither acknowledge nor deny our involvement in any merger, acquisition or divestiture activity, nor to comment on market rumors,” Naspers told TechCrunch in a statement.
Timing of the discussions is notable since Carousell announced a $85 million investment round in May. (TechCrunch broke news of the round the previous October.) That deal — the startup’s Series C — took it to $126 million from investors to date and added big names to the Carousell cap table. EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, and Singapore’s DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, took part in the Series C, which also included existing backers Rakuten Ventures, the VC linked to Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, Golden Gate Ventures, Sequoia India and 500 Startups.
Earlier this month, Carousell CEO and co-founder Siu Rui Quek told Bloomberg that the company had turned down acquisition offers in the past.
Carousell is highly-regarded in Singapore for being one of the first home-grown startups to show promise — its three founding members each graduated the National University of Singapore, NUS.
Aside from raising significant investor capital, it has scaled regionally it is battle against larger and better-funded e-commerce rivals Alibaba -owned Lazada and Shopee, a business from NYSE-listed Sea. In May, Quek told TechCrunch that Carousell has helped sell over 50 million items between users and it currently has over 144 million listings.
Naspers, meanwhile, has upped its focus on Southeast Asia in recent times, although its sole deal is a $5 million investment in crypto startup Coins.ph.
The firm remains best known for its Tencent deal, which is legendary in investment circles. Back in 2001, it bought 46.5 percent of Tencent for $32 million. Over time that was diluted to 33 percent, but it grew significantly in size as Tencent’s business took off, going on to become Asia’s first $500 billion company last November. Naspers resisted the urge to sell until March 2018 when it parted with two percent of the firm in exchange for around $9.8 billion.