The rest of the 100 (in alphabetical order): Saemin Ahn, Rakuten
There might be relatively few non-Japan-based corporate venturers investing in the world’s third-biggest economy, according to analysis by GCV Analytics, but one of the most interesting to do so is Saemin Ahn, managing director of Rakuten Ventures.
Singapore-based Ahn runs the corporate venturing unit of Japan-based Rakuten, a media to financial services internet group, and the distance gives him perspective as well as independence for the structure he has set up.
Asked why Rakuten launched its own flea market app Rakuma, which is apparently a rival of Carousell, which Rakuten Ventures has backed, Saemin told news provider Tech In Asia: “Whatever Rakuten headquarters does, we do not have control over, just as Rakuten HQ has zero influence over Rakuten Ventures. We did not know about the Rakuma thing until they announced it. That is how firewalled we are and we are very comfortable with it.”
And Rakuten is more than happy with Ahn’s returns and has been committing more to his team. Last year, Rakuten doubled the size of its Global Investment Fund to $200m and promptly led the $120m round for Spain-based ride-hailing app Cabify. This year’s deals include MetroResidences, a Singapore-based platform matching corporate travellers to short-term rental options, which raised about $2.8m in its series A round, and ride-services company Lyft, which raised $600m in fresh funding last month.
In January 2016, Rakuten launched a ¥10bn ($85m) Rakuten Ventures Japan Fund to fund invest in startups in its home country. In November 2015, it set up a $100m fintech fund, run by managing partner Oskar Mielczarek de la Miel, with a deal last month for US-based Acorns.
These new commitments are all built on the original $10m Southeast Asia-focused fund launched by Rakuten Ventures in 2013, when Ahn arrived from search engine provider Google (now Alphabet), and this initiative was joined the following year by the original $100m Global Investment Fund for investments in startups based in the US, Israel and Asia-Pacific region.
A native of Korea, Ahn had joined Google as an online partnership manager in Korea after some marketing work and following degrees at Sogang University. He then moved to Singapore with Google in 2009 and from there stepped up to cover the whole Asia-Pacific region.
This partnership approach has worked wonders in corporate venturing. When his global fund was doubled, Ahn said: “Rakuten Ventures has been given the opportunity to work with some amazing founders who have created great products and businesses.
“With the continued progress and growth of those very leaders, we are happy to be able to dream a little bigger and push even further by partnering more core technology and service providers. We will work continuously to support invested companies and organisations in taking the next step.”
Companies to have received investments so far include Singapore-based visual technology developer ViSenze, which closed a $10.5m series B round last summer.
At the time, Ahn said: “ViSenze has achieved impressive market traction with their ground-breaking artificial intelligence technology in the e-commerce space.
“With their innovation DNA, they are developing new solutions, bringing simplified shopping experiences on digital content platforms. Their new solutions for video commerce have huge potential too. We are very excited to continue investing in ViSenze and lead their series B round.”
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