Making money by bringing old ideas to new markets
SOME venture capitalists call it “geo-arbitrage”; others know it as “tropicalisation”. The term refers to the practice of backing start-ups that take an established business model and adapt it to an emerging market. Whatever you call it, it is becoming a bigger part of the venture-capital industry as competition at home forces Silicon Valley investors to look farther afield.
Julio Vasconcellos, one of the founders of Peixe Urbano, a Brazilian site offering users discounted deals, is thrilled by the “huge flood” of American investors he has noticed coming to Brazil, for instance. No wonder. Some of them, including Benchmark Capital and General Atlantic, have invested in his own company alongside Brazilian venture capitalists. The financiers have reason to be upbeat, too. Peixe Urbano is a clone of Groupon, an American start-up that went public last year; its business model is one they know can take off.
The idea of tropicalisation has been around for a while. It has already been lucrative for venture capitalists in India and China. Take Baidu, a Chinese interpretation of Google, which made early venture investors a killing; or Alibaba.com, a Chinese version of eBay, an online-auction site. Now venture capitalists are looking at other markets, including Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and Turkey. Last year $3.4 billion of venture-capital deals were done in emerging markets, more than double the amount in 2008.
This push into emerging markets has gained momentum because venture capital is experiencing problems in its traditional markets. Silicon Valley was once so inward-looking that venture capitalists used to say they would not back a start-up unless they could cycle to its office. But valuations in North America have risen for both early-stage and later-stage investments (see chart), making it much harder to make great returns.
That is partly because there are too many firms; 369 of them are currently in the market trying to raise $50 billion, according to Preqin, a research firm. There is a lot less competition in emerging markets. The pressure from investors… (READ MORE)