Rocket Internet, the Samwer brothers’ Berlin-based incubator that runs a vast global empire of e-commerce startups, is picking up a new, sizeable investor in Brazil. The Cisneros Group, the Latin American media powerhouse that owns TV, digital, and other assets, is investing up to $20 million in Mobly, a Brazil-based home furnishings site. Victor Kong, chief digital officer of the Cisneros Group and head of its Cisneros Interactive division, says that the first $10 million is coming now, with the company reserving the right to bump that up to $20 million within the year, with the door also open for investing in other Rocket Internet operations along the way.
The Cisneros Group becomes the fourth investor in Mobly, which has also had investment from the Samwers, along with regular Rocket Internet investors Kinnevik and JP Morgan. This latest round of investment will see Moby expanding from Brazil to other countries in the region, leveraging the Cisneros TV and advertising networks to help promote it. It looks like before now there was around $25 million invested in the site, and it has a pre-money valuation of $108 million.
“This acquisition is part of our commitment to diversify and strengthen our network of digital businesses in the areas of e-commerce and digital advertising,” Adriana Cisneros de Griffin, cheif strategy office and vice chairperson of Cisneros, noted in a statement. “Mobly is ready to break into the traditional market sales of furniture and home decor and extend its dominance in Latin America because it has the best selection of high quality goods and customer service and delivery that is known for its excellence.”
This is Cisneros’ first investment not just in a Rocket Internet company, but in a home furnishings site. It’s a lateral move for a company better known as the largest privately-held media company in Latin America, which includes TV assets and RedMas, an online ad network that is Yahoo’s partner in the region. Kong says this is because of a new strategy on the part of the company, spearheaded by Cisneros scion Adriana.
“Adriana is a third-generation Cisneros taking control of the company and I can see her pushing the company forward more here,” says Kong. Other non-media assets include Tropicalia, an eco-friendly real estate operation in the Dominican Republic, where Adriana is CEO. Cisneros’ other e-commerce investments include daily deals site Cuponidad, Latin American-focused crowdfunding site Idea.me.
Kong notes that when a media company in today’s world is thinking about the move to digital and how that will affect its future, e-commerce inevitably will come into the equation. That’s something that others like Conde Nast have also been exploring with their e-commerce investments.
“Adriana’s big question is, what is this company going to look like in 10 years? We all know what is happening with the move to tablets and phones, so we need to be more innovative and move into new spaces,” Kong says.
While the idea of a media company becoming a furniture site investor seems like a leap in one regard, in another it’s actually a no-brainer investment.
Like other countries in the BRIC bloc, Brazil is seeing a rapid growth of its middle class, and a big boom in e-commerce. Brazil, says Kong, accounts for 65% of all e-commerce in the region. Sales in the country grew by 20% in 2012, with home decorating the fastest-growing category.
A site like Mobly, with its emphasis on cost-friendly home furnishings, plays right into that. The site was founded 18 months ago and in 2012, its total revenue was $89.5 million. Now, it sees over $8 million dollars in sales each month, with that number growing rapidly, Kong notes. Like other e-commerce sites, Mobly’s strength comes in the ability to offer consumers a large range of stock, with more than 45,000 SKUs, according to Kong, on offer at any time. Unlike some of Rocket’s other investments into new markets, this one is led by a local team rather than transplants from the Samwers’ German HQ. The three Brazilian co-founders, Victor Noda, Marcelo Marques and Mario Fernandes, as also all co-presidents.
“This is our biggest move into ecommerce so far, but hopefully there will be more to come,” Kong says. He says that Brazil, being the largest e-commerce market in the region, will remain a key focus. As for what may come next for Cisneros, other Rocket holdings in Brazil include sporting goods site Kanui, private shopping club for home goods Westwing, fashion site Dafiti, and discount site CupoNation, among several others.