Naver, the company behind U.S.-Japan-listed chat app Line, has teamed up with SoftBank to launch a global investment fund worth $43 million to help two of its promising services push on.
The “SB Next Media Innovation Fund” is designed to invest in startups and technologies that have synergies with Snow — a Snapchat clone that last month we reported was subject to a bid from Facebook — and Webtoon, a digital comic company that’s also run by Naver. The scope of investments will be international and not just limited to Korea, which is where SoftBank’s network will come into play.
Line’s IPO raised $1.1 billion this summer, and Korean web giant Naver has marked Snow and Webtoon down as its next promising ventures. This fund, which will include Snow CEO Chang-Wook Kim and Webtoon CEO Jun-Koo Kim as advisors, is principally looking for investments in content creation startups and technology-based companies, in particular in the field of AR and VR, the companies said in a statement.
The idea of employing a fund in this way isn’t new for Naver-run companies. Back in September, Line announced that it had invested in U.S. and France-based funds to help unlock overseas growth. It also has a funds to support ‘lifestyle’ apps and has invested in games companies.
That global focus is hugely important to Line. Although it has an impressive 218 million active users, its growth has slowed massively over the past year. That said, it is significantly larger than one-year-old Snow, which we understand has 80 million downloads and sees 10 million new installs per month. (Line in fact invested $45 million into Snow in September at a valuation of $180 million in a bid to increase synergies.)
Webtoon offers a Netflix-like service for online cartoons which is available on the web or in apps for iOS and Android apps. It too uses Line, in its case to help reach new users, although it isn’t known how many subscribers that the service currently has.
On the financial side of things, the aim is to close the 50 billion KRW fund before the end of the year. Of that capital, Naver will provide a 40 billion KRW majority, with SoftBank Ventures — the VC firm attached to SoftBank — putting in 4.5 billion. Korea Venture Investment, another VC firm, will add 0.5 billion KRW, with the remaining 5 billion KRW to come from third parties.
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