By Jon Russel for Techcrunch
Alibaba could substantially increase its business interests in Southeast Asia with an investment in Uber rival Grab.
Bloomberg reports that Alibaba President Jack Ma is considering joining an upcoming $1.4 billion funding round for Grab which will be led by SoftBank, a company with many links to Alibaba. Separately, TechCrunch has confirmed with a source that Alibaba has held meetings with Grab over a potential investment that could see Alipay, the mobile payment service run by Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial, integrated into the Grab app. Alibaba is apparently keen to have a closer relationship with Grab’s ‘GrabPay’ payment platform, too.
Grab declined to comment. Alibaba did not respond to a request for comment.
Singapore-based Grab’s most recent funding was a $750 million Series F at a valuation of $3 billion in September 2016. The company, which just turned five, claims 45 million downloads, over 900,000 drivers and 2.5 million daily rides across seven countries.
It isn’t yet clear whether an investment would come from Alibaba or Ant Financial — both have busy brokering deals to get an early foothold in Southeast Asia’s growing internet space. Alibaba has majority ownership of Southeast Asia-based e-commerce firm Lazada, while Ant Financial has struck deals with finance-focused companies Ascend Money (Thailand) and Mynt (Philippines) in the region, and it set up a joint-venture to offer financial services in Indonesia.
Alibaba’s interest in Grab is another sign that it and arch rival Tencent are creating new rivalries in Southeast Asia, a region where the internet economy is tipped to surge to $200 billion per year over the next decade, and other parts of Asia.
We reported that last month that Tencent has finalized a deal that will see it lead a $1.2 billion investment in Go-Jek, a startup rivaling Uber and Grab in Indonesia. Sources close to the deal told us that Alibaba and Ant Financial had been talks with the company but ultimately Tencent prevailed. Go-Jek has not announced the new financing yet.
The rivalry is more acute in India, where Tencent backed homegrown Amazon rival Flipkart in a funding round that included participation from Microsoft and eBay. Meanwhile, Alibaba has picked payment and e-commerce firm Paytm as its proxy in the country.
Both Alibaba and Ant Financial made numerous investments in the firm prior to SoftBank pumping a massive $1.4 billion investment into Paytm last month. Given their involvement in Paytm, it isn’t a huge surprise that these three names are in the mix for Grab.