April 11 (Bloomberg) -- Tencent Holdings Ltd., already China’s largest Internet company, is investing in Silicon Valley startups with an aim of widening its reach in the U.S.
Everyme Inc., a social-networking service that became available this week, is one of the fruits of that effort, Bloomberg.com’s Tech Deals blog reported. Tencent was the lead investor in the startup’s $1.5 million seed round, which closed in October, Everyme Chief Executive Officer Oliver Cameron said.
Tencent has funded about a half-dozen startups, many from business incubator Y Combinator, reflecting the company’s ambition to establish beachheads outside China. Everyme, based in Menlo Park, California, lets people share messages and photos with groups that are arranged automatically, based on a user’s address book and activity on Facebook Inc.
“We kind of agreed with their thesis that there’s a lot of value in the address book,” David Wallerstein, a Palo Alto, California-based senior executive vice president for Tencent, said of his company’s interest in Everyme.
Other Everyme investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Ron Conway’s SV Angel and Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund. Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.
Wallerstein and Cameron, Everyme’s CEO, were introduced by Paul Graham, the co-founder of Mountain View, California-based Y Combinator.
Though it’s widely recognized in China, Tencent is still unfamiliar to many in the U.S. Cameron said he had to do some online research to brush up on Tencent after the meeting.
Tencent’s influence in China can be attractive to entrepreneurs aspiring to be the next Facebook or Google Inc., companies that have struggled to break into the Chinese market.
In the future, Tencent could “publish our app in China as a partnership,” Cameron said.
Still, Tencent’s roots in China can sometimes complicate the deal-making process, said Wallerstein, who started working with Tencent in 2000. Conversations with entrepreneurs often turn to an eventual expansion to China -- something that can be hampered by the country’s Internet censorship, he said.
“Having that discussion gets big and serious and almost scary,” Wallerstein said. “The U.S. is in a learning phase with China. We know we have a lot of value to offer, but we’re a new face out here.”
Chinese companies typically don’t dictate strategy to the U.S. companies they invest in, said Yasheng Huang, an international business professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“They tend to defer to their American management more,” Huang said. “The Chinese firms that have made investments in the U.S. are new kids on the block.”
Tencent may take larger financial stakes in the young companies in its investment portfolio as they grow, and get more involved in planning international expansion, Wallerstein said.
Everyme boasts five employees, who during a recent visit by a reporter could be seen sporting hoodies and T-shirts bearing the company’s logo as they typed away at big-screen Apple Inc. iMac computers with a ping-pong table behind them.
Tencent began investing in U.S. companies’ initial rounds last year, starting with Everyme in October and a photo-sharing app called Waddle the following month.
The company had invested large amounts in later stages of game developers. A year ago, Tencent purchased a majority stake in Riot Games, based in Santa Monica, California.
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