The interesting backstory to Russian Internet holding company Digital Sky Technologies’ $187.5 million agreement to buy instant messaging service ICQ announced today is how it led to an investment from Chinese Internet giant Tencent earlier this month.
When instant messaging service ICQ was put up on the block by AOL last year, both DST and South African multinational Naspers bit.
DST, which has collected stakes in Facebook, Groupon and Zynga over the past year, didn’t want competitors in the Russian market, where it controls 70 percent of the pageviews via Mail.ru, Odnoklassniki and VKontakte. Adding ICQ would give it more than 90 percent market share in instant messaging.
So the two parties came up with an interesting solution. Naspers has a 35 percent stake in Tencent Holdings Ltd., a Chinese social networking company that has a market capitalization of $36.8 billion. If Tencent invested in DST, Naspers could still own an indirect stake in ICQ if DST went ahead and bought the company. That would come on top of indirect investments in some of the most prized privately-backed Internet companies in the U.S.
Tencent went ahead and bought a 10.26 percent stake in DST for $300 million, adding to the Russian firm’s four other primary external investors, which include Goldman Sachs, Renaissance Capital, Tiger Global and Alisher Usmanov. Co-founder Yuri Milner and Gregory Finger are the other primary shareholders of DST. It’s unclear if DST will merge ICQ with Mail.ru, which it partially owns.
The complicated relationships point to the rising influence of emerging market capital in technology venture investing. DST has secured stakes in several prominent U.S. venture-backed companies with comparatively larger valuations and less restrictive term sheets than other investors tend to offer.