MENA (Middle East & North Africa) becoming an attractive investment destination for Venture Capital and Private Equity Investments in the online space 

Rocket Internet, a company founded in 2007 by the Samwer Brothers in Germany is making news for acquisitions as well as creating businesses in eCommerce, Marketplaces and FinTech space. The company aims to be the largest internet player outside of US and China. The question is if the market outside the US and China is large enough?

If population of the world outside US and China is any indicator, the number is a mindboggling 5.5Billion with a large part coming from the Indian subcontinent. The other major market is MENA (Middle East and North Africa).
MENA is the fastest growing smartphone market with high penetration of internet usage. A few of Rocket’s investments in the recent past include Namshi.com, Lamudi, Helping – a home cleaning service, and Easy Taxi. Rocket also recently acquired food take-away platform Talabat.com for US$170 million making it just the 2nd largest deal after Maktoob. MENA is not just attractive for Rocket. Hatcher, a Singapore based VC along with iMENA recently invested in FinTech venture Telr an online payment gateway. Hatcher also helped an investee company ApexPeak to acquire Cashonomix, a UAE based FinTech startup.

MENA based funds are now seen competing with funds based in Europe and Asia Pacific to capture the promising names in MENA. Abraaj announced the US$100million investment in Turkish eCommerce giant Hepsiburada.

The hottest space remains eCommerce followed by marketplace. A number of successful online models in the west are yet to be tested in MENA which makes the market interesting for VC/PE funds. With banking space still nascent in MENA compared to the West and Asia, there are expected to be investments likely in the Financial Technology space. A few recent investments in the FinTech are compareit4me, Cashonomix and Telr.

Of course, companies can be built by bootstrapping or through external funding. Both the decisions have their own merits and demerits. It is a choice made by the founders based on their conviction to decide what option to choose. According to Deepak, Banking Director at MoneyGulf, “we have bootstrapped and focused on our cash-flows from day one of our business. We are fortunate to have the choice of delaying the decision to take external funding as long as we want”. The future would tell us the story of which decision was better but one thing for sure is that we will have a handful of big winners in the next 3-4 years in MENA that will make Maktoob and Talabat deals small. Inshallah!