TICKLED Media, the startup behind parenting portal theAsianparent, is now eyeing the African parent community with the backing of Chinese corporate giants Fosun International and JD.com.
On Thursday, the Singapore-based startup announced that it has raised an eight-figure sum in a Series C funding round led by Fosun, a Chinese conglomerate, and joined by JD.com, one of China's largest e-commerce platforms.
Other investors in the round include ATM Capital, a venture firm founded by a former Alibaba executive, global alternative assets manager Redbadge Pacific and Tickled Media's Series B investors Global Grand Leisure and WHG Capital.
The total sum raised is between US$10 million and US$30 million and is fully in cash, Tickled Media chief executive Roshni Mahtani said at a media briefing. She declined to reveal the exact sum.
Tickled Media previously raised US$11 million from investors including Vertex Ventures, as well as venture debt financing from DBS Bank.
The startup will use the fresh funds to bring its parenting portal into Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. It will also expand further in Asian markets such as India and Sri Lanka. These markets are ripe with potential, given the high birth rate and lack of other parenting portals, Ms Mahtani said.
"In Nigeria, the total fertility rate (TFR) is 5.39 - let that sink in for a moment, it's more than double of Indonesia… These are really fast-growing populations in emerging economies where people need good content, good community and good products," she said.
Despite the entry of Chinese heavyweights into the cap table, Tickled Media is "not looking specifically" at China for expansion. "We want to learn a lot of things from China... but our markets are the developing markets," Ms Mahtani said, noting that China has established players such as Babytree and Qinbaobao.
Separately, Tickled Media is also expanding into e-commerce, which The Business Times had reported in February. Ms Mahtani remained tight-lipped on specifics, but revealed that the company is working on an e-commerce platform and will also launch its own line of "niche" products for mothers and babies, starting with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
She declined to give examples of what these products could be, but at one point said: "We are using a lot of Asian ingredients... such as aloe vera and papaya. We are working with a couple of companies but also creating our own line from scratch, because there are just some products that are not out there in the market."
Founded in 2009, Tickled Media's core brand is theAsianparent, from which it earns the bulk of its revenue. The company has primarily made money by connecting brand clients to Asian mothers for market research and insight. The brand clients have included multinational corporations with product lines such as diapers and milk powder, as well as banks and insurers targeting mothers.
But in the next three to four years, e-commerce could account for 40 to 50 per cent of Tickled Media's topline. While the e-commerce venture will lengthen breakeven time, it presents a golden opportunity to grow into a unicorn, Ms Mahtani said.
"As a team, we sat down together and discussed, do we want to make this into a proper, sustainable, Ebitda-positive operation or do we want to hit the market and raise funding and go on a crazy journey for the next 10 years trying to build our own unicorn? I'm very glad that we went out to market," she said.
Jonathan Zhong, partner of ATM Capital, told reporters that he was impressed by the "top tier" management at Tickled Media.
"This is also not just about business success but social impact… In Asia, India and Africa, mothers are underserved in terms of information. We believe that this (platform) can dramatically improve the life quality and opportunities for the babies," he said.
Tickled Media has achieved an "exponential" rate of growth with its media business and is ready to scale up, said Paul Rogers, managing partner of Caber Partners, which is affiliated with Tickled Media backer WHG.
"They proved that they can win over the brands in terms of marketing revenue… We are so happy with the growth, this is a company we want to see all the way through to IPO. Is this unicorn material? I think the answer is yes," said Mr Rogers.
The investment in Tickled Media "deepens and extends Fosun's global investments in this industry, enabling synergies and mutual growth", said Wang Changying, chairman of the Fosun maternal, infant and family group, in a press release.