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Japanese unicorn Mercari targets rapid US expansion

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CEO Shintaro Yamada believes that Mercari can't be successful globally without acceptance in the US.

Tokyo

JAPANESE flea market app operator Mercari Inc is targeting rapid expansion in the United States, its founder and chief executive said on Monday, after a recent funding round boosted its value beyond US$2 billion.

Mercari offers an online marketplace for individuals to trade used items primarily through a smartphone app in Japan, Britain as well as the US, where its business is led by former Facebook Inc executive John Lagerling.

Founded in 2013, Mercari is a rare example of a Japanese unicorn - a start-up with a valuation in excess of US$1 billion.

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"We can't be successful globally without success in the US," Shintaro Yamada, 40, said. "If a service is accepted in the US, it tends to become universal.

Mercari raised five billion yen (S$61.57) million last month, giving it a valuation of 252 billion yen, double that of its last major funding two years ago when investors included Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co Ltd and Development Bank of Japan. It has not disclosed the backers of its latest funding round.

The firm applied to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in July and is also widely expected to conduct an initial public offering this year to fund overseas expansion. Mr Yamada declined to comment on timing.

In the US, Mr Yamada said Mercari "has no direct competitor" concentrating exclusively on the peer-to-peer resale of everyday goods, unlike firms such as eBay Inc which is also used by businesses or Poshmark Inc which focuses on fashion.

The US, home to tech giants such as Amazon.com Inc, has long been a challenge for Japanese Internet firms.

The largest Japanese e-commerce firm, Rakuten Inc, has been relying on acquisitions for its US market expansion, including the 2014 purchase of San Francisco-based rebate website operator Ebates Inc.

Line Corp, Japan's biggest messaging app operator by active users, narrowed its focus to Asia after being eclipsed by Facebook's Messenger and WhatsApp.

"I know it won't be easy," said Mr Yamada, who founded Mercari after selling his first startup on social gaming to Zynga Inc . "But perhaps others have not tried enough times."

The Mercari app has been downloaded over 30 million times in the US, versus 60 million in Japan. REUTERS