Groupon in deal talks with Chinese Net giant

Daily deal site is in talks with Tencent to form a partnership to accelerate its effort in the critical Asian arena, say sources with knowledge of the situation.

Kara Swisher
3 min read

Groupon is in talks with Chinese Internet giant Tencent to form a partnership to accelerate its effort in the critical Asian arena, said several sources with knowledge of the situation.

Terms of the deal are unclear, but sources said that it is likely to involve some sort of co-branded joint venture effort between the two--a key strategic move for Groupon, given the hard-to-penetrate-if-you're-not-Chinese Chinese market.

More typical for Groupon has been to buy a top local player abroad and rebrand it, such as its launch of Groupon Hong Kong, Groupon Singapore, Groupon Philippines, and Groupon Taiwan through the early December acquisition of daily deal sites uBuyiBuy, Beeconomic, and Atlaspost, respectively.

Moving into the lucrative international arena, where there are innumerable clones of the dominant social buying service, is one of the big strategic reasons for Groupon's recent $1 billion funding and also last week's very noisy IPO toe-dipping.

(How much is BoomTown wishing I could be a fly on the wall to see all those investment bankers courting kooky Groupon CEO Andrew Mason? Memo to Andrew: Act like Snooki from "Jersey Shore" and see how they still slavishly kiss up to you like the soul-sucking suck-ups they are.)

Back to China, where cloning popular U.S. Internet brands has become an art form.

That includes one particularly appalling rip-off (pictured here) in China that looks exactly like Groupon and is actually called Groupon.cn.

(Although you've got to be in awe of the complete noneffort to pretend it is anything but a complete shoplifting of the brand.)

But, no matter how much that digital swiping goes on, much of Groupon's growth recently has been outside the U.S., and the company's strategic future lies internationally.

Of course, global expansion--especially in the famously difficult Chinese market, where the government favors native companies to an unprecedented degree--has stymied many other U.S. Internet phenoms, from eBay to Google to Facebook. (In fact, for obviously thorny privacy reasons, the social networking site has no presence in China.)

But for Groupon, especially with its public offering plans and need to distance itself from close rivals such as LivingSocial, it is a must-do to reach the deal-crazy and huge audience in China.

Thus, having Tencent as its partner is an obvious plus, given it is one of the biggest Internet services in the country, including its huge QQ instant messaging offering.

In addition, there is a strong link between Tencent and one of Groupon's key investors, Mail.ru Group.

Mail.ru owns 5 percent of Groupon, said numerous sources, and Tencent is an investor in Mail.ru, which recently had an IPO.

And DST Global, an investment vehicle that is now separate from Mail.ru--although it shares Russian exec Yuri Milner, who is Mail.ru's chairman and also DST's CEO-is also a Groupon investor.

Got all that? As BoomTown has written before: It's a small and way-too-connected world after all, especially when it comes to the goat rodeo of Groupon investors.

What will be interesting to see is if this makes a difference in China, which has been a consistent black hole for most major Internet companies.

Groupon declined comment, and there has been no response yet to an e-mail query sent to Tencent's PR group.