News app developer Smartnews nabs $29M in series E, becomes Japan’s 3rd unicorn

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Tokyo-based Smartnews, the developer of curated news app under the same name, announced on Monday that it has raised 3.1 billion yen (about $29.3 million) in a series E round. The round was led by Japan Post Capital with participation from Japan Co-Invest Limited Partnership, SMBC Venture Capital (SMBC-VC), and Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) according to CrunchBase. Japan Co-Invest, SMBC-VC and DBJ also joined the startup’s series D round back in July of 2016. The latest round brought the total funding to date up to 12.2 billion yen ($115.4 million US).

With this funding, the market cap of Smartnews reached $1 billion US and joined the unicorn club. According to CB Insights, the company is the third Unicorn from Japan following AI startup Preferred Networks and Liquid Group which runs a crypto exchange called Liquid by Quoine. (C2C commerce startup used to be a unicorn but went public last year.)

Smartnews launched its curated news app in the US back in October of 2014. After nearly five years since then, the company now sees more than 20 million active users in Japan and the US. In particular, the number of users in the US grew five times in a year, and put Smartnews in the 10th rank in traffic sources bringing users to English-language news outlets. Smartnews will use the funds to accelerate the growth in the US market and strengthen the team for global expansion.

As part of global expansion effort, Smartnews appointed Ken Kutaragi, former CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, as an external director back in June while Youlin Li, former Head of News Feed Infrastructure at Facebook, joined the team as Vice President of Engineering, Backend System and Foundation back in May. The company has presence in six locations in the world: Tokyo, San Francisco, New York City, Palo Alto, Fukuoka, and Shanghai. Going forward, they will strengthen hiring engineers, product managers, data scientists and other talents.

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