Globally minded startup teams in the U.S. are beginning to adopt Chinese business models and getting funding from American venture capitalists with China experience. An example of this newly unfolding trend is Curse, Inc., an online gaming media company in Huntsville, Alabama that just raised $10 million from Silicon Valley and Shanghai-based GGV Capital.
This new trend is the reverse of the copy-to-China phenomenon of a nearly a decade ago when look-alike sites of U.S. Internet brands such as Facebook, Google and Amazon sprung up in China and were largely funded by Sand Hill Road venture capitalists. It’s being fed by the globalization of tech trends among entrepreneurs and VCs alike.
Hubert Thieblot, the CEO of the U.S.-based gaming business Curse, doesn’t downplay how he got the idea for his startup’s new communications platform Curse Voice. It was inspired by Chinese startup YY.
YY, which started as a gaming business in China, gained considerable traction and a NASDAQ IPO after creating a service that lets multiple gamers interact with one another in real time. It was YY’s social entertainment service that caught Thieblot’s attention. After meeting YY CEO David Li at a gaming conference in China, it wasn’t long before Thieblot and his 110-employee U.S. team in launched a similar service, Curse Voice. Since its debut in mid-June 2014, Curse Voice has reached 1 million active users.
Through that connection with Li, Thieblot also got an introduction to venture capitalist Hans Tung of GGV Capital. Having moved to San Francisco last year from China, Tung was in search of new U.S. deals with a China connection. He’s now on the board of Curse, and GGV is big-time backer of the company.
Tung, who joined GGV after a successful career as a venture capitalist in China funding Internet and tech startups while at Qiming Venture Partners, is well aware of the copy-China-to-U.S. model – and is helping to feed it. In addition to funding Curse, over the past year Tung also has funded San Francisco-based Wish, a mobile commerce shopping app with a connection to Alibaba. And he’s done a deal with Flipboard to help the social news magazine expand in China.
Thieblot, a 29-year-old Parisian who moved to the U.S. in 2007 to set up his gaming business, talks of scaling up Curse into a big impact tech company built around innovative communication systems to keep gamers engaged while playing PC games. He’s selected the Southern city of Huntsville as his base, because he says, it has the highest PhD per capita ratio in the U.S.
To help fund his startup journey, Thieblot also has raised $6 million from U.S.-based venture debt fund Multiplier Capital. The debt financing is being earmarked for acquisitions in the gaming content market, Thieblot said. Meanwhile, he’s looking to expand his business into tough-t0-crack Asian markets.
Next week, he’s on a plane to Guangzhou, China to meet again with YY”s Li. It’s his eighth trip to China.