'

Catcha.com growing its presence in S E Asia

Kuala Lumpur (www.msctimes.com) - Catcha.com, a search engine portal for South-east Asia, is looking at 15-20 million impressions a month in the first quarter of 2000 when it concludes the acquisition of a stake in the leading portal in the Philippines and another in Thailand by early next year.

Kuala Lumpur (www.msctimes.com) - Catcha.com, a search engine portal for South-east Asia, is looking at 15-20 million impressions a month in the first quarter of 2000 when it concludes the acquisition of a stake in the leading portal in the Philippines and another in Thailand by early next year.

It is currently receiving some 5 million impressions a month from its existing group of websites comprising catcha.com.my (Malaysia), catcha.com.sg (Singapore) and catcha.co.id (Indonesia).

The idea of Catcha.com is to create value by consolidating the fragmented South-east Asian portal market. Its founders see the regional Internet market as one of the world's least developed, with local websites set up by hobbyists with little strategic direction, consumer branding and limited financing.

By acquiring major search engines in the region and branding their output under the Catcha.com brand name, a major player in the region has been created virtually overnight.

In an interview with MSC Times.com, Catcha.com chief operating officer Nic Lim says the company is using the bulk of the RM12.4 million raised so far to step up the brand's marketing and promotion via television, radio, print media and online campaigns.

"Marketing is crucial. We've an A&P budget of RM1.2 million for Malaysia in the next six months, S$1.2 million for Singapore and an equivalent amount for Indonesia.

"The idea is to have a critical mass. We'll also add a lot of content and features. The existing features like catch-a-date and free email have been generating a lot of impressions.

"We want to position Catcha.com as the search engine portal for SE Asia where no one has ever focused on this aspect of the business before. We aim to be the SE Asian equivalent of Starmedia.com and ninemsn.com.au."

Catcha.com, which has applied for MSC status, is looking to break even within three years from 1999 based on its projected advertising revenue. Yahoo! took five.

Recently, Catcha.com received some fresh funds which will be used to relaunch its music-related search engine as a leading digital music distributor in SE Asia. It's also considering a search engine for sites and pictures on Asian celebrities, a popular topic searched for on the internet.

Meanwhile, it's looking to raise another RM25 million, the third round of financing, to strengthen its position as the region's largest localized portal. It had earlier raised RM4.9 million in August and RM7.5 million in September. Its capitalization now stands at RM76.5 million.

Catcha.com's investors include Imperial Technologies (wholly-owned unit of Imperial Mining, a public listed company in Australia), Axiom Funds Management (Hong Kong-based fund manager and venture capitalist), Alternative Investment Management Group of Geneva and Arboc Investments Pte Ltd (representing the Shaw family of Hong Kong).

The other investors are Hong Kong and Malaysian individuals, Singaporean Dr Ernest Lai (respected in Asian business circles) and the management and original owners of the merged websites of Catcha.com.

The company's other plans include dual listing, first on an Asian stock market and later on NASDAQ, in 12 months. It's targeting to make an initial public offering (IPO) come June 2000.

"The reason for the regional listing before NASDAQ is for Catcha.com to grow to a decent size to become one of the largest Internet players. We want to be Malaysia's No. 1 search engine portal and Internet brand as well as the region's No. 1 advertising medium and a top 10 website.

"The funds raised on the Asian bourse will allow us to gain more market share and create/enhance the content. By the time we go on NASDAQ, our credibility would have grown and track record achieved," adds Lim.