Virgin Mobile Strategic Partnerships Validate ePlanet Capital’s Focus on Emerging Markets Telecoms

The Virgin Group, founded by Sir Richard Branson, and the FRiENDi GROUP announced the signing of a strategic partnership agreement for the Middle East and Africa.

San Jose, CA, June 19, 2012 --( This week, the Virgin Group, founded by Sir Richard Branson, and the FRiENDi GROUP announced the signing of a strategic partnership agreement for the Middle East and Africa. Virgin, a leading international investor and one of the world's most recognized and respected brands, is the majority shareholder in Virgin Mobile South Africa. FRiENDi GROUP is the leading Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) group in the Middle East. ePlanet Capital, a leading global emerging markets venture capital investor, is a shareholder in FRiENDi GROUP and was until recently the largest institutional investor in the company. ePlanet Capital was an early investor in FRiENDi GROUP and its investment helped the company establish its first commercial operations in 2007.

Subject to local authority clearances, Virgin Mobile South Africa and FRiENDi GROUP will merge their regional telecom operations to create a combined entity to be called “Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa” (VMMEA), which will develop and operate mobile telecommunications businesses across the region.

Mikkel Vinter, CEO of FRiENDi GROUP, commented: “We are very excited to have completed this agreement with Virgin Group. ePlanet Capital’s support has been invaluable for FRiENDi GROUP’s strong development since their initial investment in 2008. The partnership with Virgin Group is an important milestone for the company, and ePlanet’s strategic advice and support in the negotiation process contributed to the successful completion of this agreement.”

This deal represents the second strategic partnership between Virgin and an ePlanet Capital portfolio company. In August 2011, the Virgin Group and Tribe Mobile, the first pan-regional MVNO in Latin America, announced a strategic partnership to offer Virgin Mobile branded services in the Latin American region with the launch of “Virgin Mobile Latin America” (VMLA). ePlanet Capital was an early investor in Tribe Mobile in 2010 and its seed funding enabled the company to recruit a world-class management team with deep operational and strategic business development expertise. At the time, Sir Richard Branson commented “We are excited by the opportunity to launch the Virgin brand in Latin America for the first time. Latin America’s mobile telecom consumers will benefit from Virgin’s entry into their markets to provide our exciting customer focused product offering, wide range of great services, transparent pricing and value for money. We look forward to launching our first businesses within the next 12 to 15 months."

Commenting on ePlanet Capital’s focus on emerging market MVNO opportunities, Asad Jamal, ePlanet Capital Chairman and VMMEA and VMLA Board member said: "We are delighted to see two of our portfolio companies enter into strategic partnerships with the Virgin Group, which we hold to be the world’s leading MVNO. Several years back, we identified three trends that drew our attention to the emerging market MVNO investment opportunity. The first was an explosion in the number of cost-conscious pre-paid mobile customers across the emerging markets. The second was the proliferation of MVNOs in the developed world and the near absence of MVNOs in the emerging markets. As recently as last year, we estimate there were nearly eight hundred MVNOs in developed markets, and only fifty in the emerging markets. And third, we noticed that unprecedented deregulation across emerging markets was allowing for the establishment of MVNOs in all key emerging markets, including the Middle East and Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America. With our track record of migrating new technologies and innovative business models from developed to emerging markets we saw an opportunity to establish a first mover position by pioneering investment in emerging market MVNOs. We believe our two strategic partnerships with the Virgin Group confirm this investment strategy and we look forward to both VMMEA and VMLA achieving their growth objectives in the coming years."

Ashraf Hameedi, an ePlanet representative on VMMEA’s Board said: "Experts have identified the Middle East and Africa as leading the world in mobile Internet traffic growth over the next five years. In these countries, many consumers’ first experience with the Internet will be through a mobile device. VMMEA’s business model allows it to rapidly roll out voice and data services in new markets and to tap this burgeoning demand. Benefiting from Virgin’s branding, and the FRiENDi GROUP management’s operational expertise, VMMEA is ideally placed to emerge as the leading pan-regional MVNO."

Rupam Shrivastava, an ePlanet representative on VMLA’s Board said: “We expect MVNOs to reach around 40 million customers in Latin America in five years and VMLA is the first pan-regional player in the market. With the Virgin Group’s brand and the business expertise and networks of the Tribe management team, we expect VMLA to gain a substantial share of this market. The successful launch of VMLA’s Chilean operations has further validated the market need for a unique and differentiated MVNO offering. We expect continued growth as VMLA expands and deploys in other markets.”

Established in 1999, ePlanet Capital (then known as ePlanet Ventures) pioneered the development of a truly global venture and growth capital business model. It was the first venture capital firm to utilise a global model with offices in Asia, Europe and the United States. At ePlanet Capital we seek to continue providing superior returns to our investors by making private equity investments on a global basis.

ePlanet consists of a team of more than 30 professionals across the globe in our offices located in Beijing, Bangalore, Seoul, London and Silicon Valley. We are also represented in Hong Kong and Shanghai. With our established and experienced team, we are in a unique position to source, evaluate and compare attractive investment opportunities globally. ePlanet's geographical reach enables us to identify and assess innovation as it develops around the globe, and to collaboratively compare each potential investment's utility, investment merits, addressable markets and likely growth rates. This approach has made us become one of the leaders in catalyzing migration of business models and technological innovation from developed markets to emerging markets. We have made over 100 investments across the globe since inception, including success stories such as for example Baidu, Skype, Focus Media and Kong Zhong. Our portfolio companies have achieved an aggregate market value of over $50 billion.
ePlanet Capital
Amira Atallah