eVentures mulls over local proposals

EVentures has a short list of three or four local venture proposals - whittled down from more than 100 - but won't be drawn on if or when they will get funding.

EVentures has a short list of three or four local venture proposals - whittled down from more than 100 - but won't be drawn on if or when they will get funding.

When eVentures was set up last year as a joint venture between Softbank, Rupert Murdoch's ePartners and local interests, its declared aim was to localise and develop major Internet brands for the New Zealand market, and to fund and develop good ideas from New Zealand.

The former strategy took probably its biggest step yet yesterday, with the announcement the New Zealand Post was to spend $1 million on a 20% stake in MessageMedia New Zealand, a joint venture between eVentures and the US-based MessageMedia, which provides messaging solutions based around customer relations and direct marketing.

The CEO of eVentures, Cindy Mitchener, says the New Zealand Post interest "really validates our model" but rebuffs any suggestion that eVentures is yet to live up to its pledge to invest in local ideas.

"Let's put it on context. We talked about capital deployment with New Zealand-based investments being less than 10%. So we have always said that 90% of our focus is bringing in international [brands] to meet the needs of the New Zealand market.

"We have had some hundred-odd proposals which we have filtered down and we are closely examining three or four. We will only put money into those that we want. We've looked at all sorts and we've refined it down to those that have a big global opportunity."

"Our focus is international. We're really keen on great New Zealand opportunities, but we look for the right ones. We've really only been looking for the last couple of months. We're certainly not going to put money in something just because people say where's our New Zealand investments. We'd rather do it right."

Mitchener says a Softbank representative will be in the country early next month and "we'll be going through the proposals with him - but you may not hear any news"

Post coming on board as a strategic partner is likely to open up MessageMedia to an important group of customers, but Mitchener says the stake from Post and the recent hiring of Chris Price from Post's Datamail subsidiary as general manager of MessageMedia are separate issues.

"We met Chris Price when we were presenting MessageMedia to Datamail for them to become a client. We hired him independently of that because we so impressed with him in the business discussion we'd had," says Mitchener.

"After the very first meeting Post went, hell, this is a good idea - we want to be more than a client of MessageMedia. So because of their enthusiasm for the product, when Chris approached us I called them and said, look, how would you feel?"

MessageMedia operates on an ASP basis, with services being run from the MessageMedia server. It is this that the Post subsidiaries Datamail and Kiwimail will be reselling to their customers - but Mitchener says the SOE's involvement will not extend to hosting a MessageMedia server in its own right.

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