Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has invested $200 million in Snapchat Inc., a source familiar with the deal but not authorized to speak about it publicly said Wednesday night.
The funding valued the popular messaging and entertainment app, whose headquarters are in Venice, at $15 billion, Bloomberg News reported. Snapchat raised $486 million late last year at a valuation of $10 billion. Only a tiny class of start-ups such as Uber and Airbnb have reached that level.
Alibaba, a Chinese Internet giant that runs several online shopping marketplaces, went public in September in the world’s largest initial public offering at $25 billion. The company has been an active corporate investor at home and abroad. Its portfolio includes app search engine Quixey in Mountain View and the mobile game developer Kabam in San Francisco.
A year ago, Alibaba invested $215 million in Tango, another messaging app that had 200 million users at the time. The Mountain View start-up said that as recently as November it has 250 million registered members.
Snapchat doesn’t disclose usage statistics, though public postings on the service receive tens of millions of unique views.
Snapchat's head count grew from about 35 a year ago to more than 200 today; the company recently opened an office in the former New York Times building near Times Square. The growing team includes not only engineers but people with film and media backgrounds to help Snapchat produce its own content to share with users and attract advertisers.
Major corporations including McDonald's and BMW are now running ads on Snapchat.
"What Snapchat has is an enormous user base, and that's extremely compelling to advertisers," said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at consulting firm Altimeter Group. "But there's going to be constant evolution. What we're seeing is just toe-dipping into the waters of what advertising on Snapchat might look like in the future."
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