PHNOM PENH —
A Cambodian entertainment news website modeled on U.S. media giant Buzzfeed is set to receive funding from a major Silicon Valley investor, the first time a local start-up has benefited from such backing.
Khmerload launched five years ago, producing viral hits that swept social media, and has now secured a $200,000 investment from 500 Startups, a global venture capital seed fund based in California.
In Vichet, Khmerload’s founder and CEO, said the funding had put the value of the company over $1 million.
The tech entrepreneur said in addition to a strong team and product, he had to show investors the website, khmerload.com, was scalable and could produce a return on the investment.
“So we showed them that we are in the top three websites in Cambodia. We also have traction in Myanmar, where we recently expanded. So they see that we have done a lot while already generating revenue. Some Silicon Valley investors even invest in startups that do not generate income, but in our case we were already making money, so they saw our potential.”
Khailee Ng, Southeast Asia-based managing partner of 500 Startups, said Khmerload’s potential extended far beyond Cambodia’s borders.
"Getting to the top media position behind Facebook and Google's properties with such a lean budget is something not many entrepreneurs across Southeast Asia have done. I've actually never seen anything quite like it. And to be profitable, yet have increasing traffic growth rates? This investment decision is easy."
Khmerload’s efficient strategy has seen it gain more than 17 million pageviews per month in Cambodia, allowing it to expand into Myanmar last year, opening a sister site, Myanmarload, which already generates some 20 million pageviews per month.
It has also carried out a successful pilot in Indonesia, Vichet says, and was incorporated in Singapore as Mediaload.
However, its Buzzfeed-style approach of viral content and quick clicks has led to criticism. Vichet admits that the site originally relied heavily on tabloid and entertainment content, breaking traffic accident reports to draw in readers.
But he says as the site has grown to reach millions, it has diversified to include more informative content, including educational materials, general knowledge, technology news and language resources.
Vichet says in the age of fake news, it has become even more important to balance the need for high pageview counts against real journalism with solid sourcing.
“Now we try our best to ensure that the photos we use are not unethical,” he says.
There are now more than 120 tech startups in Cambodia, along with some 10 co-working spaces in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, according to Thul Rithy, founder of Phnom Penh-based co-working spaces SmallWorld and Emerald Hub.
Vichet says that the next moves for Mediaload include expansions into Vietnam and Laos. He now hopes he can use his experience of gaining capital investment to help others do the same.
“Even with a good idea, it is really hard for Cambodians to get an investment from them [Silicon Valley], as there is no precedent of success before. Now that I have got capital from them, I hope I can deliver good returns to them so that in the future they will invest in other Cambodian technology startups.”