Dubai used-car startup SellAnyCar.com seeks $1bn valuation from US

The company operates in four countries in the Middle East, is launching in Germany soon and plans to expand elsewhere in Europe.

SellAnyCar.com has shown that used-car sales in the Middle East can be turned into a point and click exercise. Now its founder is hoping that US venture capital investors will give his company a $1 billion valuation.

Saygin Yalcin met with investors in New York and California this month, seeking to raise as much as $100 million to help fund an expansion into Europe. The fundraising could value his company at about $1bn he said in an interview in New York.

Mr Yalcin, 31, is coming to the US to capitalise on soaring private valuations and record fundraising by venture capital firms. American venture funds had an estimated $76bn in uninvested capital at the end of 2014, compared with just $1.5bn for those in the Middle East, according to PitchBook Data.

“We believe now is a good time to raise money in the US, where startups are raising at significantly higher valuations and probably more than they need,” Mr Yalcin said.

SellAnyCar.com buys used cars of any condition from individuals and auctions them to businesses, including dealerships. The company offers free inspections and valuations of the vehicles, and owners can accept or reject the price. The deals are conducted on a mobile application.

It now operates in four countries in the Middle East, is launching in Germany soon and plans to expand elsewhere in Europe.

Venture capital investors in Dubai, where the company is based, generally limit investment rounds to between $20m and $25m, Mr Yalcin said, which wouldn’t cover the costs needed to expand the business. Other than scaling the technology platform, his company also has to build out logistics and payment systems, he said.

There are now more than 100 startups in the world valued at $1bn or more, with 14 new such “unicorns” joining the ranks between January 1 and April 14, according to data from CBInsights. Two-thirds of these are US based.

Still, Mr Yalcin will face some challenges if he’s pitching investors with no experience in the Middle East, since funds already willing to invest in the region probably have an established presence there, said Michael Dempsey, a research analyst with CBInsights.

“You need to go to players willing to invest in a new market,” Mr Dempsey said. They may be reluctant to invest in an emerging market because “there’s a lot more uncertainty around how consumers will adapt to technology and how to scale in the country”.

Mr Yalcin declined to offer details on the company’s financials, but did say that several hundred businesses source cars from his company.

Mr Yalcin grew up in Germany and is of Turkish descent. He moved to Dubai more than five years ago to tap into the emerging technology scene in the area, starting Sukar.com, a shopping website. He sold that to Souq.com, the largest e-commerce platform in the Middle East, in 2012, and SellAnyCar.com was founded the next year.

Expansion means more than launching the app in a new country. Because no companies existed to ship the cars, Mr Yalcin had to build a platform for individual truck drivers to contract for deliveries, he said. He also had to obtain multiple licenses and work with governments to operate his company in each country and principality, he said.

For startups in the Middle East, “you’re not usually building just a business model,” he said. “We have to create an entire infrastructure and pioneer the industry.”

business@thenational.ae

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