A leading tech investor’s view of the world
Prosus, the international investment arm of South Africa’s Naspers, is a global tech colossus, with a $250 billion empire that includes food delivery, online learning, e-commerce companies — and a roughly 28 percent stake in Tencent, the Chinese internet giant.
That gives Prosus a unique vantage on the global business landscape. The company’s C.E.O., Bob van Dijk, sat down with DealBook to discuss coping with the pandemic and economic slowdowns, China and more. Here are highlights from that conversation.
On shifting economic realities: Many of Prosus’s business lines — including online restaurant and grocery delivery, e-commerce, online payments and online education — flourished during the pandemic. But even as coronavirus restrictions were lifted, those divisions didn’t really suffer the sort of sharp snapback that pandemic darlings like Zoom and Peloton did, according to Mr. van Dijk. Of online food delivery, he said, “You don’t have that same surge of new customers, but you retain those customers that you’ve got and they’re growing all the time into high-frequency and high-value ones.”
But as economies across the globe slow down, Prosus has urged its portfolio companies to focus less on explosive growth and more on turning a profit. (Cost-cutting has extended to Prosus itself.) That task has become somewhat easier as others have pulled back from free-spending bids for growth, he added: “There’s less irrational competition.”
On China: Tencent suffered one of its toughest years last year, as regulators launched a wide-ranging crackdown on the tech sector and the pandemic sapped the Chinese economy.
Mr. Van Dijk said Tencent’s fortunes were improving as authorities eased their restrictions on the sector and ended their zero-Covid policy (though he largely avoided discussing how that process played out). He said he had observed “an even more pro-business shift in tone” from Beijing.
On investing: Prosus announced 69 deals over the past two years, according to PitchBook, but economic shifts, notably a rise in interest rates that’s made financing more expensive, have changed its approach. “We’ve said no to more things than we previously had,” Mr. van Dijk said. How much more selective has Prosus become? “I think we said yes to about one in 100 opportunities before. It’s probably more like one in 200 or so now.”