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Updated: ValueFirst Acquires Mginger; What’s The Game?

Remember mGinger? The mobile advertising company which initially made headlines in 2006-07 (yeah, it’s been that long) by offering users money to receive SMS advertising, has been acquired by ValueFirst Messaging, as a part of its consumer media play. According to a statement from Valuefirst, this is an all cash deal, but the acquisition price has not been disclosed.

Update: Note that mGinger and ValueFirst are both backed by a common investor – New Enterprise Associates (NEA). NEA had participated in mGinger’s last investment round with IndoUS Ventures and Draper Fisher in 2007. NEA had invested in ValueFirst in different funding rounds in 2009 and in 2011.

The deal gives ValueFirst 4 million “highly profiled opted-in registered users” in addition to the 50 million opted–in subscribers which they already have across their various other assets; in the statement, though, Valuefirst appears to be positioning this as an acquisition which gives them access to agencies: “strong brand name and reputation with agencies”,”excellent brand name that enjoys huge trust with clients and media agencies”.

M-ginger is now being used to promote deals (which it should have been doing from the beginning, frankly), but they still operate on the model of giving customers rewards. According to their terms, they pay commissions for direct and indirect referrals, and payouts are made when a user accumulates Rs 300. They also offer Free SMS, like Way2SMS and 160by2, which ValueFirst acquired. Apart from this, they offer consumers event and discount information and free mobile games.

What’s ValueFirst’s Game?

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The company has been on an acquisition spree of sorts – they acquired Way2SMS and 160by2 earlier this year, and followed it up with an acquisition of social networking site Indyarocks. ValueFirst used to power the free SMS at Indyarocks. The company has also, in the past, acquired SMS based social network Tagg.in, and a few other key businesses. Valuefirst also owns an SMS advertising network SpotOn Media, SMS content publishing venture SmsMeOn, and content alerts Alertrix. These are but on the consumer facing front, this rollup comprises of some fairly small business, except maybe Way2SMS.

ValueFirst is acquiring a user base primarily in a heavily regulated segment (SMS) which appears to be, frankly, on the decline. The acquisitions might come cheap, but I’m wondering if it should instead be focusing on data. Their argument might be that there are substantially more users still on SMS and outside of the Do-not-disturb registry than there are users on data, and that there will always be more users on SMS in India than on data, but I wonder if advertising money might prefer to focus on the opportunity (and measurability) of the mobile Internet over SMS.

Also, does this acquisition spree remind you of someone?

Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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