What is Prosus, Europe’s consumer-internet star, for?

FEW FIRMS struggle with too much success. One is Naspers, a South African media group founded in 1915. In a prescient bid to diversify away from newspapers in 2001 it paid $32m for a large stake in a piddly Chinese startup. Tencent, the startup in question, has since morphed into a gaming and messaging behemoth worth over $670bn. Dealing with the windfall presents unique management headaches.

The unexpected upshot of a South African investment in China is a European consumer-internet giant. A year ago Naspers listed Prosus, a vehicle for its online bets, in Amsterdam. By dint of owning 31% of Tencent, worth about $208bn, as well as other investments made since, Prosus is the EU’s fourth-most-valuable firm. It is also the closest that Europe has to the global tech stars that dominate the world’s stockmarkets. Its boss, Bob van Dijk, acknowledges the firm’s model may be unusual in the tech world. But, he argues, it can still deliver value.

Prosus has invested billions—and has ever more billions to invest, thanks to Tencent’s continued success—into all manner of online ventures, from e-commerce to food delivery, distance learning and classified ads. Though run from the Netherlands, much of its empire lies in emerging markets, a nod to its African heritage. Deep pockets let it build online businesses or aggregate local...

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