Airbnb closes in on $1.5bn fundraising

Henny Sender in Beijing and Richard Waters in San Francisco

Airbnb is on the brink of agreeing a massive $1.5bn fundraising that would boost its valuation to $24bn as it becomes the latest "sharing economy" company from the US to tap booming demand in Asia.

If completed, the funding would match the biggest equity investment round for a private tech company: the $1.5bn that Facebook raised a year before its 2012 initial public offering. Ride-hailing app Uber, another sharing economy company looking to expand in Asia, is also pursuing a $1.5bn investment that would boost its own valuation to $50bn.

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Source: Airbnb

Airbnb transaction would also internationalize the investor base of the online accommodation-sharing group, reflecting the expanding global ambitions of Silicon Valley's leading private companies.

The financing is set to be led by US private equity firm General Atlantic with substantial participation from Beijing-based Hillhouse Capital and investment firm Tiger Global, according to people familiar with the plans. All three are new investors in Airbnb.

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Other new investors in the latest round include UK investment firm Baillie Gifford and US mutual fund group Wellington, with fellow mutual fund companies Fidelity and T Rowe Price topping up their holdings.

News of the impending agreement, which two people familiar with the matter said appeared to be imminent, comes days after it was revealed that Hillhouse was also leading a planned investment in Uber, which has targeted China for a major expansion drive.

The Airbnb financing comes as internet companies command ever higher valuations in both the public and private markets in China and the US, feeding fears of overheating.

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The pre-money figure of $24bn implied by the latest round, before the addition of the extra $1.5bn, compares with a valuation of $10bn in its previous fundraising 15 months ago.

The future of Airbnb
The future of Airbnb

The transactions underscore the growing capital flows between Silicon Valley and China, as well as the surging demand in Asia that has made the region a focus of investment for the US companies.

Hillhouse has more than $20bn in funds to deploy in both private and public markets. Zhang Lei, the company's founder, used seed capital from the endowment of Yale University and was one of the earliest investors in Tencent and, the Chinese internet companies.

He is now backing the expansion of Chinese technology companies into other markets in Asia.

Tiger Global and General Atlantic have also been increasingly active in Asia, especially in China.

Airbnb has become popular with Chinese tour groups, a demographic that is expected to continue growing in coming years as people get richer and more students go abroad to study.

The company has seen strong growth in South Korea and Singapore and is looking to invest more across the region, according to a person familiar with its plans.