Movile, the largest mobile services and software developer in Latin America, has been quietly raising significant investment and acquiring new businesses over the past year. And as the Brazilian technology conglomerate extends their reach into new global markets such as China and the U.S., the activity of major industry players such as Apple, Facebook, and Google in Latin America is drawing a renewed focus on that region of the world.
With 30 million monthly users who account for 50 billion transactions a year on the company's platform, Movile has built a significant customer base through its games, education, and entertainment apps. These include Apontador (their version of Yelp), Cinepapaya (mobile ticketing), and iFood (similar to GrubHub).
But the big seller for Movile has been PlayKids which has emerged as the number two most popular app in Brazil (behind "Clash of Clans" and ahead of "Candy Crush"). "Brazil entrepreneurs need to think big," said Movile's co-founder Eduardo Henrique during a press reception in San Francisco last night. "And we are here to play big."
The company recently launched PlayKids in China and it has become the most popular paid app for children in the App Store with an eye-catching 90 percent retention rate.
Founded in 1998, the company built its business by supplying applications for feature phones, low-end mobile handsets with very limited capabilities. As smartphones became more widely used throughout developing counties in Latin America, Movile's own fortunes rose as well.
"We're one of the few companies in the world to successfully make the shift from feature phones to smartphones," said Clauber Scarparo, Movile's marketing executive.
Movile's success in growing their business in the Latin America market from its start 17 years ago has not escaped the attention of technology heavyweights. An example of this interest can be found as recently as this Wednesday when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held his first-ever "town hall meeting" with the social media giant's user community outside of the United States. The location he chose was Bogota, Columbia.
Google is another company very much in the news where Latin America is concerned. The search powerhouse announced this week that their Project Ara, a modular smartphone which lets the owner swap in additional batteries or cameras, will be first introduced in Puerto Rico.
And Apple revealed this week that they would bring iAds to Brazil and Mexico in that product's first expansion outside of the U.S. The introduction of Apple's iAds advertising platform into Latin America follows the company's entry into the Brazilian retail market last year with the opening of its first store in Rio de Janeiro.
The conventional wisdom in the technology world has been that companies seeking to expand their business outside of the U.S. should proceed to China and India as next steps. Now Brazil has entered the conversation as well.
"We think that the Latin America market is huge," said Zain Jaffer, CEO of the San Francisco-based Vungle. His company is an early leader in the growing field of in-app video advertising which plays 15-second high definition promotional spots, and Jaffer says they are targeting Brazil along with China and India for future growth.
In addition to its headquarters in Brazil, Movile has established a presence in the U.S. tech community by opening an office in Sunnyvale, California. "Latin American entrepreneurs can go global," said Henrique. "But they need to shake hands with Silicon Valley."
Based on the success of PlayKids and Movile's expanding roster of popular apps, it's quite likely that companies in Silicon Valley will be more than eager to shake hands with Latin American entrepreneurs as well.