Viadeo gets $32m to become LinkedIn for the world

Viadeo, the French professional social network, has mainly been seen as a European version of LinkedIn (s LNKD). But while the headlines have grabbed by the American site over the past year or two, the Paris-headquartered company has been quietly been building up a user base of 45 million users and establishing beachheads in emerging markets like China and Brazil.

Now the company is cranking it up a notch, with a fresh injection of funding of $32 million that’s aimed at turning it into the site the rest of the world uses to do business.

The investment, headed by the French Sovereign Wealth Fund, Allianz, Jefferies and a number of Middle Eastern funds, also includes backing from existing shareholders like Idinvest and Ventech.

In particular, there is a lot of focus on Tianji, its Chinese operation, which is already the biggest network of its kind in the country, and growing fast.

Here’s the blurb:

Viadeo’s success is based predominantly on its “multi-local” approach to Professional Social Networks, which focuses on leveraging and honoring the local language, business and culture of its members. This strategy has allowed the group to be very successful in emerging markets. In China, for example, Viadeo’s subsidiary Tianji has seen tremendous growth in the last year, going from 100,000 to 500,000 new users per month with a total member base of 10M.

“We’re a global society where critical business connections span multiple languages, geographies and cultures,” said Dan Serfaty, CEO, Viadeo. “We have always been laser-focused on our ‘multi-local’ approach, which goes beyond simple translation and focuses on catering to, and understanding the business and cultural needs of each market. This approach has awarded us tremendous growth and success in both European and emerging markets.”

Viadeo, which we identified as one of the European startups to watch last summer, has been consistently profitable since 2009 and bought a number of smaller, rival services on its way.

This latest move is a confirmation of the company’s change of direction: it had originally considered going public itself last year, but decided to put that scheme on ice in order to focus on expansion on fast-growing emerging markets.

With that in mind, the money will be useful, but the strategy is more important. How will it compete with LinkedIn — which will surely come under increasing pressure to expand its global footprint now that it’s a public company? And will it be using the cash to build, or to acquire?

I should be speaking to CEO Serfaty later this morning to get some answers.