FindWhat Enters Japan Partnership said on Friday it’s entering the Japanese market through a partnership with holding company Mitsui.

Under terms of the multiyear licensing deal, FindWhat will provide the technological backbone to power a keyword-advertising program for Mitsui in Japan. Mitsui will sell listings and provide customer service for the offering, which will route queries back to FindWhat servers in the United States. Those servers will return the results. The Mitsui offering will compete with those of Overture Services and Google.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but FindWhat Chief Operating Officer Phillip Thune said it was a revenue-sharing partnership that could evolve into a joint venture once certain financial performance targets are met. FindWhat expects the service will launch before the end of the year, but will not generate earnings in 2003 or 2004.

So far, Mitsui has not lined up any distribution partners for the still-unnamed service. Thune said the company’s many business interests in Japan would help it develop a partner network that would likely compete with Google and Overture.

“There’s not a single company that doesn’t know Mitsui,” he said.

Mitsui has some ground to make up in the race for distribution. Overture set up its Japanese subsidiary in June 2002, and Google a month later released a Japanese language version of AdWords. So far, Overture and Google have inked deals with many of the top search sites in Japan. Overture has partnerships with Infoseek Japan, Lycos Japan and NTT-X’s Google is distributed via its own site, as well as NEC/BIGLOBE, Fujitsu/NIFTY, and Excite Japan.

In November 2002, the two companies entered an unusual deal with Yahoo! Japan to share its paid search business for 18 months. Paid listings from Google and Overture alternate. The companies said they were willing to share distribution because of Yahoo! Japan’s large portion of the Japanese Internet audience.

Thune said Mitsui could leverage its partnership with affiliate marketer LinkShare to find distribution partners.

Thune said FindWhat’s acquisition of Espotting is still on hold, due to innacuracies FindWhat discovered on Espotting’s balance sheet. He gave no timetable for completion of the full examination into Espotting’s finances and renegotiation of the $163 million merger.

“It’s going to take us as much time as it takes to do that financial evaluation,” Thune said.

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