South East Asia is home to around 620 million people spread over 11 countries with varying sizes. It is home major population countries like Indonesia (4th in the world), the Philippines (12th in the world) and Vietnam (14th in the world). Despite the relatively lower internet speed in the region except for Singapore and possibly Thailand, there is a growing number of internet users which is a sensible reason why the start-up business could be booming in the region.
On the one hand, with a combined GDP of US$2.57 trillion and 60% of the population between the ages of 15-34, the economic growth of South East Asia is steadily rising. On the other hand, the average GDP per capita of South-East Asian countries are still behind the OECD countries a.k.a. the developed countries. However, this also means there is still much room for growth for the South-East Asian countries. Therefore, we believe that South East Asia deserves a deeper look into their world of start-ups which we believe is positively correlated with economic growth.
In the start-up world, ‘unicorns’ are the startups which are valued over $1 billion. According to Techcrunch, there were 5 ‘unicorns’ in the region as of 5 April 2017. Some of the top investors in the region include the giants from the western world such as Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global. So, without further a due, here’s a review of the start-ups worth noting in South-East Asia:
Grab, Uber’s largest ride-hailing rival in Southeast Asia, was founded in 2012 in Malaysia by two cofounders who were motivated to enhance the safety of the local substandard taxi industry. Began as a taxi-hailing app (GrabTaxi) that connects licensed taxis with consumers, the company quickly grew into a multi-service transportation provider, extended its product platform to include private car services (GrabCar), motorcycle taxis (GrabBike), social carpooling (GrabHitch) and last mile delivery service (GrabExpress). Today, Grab is present in 7 countries and 39 cities in Southeast Asia with the latest launch in March 2017 in Myanmar, where no Uber has gone before.
Grab’s rapid growth can be attributed to its hyperlocal strategy. While Uber and other transportation companies lumped “Asia” into one bucket, Grab had a tailored approach for every city it is in. For example, Grab introduced cash payment from the get-go because 95 percent of consumers in Southeast Asia do not own credit cards. It launched GrabBike in Indonesia and Vietnam because it was a more efficient way to travel, saving Indonesians up to 2.5 hours per trip on their daily commute.
Established in 2010, GO-Jek is an Indonesian start-up based in Jakarta. After launching its app for iOS and Android in 2015, It revolutionised the way people move around in urban areas. Motorcycle taxis known as “ojek” have been around since the last century when private motorcycle owners can be hired to transport people around. Of course, this was not official as prices are negotiated on the spot. Depending on traffic conditions, time of day, and distance, the prices can go up quite high. GOJek saw the opportunity to enter the scene by creating a two-sided market with “ojek” drivers and commuters. After an aggressive pricing strategy, GO-Jek is now the market leader with Grab and Uber as the other major players. GO-Jek is the first Indonesian “unicorn” and as of August 2016 is valued at US$1.3 Billion. Aside from people transportation, GO-Jek also offers a variety of services such as package delivery, food delivery, housekeeping, ticket purchasing, massage therapist ordering, beautician ordering, and shopping/valet services.
Trax Image Recognition
Trax Image Recognition is a technology company based in Singapore. Its computer vision technology is used by FMCG companies for monitoring and analyzing retail shelves across large numbers of stores. The tech has many applications, all made possible by taking pictures of products with a common smartphone camera and having the company’s own online engine analyze them. Its unique technology uses a combination of image recognition, deep learning and data science to turn shelf images captured into real-time actionable insights. It enables FMCG brands to have more control over how their products are arranged on retailers’ shelves and helps consumers get more information on the products in front of them.
With each picture taken Trax produces a report and give recommendations on how the manufacturer or retailer can improve sales, for example by changing the placement of products relative to its environment in the store. Uses for consumers include filtering specific products on shelves, like gluten-free and low-fat ones, or leaving user reviews on particular wares or brands.
This Singapore based start-up is the e-commerce giant in the region. Established in 2012 by Rocket Internet, a German internet company from Berlin. Rocket Internet builds online start-ups and owns shareholdings in various models of internet retail businesses. Lazada was first established in South East Asia because Amazon had a weak presence in the region. Rocket Internet grabbed the opportunity to enter the market to profit from the rising purchasing power and the internet literacy of the region.
The products being sold on Lazada are non-specific and they cater to serve all types of consumers. They also have a feature for on-the-spot payment for consumers who are new to online shopping and would prefer to pay when the goods are delivered.
The E-commerce scene in the region is quite competitive because of Amazon’s absence. In Indonesia, there is Tokopedia.com and mataharimall.com. In the Philippines, there is Goods.ph and GreatValue.ph. In Vietnam, there is tiki.vn and chotot.com.
In April 2016, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba struck a deal with Lazada to invest US$1 Billion into the company. This makes Alibaba the controlling owner of Lazada and Lazada another “unicorn” in the region. This strategic move will have repercussions with respect to Amazon’s possible move into South East Asia.
RedMart is the first grocery delivery startup in Southeast Asia. It is an online supermarket that delivers fresh groceries and home essentials to your door. Founded and based in Singapore, RedMart has now entered Hong Kong, and is currently hatching expansion plans for Indonesia.
RedMart calls itself a “pure play online,” which means the company operates only in the virtual world. It has no storefronts. All its groceries are picked and sourced from in-house fulfillment centers, then delivered via RedMart’s own fleet of vehicles. Without grocery stores as middlemen, RedMart is able to make its logistics lightning fast, and can execute deliveries from warehouse to doorstep within a 2-hour window. Price is also its main advantage compared to its competitors as RedMart purchases their products in bulk, thus lower the price for customer.
This Vietnamese start-up is already active since 2004. Initially, it started with an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) in Vietnam with its game “Võ Lâm Truyền Kỳ”. Now, their product and service offerings are widespread ranging from online gaming to web hosting for a variety of services like web, music, movies, education, social network, payment, messaging, game, and e-commerce. They also own the Zing brand which has several digital offerings such as
Zing MP3 for online music streaming, the Zing News channel provides access to news, Zing Chat is an online chat and gaming platform, Zuni is an online education portal that provides access to sample exams and video lectures, and Zing Me is an online social networking space. Their other big offering is Zalo, a flagship chat app that claims to have over 15 million total downloads and has become one of the leading chat services in Vietnam.
Although it hasn’t yet done an IPO, it is also a “unicorn” with an estimated valuation US$1 billion. They have already turned profit in 2005 since their first game was hit in Vietnam. At the moment, it is only focusing in Vietnam. It has some online games in Japan and China but all the other internet services are focused in Vietnam.
Antuit is a Big Data solutions firm founded in 2013 in Singapore. It raised $56 million funding led by Goldman Sachs after just 18 months of operation. Antuit provides big data analytics and consultancy for a range of different business. In more basic terms, the startup takes big data and statistical analysis and applies it in a practical way to help businesses make smarter decision. For example, it might assist a multinational planning its entry into a new country, or advise a consumer brand preparing the sale of a new product.
The difference between Antuit and other big data firms is that the company offers more than just access to complex systems and models. Instead, it operates on a more partner-like basis, working with clients to structure data and intelligence, analyze it, and then model it based on the immediate needs of the business. Antuit aligns its solutions to each customer’s business needs, budget constraints and data context, and offers an Analytics-as-a-Service model which integrates people, products and methodologies seamlessly.
This Thai start-up is one of the up-and-coming fintech start-up riding the wave of the fintech hype in South East Asia. Omise is founded by Jun Hasegawa, A Japanese national, and Ezra Don Harinsut, a Thai national. Although not a “unicorn” in the region, this start-up has raised $17.5 Million in Series B funding round bringing the total funding to US$25 Million. It is also relatively young if compared to the other start-ups in our list being established only in May 2013.
Omise is a payment enabler or payment gateway, it allows merchants to receive payments securely and conveniently online. It prides itself on being simple towards adoption by merchants and assuring them that they are the safest in the industry. Of course, besides merchants, individuals can also use Omise. Omise’s main feature is security and it has the credentials to back it up. Omise is compliant with PCI DSS 3.0 which means that all data is protected by the highest standards of Visa and Mastercard. This allows Omise to store, process and transmit credit card data securely. At the moment, Omise collects a fee of 3.65% in Thailand and 2.95% in Japan for every credit card transaction. With respect to the fintech wave in the region, countries like Singapore are relaxing their regulations so that it can become a leading fintech centre in the world.
M-DAQ is a foreign exchange (FX) startup based in Singapore, providing a platform to price and trade any exchange-traded products in more than one currency by blending ‘executable’ FX rates into equities and futures products. It provides static or dynamic lock-in FX rates to price foreign goods in local currencies, serving merchants against FX risk. The company’s price sourcing algorithm eliminates possibilities of rates manipulation and front-running by individual banks, as it determines the equilibrium supply and demand prices in isolation from both the parties. It enables Securities Exchanges to go multicurrency without significant changes to systems and back-end processes, with low start-up and running costs.
In 2016, M-DAQ debuted a forex product for ecommerce called Aladdin, which it piloted with a “global ecommerce powerhouse”. The technology purports to make cross-border transactions less costly and with better and more predictable rates for merchants.
This Jakarta based Indonesian start-up has been around since 2012. Although not yet confirmed, this start-up could have a “unicorn” status. Unlike Nadiem Makarim, Go-Jek founder and Harvard Business School graduate, Traveloka founder Ferry Unardi dropped out from the same school after one semester in order to not miss out on the rapidly growing tech scene in the country. He said that he underestimated the speed of change and decided to come back to Indonesia to start his business. Traveloka is in the online ticket booking market. It allows users to book flights and hotels from an app with a user-friendly interface, it gives very competitive rates, and it also gives discounts from time-to-time. Today, Traveloka users can also make reservations to travel to other countries like China and most South East Asian countries.
Furthermore, according to an IATA (International Air Transport Association) press release in 2014, Indonesia will enter the top ten largest air passenger market around 2020 and attain 6th place by 2029. By 2034 it will be a market of 270 million passengers.
Traveloka has been funded two times. The first by East Ventures and the second by Rocket Internet’s Samwer brothers through its Global Founders Capital (GFC) fund. The brothers have a minority stake in the start-up but they have other investments in the travel industry as well. They have invested in Travelbird, Voopter and Trivago. Unfortunately, the financials of the company is curently undisclosed.
Yogi Saputra Wanamarta & Giang Nguyen