The Startup Scene in Southeast Asia is strong, supported and championed by a growing number of internet users, distributed amongst some of the largest populations in the world: namely Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

This region’s youth population of 60 percent plus has skyrocketed startup potential. But who are the major startups in the area and how did they get their start? How did startup unicorns like Grab, Go-Jek, Tokopedia, and Revolution Precrafted find global recognition and success?

Here are the unicorns in Southeast Asia

Let’s explore the concepts and takeaways from the four startup unicorn founders upsetting the Southeast Asian market.

  1. Anthony Tan, Grab

In 2012, Malaysia-born entrepreneur Anthony Tan had an idea: let users find and connect with local drivers available in their area, and get fare estimates ahead of time. This was something completely alien to the region and had more naysayers compared to champions.

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Fresh off the Uber and Grab partnership, Grab’s presence has increased exponentially across the region

Today, the Grab app is available in eight countries across the region and has raised billions of dollars in funding. So how did Anthony do it?

Apparently, he had seen the rising need for such an app back in Uber’s first days. He saw the real-life problem of unexpectedly sharp increase in the cost of taxi rides and came into the market to fix it.

Today, Grab is Southeast Asia’s highest valued startup. Why? Anthony got something super right, he took a risk and had faith in his vision for a better transport industry in Southeast Asia. In addition, he went the extra mile: meeting and recruiting fleet upon fleet of hungry drivers, and explaining to them how exactly the app worked.

However, Grab didn’t come without problems, and as Tan let fans know, there was a moment when Grab could not pay its fleet of taxis. Since then, Tan is indirectly giving some good advice to new startups looking to upset the market in similar ways: keep track of your cash balance.

  1. Nadiem Makarim, Go-Jek

Indonesia has the largest population of any country in Southeast Asia. That is why we are not surprised that an Indonesian app started by a tech-savvy entrepreneur, Nadiem Makarim, is on this list. So, how did he get the biggest piece of the ride-sharing market in the world’s fourth-most populous country?

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Go-Jek is expanding aggressively to fill the void left by Uber and a confrontation with Grab is underway. Image courtesy Go-Jek

In an interview with Bloomberg, Makarim laid it clear. His aim was to “see a whole bunch of Indonesians walking around, taking Go-Jek rides around the city without even thinking about whether they have their wallet or not.” He did it by aggressively pricing his rides, upsetting the norm of negotiating fares, and offering other perks with Go-Jek like food and package delivery, housekeeping, ticket purchasing, shopping and valet services.

Find out what’s next for the region in 2018

So what’s Makarim’s takeaway for new entrepreneurs? According to that same interview, he noted, “It’s not about who has the most money, it’s about who innovates faster.”

  1. William Tanuwijaya, Tokopedia

Need to buy your favourite things in bulk? Just as Grab’s Anthony Tan and Go-Jek’s Nadiem Marakim took the idea of Uber and put it into play in the Southeast Asian market space, Tokopedia’s William Tanuwijaya did it with the idea of America’s Amazon and China’s Alibaba. Connecting Indonesian buyers and sellers for free with his startup, the Tokopedia founder got his start by working for a number of tech and IT companies in his native Indonesia. So, where did he get his big idea? Previously, consumers in Indonesia would heavily rely on online forums. By consolidating these online forums and their buyers and sellers into one place, Tanuwijaya created a new online marketplace for his fellow citizens with Tokopedia.

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As the largest marketplace in the largest market in the region, Tokopedia is a shopping behemoth. Image courtesy of Facebook.

So, what could be learned from Tokopedia’s story besides seeing such an opportunity? In its first two years, Tokopedia failed to attract the eyes of investors. The takeaway learned from Tanuwijaya’s story for new investors: don’t shut down an idea just because it takes a while.

  1. Robbie Antonio, Revolution Precrafted

What makes a successful startup? If it’s having a low-asset business that has a high amount of cash flow and is truly global, then Robbie Antonio’s Revolution Precrafted certainly fits the bill. So what inspired Robbie Antonio to create Revolution Precrafted, an upscale global architecture and design firm that supplies prefabricated structures?

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Robbie Antonio, the man behind The Philippine’s first unicorn. Image courtesy Revolution Precrafted website

According to Robbie, it was his travels and love of architecture around the world that led him to create the Philippine’s first ‘unicorn startup.’ And it’s taking on the world of real estate from a unique perspective. It combines the concept of prefabricated buildings with a global vision that transcends the geography of Antonio’s native Philippines. With a real estate background, and his father being a mogul in the industry, Robbie always saw the pain points of the real estate business. Also traveling the world and being a lover of art and American and European architecture, he did not understand why visually appealing buildings could not be everywhere. Now, since starting his business in 2015, he has collaborated with some of the biggest names in design and architecture and is starting a revolution of prefabricated, designer buildings.

The takeaway from Robbie Antonio’s story: mix your creative passion with a business want. It may end up creating a revolution!

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