Southeast Asia’s investment ecosystem is entering a new phase of growth after a decade of flat growth. There are many positive signals for the startup scene in SEA including increased investments from Venture Capitalists, global funds, as well as strong macroeconomic underpinnings and government support.
A number of positive factors point to a bright investment future in the region, and a consequent increase in the number of unicorns. A unicorn is a privately held startup valued at more than $1billion. There are currently seven unicorns in Southeast Asia of which four are in one country: Indonesia. A recent assessment by Bain predicted that there would be 10 more unicorns in Southeast Asia by 2024. Here we take a look at who we think will be the next Southeast Asian unicorns.
Healthcare is a fast growing sector in Indonesia. A growing middle-class expects better access to health professionals. Digitally-based services provide unprecedented access to advice and services, fuelling the growth of firms like Alodokter, one of our picks. Alodokter is a leading health portal in Indonesia providing high-quality content and interaction with qualified Indonesian doctors. As a privately-held company, we were not able to determine the current value of the company, be we can report that Alodokter has raised more than $12 million USD in three funding rounds since 2015.
Asked why Alodokter is an attractive investment, Justin Hall, principal at Golden Gate Ventures, says, “Alodokter is one of the companies in Southeast Asia that’s benefiting from the convergence of multiple trends: a rapidly digitising consumer base in Indonesia; a growing middle class demanding access to better services and goods; health care and information [and] advertisers [are] finally seeing capable online marketing channels.”
Public policies in Singapore are increasingly favourable to startups, where the government has simplified the process for venture capitalist support. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that three of our five picks originate from this island nation.
PropertyGuru is a web-based property site that not only includes the most comprehensive property database in Singapore, but offers condo reviews, provides updates on the latest property developments, and advises on offshore property investments. PropertyGuru has raised a total of nearly $440 million SGD in funding over five rounds. Their latest funding was raised on Oct 31, 2018 and attracted $200 million SGD. As reported in Yahoo Finance in October this year: “A person familiar with the matter said PropertyGuru was valued at more than $500 million SGD.” That doesn’t make PropertyGuru a unicorn just yet, but we predict it will be soon.
Carousell provides a platform to “give your pre-loved items a new life.” You can sell anything from trinkets to trucks on the Singapore-based consumer-to-consumer marketplace app. Carousell has attracted $126.8 million USD in investments, of which $120 million was raised in two rounds since 2016. The 26-year-old creator of the app, Quek Siu Rui, turned down $100 million USD for his app a few years ago, because he says the business was still ‘less than one percent done’. A couple of years later and Carousell is reportedly valued at $500 million USD. Smart move, Quek!
Bigo is a mobile internet company that facilitates social networking through video and vocal technology. The app, Bigo Live, allows you to live stream your special moments, talk with your friends, or make a video call. The app is just over two years old but claims to have more than 40 million downloads in India and 200 million downloads worldwide. Its massive hidden layer of incentives and rewards drives monetisation that keeps Bigo in the top 10 grossing lists. Bigo has expanded its initial offering to include Cube TV, a mobile gaming-focused streaming service, and Like, an app for editing and sharing short videos. Bigo claims it was valued at $400 million USD in 2017.
Thailand’s online fashion site, Pomelo, is a leading international fashion e-commerce company based in Bangkok. Pomelo has raised $31.6 million USD, of which $30 million was raised since 2016. Pomelo’s fashions are designed and made in Asia for a global market. Described as the “Asian version of Zara,” the brand focuses on good quality, reasonably priced fashion goods and exceptional customer service. The latest round of funding was led by JD.com, a formidable rival to Alibaba. While this investigator was unable to locate a valuation of the Pomelo business, China-based JD.com’s continued and significant investments in various sectors in the region (FinTech and e-Commerce) suggested that their interest in Pomelo–a fashion company–makes it a company worth noting.
Who are Southeast Asia’s startup unicorns
Expect More Unicorns in Southeast Asia
With nearly 9% of the world’s population, Southeast Asia is predicted to increase its share of global unicorns. Southeast Asia’s improved economic performance is assisted by the increasingly regional nature of unified economy rather than a patchwork of national economies, encouraging cross-border trading and providing opportunities for expansion while reducing the dependence of any company on any one national market.
Uber is just one example that shows just how disruptive technologies can be in Southeast Asia, a region where digital disruption occurs more rapidly than in the West. We predict there will be even greater disruption in the future. This means that the opportunities to create unicorns after years of flat growth are considerable. An increased emphasis on education and healthcare along with technologies that make online purchasing of goods and services easier than ever means that the future of startups in Southeast Asia appears very bright.