Four major Unicorn contenders are pulling ahead in Southeast Asia’s economy, and there is potential to see the formation of an Oligopoly, a market dominated by a few large sellers. At present, there are more than a few Unicorns engaging the market, and it seems likely, through acquisitions and partnerships that a few major contenders are going to come out on top of the Southeast Asian economic structure. 

The e-Conomy SEA 2016 report predicted a $200 billion USD Southeast Asia internet economy by 2025, which has been re-estimated in the e-Conomy SEA 2018 report to reach $240 billion USD by 2025, showing an 8% increase from the 2.5% growth in 2018. 

E-27’s Southeast Asian Startup Ecosystem Report 2018, which pulls from a sample size of 26,000 Southeast Asian start-up companies, compiles a reasonable estimation of the evolution of the Southeast Asian economy for the coming decade. At a quick glance, it’s clear that of the six ASEAN countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines) with Unicorns, that Singapore and Indonesia have the greatest potential for expansion. And a great deal of this potential lies in the purchase of or partnerships with startups. For the startup, these mergers are called “exits”. 

What’s next for Southeast Asia’s tech unicorns?

And, as reported by Singapore Business Review, acquisitions offer a “faster pace of investment” as larger companies (Unicorns) “recycle” their capital, contributing to their bottom lines much faster. In 2017, exit deal value in the region rose to $16 billion USD, up 86% from the previous five year average, the Bain and Co. report noted.

The Big Four – capitalising on multiple markets


Indonesia’s ride-hailing service was the first to see the potential for a multi-service platform that would provide peer-2-peer (P2P) lending and delivery of goods and services. The basis of their platform would-be to provide small to medium enterprises (SMEs) with the financing they need to get their services off the ground under the umbrella of GoJek’s name. The model was built with the concept of acquisitions in mind, believing that with more service coverage, the better the public access. “GoJek has since evolved to provide on-demand transport and lifestyle services that move the city.” With a regional expansion including Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore, GoJek is proving their model, with 11 acquisitions since 2016 including MVCommerce, LOKET, and AirCTO. We’re bound to see an exponential rise in GoJek’s worth by 2025. 


Alibaba, worth $542 billion USD, and operating in over 200 countries, acquired Lazada in 2016 for $1 billion USD, dumping an additional $3 billion USD into Lazada operations for optimisation. Alibaba also provides financial backing to Tokopedia, who provides financial backing to Ovo, all of which primarily service Indonesia. Tokopedia falls just a step behind GoJek in the Indonesian Market, with a valuation of $7 billion USD in contrast to GoJek’s $10 billion USD estimated value. Indonesia has seen 847 start-ups in 2018 focusing primarily on cashless payment systems, with competition between GoJek’s Go-Pay and Ovo. 


Singapore-based Grab competes with GoJek in business model and ideology, with the added bonus that Singapore maintains to be the most expensive city in the world. Given Singapore’s propensity for efficiency as a bustling metropolis, Grab has the potential to offer a greater variation in the quality of services, which can mean a big bang for market growth for these services providing company. Back in 2018, Grab acquired Singapore’s Uber division which expands their reach to eight additional Southeast Asian countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) aiding their foothold in other economies. Grab has also acquired iKaaz (India), Kudo (Thailand), Ninja Van (Singapore), Moca (Vietnam), and Ovo (Indonesia)- yes, Ovo is financially backed by Tokopedia and has partnered with Grab. 


man sitting on chair

This gaming hardware company is making surprising leaps and bounds. Razer hit Unicorn status by their launch in 2017 and has since acquired MOL payment systems, Nextbit Systems, OUYA, and THX. You may not think of gaming hardware and software as being a strong economic strategy, yet with the rise of virtual reality (VR) the potential is there for this company to skyrocket, and its market value in Southeast Asia is worth keeping an eye on. “AR (mobile augmented reality, smart glasses) could top $2.5 billion USD installed base and $70 to 75 billion USD revenue by 2023. VR (mobile, standalone, console, PC) might deliver over 30-million installed base and $10 to 15 billion USD revenue in the same timeframe,” says Digi-Capital. Considering that companies like Gojek and Grab are mobile platforms, the potential for future partnership in VR technology is fairly inevitable. 

Southeast Asia’s unicorns are helping SMEs grow

Eye on the prize

It will be interesting to see, through acquisitions and partnerships, which of these companies will come out on top of the growing Southeast Asian Oligopoly. Worth noting is that Singapore and Indonesia are the present leaders in the Unicorn oligopoly, meaning that they have the greatest economic profit margins for reinvestment. Singapore revealed over 2,000 start-up deals representing 68 industries with an average investment of $40 million USD. With the continued long-term investments by American companies Facebook and Google, we’re likely to see a funnel effect of Southeast Asia’s economic profit. Indonesia is not far behind with over 800 start-up deals representing 38 industries, with an average deal size at $88 million USD, proving that local investment may hold its own just as well. One thing is for sure, the Southeast Asian economy is in a good, supportive space, where companies are rising to watch each other’s backs, to ensure that economic growth is matured and maintained.