Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) have become a measurable trend among startups in Southeast Asia in the past year. While investors might look at companies’ opening to global stock markets with enthusiasm, there is still some reason for caution until startup trends stabilise. Here are a selection of Southeast Asian startups eyeing up the IPO route this year.
Singapore’s Grab is something of a superstar. One of the first decacorns in the region, it has grown from being just a ride-hailing app to an all-inclusive food, delivery, and payment platform. As of January 24, Grab has partnered with Morgan Stanley to prepare for a US IPO listing with its valuation estimated to be $2 billion USD. Although Grab was considering a partnership with competitor GoJek, its value increased by 70% during a year heavily impacted by COVID in 2020, even after the potential deal stalled.
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A quickly-growing competitor of Grab’s status, Indonesian startup Tokopedia appears to have scored the merger with GoJek that Grab was seeking. This partnership is potentially worth $18 billion USD, the largest deal in Indonesian history. Additionally, the online retail app is aiming for dual listings in the United States and the Jakarta stock markets. Despite considerable enthusiasm surrounding a partnered Gojek-Tokopedia IPO, some investors believe that it was a “merger of convenience” to prevent their market shares from being overtaken by Shopee and Grab as they grow their businesses in Indonesia.
Travel and virtual tour operators have had to adapt to stay resilient as the pandemic took a severe hit on the industry last year. One such company, Indonesia’s Traveloka, has successfully adapted, making short trips to interesting and exciting locations within the country its new niche. Following steady growth in 2020, Traveloka announced that it was considering a merger with a Special Purpose Acquisitions Company (SPAC), the US-based Bridgetown. SPAC’s are also known as “blank check” companies because they specialise in raising capital before IPO listing. The United States appears to be leading in SPAC formation, with 219 formed in 2020 alone. SPACs present risk for investors, as they bet on a high IPO valuation, while there is a chance that the stock value will plummet soon thereafter. Nevertheless, Traveloka might grow—and rebound post-pandemic—considerably if its IPO showing is appealing.
Singapore’s healthtech giant Prestige Biopharma is taking a different route: to South Korea. Focusing on antibody therapies and opening soon in the Korean stock market (early February 2021), the startup aims for a $26.6-$29 USD share price. On November 10, 2020, Prestige Biopharma announced that its product Tuznue™ (trastuzumab), used to treat breast cancer and gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma, would be exclusively supplied in Israel through their joint partnership with Teva Israel.
Another Singapore-based startup, M-DAQ, raised $11.7 million USD in October 2020 in a funding round led by GSR Ventures and Citi Ventures. Chinese giant Alibaba invested in M-DAQ in 2019, and soon afterwards adopted its technological infrastructure as Alibaba expanded into new markets. Shortly after gaining investment from GSR and Citi, M-DAQ’s CEO Richard Koh won the Ernst & Young fintech sector Entrepreneur of The Year. Koh cited M-DAQ’s company culture of valuing the ideas of all individuals as a cornerstone of the firm’s success.
Indonesia’s coworking unicorn JustCo is also making plans to embark on an IPO this year. In the last two years, the shared office space unicorn has been cautiously expanding, creating additional towers in Melbourne and Shanghai. JustCo CEO Kong Wan Sing said that coworking’s social potential, albeit in a safe location, during COVID facilitates community even though many workforces are moving to online platforms. Moreover, Sing indicated in an interview with S&P Global Market Intelligence that JustCo’s occupancy is approximately 80%. In the same interview, Sing indicated that while the company’s numbers are confidential, it appears poised to slowly grow its locations and potentially hold a successful IPO in 2021.
While IPOs appear enticing, some companies’ inflated market value versus the “real market” of everyday life might be a cause for concern. A global recession might still occur, and it is prudent to invest, but to do so with an eye towards the economic health of the countries where the IPO of a company is happening. Without a degree of caution, investors may get badly burned.
Moreover, while some of the startups in Southeast Asia might be considering IPOs as a defence against regional competitors, it might be helpful to consider the effect of their partnerships with large holding companies outside the region. One thing to consider is whether these partnerships would give the mentioned startups the discretion needed to manage their growth and finances. Would a lack of holdings companies’ experience in the region make for impulsive investments? Startup trends are sure to continue to change in the region and might tell us a more comprehensive story in the coming year.