The startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia is changing in a big way, with emerging tech giants beginning to challenge the current reign of the US and China over the tech industry. Both Grab Holdings and Traveloka are primed to dive into the public domain, essentially kickstarting the long-overlooked internet scene in the region. The Grab listing to become a publicly-traded company will give international investors more opportunities to get in on the ground floor of the fast-growing internet market.

Grab and Traveloka going public 

Grab Holdings plans to list by way of a US blank cheque company with various backers such as T Rowe Price and Temasek Holdings. The ride-hailing tech giant is valued at $40 billion US. The deal was made possible by a merger between Grab Holdings and a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). With such a high valuation, this deal is now the largest-ever of its kind. Grab is not alone, though. Traveloka has managed to follow their lead.

The Indonesia unicorn company, Traveloka, provides airline and hotel booking services, and their success has led to a valuation listing of $5 billion US with a SPAC. The backers supporting the list are Richard Li and Peter Theil. These mega-deals are opening the doors to give high-value tech startups in the region the opportunity to play their hand in initial public offerings (IPOs). Some companies that are in discussions for a seat at the table include Grab’s ride-hailing competitor Gojek, the eCommerce giant Tokopedia, and Singapore’s PropertyGuru.

The initial jump into Wall Street has made it possible for Southeast Asia’s underdog tech scene to make waves of their own in the public market. Last year, online gaming and e-commerce company, Sea, jumped into the pool of public trading, and it looks as though they started a trend that isn’t slowing down. Sea saw five times growth last year alone.

The value of Southeast Asia as a tech hub

The importance of Southeast Asia when it comes to digital companies is not overlooked. Investor appetites for the region’s tech companies are poised to grow exponentially. In fact, the region’s internet economy is continuously growing, and by 2025, it is expected that it will nearly triple its value to $300 billion US

Roadblocks have been in the way when it comes to investors being able to play in the market because of a lack of public trading abilities. These new deals coming off the heels of Sea going public have changed the game altogether, giving open access to those interested to invest in the best that the digital economy has to offer.  

The home-court advantage

The tech companies in Southeast Asia have benefitted from the tight focus in the region, keeping them safe from any forays from tech giants in the US and China. Grab, for example, managed to break into the ride-hailing scene in 2012 and expand its offerings into delivery and financial services. Grab is now seen as one of the best super apps available. 

Staying on their home turf throughout their growth gave them the ability to stomp out their biggest competition, Uber, which tried to make a break for the market in Southeast Asia. Uber’s plans were less than adequate, and Grab managed to acquire their ASEAN business in 2018, giving them full reign on the ride-hailing demand in the region.

Fierce competition and budding partnerships 

The level of competition among local tech groups in the area is red hot. However, some tech giants saw an opportunity to avoid the competition altogether by partnering with other local unicorns. The Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing decided to avoid a losing battle by investing in Grab, while Google and Tencent backed Gojek. These partnerships ended the tussle, but it hasn’t done much for the profits.

Grab, Gojek, and Tokopedia have suffered from a lack of profit even after forming partnerships. It is this reason that led to Grab’s decision to opt for public trading via a SPAC. By doing this, startups can fare better with regards to raising quick funds and can bypass the burdensome procedures that are involved in traditional public listings.  

Given the current climate in the region, tech giants in Southeast Asia are poised to see many changes in the coming years. The digital ecosystem that has given way to companies such as Grab and Traveloka paved the way for other smaller startups to thrive in the burgeoning tech hub. With the Grab listing and valuation, other in-demand tech services can begin to look at their success on a global scale as opposed to regional. With the doors open on Wall Street, public trading may be just the thing the Southeast Asia startup scene needs to be recognised as the valuable tech hub it has been for years.