Hypergrowth startups in Southeast Asia have shown resilience in surviving the economic downturns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic to become consistently high-earning companies. According to Forbes, “hypergrowth” is a word coined by Alexander V. Izosimov in the Harvard Business Review, referring to phases where a business has a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) exceeding 40%. The steepest part of the growth curve attracts investors who want a piece of what could potentially be the next unicorn—a company with a billion-dollar valuation.
Many businesses in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) struggled through the pandemic, receiving government subsidies and funding to prop them up against a likely collapse. Some startups did not survive, with investors holding off on committing money during an uncertain economic period. Some companies managed to survive and grow their revenues organically, showing venture capital (VC) firms that they could be trusted for financial backing.
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The top hypergrowth and tech startups in the region in 2021 were:
Car-ownership service Carro is one of the companies that experienced hypergrowth during and post-pandemic, rising to the top of the list of the Financial Times (FT) Asia-Pacific High Growth Companies 2021 report. The Singapore-based company uses AI-powered technology to improve the car buying and selling experience.
Thus far, Carro has raised USD 705.1 million in various investment rounds, with more than 30 investors, including Temasek Holdings ltd, Celestial Sage International, Simon Moran, and others. With the help of its increased capital, has expanded into the Japanese market, offered assurance certificates for its used cars, and set up a used car subscription service marketplace.
Indonesian software company Kioson is an online-to-offline (O2O) startup that enables businesses to digitise using one payment app for various transactions. People can enjoy digital services and banking through agents or kiosks in their area. Kioson showed resilience in the pandemic, enabling customers to access services and conform to the social distancing rules imposed to protect everyone.
Thus far, Kioson has raised USD 3.9 million from its sole investor, PT Mitra Komunikasi Nusantara Tbk. Kioson is Indonesia’s first publicly-traded company.
Singaporean company SCI Ecommerce has the vision to become a leading global digital solutions provider for commerce. It helps companies with social marketing, eCommerce, digital financing, direct-to-customer (DTC) services, and more.
SCI eCommerce has raised a total of USD 76 million, with a USD 62.7 million round coming in 2021. Its investors include Asia Partners, Jubilee Capital Management, Concentric Equity Partners, A. Soriano Corporation, and EDBI.
Factors fueling hypergrowth startups in Southeast Asia
Despite the economic challenges brought by the pandemic, several factors contributed to companies’ success. Most businesses that do well in the long term require robust corporate governance. ASEAN hypergrowth companies all demonstrated that they had tough leaders applying the correct principles to running their startups.
The digital transformation of Southeast Asia opened novel avenues for businesses to serve their customers, gather data efficiently, cut down on operational costs, and tap into new revenue streams. The region is blessed with a young, tech-savvy population that desires to try new technologies. The fact that each country’s population numbers continue to rise gives ASEAN startups a market of over 589 million people.
Furthermore, there has been a shift in consumer behaviour, even among the older generation, as the pandemic forced people to adopt digital services for convenience and safety. According to the eConomy SEA report in 2021, nine out of ten consumers who tried a digital service for the first time in 2020 continued to use it in 2021.
Finally, global investors have played a significant role in boosting startups into the hypergrowth phase through investments, guidance, and calls for better corporate governance. Businesses can also benefit from checking most of their ideas against those already established ones in other markets, such as the US and China.
Challenges for ASEAN startups
Reaching the hypergrowth phase may only be possible for some startups. Investors may not be willing to take a risk to join a business during the early-stage funding rounds, meaning that both the startup and the investors miss out on the opportunity for success and profitability.
Global geopolitical issues are a concern for startups looking for an investment, as VC firms hold off on financially backing anyone. Since it takes time to grow revenues in hypergrowth and tech startups, it may make investors wary of a business’s potential for a return on investment (ROI). Moreover, upgrading system capacity during scaling can be costly, and finding the ideal tech talent may not be easy.
Hypergrowth startups in Southeast Asia have a significant challenge ahead of them to fulfil their potential. As the Forbes piece suggests, they must focus on the culture, be strategic, and work on profitability. If done correctly, they may be able to thrive.