Counting the number of unicorns in Southeast Asia is no easy task, because there are many different standards in the market (or you can call it ‘no standard’).. In general, Grab, GoJek, Traveloka, Tokopedia, VNG, Bukalapak, Lazada are all considered unicorns in Southeast Asia.
Some people also view listed companies such as Sea and Razer in the ranks of the region’s unicorns. Last year, an Israeli company called Trax popped up in Southeast Asia when its valuation exceeded $1b, because it is registered in Singapore.
Of course, there are a few problems in analysing the ranks of unicorns in Southeast Asia, including:
- If a startup spent about $ 700 million to get a valuation of $ 1.5 billion, it is also a unicorn. However, this capital utilization rate is a bit too low.
- If a startup can sell very small percentage shares at a high price (for example, 0.001% of the shares sold for US$10 million) and get a unicorn valuation, should the market recognize it as a unicorn?
- Are listed or acquired companies considered as unicorns? Sea’s market value has more than doubled since it went public, last Friday it surpassed US$ 36.8 billion; Razer has fallen about 80% since its Hong Kong IPO, and it has almost dropped out of the US$1 billion club.
- The scale and valuation of Grab Financial Group, Gopay, OVO should all reach the level of unicorns. Of course, none of them would probably have the incentive to acknowledge that.
- There are many companies like Trax that are only registered in Singapore and do not have real operations or business in Southeast Asia. If they are recognised, shouldn’t Flipkart, which is also registered in Singapore, recognised too? If so, perhaps the Cayman Islands has the most unicorn place in the world.
Of course, there are also companies like PropertyGuru, Zilingo etc., whose valuations were likely to exceed US$1 billion prior, but have since been suppressed under the WeWork and Covid-19 double whammy.
Our friends at Cento Ventures classify the valuation of Southeast Asian companies as follows:
So with all these as context, let’s look at the few commonly talked about unicorn candidates.
Grab is probably the most familiar name in Southeast Asia tech scene. Founded by Anthony Tan and Hooi Ling Tan in Malaysia, the company has received investments from companies including Didi, Softbank, and Toyota. It beat Uber in the region and is expanding into food delivery, payment, and financial services – a super app.
As of February 2020, Grab has raised more than US$9 billion, with a valuation of more than 14 billion US dollars. It is the highest valued unicorn in Southeast Asia.
Some friends in China often compare Grab with Didi in China. In fact, Grab has long been more than just a ride-hailing company, while nd Didi has many strong competitors in China (or frenemies) such as Meituan and Tencent if they want to expand beyond ride-hailing.
Founded by Forrest Li in 2009, Sea was at the time called GarenaOnline. Renamed Sea in 2017, the company raised US$550 million and soon went public in the US. It remains the only Southeast Asia focused tech stock in the US equity market. The company started with desktop gaming, and has expanded into mobile gaming, ecommerce and fintech.
Shopee, its e-commerce arm, and Seamoney, its fintech arm, are both growing fast. Sea has also expanded to farflung markets including Brazil (and briefly, Iran). The capital market is also very optimistic about the company’s prospects, sending its shares soaring between 2019 and 2020. It is now almost as big as Baidu, and will probably overtake it.
Lazada was established by the German Internet group Rocket Internet in 2012. At first, it was to bring the concept of e-commerce to Southeast Asia. Later, it attracted the attention of Alibaba, who needed to expand to Southeast Asia after some incidents in Taiwan.
Over the past two years, Lazada has received more than US$3 million strategic investment from the Hangzhou-based parent. In April 2018, Lucy Peng, Co-founder of Alibaba and Chairwoman of Ant Financial, took over Lazada’s CEO from Rocket veteran Max Bittner. It is still struggling with the internal culture and has been overtaken by Shopee in GMV
Compared with other unicorn companies, Razer is old. Singaporean Tan Min-liang founded the company in 1998. As a gaming equipment company, Razer is headquartered in both Singapore and the United States. Its early business was the production of gaming devices (such as mice and keyboards). Razer was also one of the first to sponsor professional esports players in the world.
In October 2014, Razer launched the Razerblade (a series of notebook computers) and subsequently received investment from Intel to become a unicorn, just a year after the very term of “unicorn” was coined.
The company IPOed in Hong Kong in 2017, and expanded into mobile phones as well as payment. Alas, in these areas it does not seem to be performing well, the stock price has dropped significantly. A lot of its attention now seems to be on philanthropy.
Trax provides computer vision and analysis solutions for the retail industry. To put it bluntly, it is to help brands do market research at retail terminals. The Israeli company was founded in 2010 and has more than 150 customers in the retail and FMCG industries, including beverage giants Coca-Cola and Budweiser. And the business covers more than 50 countries.
The company completed a US$100 million Series D financing led by Hopu Investment in July 2019 to become a unicorn. Boyu Capital (yes the famous Boyu Capital) is also its shareholder.
It is worth noting that Trax has been focusing on acquiring companies rather than developing its own products, after it was flooded with cash.
GoJek was founded by Nadiem Makarim in 2009 in Indonesia. They started with two handfuls of motorcycle taxi drivers, and after suggestions from investors they started going mobile. KKR, Warburg Pincus, Google, GIC, Tencent and many others have joined the ranks as investors. Its mobile payment Gopay is also one of the mainstream e-wallets in Indonesia.
In March 2020, Gojek announced that it had completed US$1.2 billion new funding. It has also been expanding regionally, although, with some internal issues as well as Grab’s competition, this expansion has not been very successful thus far.
Founded in 2012, Traveloka, the largest OTA in Southeast Asia, currently covers Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. Its key differentiator compared to international OTAs was it accepted local payment methods in countries where credit card penetration is very low. Expedia and GIC are some of its major backers.
Over the past few years, the battle between Traveloka and Tiket in Indonesia has become probably the most exciting episode, after ride-hailing, payment and ecommerce.
Tokopedia was founded in 2009 by William Tanuwijaya from North Sumatra, Indonesia. In 2014, Tokopedia received $ 100 million in investment from Sequoia Capital and Softbank. Alibaba also pumped in US$1.1 billion in 2017 (which some say was because of Softbank connected, others to deter JD from expanding further in SEA). Alibaba and Softbank poured another US$1.1 billion in 2018.
It is interesting that Tanuwijaya regarded his first meeting with SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son in 2014 as the company’s turning point. At that time, things were tough for Tokopedia and Tanuwijaya faced many rejections. Sounds familiar to the Jack Ma Masayoshi Son meeting much earlier? Son’s US$20 million investment in Alibaba is now worth at least US$140 billion.
Tanuwijaya once said in 2019 that Tokopedia’s goal is to achieve profitability in 2020 – a goal that is almost certainly delayed because of the current macro situation.
Bukalapak was founded by Achmad Zacky in 2010 and is currently one of the largest e-commerce companies in Indonesia. In 2015, it received a capital injection from Indonesian media giant Emtek, which took a 49% stake in Bukalapak. Emtek has bet on a number of Internet businesses, the most known of which is Dana, an electronic wallet payment in cooperation with Ant financial group.
Since then, Bukalapak has begun to expand in many areas and has launched Mitra Bukapapak to target small vendors in rural areas offline. At the same time cooperate with Dana to launch a series of financial services such as BukaDana and BukaCicilan.
Although BNI and Tokopedia focus on offline and rural areas, Bukalapak is more active in international business. In May 2019, it launched a new platform, BukaGlobal, to connect more than 4 million Indonesian merchants with overseas consumers. We feel there is a long way to go before the global vision becomes viable.
JD.ID started operations in Indonesia as early as 2015 and is JD.com ’s first stop as an online mall overseas. In order to conform to the local culture, the dog in the original logo of JD.com has also been replaced by a horse (some say a sheep).
The unmanned supermarket JD.ID X-Mart in Jakarta is also JD ’s first overseas unmanned supermarket and JD ’s largest unmanned store to date. JD.ID currently supports shopping and delivery services in 365 cities and towns in Indonesia.
JD Indonesia ’s valuation should have exceeded $ 1 billion. According to my personal experience in Indonesia, JD.ID ’s operations in Indonesia are still very localized. Even in the suburbs, JD.ID ’s hubs and trucks with their logos can be seen, and the speed of logistics will also be guaranteed. In view of the fine tradition of JD.com in China, according to its official statement: 85% of orders in Indonesia can be delivered within 1 day (or the next day)
However, whether this asset-heavy operation method is suitable for the current Indonesian ecommerce market，different ones have different views. We believe that the biggest factor may be the determination of the JD.com founder and the relationship the company has with the Indonesian partners.
OVO started in 2016 as an app that provided payment, point redemption, and financial services at the shopping malls of Lippo Group. In 2017, it obtained the operating license of Indonesia as a fintech company, and gradually developed into an electronic wallet.
Lippo group controls more than $15 billion in assets and has substantial investments in retail, media, real estate, banking, natural resources, hotels, and healthcare industries. For example, the Meikarta real estate project that was vigorously promoted in Indonesia in recent years was developed by Lippo Group.
In addition to Lippo, OVO also brought in Grab and Tokopedia as major shareholders. The two unicorns hold together about 70-80% of the OVO shares. Multiple surveys and studies put OVO as the top wallet player in Indonesia.
Founded in 2004, VinaGame is currently the only unicorn startup in Vietnam, with an early game business as its main focus. In 2008, Tencent acquired nearly 20% of its shares. In recent years, it has gradually expanded to e-commerce, social networking, electronic payment, and other fields. Its Zing (video music platform), Zalo (social app), and ZaloPay (mobile payment) serve millions of consumers in Vietnam. VNG has also received investments from IDG Ventures Vietnam and CyberAgent Capital, and its current valuation is about $ 2.7 billion.
13. Revolution Precrafted
Revolution Precrafted is a real estate-related startup founded in the Philippines in 2015. It miraculously achieved Unicron status and remains the only ‘unicorn’ of the Philippines. Revolution Precrafted aspires to deliver the entire customized houses to customers just as IKEA delivers furniture to consumers’ homes.
Here is how its founder looks like every day:
Do you believe Revolution Precrafted deserves the unicorn valuation? we don’t.
Will Southeast Asia produce more unicorns?
Judging from the 13 unicorn companies in the four countries of Southeast Asia mentioned above, 11 are headquartered in Singapore or Indonesia, among which 5 count ecommerce as their core business.
This also reflects the huge potential of the Southeast Asian ecommerce market, and the popularization of ecommerce will certainly boost the development of logistics, mobile payment, and fintech in the region.
Singapore and Indonesia also have their first-mover advantage through their own innovation capabilities and population size, respectively. As for the Philippines and Vietnam, both have a population of around 100 million, and each of them owns a unicorn (although one of them is weirder than the other).
In the near future, Singapore and Indonesia will no longer dominate as the nest (or is stable a more appropriate word?) for unicorns.
For those aspire to cover the entire market of 600+ million people in Southeast Asia, how to break through the cultural boundaries between countries and regions, build an in-depth understanding of local consumption habits and the market environment, are key to their success, or otherwise.
But the opportunities are there. In Singapore, you can have a supermarket be valued at US$1.6 billion (Sheng Siong), and another one having an annual sales exceeding US$2 billion (NTUC Fairprice).
If both were tech companies, they would have been called unicorns.
So yes, in the decade after the Covid-19 outbreak, we are very confident that Southeast Asia will bear out more unicorns.