In the third part of our discussion, we dwell into the intriguing nuances of Southeast Asia’s tech investment landscape, with particular emphasis on the evolving nature of returns and the growing prominence of fintech. We also reflect on the earlier days of this ecosystem, drawing attention to the significant contributions of key figures like Oliver Samwer, the founder of Rocket Internet.
The Forgotten Sage and the Evolution of the Region:
Oliver Samwer, sometimes referred to as the ‘Forgotten Sage,’ sent an impactful email to the founders within the Rocket ecosystem back in 2011. He emphasized the urgency of building billion-dollar ecommerce companies in regions like Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Europe. This prophecy appears to have held up, considering the substantial returns to investors in the last decade, peaking at $4.6 billion in the previous year. This figure pertains to the actual dollars returned to investors, not merely on-paper valuations.
The Fintech Surge:
A closer look reveals that a significant portion of these returns came from fintech, particularly the payment space.
Companies like Dana and CODA Payments, which sold a large number of shares, and acquisitions like 2C2P by Ant Group and coins.ph contributed majorly. Despite many believing that the payment opportunities in the region have been exhausted, I posit that specific use cases might still offer promising prospects, given the prevalent payment inefficiencies in the region.
The Public Market Scenario:
The public market in Southeast Asia has witnessed a fair share of volatility, with most companies experiencing a drop in share prices post-IPO or public listing. However, investors who managed to exit at or slightly after the IPO may have circumvented this fate. The pressure is mounting on these companies to show profits after a decade or more of growth. Sea group has reached profitability, and it will be interesting to see if they can sustain it in the coming quarters.
Perceptions and Expectations:
During my recent trip to China, I interacted with a range of people from GPs and LPs to strategics and corporates eyeing expansion into Southeast Asia and global markets. There were two distinct sentiments: one group felt the market in Southeast Asia was much smaller than anticipated, while the other group held a more optimistic outlook, recognizing untapped opportunities but uncertain about where to find them.
The China-Southeast Asia Narrative:
An intriguing observation I made in Singapore’s Marina Square provided a telling glimpse into the contrasting realities of China and Southeast Asia. On one side was Luckin Coffee, a Chinese coffee chain bustling with customers, and on the other was the yet-to-open Indonesian chain, Tanamera. This scene offers a powerful commentary on market expectations, growth speed, and profitability in both regions. Understanding these nuanced market dynamics requires substantial on-ground effort.
In this segment, we navigated the shifting tides of Southeast Asia’s tech investment scene, exploring the evolution of returns and the surge in fintech. We delved into the public market scenario and investor expectations, highlighting the ongoing pressure for companies to demonstrate profitability. Moreover, we reflected on the differing perceptions about the region’s potential and drew comparisons between China and Southeast Asia, underlining the need for a nuanced understanding of these markets. As we venture deeper into this landscape, the complexities and opportunities become even more captivating.