Southeast Asia is seeing new unicorns every week now, minted, released, or simply declared. The days where we could enumerate all unicorns in the region with two hands are long gone. 

While the excitement is certainly in the air for market participants and investors, it can be quite confusing for those from the outside. 

Dmitry Levit and I thought it would be useful to summarise the different pathways for a company to achieve a unicorn status in the region, as part of  the briefing on 2021 H1 Southeast Asia tech investment report last week.

We have identified 7 ways: 

  1. The conventional method that everyone knows – where a company goes through various funding rounds (seed, series A, Series B etc.) and grows continuously:

  2. The accelerated conventional method – that applies to companies which have seen a sudden acceleration of growth, to achieve unicorn valuation with only very few rounds of funding. Examples of this category include Sky Mavis (which created NFT-based game Axie Infinity), and Amanotes, a music game developer:
  3. Spun off from a corporation – and of course with the customer based and financial resources of a corporation, tech or non tech, such companies can grow rather fast in both traction and valuation. Examples include the payment/fintech arms of telcos as well as super apps:
  4. The Delaware way – basically a company that is already quite big from outside the region relocates their headquarters to Singapore and thus becomes a Southeast Asian company:
  5. Selling a small amount of shares of a company at a very high valuation – a very small number of companies have used this way in Southeast Asia, and we do not think that new players can still use this obvious method:
  6. A traditional company, with no tech to drastically scale up at very low marginal costs, pretends to be a tech company. You might think of WeWork as an obvious candidate in this category – we also have a few in Southeast Asia that can pass the duck test:

  7. The last method is the iFast way, which is actually quite unique. A wealth management platform that IPO’ed in Singapore Exchange in 2014, iFast’s share price barely moved until 2020, when Covid-resulted trading/investment activities surged across the world. So access the public market early, and wait for the tailwind:

The above pathways is an illustration of the vibrancy and diversity of Southeast Asia’s tech investment scene. 

We believe that there are probably more than 20-30 potential unicorns hiding in plain sight, waiting to reveal themselves, or be revealed.  

If you think we have missed another method, write to us at [email protected]. Always happy to learn more! 

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].


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Jianggan Li is the Founder & CEO of Momentum Works. Prior to founding Momentum Works, he co-founded Easy Taxi in Asia, and served as Managing Director of Foodpanda. The two years running Rocket Internet companies has given him a lifetime experience on supersonic implementation, and good camaraderie with entrepreneurs across the developing world. He holds a MBA from INSEAD (GMAT 770) and a degree in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University. Unfortunately he never wrote a single line of code professionally - but in his first job he was in media, travelling extensively across Asia & Europe, speaking with Ministers & (occasionally) Prime Ministers. Apart from English and his native Mandarin, he is also fluent in French and conversational in Cantonese & Spanish. He tried to learn Latin (for three years) and Sanskrit (for six months) as well. In his (scarce) free time, he reads, travels, hikes and dives. Pyongyang, Tehran & Chisinau are among the interesting cities he has been to.