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Southeast Asia’s next unicorn shows great startups can come from anywhere
Asia Tech Review: 25 April 2023
The top story is one that resonates strongly with me. I’ve always believed Asia—and other regions, for that matter—have the potential to build world-class and unique startups. There was a time when Silicon Valley was snobbishly seen as *the only place* startup and tech innovation could emerge from. That’s what made being a reporter in Southeast Asia so rewarding… shining light on companies and products that broke that mold.
In 2023, we know that is true—remote and distributed working has made that abundantly clear—but every once in a while, it is good to remember where we came from. That’s why I broke with my usual tradition and wrote about a unicorn (!) that isn’t actually confirmed yet (!)—but sometimes the labels are meaningful.
See you again next week,
Stories in focus
Symbolic ‘fish tech’ startup set to be Southeast Asia’s next unicorn
Southeast Asia’s newest unicorn could be Indonesia’s eFishery, which is said to be in “advanced talks” for a $100M funding round that would value it at $1.2B.
The startup has been touted as a future unicorn for some time thanks to impressive revenue growth. In fact, eFishery has been around for quite some time. I remember it being written about by Tech In Asia way back in 2014 because it was one of the first instances of a unique startup coming out of Southeast Asia that wouldn’t have been birthed in Silicon Valley. Digitising operations using the technology and a smartphone may seem obvious now, but eFishery took the commercial aquaculture industry and it has created ‘smart feeding’ hardware and software to optimise the process for fish farmers. Over the years, it has also added financing and other services, as we wrote in a profile in The Ken in 2020.
Unicorn tags are fairly meaningless in the grand scheme of things—we’ve seen plenty of startups fall apart because they worry about vanity metrics—but eFishery represents a change in attitude. Initially, a little kooky looking, it shows great startups can be born anywhere in the world.
Snap now cares about India as it doubles its user numbers
Back in 2017, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel was ridiculed for reporting saying he didn’t care about the Indian market because his company’s app was strictly for ‘rich people.’
Well, more than five years later and Snap is continuing to make a big push to woo the South Asian market. Snap is reported to now have 200M monthly users in the country, double its number as of October 2021. After watching TikTok explode in India, and then subsequently get banned, Spiegel sees a huge opportunity for growth as he told ET in this paywalled interview.
China’s tech output slumps
China’s economy may be rebounded but its key electronics product slumped to illustrate the trailing effect and the impact of political tensions with the US.
According to National Bureau of Statistics data reported by Bloomberg:
Semiconductor output was down 15% year-on-year in Q1 2023
Smartphone production dropped 14%
The overall smartphone market dipped by 12% in Q1, continuing a run of decreases that stretches to more than a year. Chinese trio Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, in particular, have been hard hit as even key market India saw shipments fall by 20% in the opening three months of this year, according to Canalys. Sales are tipped to grow again, but output is far from rebounding.
Now here’s a crazy story: The US arrested two Chinese security officers and charged dozens for allegedly using thousands of fake social media accounts to discredit American policies—they’re said to have run a secret police office in New York from where they also allegedly harassed critics of China link
ByteDance has reportedly offered to buy back shares from employees as political headwinds and global economics stall a planned IPO that would allow staff to cash out link
China is now expected to lower fine on Ant Group to about $700M, down from an initially expected $1B-plus link
Luminar, the Nasdaq-listed auto parts maker from Florida, is an increasingly rare case of a US company wanting to make inroads into China’s EV market link
TuSimple, the scandal-plagued autonomous truck company, is stressing its divisions between its US and Chinese business as US government investigation put the squeeze on its IPO—though it isn’t clear how it will continue to separate its businesses in the two countries and whether that means a formal spinout link
Shein has invested $150M into Brazil as it looks to win big in a major market in Latin America link
Chipmaker CXMT plans to file for a domestic IPO this year at a potential valuation of over $14.5B link
China’s top memory chip maker YMTC making significant progress in producing advanced 3D NAND products with locally sourced equipment, according to sources link
TSMC is pushing back on some of the conditions Washington has attached to chip-factory subsidies as it looks for up to $15B in government money—it is particularly concerned about rules that could require it to share profits from the factories and provide detailed information about operations link
Apple launched tap to pay on iPhone in Taiwan link
Apple’s annual sales in India grew 50% to reach nearly $6B in the year through March, highlighting why it has (finally) opened its first Apple Store in the country link
Meanwhile, iPhone-maker Foxconn is likely to expand its manufacturing facility by adding two additional buildings at its site near Chennai and an R&D centre in Bengaluru link
A funding squeeze at Indian startups that has already led to layoffs and delayed stock listings is set to worsen as investors reckon with stretched valuations and faltering consumption growth—Indian startup funding fell by 75% year-on-year in the first quarter in 2023 link
PhonePe is preparing to rival Android by launching a dedicated app store for Android users in India—many have tried but, China aside, there’s been very little credible competition to the Google Play Store link
Ride-hailing alternative BluSmart wants to challenge Uber and Ola by betting on an all-electric taxi fleet link
Abu Dhabi-based 10X AD is in discussions with Byju’s to invest in an incoming round that’ll be $400-600M link
India’s fintech startups are in talks to set up a self-regulatory organisation to create common rules and standards of operation link
India released its much-awaited policy establishing guidelines and rules for the country’s space ecosystem link
Fascinating: Streaming and digital payments have seen Teer, a century-old archery game in India, attract the attention gamblers from Bangladesh and Bhutan link
Remote virtual assistant jobs are on the rise in the Philippines—they bring better salaries but increased uncertainty around job security link
Cosmose AI, a nine-year-old company that uses AI analytics to track in-store foot traffic and engage with shoppers online, has ripped out Stripe for payments and replaced it with Near’s blockchain technology—light on details of how this will work but it claims to cut transaction fees. Near has also invested in the startup at a $500M valuation link
Singapore-based Accredify raised $7M to make sure your documents are real link
Apple Macbook contractor Quanta Computer will set up a $120M plant in Vietnam link
The rising number of cyberattacks in Japan show how Western markets and companies remain at risk link
GlobalFoundries sues IB claiming that trade secrets were unlawfully given to Japan's Rapidus link
Tokyo is credibly challenging Beijing as Asia's data centre hub link
US has urged South Korea not to fill China shortfalls if Beijing bans Micron chips link
Elsewhere in Asia
Crypto exchange Gemini, which laid off its Asia-based management team and large parts of its staff in the region last year, says it has ‘big plans’ for Asia after naming a new regional CEO and opening an office in India link
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