First China, now Starbucks gets an ambitious VC-funded rival in Indonesia

Asia’s venture capital-backed startups are gunning for Starbucks . In China, the U.S. coffee giant is being pushed by Luckin Coffee, a $2.2 billion challenger surfing China’s on-demand wave, and on the real estate side, where WeWork China has just unveiled an on-demand product that could tempt people who go to Starbucks to kill time or […]

Asia’s venture capital-backed startups are gunning for Starbucks .

In China, the U.S. coffee giant is being pushed by Luckin Coffee, a $2.2 billion challenger surfing China’s on-demand wave, and on the real estate side, where WeWork China has just unveiled an on-demand product that could tempt people who go to Starbucks to kill time or work.

That trend is picking up in Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country and Southeast Asia’s largest economy, where an on-demand challenger named Fore Coffee has fuelled up for a fight after it raised $8.5 million.

Fore was started in August 2018 when associates at East Ventures, a prolific early-stage investor in Indonesia, decided to test how robust the country’s new digital infrastructure can be. That means it taps into unicorn companies like Grab, Go-Jek and Tokopedia and their army of scooter-based delivery people to get a hot brew out to customers. Incidentally, the name ‘Fore’ comes from ‘forest’ — “we aim to grow fast, strong, tall and bring life to our surrounding” — rather than in front of… or a shout heard on the golf course.

The company has adopted a similar hybrid approach to Luckin, and Starbucks thanks to its alliance with Alibaba. Fore operates 15 outlets in Jakarta, which range from ‘grab and go’ kiosks for workers in a hurry, to shops with space to sit and delivery-only locations, Fore co-founder Elisa Suteja told TechCrunch. On the digital side, it offers its own app (delivery is handled via Tokopedia’s Go-Send service) and is available via Go-Jek and Grab’s apps.

So far, Fore has jumped to 100,000 deliveries per month and its app is top of the F&B category for iOS and Android in Indonesia — ahead of Starbucks, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut .

It’s early times for the venture — which is not a touch on Starbuck’s $85 billion business; it does break out figures for Indonesia — but it is a sign of where consumption is moving to Indonesia, which has become a coveted beachhead for global companies, and especially Chinese, moving into Southeast Asia. Chinese trio Tencent, Alibaba and JD.com and Singapore’s Grab are among the outsiders who have each spent hundreds of millions to build or invest in services that tap growing internet access among Indonesia’s population of over 260 million.

There’s a lot at stake. A recent Google-Temasek report forecast that Indonesia alone will account for over 40 percent of Southeast Asia’s digital economy by 2025, which is predicted to triple to reach $240 billion.

As one founder recently told TechCrunch anonymously: “There is no such thing as winning Southeast Asia but losing Indonesia. The number one priority for any Southeast Asian business must be to win Indonesia.”

Forecasts from a recent Google-Temasek report suggest that Indonesia is the key market in Southeast Asia

This new money comes from East Ventures — which incubated the project — SMDV, Pavilion Capital, Agaeti Venture Capital and Insignia Ventures Partners with participation from undisclosed angel backers. The plan is to continue to invest in growing the business.

“Fore is our model for ‘super-SME’ — SME done right in leveraging technology and digital ecosystem,” Willson Cuaca, a managing partner at East Ventures, said in a statement.

There’s clearly a long way to go before Fore reaches the size of Luckin, which has said it lost 850 million yuan, or $124 million, inside the first nine months in 2018.

The Chinese coffee challenger recently declared that money is no object for its strategy to dethrone Starbucks. The U.S. firm is currently the largest player in China’s coffee market, with 3,300 stores as of last May and a goal of topping 6,000 outlets by 2022, but Luckin said it will more than double its locations to more than 4,500 by the end of this year.

By comparison, Indonesia’s coffee battle is only just getting started.

Go-Jek confirms first close of $2B Series F round at $9.5B valuation

Go-Jek, the Indonesia-based ride-hailing company that is challenging Grab in Southeast Asia, has announced the first close of its Series F round, as TechCrunch reported last week. The company isn’t revealing numbers but sources previously told us it has closed around $920 million. Go-Jek is planning to raise $2 billion for the round, as reported last […]

Go-Jek, the Indonesia-based ride-hailing company that is challenging Grab in Southeast Asia, has announced the first close of its Series F round, as TechCrunch reported last week. The company isn’t revealing numbers but sources previously told us it has closed around $920 million. Go-Jek is planning to raise $2 billion for the round, as reported last year.

Go-Jek said that the first close is led by existing backers Google, JD.com, and Tencent, with participation from Mitsubishi Corporation and Provident Capital. It didn’t provide a valuation but sources told us that week that it is around $9.5 billion.

Starting out with motorbike taxis in 2015, Go-Jek has since expanded to taxis, private car and more. The company said it plans to spend the money deepening its business in Indonesia, its home market, and growing its presence in new market expansions Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand. It is also working to enter the Philippines, where it had a request for an operating license rejected although it did complete a local acquisition after buying fintech startup Coins.ph.

The Go-Jek business in Indonesia includes transportation, food delivery, services on demand, payments and financial services. That’s very much the blueprint for its expansion markets, all of which are in different stages. Go-Viet, its Vietnamese service, offers food delivery and motorbike taxis, Get in Thailand operates motorbike taxis and in Singapore Go-Jek provides four-wheeled car options.

Combined those efforts cover 204 cities, two million drivers and 400,000 merchants, the company said, but the majority of that is in Indonesia.

Grab, meanwhile, became the top dog after buying Uber’s local business, and it operates in eight countries. It recently crossed three billion rides to date and claims 130 million downloads. Grab said revenue for 2018 was $1 billion, it expects that to double this year. It has raised $6.8 billion from investors, according to Crunchbase, and its current Series H round could reach $5 billion.

Go-Jek claims it has 130 million downloads — despite just being in three markets — while it said it reached an annualized transaction volume of two billion in 2018 and $6.7 billion in annualized GMV. Those figures require some explaining as Go-Jek is being a little creative with its efforts to compete with Grab on paper.

Transactions don’t mean revenue — a transaction could be a $1 motorbike ride or a payment via QR code — and GMV is not revenue either, while both are ‘annualized’ which means they are scaled up after measuring a short period. In other words, don’t take these figures too literally, they aren’t comparable to Grab.

Grab raises $200M from Thailand-based retail conglomerate Central Group

Grab’s fundraising push continues unabated after the Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm announced that it has raised $200 million from Central Group, a retail conglomerate based in Thailand. Central’s business covers restaurants, hotels and more than 30 malls in Thailand, while it has operations in markets that include Vietnam and Indonesia. Its public-listed holding companies alone are worth more […]

Grab’s fundraising push continues unabated after the Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm announced that it has raised $200 million from Central Group, a retail conglomerate based in Thailand.

Central’s business covers restaurants, hotels and more than 30 malls in Thailand, while it has operations in markets that include Vietnam and Indonesia. Its public-listed holding companies alone are worth more than $15 billion.

Singapore-based Grab confirmed that this deal is not part of its ongoing Series H fundraising, but is instead an investment into its Thailand-based business. Rumors of the deal were first reported by Reuters last year.

Following this investment, Central said it will work with Grab in a number of areas in Thailand, including bringing its restaurants into the Grab Food service, adding Grab transportation to its physical outlets and bringing Grab’s logistics service into its businesses.

The investment represents the first time an investor has bought into a local Grab country unit, and the goal is to strengthen Grab’s position in Thailand — a market with 70 million consumers and Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Grab is under threat from Go-Jek, which expanded to Thailand at the end of 2018. While Go-Jek’s ‘Get’ service is currently limited to motorbikes on-demand in Thailand, its ambition is to recreate its Indonesia-based business that covers four-wheeled cars, mobile payments, on-demand services and more.

Central is a huge presence in the country, and in recent years it has raised its efforts to translate that offline retail presence into the digital space. Past deals have included the acquisition of Rocket Internet’s Zalora fashion business in 2016, and — more recently — a $500 million joint venture with Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com to create online retail and fintech businesses in Thailand.

Grab, meanwhile, is pushing on with its $3 billion Series H funding round. That deal is anchored by a $1 billion investment from Toyota but it also includes contributions from the likes of Microsoft, Booking Holdings and Yamaha Motors. More capital is waiting in the wings, however, with existing investor SoftBank in the process of transferring its investment to its Vision Fund with a view to investing a further $1.5 billion. The total fundraising effort is targeted at a lofty goal of $5 billion, sources told TechCrunch.

To date, Grab has raised $6.8 billion from investors, according to data from Crunchbase. That makes it Southeast Asia’s most capitalized tech startup and it was most recently valued at $11 billion. The company recently announced it has completed three billion rides; it claims 130 million downloads across its eight markets.

Go-Jek, meanwhile, closed the first portion of a $2 billion funding round last week, sources told TechCrunch. The new financing is aimed at growing out its presence in new market expansions which, beyond Thailand, include Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Southeast Asia’s Grab is adding Netflix-like video streaming to its ride-hailing app

Grab is Southeast Asia’s top ride-hailing firm thanks to its acquisition of Uber’s local business last year. Its biggest competitor gone, the company is on a push to go beyond transport and become an everyday ‘super app’ and that strategy just embraced video streaming today. That’s because Grab is integrating video-on-demand service HOOQ — a […]

Grab is Southeast Asia’s top ride-hailing firm thanks to its acquisition of Uber’s local business last year. Its biggest competitor gone, the company is on a push to go beyond transport and become an everyday ‘super app’ and that strategy just embraced video streaming today.

That’s because Grab is integrating video-on-demand service HOOQ — a local equivalent to Netflix — into its core ride-hailing app. The company, which is valued at $11 billion and raising a $5 billion round, already offers a range of services including food deliveries, payments, grocery delivery, travel deals and more. But, beyond utility, the focus is now shifting to entertainment, a category where Grab’s app currently sports only basic games.

Grab’s focus on these additional non-transportation services is designed to retain the attention of users and keep them engaged with its app even when they don’t need a ride. In that spirit, Grab announced a partnership platform last summer that’s aimed at helping companies in adjacent industries where it sees a fit to be integrated into its app. The benefit is potential access to Grab’s 130 million registered users which, aside from Western services like Facebook and Google, represents one of the largest digital platforms in Southeast Asia, where Grab is present in eight countries.

The rollout of HOOQ began earlier this month with Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous country, the key focus initially.

The HOOQ ‘mini app’ doesn’t require a log-in, but existing HOOQ users can sign-in.

The companies didn’t disclose financial details, but HOOQ CEO Peter Bithos suggested Grab would receive a cut of revenue generated by subscription sign-ups generated by its app.

Leaning on Grab’s presence is certainly the appeal for HOOQ, which was started in 2015 by Singapore telco Singtel, Sony Pictures and Warner Brothers. Initially, a play to out-localize Netflix in Southeast Asia, HOOQ has recast its position somewhat in recent times — that’s included a free, advertising-supported tier launched last year and content deals with other on-demand services, including Hotstar in India.

Bithos, the HOOQ CEO, told TechCrunch that he believes Grab can support its growth and pivot from a cheaper but all-subscriber Netflix challenger to a freemium service that requires scale.

“Our strategy is around finding digital partners where we are complementary,” he explained in an interview. “We are building our tech and partnerships so that customers can easily bump into us without having to download an app or sign up to a different service.”

The HOOQ presence in Grab will include its full content library, Bithos confirmed.

“The deal is part of a much broader strategy for us,” he added. “We’re inverting the customer experience and putting HOOQ into other people’s products.”

Video in ride-hailing apps may sound unique but Go-Jek, Grab’s arch-rival headquartered in Indonesia, last year waded into video content, both through partnerships and its own productions. Even Uber has flirted with “in-ride content” to engage users, but it hasn’t delved into video yet.

With Go-Jek making the leap, it figures that Grab has followed with its own solution. Bithos said he is confident that the HOOQ-Grab tie-in is superior.

“Go-Jek hasn’t been able to get to anything like the scale or reach that we’ve got,” he said.

He suggested that the partnership allows Grab to focus on what it does best — rides — rather than other areas; that’s a concern that some sections of Grab’s user base have raised with its foray into other services.

“They don’t have to build video tech or focus on it,” he explained.

Go-Jek makes first close of $2 billion round at $9.5 billion valuation

Southeast Asia-based ride-sharing firm Go-Jek is making progress with its plan to raise up to $2 billion in fresh capital to fund its battle with close rival Grab . Indonesia-headquartered Go-Jek has closed an initial chunk of that round after a collection of existing investors, including Google, Tencent and JD.com, agreed to invest around $920 million […]

Southeast Asia-based ride-sharing firm Go-Jek is making progress with its plan to raise up to $2 billion in fresh capital to fund its battle with close rival Grab .

Indonesia-headquartered Go-Jek has closed an initial chunk of that round after a collection of existing investors, including Google, Tencent and JD.com, agreed to invest around $920 million towards it, three sources with knowledge of the investment told TechCrunch.

The deal, which we understand could be announced as soon as next week, will value Go-Jek’s business at around $9.5 billion, one source told TechCrunch. With existing investors on board, the company is now actively soliciting checks from other backers to take it to its target. The capital is likely to go towards deepening its presence in new markets and furthering its fintech push.

A Go-Jek representative declined to respond when contacted by TechCrunch for comment on its fundraising efforts.

This incoming round excluded, Go-Jek has raised more than $2 billion from investors to date, including a $1.4 billion round that closed last year and valued its business at $5 billion.

Founded in 2015, Go-Jek began in motorbike taxis before expanding to four-wheels, service on demand and fintech. It decided to go after a $2 billion raise last year — having seen Grab gobble up Uber’s local business in Southeast Asia — but it has taken some time to make progress. That’s partially down to an effort to ‘clean the cap table’ by buying out some early investors and longer-serving or former staff with equity, two sources told TechCrunch.

Likewise, there has also been discussion around including the acquisition of JD.com’s local JD.id business, valued at over $1 billion, in the deal. As far as we know, a resolution hasn’t been found despite lengthy talks.

An acquisition of JD.id would not only see JD.com’s influence deepen with Go-Jek, but it would give the ride-railing startup a strong position in Indonesia’s e-commerce space, which includes three other unicorns: Alibaba-owned Lazada, Tokopedia — which is backed by Alibaba and SoftBank’s Vision Fund — and Bukalapak, which also recently raised money for growth.

There is some doubt, however. Speaking to Reuters this week, co-founder Kevin Aluwi denied Go-Jek has plans to enter e-commerce.

Fundraising for Southeast Asia’s ride-sharing companies went up a few notches last year after Uber decided to exit the region through a deal with Grab, which saw the U.S. firm pick up a potentially-lucrative 27.5 percent stake in Singapore-based Grab.

Grab raised a $2 billion Series H round, anchored by a $1 billion injection from Toyota, but the company plans to increase that fundraising effort to as much as $5 billion, as we reported at the tail end of last year.

Why all the huge checks? At stake is a dominant position within a fast-growing online market.

Ride-hailing in Southeast Asia is poised to grow from an $8 billion annual business in 2018 to $31 billion by 2025, according to a report from Google and Temasek. Indonesia alone is tipped to account for nearly half of that figure.

The report from Google and Temasek forecasts major growth for ride-hailing in Southeast Asia

With a cumulative population of more than 620 million people and increasing internet access, Southeast Asia has emerged from the shadows of China and India to become an attractive market for startups and tech companies. Chinese giants like Tencent and Alibaba have stepped up investment areas in recent years, with e-commerce, fintech and other ‘ground zero’ infrastructure services among their targets as the region begins to turn digital in the same way China has.

That’s where Grab and Go-Jek get interesting because, beyond simply catering to transportation, both companies have expanded to offer services on-demand, like e-groceries, as well as payments and financial services such as loans, remittance and insurance. The goal is to become the region’s one-stop ‘super app’ like WeChat, Alipay and Meituan in China.

So far, Go-Jek has fanned out beyond ride-hailing to offer fintech and other services in Indonesia, but it is still getting to grips with the regional play. It expanded to Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore last year while the Philippines is a work in progress following a setback after it was denied an operating permit earlier this month.

Already, though, it is making plans for the Philippines after it acquired Coins.ph, a fintech startup that is likely to be the base for a local push into payments and financial services. The deal was officially undisclosed, but sources told TechCrunch that Go-Jek has paid around $72 million — that potentially makes it the company’s largest acquisition to date. That shows how serious Go-Jek is both about its expansion efforts and its fintech business.

Go-Jek CEO Nadiem Makarim worked at McKinsey for three years before starting the companyn[Photographer: Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg]

In the here and now, Go-Jek claims more than 125 million downloads in Indonesia, over a million drivers and some 300,000 food merchants. It claims to process 100 million transactions per month, while Aluwi told Reuters that total transactions on its platforms crossed $12.5 billion last year. That doesn’t mean net income, however, since the company takes only a slice of customer’s ride-sharing fares and payment volumes.

Grab, meanwhile, operates in eight markets in Southeast Asia. It claims over 130 million downloads and more than 2.5 billion completed rides to date. Grab is assumed to not yet be profitable but it has said that it made $1 billion in revenue in 2018. It projects that the figure will double this year.

The company has raised around $6.8 billion from investors, according to data from Crunchbase, and Grab was last valued at $11 billion.

VCs give us their predictions for startups and tech in Southeast Asia in 2019

The new year is well underway and, before January is out, we polled VCs in Southeast Asia to get their thoughts on what to expect in 2019. The number of VCs in the region has increased massively in recent years, in no small part due to forecasts of growth in the tech space as internet […]

The new year is well underway and, before January is out, we polled VCs in Southeast Asia to get their thoughts on what to expect in 2019.

The number of VCs in the region has increased massively in recent years, in no small part due to forecasts of growth in the tech space as internet access continues to shoot up among Southeast Asia’s cumulative population of more than 600 million consumers.

There are other factors, including economic growth and emerging middle classes, but with more than 3.8 million people becoming first-time internet users each month — thanks to smartphones — Southeast Asia’s ‘digital economy’ is tipped to more than triple to reach $240 billion by 2025. That leaves plenty of opportunity for tech and online businesses and, by extension, venture capitalists.

With a VC corpus that now numbers dozens of investment firms, TechCrunch asked the people who write the checks what is on the horizon for 2019.

The only rule was no more than three predictions — below, in no particular order, is what they told us.


Alberty Shyy, Burda

Funds will continue to invest aggressively in Southeast Asia in the first half of this year but capital will tighten up by Q4 as funds and companies prepare for a possible recession. I think we will see a lot of companies opportunistically go out to fundraise in Q1/Q2 to take advantage of a bull market.

We will see two to three newly-minted unicorns from the region this year, after a relative lull last year.

This will (finally) be the year that we start to see some consolidation in the e-commerce scene


Dmitry Levit, Centro

A significant portion of capital returned by upcoming U.S. IPOs to institutional investors will be directed to growth markets outside of China, with India and Southeast Asia being the likeliest beneficiaries. Alternative assets such as venture and subsets of private equity in emerging markets will enter their golden age.

The withdrawal of Chinese strategic players held back by weakened domestic economy, prudent M&A by local strategics and ongoing caution among Japanese, Korean and global corporates, combined with ongoing valuations exuberance by late-stage investors allocating funds to Southeast Asia, will continue holding back large liquidity events. Save perhaps for a roll-up of a local champion or two into a global IPO. Fundraising will get more troublesome for some of Southeast Asia’s larger unprofitable market leaders. Lack of marquee liquidity events and curtailed access to late-stage capital for some will lead to a few visible failures (our money is on the subsidy-heavy wallets!) and a temporary burst of short-term skepticism around Southeast Asia as an investment destination towards the end of 2019.

The trend towards the emergence of value-chain specific funds and fund managers will continue, as digitalization is reaching ever further into numerous industry sectors and as Southeast Asia hosts an increasing portion of global supply chains. We foresee at least dozen new venture firms and vehicles emerging in 2019 with clear sector-led investment thesis around the place of Southeast Asian economies in the global value chains of fashion industry, agriculture and food; labour, healthcare services; manufacturing, construction tech and so on, with investment teams that have the necessary expertise to unravel this increasing complexity.


Willson Cuaca, East Ventures

Jakarta becomes Southeast Asia’s startup capital surpassing Singapore in terms of the number of deals and investment amount.

As Indonesia’s startup scene heats up, regional seed and series A funds move away from Indonesia and target Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines (in market priority order).

Southeast gets two new unicorns.


Rachel Lau, RHL Ventures

North Asian companies will provide well-needed liquidity as they withdraw capital from developed American and European markets due to the Federal Reserve’s actions. The FED raised interest rates and reduced the size of its balance sheet (by not replacing the bonds that were maturing at a rate of $50 billion a month). This has been seen in the recent fundraising exercise by Southeast Asian unicorns. Grab has recently seen an impressive list of North Asian investors such as Mirae, Toyota and Yamaha . A recent stat stated that 85 percent of the funding of Southeast Asia startups have gone to billion dollar unicorn such as Grab and Gojek, bypassing the early stage startups that are more in need for funding, this trend is expected to continue. Therefore, we will see early-stage companies and venture capitalists becoming more focused on generating cash flow from operating operations instead as fundraising activities become more difficult.

A growth in urbanization in Southeast will create new job opportunities in small/medium businesses, as evident in China. Currently, only 12 percent of Asia’s urban population live in megacities, while four percent live in towns of fewer than 300,000 inhabitants. New companies will see the blurred lines between brick and mortar businesses vs pure online businesses. In the past year or so, we have seen more and more offline businesses going online and more online businesses going offline.

Fertility rates in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam exceed 2.1 births per woman — the level that sustains a population — but rates below 1.5 in Singapore and Thailand mean their populations will decline without immigration. As we see more startup activities coming to Southeast Asian countries, we expect to see more qualified foreign talent moving to the region vs staying in low growth American and European countries.


Kay-Mok Ku, Gobi Ventures

First Chinese “Seaward” Unicorn in Southeast Asia. In recent years, a growing number of Chinese startups are targeting overseas markets from the get go (known as Chuhai 出海 or “Seaward”). These Chinese entrepreneurs typically bring with them best practices in consumer marketing and product development honed by a hyper-competitive home market, supported by strong, dedicated technical team based out of China and increasingly capitalized by Chinese VCs which have raised billion-dollar funds.

Consolidation among ASEAN Unicorns. While ASEAN now boasts 10 unicorns, they are duplicative in the sense that more than one exists in a particular category, which is unsustainable for winner-takes-all markets. For example, in the ASEAN ride-hailing space, while one unicorn is busy with regional geographic expansion, the other simply co-exists by staying focused on scope expansion within its home market. This will never happen in a single country market like China but now that the ASEAN ride hailing unicorns are finally locking horns, the stage may be set for a Didi-Kuadi like scenario to unfold.

ASEAN jumps on Chinese 5G bandwagon. The tech world in the future will likely bifurcate into American and Chinese-led platforms. As it is, emerging markets are adopting Chinese business models based on bite-sized payment and have embraced Chinese mobile apps often bundled with cheap Chinese smartphones. Looking ahead, 5G will be a game changer as its impact goes beyond smartphones to generic IoT devices, having strategic implications for industries such as autonomous driving. As a result, the US-China Trade War will likely evolve into a Tech War and ASEAN will be forced to choose side.


Darren Tan, Golden Equator Capital

We are excited by growth in the AI and deep tech sectors. The focus has generally been on consumer-focused tech in Southeast Asia as an emerging market, but we are starting to see proprietary solutions emerge for industries such as medtech and fintech. AI also has great applicability across a wide range of consumer sectors in reducing reliance on manpower and creating cost savings.

Data analytics to uncover organizational efficiencies and customer trends will continue to be even more widely used, but there will also be greater emphasis on securing such data especially confidential information in light of multiple high-profile data breaches in 2018. Tools enabling the collection, storage, safe-keeping and analysis of data will be essential.

We are seeing the emergence of more institutional funds from North Asia. So far it has predominantly been Chinese tech giants like Tencent and Alibaba, now we are starting to see Korean and Japanese institutions placing greater emphasis on investment in the Southeast Asian region.


Vinnie Lauria, Golden Gate Ventures

Even more capital flowing from U.S. and China into Southeast Asia, with VCs from both locations soon to open offices in the region

A fresh wave of Series A investments into Vietnam.

Ten exits over $100 million.

 


Amit Anand, Jungle Ventures

The emergence of a financial services super app, think the Meituan or WeChat but only for financial services: The Southeast Asian millennial is one of the most underserved customer from a financial services perspective whether it is payments, consumer goods loans, personal loans, personal finance management, investments or other financial services. We will see the emergence of digital platforms that will aggregate all these related services and provide a one stop financial services shop for this digitally native consumer.

Digitisation of SMEs will be new fintech: Southeast Asia is home to over 100 million SMEs that are at the cusp of digital transformation. Generational change in ownership, local governments push for digitization and increased globalization have created a perfect storm for these SMEs to adopt cloud and other digital technologies at neck-breaking pace. Startups focussing on this segment will get mainstream attention from the venture community over the next few years as they look for new industries that are getting enabled or disrupted by technology.


Kuo-Yi Lim and Peng Ong, Monk’s Hill Ventures

Lyft and Uber go public and show the path to profitability for other rideshare businesses. This has positive effect for the regional rideshare players but also puts pressure on them to demonstrate the same economics in ridesharing. Regional rideshare players double down on super-app positioning instead, to demonstrate value in other ways as rideshare business alone may not reach profitability — ever.

The trade war between China and the US reaches a truce, but a general sense of uncertainty lingers. This is now the new norm — things are less certain and companies have to plan for more adverse scenarios. In the short term, Southeast Asia benefits. Companies — Chinese, American etc — see Southeast Asia as the neutral ground. Investment pours in, creating jobs across industries. Acquisition of local champions intensifies as foreign players jostle for the lead positions.

“Solve the problem” – tech companies will become more prominent… tech companies that are real-estate brokers, recruiters, healthcare providers, food suppliers, logistics… why: many industries are very inefficient.


Hian Goh, Openspace Ventures

Fight to quality will happen. Fundraising across all stages from seed to Series C and beyond will be challenging if you don’t have the metrics. Investors will want to see a path to profitability, or an ability to turn profitable if the environment becomes worse. This will mean Saas companies with stable cash flows, vertical e-commerce with strong metrics will be attractive investment opportunities.

Investor selection will become critical, as investors take a wait and see approach. Existing or new investors into companies will be judged upon their dry powder in their funds and their ability to fund further rounds

The regulatory risk for fintech lenders will be higher this year, rising compliance cost and uncertainty on licensing, which would lead to consolidation in the market.


Heang Chhor, Qualgro

Southeast Asia: an intensifying battlefield for tech investments

There has never been so much VC money in Southeast Asia chasing interesting startups, at all life cycle stages. The 10 most active local and regional VCs have raised their second or third funds recently, amassing at least two times more money than a few years ago, probably reaching a total amount close to $1 billion. In addition, international VCs have also doubled down on their allocation into the region, while top Chinese VCs have visibly stated their intent not to miss the dynamic momentum. Several growth funds have recently built a local presence in order to target Southeast Asia tech companies at Series C and beyond. Not counting the amount going to the unicorns, there might be now more than $3-4 billion available for seed to growth stages, which may be 3-4 times the amount of three years ago. There are, of course, many more good startups coming up to invest into. But the most promising startups will be in a very favorable position to negotiate higher valuation and better terms. However, they should not forget that, eventually, what creates value is how they make a difference with their tech capabilities or their business model, how they acquire and retain the best talent, with the funds raised, not only how much money they will be able to raise. Most local and regional corporate VCs are likely to lose in this more intense investment game.

Significant VC money investing into so-called ‘AI-based startups’, but are there really much (deep) Artificial Intelligence capabilities around?

A good portion of the SEA startups claim they have ‘something-AI’. Investors are overwhelmed, if not confused, by the ‘AI claim’ that they find in most startup pitches. While there is no doubt that Southeast Asia will grow its own strong AI-competence pool in the future, unfortunately today most ‘AI-based’ business models from the region would still be just ‘good algorithms or machine learning’ that can process some amount of data to come up with good-enough outcomes, that do not always generate substantial business value to users/customers. The significant budget that some of the very-well-funded Southeast Asia unicorns are putting into their ‘AI-based apps’ or ‘AI platform’ is unlikely to make a real difference for the consumers, for lack of deep AI competences in the region. 2019 may be another year of AI-promise, not realized. Hopefully, public and private research labs, universities and startups will continue to be (much more) strongly supported (especially by governments) to significantly build bigger AI talent pool, which means growing and attracting AI talent into the region.

Bigger Series A and Series B rounds to fuel more convincing growth trajectory, towards growth-stage fundraising.

Although situations vary a lot: typical Series A in Southeast Asia used to be around $5 million, and Series B around $10-15 million. Investors tended to accept that normally companies would raise money after 18 months or so, between A and B, and between B and C. There has been an increasing number of larger raises at A and B recently, and very likely this trend will accelerate. The fact that VCs now have much more money to deploy into each investment will contribute to this trend. However, the required milestones for raising Series C have become much more around: minimum scale and very solid growth (and profit) drivers. Therefore, entrepreneurs will have to look for getting as much funding reserve as possible, irrespective of time between raises, to build growth engines that take their companies past the milestones of the next Series, be it B or C. In the future, we will see more Series A of $10 million and more Series B of well-above $20 million. Compelling businesses will not have too much difficulties for doing so, but most Southeast Asia entrepreneurs would be wise to learn to more effectively master fundraising skills for capturing much bigger amounts than in the past. Of course, this assumes that their businesses are compelling enough in the eyes of investors.


Vicknesh Pillay, TNB Aura

Out-sized valuations will be less commonplace in 2019 as Southeast Asian investors learn from experience and become more sophisticated. Therefore, we do see opportunities at Series A/B for undervalued deals due to lack of early-stage funding while we expect to continue to see the trend of the majority of venture capital investments going into later stage companies (Series C and beyond) due to lower risk appetite and ‘herd’ mentality.

2018 has also seen the rapid emergence of many corporate venture capital funds and innovation programs. But, 2019 will see large corporations cutting back on their allocation towards startup investing which would be the easiest option for them in case of adverse news to the jittery public markets in 2019.

With the growth of AI, the need for API connections and increased thought leadership to embrace tech, Southeast Asia is going to see an upsurge in SaaS startups and existing startups moving to a Saas business model. Hence, we expect increased investments into Saas companies focused on IoT and cybersecurity as hardware data and software are moved onto the cloud.


Chua Kee Lock, Vertex Ventures

Southeast Asia VC investment pace has grown steadily and significantly since 2010 where it started from less than $100 million in VC investment in the region. For the first eight months of 2018, the region’s VC investment was over $5.4 billion. For the whole of 2018, it will likely end around $8 billion. For 2019, we expect the VC investment pace to surpass 2018 level and record between $9-10 billion. Southeast Asia will continue to attract more VC investments because:

(1) Governments in Southeast Asia, especially ASEAN, continue their support policy to encourage startups.

(2) young demographics and the fast technology adoption in Southeast Asia give rise to more innovative and disruptive ideas.

(3) global investors looking for a better return and will naturally focus on growing emerging market like Southeast Asia.

The trend towards gig economy will begin to have an impact in the region. In developed economies like the U.S, gig economy is expected to reach over 40 percent by 2020. The young population will look for more freelance opportunities as a way to increase income levels while still maintaining flexibility. This will include white-collar work like computer programming, accounting, customer service, etc. and also blue-collar work like delivery services, ride-sharing, home services, etc. We believe that the gig economy will grow to over 15 percent in Southeast Asia by 2019.

AI-heavy or -driven startups will begin to make inroads into Southeast Asia.


Victor Chua, Vynn Capital

The BIG convergence — there will more integration between industries and sectors. Traveloka went into car rental, Blibli went into travel business and these are only some examples. There is a lot of synergistic value between travel startups and food startups or between property startups and automotive startups. Imagine a future where you travel to a city where you stay in an apartment you rented through a marketplace (like Travelio, my portfolio company), and when you need to book a restaurant you can make the reservation through a platform that is integrated with the property manager, and when you need to move around you go down to the car park to drive a car you rent from an automotive marketplace. There is clear synergy between selective industries and this leads to an overall convergence between companies, between industries.

More channels to raise Series B/C, early-stage companies find fundraising more challenging — We have seen a number of VC funds raising or already raised growth funds, this means that there are now more channels for Series A or B companies to raise growth rounds. As the market matures, there will be more competition for investments amongst growth funds as there is considerably more growth in the number of growth funds than companies that are raising at growth-stage. On the flip side, the feel is that there is a consistent growth in the number of early-stage companies, yet the amount of capital in early-stage funds is not growing as much as more VCs prefer bigger and later stages, due to the maturity of their existing portfolio companies.

Newcomers gaining weight — there will be at least 10 companies that will hit a valuation of at least $100 million. These valuations will not be based on a single market exposure. Companies that raise larger rounds will need to show that they are regional.


Thanks to all the VCs who took part, I certainly felt like the class teacher collecting assignments.

Go-Jek buys fintech startup Coins.ph for $72M ahead of Philippines expansion

Ride-hailing startup Go-Jek’s expansion into the Philippines ran into problems earlier this month over its ownership structure, but that isn’t deterring the Indonesian company from investing into the market. Today, Go-Jek announced that it has acquired local fintech company Coins.ph through “substantial investment” which gives it a majority stake in the business. The deal is officially […]

Ride-hailing startup Go-Jek’s expansion into the Philippines ran into problems earlier this month over its ownership structure, but that isn’t deterring the Indonesian company from investing into the market.

Today, Go-Jek announced that it has acquired local fintech company Coins.ph through “substantial investment” which gives it a majority stake in the business. The deal is officially undisclosed, but TechCrunch understands from two industry sources that Go-Jek paid $72 million.

The startup claims five million registered users in the Philippines, where it offers a mobile wallet that covers payments, phone top-up, bill payment, public transport rides and more. Post-deal, the company will continue to run as usual but while tapping into Go-Jek’s resources and experience.

Ron Hose, CEO and co-founder, told TechCrunch that Coins.ph was in the process of raising a new round of funding when the Go-Jek opportunity presented itself.

“We had to make a decision on how we want to continue growing our business, and we felt like ultimately together with Go-Jjek we could build something that is overall bigger and better for our customers,” he said in a phone interview.

Coins.ph started out offering crypto exchange services, but it pivoted to a broader focus on fintech including mobile payments and financial services in recent times. The company has raised $10 million from two investments and it counts Naspers, Global Brain, Wavemaker, Beenext and Pantera Capital among its backers.

The Coins.ph team

The acquisition is clearly a strategic one for Go-Jek, which is reportedly valued at around the $9 billion mark.

Last year, it expanded beyond Indonesia — where it claims to be the dominant player — for the first time. Its overseas moves saw it enter Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore, with the Philippines named as another proposed destination, although it has taken longer than planned with no launch yet.

Fintech doesn’t sound like an obvious point of entry for a ride-hailing company, but, in Southeast Asia, ride-hailing and fintech area peas in a pod. Part of Go-Jek’s success in Indonesia was the rise of its GoPay service, which enables money transfers, offline payment and even insurance and micro-loans. The company said half of the transactions on its network in Indonesia are made via the payment service.

That approach has been copied by Grab, Go-Jek’s arch-rival, which is rolling out its Grab Pay service across Southeast Asia’s biggest six countries with plans to enter areas like loans, remittance and insurance with partners such as Chinese digital insurer ZhongAn.

In that spirit, Go-Jek said today that Coins.ph will work closely with GoPay to “to encourage a cashless
society and enhance access to financial services in the Philippines.”

Coins.th, the company less developed business in Thailand, is likely to continue to operate as it currently is now, Hose said. That Thai entity has fewer locations than the Philippines business so it is likely less appealing to Go-Jek, despite its expansion to Thailand.

The GoPay collaboration is likely to mean the rollout of services such as insurance, loans and other financial services as well as, of course, deepening Coin.ph’s userbase in the Philippines, a country with a population of over 105 million people.

“With the second largest population and a strong domestic economy, the Philippines is one of the most exciting markets in Southeast Asia and through this partnership with Coins.ph, we are humbled to take part in the country’s digital payments transformation,” Go-Jek CEO Nadiem Makarim said in a statement

“Today’s announcement marks the start of our long-term commitment to the Philippines and a continuation of our mission to use technology to improve everyday lives and create a positive social impact,” he added.

There’s plenty of competition on that front, though.

Grab is readying its GrabPay entry and well-funded Oriente is present, but already Alibaba has invested in payment and fintech company Mynt while Tencent, China’s other internet superpower and a Go-Jek investor, backed rival service Voyager through a $215 million deal. Now Go-Jek, which is readying a $2 billion investment round of its own, is entering the fray. This year promises to be an interesting one for fintech in the Philippines.

Past Go-Jek acquisitions have included offline payment firm Kartuku, payment gateway Midtrans, payment and lending network Mapan — announced all in one go. India, it has gone after engineering talent with acquihire deals for startups C42, CodeIgnition and Piant, which have helped create its Bangalore-based tech hub.

Grab moves to offer digital insurance services in Southeast Asia

Grab is Southeast Asia’s top ride-hailing firm, thanks in no small part to its acquisition of Uber’s local business last year, but the company also houses an ambitious fintech arm, too. That just added another vertical to its business after Grab announced it is teaming up with China’s ZhongAn to introduce insurance. Grab and ZhongAn International, […]

Grab is Southeast Asia’s top ride-hailing firm, thanks in no small part to its acquisition of Uber’s local business last year, but the company also houses an ambitious fintech arm, too. That just added another vertical to its business after Grab announced it is teaming up with China’s ZhongAn to introduce insurance.

Grab and ZhongAn International, the international arm of the Chinese insurance giant, said today they will create a joint venture that will provide digital insurance services across Southeast Asia. Grab said the new business will partner with insurance companies to offer the services via its mobile app. Chubb — a company that already works with Grab to offer micro-loans to its drivers — is the first partner to commit, it’ll offer insurance for Grab drivers starting in Singapore.

ZhongAn is widely-lauded for being China’s first digital-only insurance platform. It’s backed by traditional insurance giant PingAn and Chinese internet giants Tencent and Alibaba.

Grab’s move into digital insurance comes a day after Singapore Life, an online insurer in Singapore, closed the second part of a $33 million funding round aimed at expanding its business in Southeast Asia.

This ZhongAn partnership adds another layer to Grab’s services and fintech business, which already includes payments — both offline and online — and is scheduled to move into cross-border remittance and online healthcare, the latter being a deal with ZhongAn sibling PingAn Good Doctor.

The push is also part of a wider strategy from Grab, which was last valued at over $11 billion and is aiming to turn its app from merely ride-hailing to an everyday needs app, in the style of Chinese ‘super apps’ like Meituan and WeChat.

Indeed, Grab President Ming Ma referenced that very ambitious calling the insurance products “part of our commitment to becoming the leading everyday super app in the region.”

Last summer, Grab opened its platform to third-parties which can lean on its considerable userbase — currently at 130 million downloads — to reach consumers in Southeast Asia, where the fast-growing ‘digital economy’ is tipped to triple to reach $240 billion by 2025. Grab’s platform has welcomed services like e-grocer HappyFresh, deals from travel giant Booking and more.

Grab has also made efforts to develop the local ecosystem with its own accelerator program — called ‘Velocity’ — which, rather than providing equity, helps young companies to leverage its platform. It has also made investments, including a deal with budget hotel brand OYO in India, a fellow SoftBank portfolio company that has designs on expansion in Southeast Asia.

Grab itself operates across eight markets in Southeast Asia, where it claims to have completed more than two billion rides to date. The company is currently raising a massive Series H fund which has already passed $3 billion in capital raised but has a loftier goal of reaching $5 billion, as we reported recently.

Go-Jek, Grab’s chief rival, is expanding its business outside of Indonesia after launching in Vietnam, Thailand and Vietnam. Like Grab, it, too, offers services beyond ride-hailing and the company — which is backed by the likes of Meituan, Google and Tencent — is close to finalizing a new $2 billion funding round for its battle with Grab.

Uber’s India rival Ola nears $6 billion valuation ahead of huge funding round

Ola, India’s local rival to Uber, has seen its valuation jump to nearly $6 billion as it prepares to take in a large round of financing. The ride-hailing firm, which was founded in 2010, has raised around $3.3 billion from investors to date, and it topped that up a little this week. Ola pulled in […]

Ola, India’s local rival to Uber, has seen its valuation jump to nearly $6 billion as it prepares to take in a large round of financing.

The ride-hailing firm, which was founded in 2010, has raised around $3.3 billion from investors to date, and it topped that up a little this week. Ola pulled in 520 crore (around $75 million) from existing investor Steadview Capital, according to filings provided to TechCrunch by business signals platform paper.vc. The paperwork indicates that Ola’s business is now valued at $5.7 billion.

Ola declined to comment.

That figure is on par with Ola’s valuation when it raised in 2015, and a boost on recent numbers, which went as low $3.5 billion but reached $4.3 billion last year. Ola was said to be on track to reach a $7 billion valuation in 2017 but it appears that landmark wasn’t hit.

While $75 million isn’t a huge investment for Ola, it is a clear milestone that kicks off a larger round, a source within the company told TechCrunch. Fundraising is typically not as cut and dry as it may appear in the media with different tranches of rounds typically coming in and closing at different times. Oftentimes, existing investors are among the first to put in and that appears to be the case here.

There are certainly other clues to follow.

Another filing — also provided by paper.vc — shows that India’s Competition Commission approved a request for a Temasek-affiliated investment vehicle’s proposed acquisition of seven percent of Ola. In addition, SoftBank offered a term sheet for a prospective $1 billion investment last month, according to our source.

Put that all together and the result is likely to be a sizeable round for Ola — which has seen its cousin in Southeast Asia, Grab, massively increase its funding ambitions since it acquired Uber’s local business. Grab has currently raised around $3 billion of a planned $5 billion Series H round, as we reported recently.

The climate in India has certainly moved towards huge financing deals. Outside of ride-hailing, other Indian startups pulled in gigantic rounds in recent months. Those include Swiggy — a company that companies with Ola’s FoodPanda delivery business — which raised $1 billion from the likes of Naspers and Tencent in December, and OYO which grabbed $1 billion from SoftBank and others in September.

Last year was the year Ola stretched its reach into international markets with launches in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. In India, its service reaches more than 100 cities and towns while, outside of ride-hailing, it operates payments, food delivery, bicycles and it recently invested in electric scooters.

Go-Jek’s Southeast Asia expansion runs into a roadblock in the Philippines

Southeast Asian ride-hailing challenger Go-Jek has expanded into three new markets as it bids to expand beyond its native Indonesia, but it is having major issues getting into a fourth. The company — which rivals Grab, is valued at over $6 billion and is backed by the likes of Google and Tencent — this week […]

Southeast Asian ride-hailing challenger Go-Jek has expanded into three new markets as it bids to expand beyond its native Indonesia, but it is having major issues getting into a fourth.

The company — which rivals Grab, is valued at over $6 billion and is backed by the likes of Google and Tencent — this week suffered a blow in the Philippines where the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) denied its application to operate in the country, as Rappler reports.

The issue is pretty simple: Go-Jek’s Philippines-based business — an entity called Velox Technology Philippines — is majority owned by an overseas business. (Go-Jek’s own Singapore-based Velox South-East Asia Holdings.) That violates local law which stipulates that at least 60 percent of a company should be owned by Philippines individuals or entities.

That’s a pretty major roadblock which, for now, Go-Jek doesn’t appear to have much chance adhering to without major structural change. It remains unclear how the company failed to foresee this issue, but that’s another matter altogether.

“We continue to engage positively with the LTFRB and other government agencies, as we seek to provide a much needed transport solution for the people of the Philippines,” was all Go-Jek would say when asked for comment from TechCrunch .

Meanwhile, Grab, which bought out Uber’s local business last year, claims it is compliant. A Grab spokesperson said the company’s business in the Philippines is “majority local owned.”

The company declined to provide more details, including the identity of Grab’s Philippines-based owner.

Previously, Philippines law allowed ride-hailing services to operate as ‘telecommunications services’ but that changed last year.

This week’s ruling is a blow for Go-Jek, which has moved into Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore over the last six months following a protracted $1.5 billion funding round secured last year. Go-Jek is edging close to finalizing a new investment of $2 billion which TechCrunch understands will be used to offer additional services and expand its presence in those three expansion markets.

Grab, meanwhile, has raised over $2 billion from its ongoing Series H round which the company intends to extend to $5 billion, as TechCrunch reported last month. That’s primarily motivated by an impending investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund but TechCrunch understands that Grab is keen to raise a significant war chest as part of its battle with Go-Jek.