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Southeast Asian Startups Primed To Scale Globally

Southeast Asia’s tech startup scene is booming. The region's internet economy is forecast to triple to $300 billion by 2025 from end-2020, according to a report from Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company.

Meanwhile, Dealroom.co estimates the combined value of all startups in Southeast Asia reached US$108 billion in 2020.

Southeast Asian startups are also attaining remarkable success with their IPO track records.

Both Grab and GoTo are at the top of the league with valuations that are at the $35 to $40 billion mark. Grab obtained its IPO in December 2021, with its shares closing at $8.75 on its first day of trading. Tokopedia and GoJek, two of Indonesia’s largest startups, merged earlier this year, with a collaboration driving new solutions to customer pain points and plans to pursue an IPO by the end of this year.

So what’s on the horizon for fast-moving Southeast Asia? Can Southeast Asian startups build on their rapid growth in the region and go global? This article looks at how the Southeast Asian startup landscape primes these enterprises for larger and sustained success.

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Collaboration and investment openings, a priority for platforms

Platforms in the region that create opportunities for collaborations and investments have helped serve as catalysts for many tech hubs to flourish, connecting investors to founders and other VC firms in the background. GGV, which counts among its diverse investments in geographies such as Latin American, India, Southeast Asia and Israel, hires the experienced employees they need to grow into global companies, and has recently created a whole new crop of founders.

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Broad range of industries and user solutions

From payment platforms to e-commerce to edtech, Southeast Asian startups encompass an extensive range of sectors. This diversity serves as the perfect bridge for VCs to tap on the capital available in the region’s markets. Combined with increasing Internet and smartphone penetration, these ventures are poised to provide employment and growth opportunities to some 400 million Internet users, most of whom are young and tech-savvy. Southeast Asian startups, with their recognition and range of industry advancement, have a smoother transition connecting to innovation hubs and understanding the local environment they intend to enter.

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Building globally competitive skill sets and an engine for talent

Broadly competitive skills from writing codes, leading teams, designing hardware and forming capital and professional networks, are fundamental to startups taking up the rungs of global growth into new markets. SyPhong Bui, founder of Tellio, Vietnam’s largest B2B e-commerce platform and a GGV portfolio company, says the tech ecosystem in Vietnam has reached new levels of identifying and recognising talent equipped for more international projects.

Syphong says the country has gotten a boost from the return of Vietnamese from abroad who bring with them their experience and skills amid the country’s new era of development.

International Enterprise, through its Global Innovation Alliance, gives made-in-Southeast-Asia startups a boost by placing top-tier talent for cross-border collaboration in Beijing, London, Berlin, Jakarta, Silicon Valley and Ho Chi Minh City. 

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Developing a solid foundation for global innovation

From cell-based cultivated meat to insurtech, having a foundation to building successful global innovation is integral to success. A background in running brick-and-mortar food businesses, is what founders of Next Gen Foods, Timo Recker and Andre Menezes, credit as the secret sauce to a rapidly flourishing enterprise that’s scaled internationally in a short time. Previous to Next Gen Foods, Recker helmed German-based LikeMeat, and Menezes ran the operations as Country Foods Singapore, responsible for introducing Impossible Foods onto supermarket shelves. Through real-life entrepreneurial experience that addresses a global challenge, Southeast Asian startups can tailor their value proposition in order to capture a larger international-scale business opportunity, an expanded customer base and new markets.

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Hiring talent with global experience, for success

Hiring decisions can make or break international business expansions. It is wise and feasible to ensure hiring of top talents, with relevant global expertise, who can easily have a good grasp of your business and create a presence in your expansion’s focus areas. Thunes, in a bid to scale and drive in-market momentum, doubled its headcount of 70 people to 160 over the past half year, including engineers in the United Kingdom, Singapore and China, and business development teams in Latin America and Africa. The spurt of new hires follows an acquisition of Limonetik, a European payment methods platform, which complements existing Thunes’ cross-border payments solutions in 115 countries.

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Regionalisation and adapting to global growth

What makes these Southeast Asian startups outstanding is their ability to adapt, expand and appeal to different countries and cultures, while innovating constantly and building new products and services – local ideas born in one country translate perfectly in other countries, becoming globally advanced and recognised.

Singapore, with its presence of multinational headquarters and innovation and R&D centres, is prime for successful international advancement with a trickle-down effect on its neighbouring countries. The rest of the world looks to Southeast Asian ecosystems for incomparable access to tech talent, entrepreneurs, and market opportunities.

Companies like Thunes and Next Gen Foods are bringing growth and innovation to millions of consumers across Southeast Asia, serving them with reliable and efficient solutions and bringing expertise to fully reap the growth opportunities available. Those with a nose for sussing out opportunities in emerging markets and who wish to incorporate high-growth startups and innovation portfolios into their next phase of expansion, should heed these shifts in the landscape.

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