In order to become a unicorn, companies must have an innovative idea, a clear vision for growth and a solid business plan
by JUNE MOH
THERE are more than 1,200 unicorns around the world. That’s the number captured at the beginning of this year by CB Insights, a firm that tracks venture capitals and start-ups.
Facebook Inc and Google LLC are popular former unicorns, described as a private company with a valuation over US$1 billion (RM4.38 billion). South-East Asia (SE Asia) has its share with the likes of Carsome Sdn Bhd, Sea Ltd, Grab Holdings Inc, Lazada Group and Vietnam’s VNG Corp.
Variants include decacorn, valued at over US$10 billion, and hectocorn, valued at over US$100 billion.
Reaching unicorn status is a rare feat. In order to become a unicorn, companies must have an innovative idea, a clear vision for growth and a solid business plan. On top of that, they also need to craft a viable way to get their message to venture capitalists and private investors. That last part is just as important. As they say: No money, no talk.
Unicorns have several exit options. They include remaining private. Founders who want to retain control tend to keep their unicorns private. But this limits the potential for growth. And they often must find ways to provide funders with a return on their investments.
The next option: Go public. Companies get access to the capital they need to grow with an IPO. Some unicorn executives may be slow to take their companies public because it means diluting ownership. Or they can appeal to a buyer. Company owners and executives can achieve their goals faster this way than remaining private.
Here are some unicorns from SE Asia.
Carsome is the only unicorn that emerged from Malaysia so far and is valued at over US$1 billion. It has operations across Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.
The company provides end-to-end solutions to consumers and used-car dealers, from car inspection to ownership transfer to financing. The company said that every car that transacts on the platform goes through a comprehensive 175-point inspection. The icing on the cake is that every car purchase is backed up with an extended warranty and a money-back guarantee.
Founded in 2015 and headquartered in Malaysia, the company raised US$290 million and became a unicorn on July 13, 2021.
Sea (Formerly Known as Garena)
Backers: Tencent Holdings Ltd, Cathay Financial Holding Co Ltd, GDP Venture.
The first-ever Asean start-up to IPO in the US. The e-commerce and gaming technology giant Sea successfully raised US$884 million with its listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 2017. The Internet company officially entered the unicorn club in 2016 through its US$550 million fundraisings that involved Cathay Financial Holding, placing its valuation at US$3.75 billion. At the time of its IPO, Sea was valued at US$4.9 billion.
Backers: Horizons Ventures, Accel, IDG Capital.
Gamers will know Razer Inc. Founded in Singapore and relocated to San Francisco, Razer is sure to feature highly among gamers in SE Asia. It is the first company to create computer gear for gamers and has conquered 30% of the video game mouse and keyboard business on a global scale since 2015. The company went IPO in Hong Kong in 2017 with a valuation of US$4.4 billion.
Among its hardware includes high-performance gaming peripherals and Blade gaming laptops.
Razer’s software platform, with over 175 million users, includes Razer Synapse (an Internet of Things platform), Razer Chroma RGB (a proprietary RGB lighting technology system supporting thousands of devices and hundreds of games/apps) and Razer Cortex (a game optimiser and launcher), according to its website.
Razer also offers payment services for gamers, youth, millennials and Generation Z. Razer Gold is one of the world’s largest game payment services, and Razer Fintech provides fintech (financial technology) services in emerging markets.
Today, Razer is dual headquartered at Irvine, California, and Singapore. It has regional headquarters in Hamburg, Germany, and Shanghai, China. It also has 19 offices worldwide.
Backers: Microsoft Corp, Hyundai Motor Co, Beacon Venture Capital.
Founded in 2012, Grab is an all-in-one transportation service providing a platform that is present in nearly every Asean country, covering over 500 cities and towns across eight countries.
Having recently raised US$300 million from Invesco Ltd as part of its ongoing Series H funding led by Toyota Motor Corp, Grab’s recent investments values the company at about US$14 billion, according to a media report.
The start-up’s founder, Malaysian Anthony Tan — also PT Gojek Indonesia’s founder’s Harvard MBA classmate — is going head-to-head with Gojek by spending about US$700 million to expand its market share in Indonesia.
Backers: Broad Peak Investment Advisers Pte Ltd, Investec, Warburg Pincus LLC, Boyu Capital Advisory Co Ltd.
A newly minted unicorn, Singapore start-up Trax is in the mid of finalising a deal to raise US$100 million at a pre-money valuation of about US$1.1 billion. The start-up serves the retail industry with its image recognition technology being used by global consumer packaged goods companies including Coca-Cola Co and Nestlé SA to track their products on retail shelves.
Founded in 2007, PatSnap provides a platform that is used by more than 10,000 customers in over 50 countries around the world to access market, technology and competitive intelligence, as well as patent insights needed to take products from ideation to commercialisation. The start-up counts customers like Spotify, Tesla Inc, PayPal Pte Ltd and many more big names as its customers.
Backers: Google, Tencent, Temasek.
Starting out as a motorcycle ride-hailing app in 2015, Gojek is one of the most reported start-ups in SE Asia with its aggressive acquisition activity to build its super app and becoming a full-on-demand service platform.
The platform currently offers services including logistics, ticket booking, cleaning service, digital payments and even barber services. Gojek currently operates across 50 cities in Indonesia while also in the process of expanding to other nations in SE Asia.
In 2021, Gojek, the largest ride-hailing company merged with e-commerce company PT Tokopedia. This resulted in the holding company PT GoTo Gojek Tokopedia Tbk, trading as GoTo. In 2022, GoTo emerged as Indonesia’s largest IPO.
Both businesses have grown to be prominent participants in Indonesia’s technology sector and have received sizeable investments from foreign venture capital firms. With a combined market value of over US$10 billion, both businesses are regarded as unicorns and the most valuable start-ups in SE Asia.
GoTo became the issuer which received the greatest IPO proceeds on the stock exchange, reaching 13.73 trillion rupiah (RM3.88 billion).
The IPO was heavily over-subscribed, with retail investors placing orders for more than 20 times the shares available to them. This strong demand for shares in the company is a testament to the growth and success of GoTo, as well as the potential for the company to continue to grow in the future.
Backers: Alibaba Group, East Ventures, SoftBank Ventures Asia.
Launched in Jakarta in 2009, Tokopedia is Indonesia’s largest online marketplace. The platform became the country’s most valuable start-up after raising US$1 billion from existing investors including SoftBank and receiving a valuation of US$7 billion.
Backers: Tesco plc, Temasek Holdings Ltd, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Rocket Internet SE.
Since its inception in 2012, Lazada has been a major player of online shopping and selling in SE Asia. The e-commerce company provides services in six countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
In June 2018, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd announced that it will invest almost another US$1 billion in the online retailer, bringing its valuation up to US$3.15 billion.
Backers: East Ventures Pte Ltd, Sequoia Capital, JD.com Inc.
Founded by Ferry Unardi, Traveloka is SE Asia’s biggest go-to platform for various travelling needs.
It offers an online platform that allows users to make bookings of services provided by hotels, airlines, train and other transportation operators, events promoters, tourist attraction operators, travel agencies, telecommunication operators and/or other service providers.
Traveloka was officially a unicorn in 2017 when DealStreet-Asia reported a deal that valued the start-up at around US$2 billion, according to an executive familiar with the company.
Backers: Ant Financial, 500 Startups, Emtek Group, Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund.
The early days of Bukalapak can be traced to 2020 when Achmad Zacky graduated from the Bandung Institute of Technology. He joined forces with his friend Nugroho Herucahyono to form the company, which literally means “opening a market stall”.
Bukalapak is the fourth start-up in Indonesia to have received its unicorn status after Gojek, Traveloka and Tokopedia. The e-commerce business is an online marketplace that is currently home to more than 50 million users, processing two million transactions a day.
In the beginning, Bukalapak started life as an online marketplace to facilitate online commerce for small and medium enterprises. But it did not stay in that space for long when it extended its tentacles into digitised small family-owned businesses, known in Indonesia as “warung”. In 2022, industry estimates that Bukalapak has its hands in one out of every four Indonesian “warungs” through its Mitra programme.
Backers: CyberAgent Capital Inc, Tencent, IDG Ventures Vietnam.
Founded in 2004 by an Australian-educated investment banker Le Hong Minh, VNG is Vietnam’s first-ever unicorn start-up which specialises in online gaming and e-commerce for the local market. In 2016, the start-up reached a US$1 billion valuation after an undisclosed funding round led by CyberAgent and IDG Ventures.
VNG offers a wide range of products and services, categorised in four business groups: Online games, payment, Zalo and cloud.
VNG has emerged as one of the country’s most watched companies, with a possible IPO in 2023, according to recent reports.
The tech company has registered to trade some of its shares on a local exchange for unlisted firms, a move that is often used for companies to test the stock market before their official IPO. It is also reportedly eyeing a US listing, reported Việt Nam News.
Founded by design and real estate developer Robbie Antonio, Revolution Precrafted is a collection of limited edition, pre-crafted properties, varying from homes to pavilions.
The company sells prefabricated homes created and designed by dozens of internationally known architects and designers including Zaha Hadid, David Salle, Tom Dixon, Marcel Wanders and Lenny Kravitz.
The start-up is reported to have passed the US$1 billion valuations in November 2017 and became the first unicorn from the Philippines.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition