Unicorns of Southeast Asia 🦄

And key insights from the emerging tech region

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An Emerging Tech Region

In 2020 alone, SEA added 40M new internet users and eclipsed USD $100B in internet GMV. A growing online population, strong fundamentals and supportive ecosystem propel its internet economy to a projected USD $300B GMV by 2025, an inspiring outlook for a region that has remained relatively discrete economy-wise.

As the region surges towards an exciting new tech frontier, many companies have found success in newfound opportunity. And a select few have reached the apex — a company valuation of USD $1B commonly known as “unicorn” status.

SEA Unicorns

SEA currently hosts 12 unicorns — 5 from Indonesia, 4 from Singapore, 2 from Vietnam and 1 from Malaysia encompassing the industries of E-commerce, Transportation, Fintech and Social Media.

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Key Insights

  • 6 of the 12 unicorns are no more than 10 years old since founded

  • All have grassroots origins, with the exception of Lazada (founded by Rocket Internet) and OVO (founded by the Lippo Group)

  • 1/3 of the unicorns are in e-commerce, taking advantage of the late arrival of Amazon in the region

  • Only 2 of 12 were founded by solo founders

  • Active users for each unicorn number are well into the tens of millions

  • Except for the publicly-listed Sea Group, only Grab and Gojek have reached “decacorn” status — or a valuation of over USD $10B

    • Grab and Gojek have each evolved from an Uber-like transportation marketplace into a full fledged Super App - integrating food, payments, deliveries and shopping into a one-stop shop

While the unicorns seem insurmountable in their respective industries, there is nothing stopping young, ambitious SEA entrepreneurs from exploring many other verticals in this nascent market. Edtech and Medtech for example, are on the rise after having played crucial roles in the pandemic.

SEA Tech Revolution

While I lived in Singapore and Indonesia, many entrepreneurs told me that the perfect test market to launch a startup is Singapore because of the ease of doing business and the controlled economic climate. When looking to scale en masse, Indonesia is the goal. Conquering Indonesia meant tapping a market of over 270 million people, many of which have been digitally gentrified in the last few years.

Looking beyond Indonesia, markets like the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand seem next in line. Large young populations, growing purchasing power and increasing digital usage make these markets ripe for the taking.

In the past, it was but a dream to build a company to 1,000+ employees and USD $1B+ valuation in a short period of time — a feat that would likely have taken a lifetime to achieve. Yet, nearly all of these unicorns were incepted in the past 15 years, showing the region that with the dawn of this new frontier, it is possible to achieve what was previously thought as impossible.

The SEA tech revolution has arrived.


This post was beautifully crafted by Fernando Jacinto, our venture partner in the Philippines. He currently works in Investor Relations at Packworks.