Asia's unicorn club grows at pace

Asia Tech Review: 20 September 2021

Welcome back,

Unicorns are in bloom across Asia. China welcomed at least two (it can be hard to know with quiet deals there), India minted its fastest (22-month-old Apna) and saw a Covid climber (mobile game company MPL) cross the $1B valuation mark. In Southeast Asia, Carousell and Xendit both became billion-dollar companies. 

SEA in particular has been busy with unicorns this year, Patsnap, Nium, Carro and Carsome are among those to join the club this year. Cognizant of the opportunity, Singapore is rolling out a welcome mat to growth companies—including SPAC funds—as it tries to make SGX an appealing public market.

You’ll also notice that this week’s newsletter is much slimmer than it’s been for a while. That’s because, frankly, it gets a lot to curate (hence the inconsistent arrival each week) and based on feedback readers feel it’s too much. Those who want more can access the full firehose of news (as it comes in), you can follow the ATR Telegram news channel here or on Twitter here.

That’s all for this edition—see you next week,

Jon


China

The regulatory crackdowns continue hard this past week:

The Chinese government has been pushing to end tech monopolies and, as part of that, Tencent has opened WeChat up to links from Alibaba and other rivals. Hell has frozen over, indeed.

Beijing will break up Ant’s Alipay and force the creation of separate loans app to keep it in check

A crackdown on financial bloggers has left investors short on quality data and analysis. Meanwhile, police are using a new anti-fraud app with 200M downloads to root out people who have viewed overseas financial news sites

Amazon closed down 3,000 China-based brand online stores in its latest campaign against fake reviews 

Didi is estimated to have lost 30% of its daily users after Beijing crackdown following IPO 

While in the US, Binance is being probed over possible insider trading. Meanwhile it has dropped its office-less approach

From time to time, we hear of stories like this: China’s biggest movie star was erased from the internet, but the mystery Is why

We know PinDuoDuo is increasing threatening Alibaba, so naturally Alibaba is doubling down on its community group buying operations with a new brand called Taocaicai

Oppo and sister companies OnePlus had always maintained more than arm's-length distance, but now Oppo is cutting around 20% of staff in key software and devices teams as part of a merger of options with OnePlus—it’s trigger by Covid supply chain complications

XTransfer, a trade services startup founded by veterans of Ant Group, raised $138M at a valuation of over $1B 

Chinese self-driving car startup Deeproute is now a unicorn after it raised $300M in an Alibaba-led round


Taiwan

Electric scooter maker Gogoro is taking a SPAC route to Nasdaq public listing—the deal will value it at $2.35B

India

A host of companies in India are gearing up for IPOs across the world:

Freshworks is reportedly aiming for a nearly $9B valuation for its IPO—my colleague Sumanth has a great read on how Freshworks grew into the giant it is today and influenced other Saas companies in India

Truecaller is looking to raise over $100 million in an IPO for its caller ID service which is hugely popular in India—the listing would be in its native Sweden, not the US, India or elsewhere

Pine Labs is also eying an IPO—it reportedly tapped Wall Street bankers to take it public in the US at a target valuation of $6B

While PharmEasy is closing a $200M round at a $6B before it readies itself for an IPO

The usual rhythm of funding continued too:

Mobile Premier League, which offers competitive gaming on mobile which grew popular during Covid lockdowns, is now valued at over $1B becomes unicorn after raising $150M

Apna became India’s fastest unicorn (22 months) after closing a $100M round by Tiger Global

Groww, which offers mutual funds and stocks for millennials, is in talks to raise funds at a $3B valuation

Byju’s is at it again: it acquired coding site Tynker to increase up US profile

A16z is reportedly in talks to make its first India-based investment: crypto platform CoinSwitch Kuber, which could be valued just shy of $2B

India and Singapore launched a project to link UPI and PayNow—very cool interoperability of payment networks

A two-year-long antitrust probe has concluded that Google abused the dominant position of Android in India to illegally hurt competitors there


Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia got not one but two new unicorns to add to a pack that’s growned significantly this year:

Indonesian fintech Xendit raised $150M in a deal led by Tiger Global that valued it over $1B—my colleague took a thorough look at the Xendit business earlier this month in a story that includes the scoop on this round

Carousell, a Singapore startup OG, also crossed the $1B valuation mark via a new $100M round—I wrote about Carousell nearly two years ago forecasting the obvious, that this moment would arrive soon

Grab, meanwhile, is poised to go public—its financials look decent although it did cut overall review for the year but that’s down to the effects of Covid-19 lingering in the region

The same positivity can’t be applied to One Championship—rumoured to have been considering a SPAC, it continues to lost heavy losses despite some financial engineering that saw a new subsidiary buy IP for $400M

Speaking of billions, Temasek created a $1.1B fund with the government to encourage SPACs in Singapore. EDBI, the investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), has also established a $370M fund to support growth-stage companies that are closing in on IPO. The initiatives, which include a wider scope for MAS fintech grants, aim to boost Singapore as a hub for growth companies and those wanting to go public—despite being a mecca for venture capital, startups don’t list on the SGX, preferring to go elsewhere

More good news for startups in the region, Jungle Ventures announces a $225M first close for its fourth fund

Lazada is finally getting serious about payments. It hired an Ant Group veteran to lead its fintech push—wait and see what happens, this is certainly a very late arrival

Online-to-offline is packing up in Indonesia after Blibli agreed to buy a 51% stake in grocery chain SBL

Indonesia’s digital investment apps have been on a funding tear this year—Pluang is the latest to cash in after it raised $35M

Singapore may introduce laws to protect gig workers


Japan

News app SmartNews raises $230M at a $2B valuation

Uber is looking at reinvigorated competition on food delivery with Demaecan set to raise $726M


South Korea

Over 60 crypto exchanges are set to suspend services next week as new regulation comes into effect

South Korea fined Google $177M for hampering the development of rivals to its Android operating system


Bangladesh

Bangladesh-based startups are bringing in unprecedented amounts of funding lately—grocery delivery Chaldal is the latest after it raised a $10M Series C


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