The mega funding floodgates are opening in Southeast Asia

Asia Tech Review: 16 June 2021

Welcome back to a mid-week issue of ATR,

It looks like the floodgates are opening in Southeast Asia after automotive marketplace Carro became the region’s latest unicorn following a $360M investment led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund. If reports are to be believed, Carro is plotting an IPO and its rival Carsome will join it in the billion-dollar valuation club soon.

You can expect to see a lot more valuation jumps this year as investors from outside the region enter the market with investments. Interest has never been higher thanks to a clear pathway to exits through big mergers (hello, GoTo), IPOs and SPACs. A good time, I guess, to plug my recent story on the rise of global funds in Southeast Asia.

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

Jon


China

Didi has filed to (finally) go public with a US IPO—Didi reported a $1.7 billion loss on $21.6 billion in revenue for 2020. Despite international expansion into Latam and other parts of Asia, China is over 98% of revenue—SoftBank, Uber and Tencent stand to benefit most from the IPO

Grocery app Dingdong Maicai, which is backed by investors including Sequoia and Tiger Global, is reportedly aiming to raise around $500M in a US IPO

Apple is reportedly in early-stage talks with China’s CATL and BYD to supply batteries for its planned electric vehicle, according to sources who spoke to Reuters

The number of new company registrations in the semiconductor industry from January to May tripled in China, bolstered by generous national subsidies

Data is the new oil: Beijing is calling on China’s tech giants to share their information and, at the same time, asserting its authority over data held by US companies in China as well

The Chinese government is getting serious about blockchain

The Financial Times looks at the demanding working conditions of China’s tech firms

ByteDance has made its secret sauce into a product—comparable to an Amazon AWS but for social products  

Surveillance and overwork is leading to extreme mental stress and fatigue for China’s tech workers, who are being pushed to the limit and in some cases pushing back

Lidar maker Hesai, which works with customers that include Bosch, Lyft, and Baidu, raised $300M from Hillhouse Capital’s GL Ventures

Alibaba’s cloud division pledged $1B to support startups in Asia through training networking and more—Google, Amazon and co offer generous credits so let's see what Alibaba does

Meanwhile, Alibaba said it plans to develop self-driving cars with its Cainio unit


India

Paytm confirmed to shareholders that is going public—but first it is reportedly looking to buy three payment gateway companies

Byju’s is now India’s highest valued startup

Neobank Open is reportedly raising $100M from investors including Temasek and General Atlantic, as well as existing investor Tiger Global and PayPal. The valuation is said to be $600M up from $150M two years ago

Global telecom firms Nokia, Ericsson and Airtel are among those resisting India’s new 5G telecom standard

Edtech startup Cuemath said it plans to raise at least $100M at a valuation of $1B

Earned wage startup Refyne raised $201.1M from DST Global and RTP Global. Earned wage allows employees to get paid in real time rather than just once a month. This is already a huge focus for startups with a lot more to come—you can see Southeast Asia for more

SoftBank has reportedly led a $90M round for Whatfix, a digital platform for corporations, at a valuation of $600M—up from $150M a year ago

Zenoti, a platform that works with beauty, wellness, and fitness businesses, raised $80M at a valuation of $1.5B 

Car workshop and spare parts platform GoMechanic has reportedly raised $35M from Tiger Global and others 

Community monetisation platform Convosight raised $9M led by Singapore’s Qualgro

Tata Digital’s latest startup move is to buy a major stake in online pharmacy 1MG 

Inmobi’s Glance, which serves content to the lockscreen on phones, bought e-commerce company Shop101 to signal a new focus on selling

Southeast Asia

The region has a new unicorn after automotive marketplace Carro raised $360M led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund—this is a notable deal that’s likely to open the gates to more billion-dollar valuations, more SoftBank deals and future IPOs. (SoftBank had previously stuck to backing startups that were already established as mega players.) Carro is reportedly exploring an IPO

But hold on, rival Carsome is reportedly also headed to unicorn status with an incoming $200M round on the cards

There’s also a huge investment for Indonesian SME service BukuWarung, which pulled in $60M in a round that included a number of global firms

Grab’s SPAC was planned for July but now it’s completion has been delayed until the end of 2021, according to sponsor Altimeter Capital

E-commerce aggregators are picking up speed in Southeast Asia after Una Brands and Rainforest raised big rounds in May—I looked into the model with my colleague Ka Kay Lum

Bridgetown—the SPAC fund from Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel—is reportedly in “advanced talks” to merge with PropertyGuru. Bridgetown has other funds which have been linked with Traveloka, among others 

Speaking of which, what’s up with Traveloka’s SPAC—it turns out it had multiple offers despite being hit hard by Covid

Shopee’s Latin American push is extending to Chile and Colombia

The Philippines has given digital banking licenses to Tonik and Unobank

AirAsia will expand its grocery service, already active in Malaysia, to Singapore

Wagely, which lets workers get their salary early, raised $5.6M

Thailand has often talked about restricting social media. Now, after watching India, the cabinet is looking into ways to regulate social media platforms. (The country has some of the strictest regulations on free speech with regulator cases against citizens, as regular readers well know.)

Thailand also banned NFTs and some meme coins

Co-living startup Hmlet faces a tough job to rebuild its business


South Korea

Krafton, the gaming studio behind PUBG, is reportedly raising $5B in what stands to be Korea’s largest IPO for over a decade

Tutoring startup announced Ringle raised $18M at a valuation of $90M

Kakao Mobility, a unit of public company Kakao, secured an additional combined over $125M from a consortium led by private equity firm TPG and Carlyle Group


Other reads

Covid outbreaks are disrupting the global supply chain for smartphones

There’s drama at Y Combinator around speaking your mind or observing the privacy code

An insightful Twitter thread from the Chairman of Coatue Ventures on his time with Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s strengths as a CEO 


You just finished reading Asia Tech Review, the weekly newsletter for keeping up with the tech industry across Asia.

If someone sent this to you, you can sign up for free at Asiatechreview.com

You should also check out The Ken—we’re an independent media outlet that publishes deeply-reported and analytical business stories from India and Southeast Asia

Ant's rebuild begins; SoftBank eyes Flipkart; and Thailand gets its first unicorn

Asia Tech Review: 8 June 2021

Welcome back,

It’s been busy this last week: Ant Group’s restructuring is on; SoftBank is investing in Flipkart; Huawei has developed its own smartphone operating system and Thailand has a triple dose of startup news. The country now has its first unicorn, it’ll see Foxconn make EVs and its central bank is developing its own digital currency.

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

Jon


China

Huawei launched its HarmonyOS software for smartphones—and it also landed on smartwatches. Although it isn’t entirely clear whether it is any more than simply an Android fork

While Alibaba has been hit hard by regulators and Meituan appears to be next, Tencent has gotten off lightly despite wielding significant power and influence. Only regulators know but improved relationships and work with other companies may be contributing factors.

Meanwhile, Ant Group won approval to operate a consumer finance company which it will own 50% of. The move is seen as a first key step to reforming its business. It’s also increasing efforts outside of China in places like Southeast Asia

Autonomous driving startup Zongmu, which is backed by Xiaomi, raised $190M from Denso, Qualcomm, Fosun and others. It is planning an IPO on China’s Star board.

A look at how Bitcoin mining took off in China, and why it is now in conflict with Beijing’s priorities

A researcher found that Alibaba’s UC Browser app on iOS and Android sends information on every website visited to its servers—even in incognito mode

China overtook Taiwan to become Apple’s largest country for suppliers—housing 51 of its top 200 suppliers. Taiwan has 48

Two drone models made by China’s DJI have now reportedly been cleared for use by government entities and armed forces according to a Pentagon audit

Online recruitment startup Kanzhun plans to raise over $900M from a US IPO—its backers include Tencent

“A government-funded artificial intelligence (AI) institute in Beijing unveiled on Monday the world’s most sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) model, surpassing those from Google and OpenAI”

The Biden administration banned US investments in 59 Chinese companies including Huawei


Taiwan

TSMC says has begun construction at its Arizona chip factory site


India

Early-stage investing is booming in India as this TechCrunch story detailing dozens of incoming deals shows

SoftBank is in talks to invest $700M in Flipkart as part of a $1.2B-$1.5B round that would value the company at $28B—this would very much be a pre-IPO round

Tata Digital invested $75M in fitness startup CureFit as had been previously reported

Logistics management startup Locus confirmed its rumoured $50M round led by GIC. The round included Qualcomm Ventures and existing investors Tiger Global and Falcon Edge, and it takes Locus to $79 million to date

Another day, another Tiger Global deal: a $15.6M Series A round for health insurance startup Plum Benefits

Home services marketplace Urban Company raised $255M at a valuation of $2.1B to become another new unicorn in India

Business-to-business e-commerce platform OfBusiness is talking to SoftBank about raising $100M-$150M at a valuation of $1.2B

Japanese PE firm Unison is establishing a $500M fund for India

Singapore’s iGlobe has started a $100M fund for biotech

Online furniture startup Wakefit is reportedly raising $40M-$50M at a valuation of $350M-$400M from L Catterton and others

Southeast Asia

Thailand got its first unicorn as logistics company Flash Express raised $150M. I scooped the deal in February when I wrote about Flash. While it is a milestone for Thailand, Flash has been well-funded since its start in 2017 thanks to Chinese backers. That means it’s not readily repeatable nor is it an immediate sign that startups are breaking out of Thailand, as I said last week.

Nium announced its first acquisition, UK-based Ixaris, as it gets into shape for a US IPO in the next two years. A further two acquisitions are expected this year including one imminent deal in India.

Golden Gate Ventures and INSEAD released its third report on exits in Southeast Asia

Thailand is developing a central bank digital currency (CBDC) and Germany-based Giesecke+Devrient has been hired to make it

Foxconn plans to make EVs in Thailand alongside state-backed oil and gas company PTT

E-commerce in Vietnam is a major target for Alibaba, Sea and others—the market is forecast to reach $52B by 2025, up 29% from 2020

PropertyGuru is buying REA Group’s businesses in Thailand and Malaysia in exchange for a stake in its business. This major piece of consolidation looks like a pre-IPO move for PropertyGuru, which was unsuccessful with a public listing effort in 2019

Line won a digital banking license in Indonesia, following the example of Gojek and Sea. Line was an early front-runner in developing ‘super app’ strategies but it’s fallen behind in recent years.

Direct-to-consumer dental brand Zenyum raised $40M

Indonesian healthcare startup Prixa raised $3M led by MDI Ventures and the Trans-Pacific Technology Fund (TPTF),

A cyber-espionage hacking group reportedly hacked the website of the Myanmar president’s office and planted a backdoor trojan inside a localized Myanmar font package available for download


Japan

KDDI is investing $45M into Menu, which is Japan's third largest food delivery app

One Concern, which models and simulates community resilience and response to earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters, raised $45M

South Korea

Coupang launched a trial in Japan


Pakistan

Kleiner Perkins made its first investment in Pakistan by leading a $17M Series A round for B2B marketplace Tajir

Two other fintech deals are proof that startups are on the rise in Pakistan


You just finished reading Asia Tech Review, the weekly newsletter for keeping up with the tech industry across Asia.

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You should also check out The Ken—we’re an independent media outlet that publishes deeply-reported and analytical business stories from India and Southeast Asia

IPOs, IPOs and government manipulation

Asia Tech Review: 31 May 2021

Welcome back,

This newsletter started as a way to track what was happening with Asia tech way back in February 2014. Back then it was mostly startups, early stage funding and small scale (but interesting) news. These days, huge cheques and IPOs are happening every week in China; India is poised to break out with public listings of local firms—starting with Zomato; and in Southeast Asia it’s much the same—Sea is already public, Grab and GoTo are following with others in hot pursuit.

Times have truly changed. Still, the clash between Twitter, WhatsApp and the Indian government this past week, as well as China’s tech probes and IPO pressure, shows that with great power comes the inevitable manipulation efforts from government.

See you next week,

Jon


China

Public listings are once again the hot button topic among China tech companies. There’s distinctly two different paths here, one the government would like its companies to take—a local route—and the US path that still seems to be the preferred option for the market. I say still because we wrote that back in August on ATR.

So what’s the latest?

There’s an IPO in offing for Full Truck Alliance—the ‘Uber for trucking’-style startup known by the slightly unfortunately translated Chinese name Manbang—which plans to list on NYSE. Axios reports that it could raise at least $1.5B at a $30B valuation. Impressively, it reported a $25M profit on $396M in revenue for 2020.

Meanwhile, vegetable supplier Meicai is reported to have filed for a US IPO confidentially

But—you knew it was coming…Bloomberg reported that the glut of Chinese companies listing in the US has slowed, which has triggered the likes of Hello, Ximalaya and Qiniu to pause plans, despite initial filings in April. The fact that mutual aid platform Waterdrop has been below its early May IPO price doesn’t inspire confidence.

Not only that but the government is also pushing some companies—Reuters names Ximalaya, the podcasting platform—to go public domestically or in Hong Kong.

JD’s logistics arm just went public in Hong Kong—raising $3.25B—and there could be more to come. NetEase Music filed to raise $1B in Hong Kong and chipmaker SigmaStar is reported to be looking at the Shanghai STAR for a $780M raise sometime this year.

The government has got big guns like Alibaba, Tencent, JD and NetEast to commit to Hong Kong for secondary listings or unit IPOs, but it remains to be seen if other companies will commit their big listings

Speaking of big listings, ByteDance is said to have paused its own IPO and instead it is focusing on share buyback for employees wanting to cash out, according to Reuters. Beyond talk of a TikTok IPO, Douyin was also said to have been up for an IPO in… Hong Kong. But with founder Zhang Yiming stepping down, it makes sense to at least rethink the plan.

That might not be a bad thing given that TikTok rival Kuaishou saw its Hong Kong stock tumble nearly 10% after it revealed lacklustre sales growth

The uncertainty around listings isn’t stopping investors from diving in—Qiming reported launched a $500M fund to invest in public Chinese companies, although The Information suggests healthcare is the primary focus

Elsewhere, Chinese tech giants have been forced to spend more to grow following government crackdowns on their practices and alleged monopolies—real estate property brokers could be next while government intervention is said to have caused chaos for edtech platforms which have held off on IPOs.

Alibaba’s fast-growing cloud computing business is slowing

ByteDance—known as the app factory—has a new star in the US after its video editor Capcut reached the top of the App Store rankings

Amazon is cracking down on China made products with fake reviews

Huawei’s founder thinks being great at software can offset the hard hits its hardware business has taken (good luck!)

Tesla and other automakers are following Apple and storing user data in China at the behest of the government (good luck!)

There’s concern that Chinese surveillance equipment is being sold across towns in the US despite a ban at local government level. That’s because restrictions don’t apply at the municipal level, TechCrunch reports. This is the same kit used to surveil Uighur Muslims in China, such as video cameras and thermal imaging scanners. Some of the local authorities contacted by TechCrunch said they weren’t aware of links to human rights abuses—others said they were purchased via a vendor. 

Meituan posted strong growth but also a big loss due to investment in new retail programs

Xiaomi beats its earnings estimate as US sanctions on the company were lifted

Autonomous deliveries are coming to Beijing


India

What a week of chaos in India, where social media has been at the center of tensions. Twitter, most notably, has been accused of “a path of evasiveness instead of cooperation.” 

That statement was put out in response to the microblogging company’s failure to appoint dedicated point people for the government—a chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and grievance officer—per IT rules. Twitter proposed an external consultant which was rejected. Its peers including Facebook, its WhatsApp service, LinkedIn, Google and Telegram all complied. 

All the while, a crazy turn of events kicked off after Twitter marked tweets from members of the ruling party’s spokesperson and others as “manipulated media.” The opposition party claims they shared fake images relating to their criticism of Covid-19 efforts and favours to members of the media. The government had previously requested that Twitter remove tweets critical of how it has handled Covid-19, more recently it asked that mentions of an Indian variant of the virus also be removed.

This culminated in Delhi police “visiting” Twitter HQ, a move that Twitter sees as intimidation and a threat to the safety of its staff in India

"Twitter needs to stop beating about the bush and comply with the laws of the land," the government said in a statement posted to Twitter.

Twitter’s India head sums it up:

But there’s one more point about the regulation, it requires companies to track the originator of content. In Twitter’s case that’s one thing, but for services like WhatsApp that would mean breaking encryption on messages. That explains why WhatsApp is suing the government—it not only objects to the order but says it isn’t possible. 

Who knows what the next week will bring?

All the while, local challenger Koo raised $30M from Tiger Global in a very curious deal. The famed New York hedge fund is investing very early in a product that has just 6.5M monthly users, according to App Annie, and a long way to go. “We have aggressive plans to grow into one of the world’s largest social media platforms in the next few years. Every Indian is cheering for us to get there soon,” one co-founder said. Mhmm…

Back on the IPO trail, fintech OG Paytm is being linked with a $3B IPO before the end of the year

An IPO is also imminent for Delhivery, which raised a $277M round last week

Online pharmacy startup Pharmeasy bought rival Medlife and now it, too, is reportedly looking to IPO at a valuation of around $3B. Prior to the deal, which is a major consolidation play, it raised a $350M Series A round last month. Meanwhile, Tiger Global and B Capital are keen to invest.

Speaking of consolidation, Tata Group is reportedly planning to buy health and fitness startup Curefit—there’s no word on price but it would presumably be much lower than the $800M valuation the startup previously commanded.

FarEye, which helps companies track and optimise supply chain and logistics operations, raised $100M as it looks to venture overseas. This is its third round in the past year, which has reached $153M.

Open banking platform Zeta raised $250M at a valuation of $1.45B led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2

Singapore’s GIC is reportedly in talks to lead a $60M Series C round for Locus, a b2b logistics startup

Blume Ventures plans to raise a new $150M fund, its fourth, this year

Kodo, which offers corporate cards for SMEs, finished Y Combinator and raised $8.75M from some interesting US backers including fintech unicorn Brex.

Fintech startup PhonePe had planned to acquire mobile platform Indus OS for $60M but now that deal is on the rocks after investors attempted to veto it. A hearing at a Singapore court this week will go some way to determining what happens next.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia’s IPO train is gathering speed with the news that Bukalapak, the e-commerce service backed by Microsoft and others, has quietly filed to go public domestically in Indonesia. It is still being linked with a US public market entry via a SPAC but that seems less likely now. Bukalapak will reportedly raise at least $255M and look to go public on IDX in August.

That type of attention is drawing A16z and other global VC firms to Southeast Asia as they look to hire/set up offices. I wrote this story looking at how the turn has turned and money from outside of the region is finally easier to get for startups, especially those in fintech.

Speaking of global VCs, one is going local after the partners behind 500 Startups’ Vietnam fund launched their own firm

Singtel is also planning local deals, the telco said it will go after investments in digital services even though its own record is somewhat patchy

GIC, another member of Singapore Inc, backed high tech equipment firm Esco Lifesciences Group in a $200M deal that’s reportedly a prelude to a listing in Hong Kong, a rare crossover from Southeast Asia

Engine Biosciences, another Singapore-based high tech firm, landed $43M for its drug discovery platform 

The Indonesian government blocked access to a hacker forum after one member claimed to have data on the entire population, including citizen names, national ID numbers, tax registration information, mobile phone numbers, and even headshots and salary-related information. While the data is somewhat outdated, the government has its authenticity. It’s comical to think that the block will do much good, but this could develop into a very serious issue for Indonesia, which is planning a digital ID system. 

Myanmar’s junta whitelisted 1,200 websites for national use, unsurprisingly they didn’t include Facebook or Twitter where there’s much criticism over its recent coup. It’s not clear what the list means at this point and whether the sites not on it will be blocked.

Indonesian crypto exchange Pintu raised $6M from investors including Coinbase


Japan

A data breach with dating app Omiai has exposed the personal details of some 1.7M users


South Korea

Tutoring app Riid raised $175M from SoftBank’s Vision Fund for its service that uses tech for prep tests. It started out covering English assessment in Korea and Japan, but it is now looking to use its tech to develop tests that can be used by public schools in the US.

SoftBank is reportedly planning another big deal in Korea following reports that it will invest in hotels and travel platform Yanolja, which has been linked with an IPO for the last year or so.


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You should also check out The Ken—we’re an independent media outlet that publishes deeply-reported and analytical business stories from India and Southeast Asia

E-commerce services are on fire in Southeast Asia

Asia Tech Review: 11 May 2021

Welcome back,

E-commerce is the focus in Southeast Asia this last week, with four massive deals going through. It’s testament to how much things have changed. The region has gone beyond the main platforms to embrace the ‘picks and shovels’ companies. I hate that phrase but it is true: e-commerce aggregators, an enabler and a digital-first brand collectively raised $170M last week. That’s a lot of moolah.

Elsewhere, China’s IPO trail continues to heat up in the US—despite efforts closer to home—and there’s sharp analysis of Zomato’s planned listing in India.

See you next week,

Jon


Southeast Asia

It was a big week for e-commerce in Southeast Asia with four huge rounds landing:

  • Rainforest is an e-commerce aggregator that raised $36M. That essentially means that it buys small e-commerce brands, the idea being that it can get good deals and develop expertise by running a bunch of them. It was started by former OVO and Fave executives and  is among the first to bring this model—also known as ‘e-commerce rollups’—to Southeast Asia 

  • Una Brands raised $40M for a very similar model. It’s also in the market to buy e-commerce sellers, particularly those active across multiple services. It looks for targets with annual revenue of $300K-$20M for acquisitions of $600K-$3M. Ex Lazada CEO Max Bittner, who now leads a European secondhand marketplace, is an investor.

  • Next is SCI E-commerce which raised $38M. SCI—that’s Singapore China Indonesia—has been under the radar as an e-commerce enabler that helps big brands sell through e-commerce platforms in China and Southeast Asia. Bloomberg reports it is valued at $235M and is shooting for a US IPO.

  • And last but by no means last, a brand: Social Bella raised $56M for its beauty business. Beyond offline, it runs over 20 stores in Indonesia and one in Vietnam. The company raised $56M last year and this new round is led by US PE firm L Catterton, marking its first deal in Indonesia.

Sticking with e-commerce for a moment, Bloomberg has a feature on social commerce and Indonesian president Jowoki has us confused.

Jokowi implored the population to buy online to help revive the economy after Covid. Just a month ago, he pledged to regulate e-commerce platforms which he said were hurting the country through predatory pricing. So, Mr President, which is it exactly?

We, at The Ken, looked at how WhatsApp is a platform for starting new digital services in Southeast Asia

Singaporean VC Vickers Venture Partners is caught up in an allegedly fraudulent nickel trading scheme. The firm invested in Envy Global Trading, which is being probed for apparent falsification of contracts. “Vickers would be the highest-profile investor yet to have fallen victim to the suspected billion-dollar swindle, which Singapore authorities have said could be the biggest investment fraud the financial hub has ever seen,” wrote Straits Times.

Gojek, meanwhile, snagged $300M from Telkomsel—potentially its last round of funding before it merges with Tokopedia

Smaller ride-hailing player Ryde has said it wants to do an IPO in Singapore—my colleagues Ben and Kay looked at its chances and life in the shadows of giants 

In other funding deals: SME loan platform Validus raised $38M; Amartha raised $28M for its platform that provides community lending in Indonesia; Fewcent, a micropayment service for media, iraised $1.6M; Facebook announced its second community accelerator program

Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka Shing is turning his attention to startups in Southeast Asia

Singapore Press Holdings made waves with a restructuring that will see its loss-making media business made into a standalone not-for-profit unit

We interviewed Pandu Sjahrir, Indonesia’s Mr Connected who works with Sea, Gojek, the IDX and more

China

China has made big strides to keep its big companies from listing overseas, with the launch of the Star Market and growth of Hong Kong two examples. Now Beijing is said to be weighing tighter rules for Chinese firms who opt to list overseas. That’s ironically not a million miles from the US and its efforts to tighten rules for Chinese listings on its soil. Both have different motivations of course.

But, as written in past ATR editions, the US continues to be the number one choice for ambitious IPOs, particularly in the world of tech:

  • Waterdrop, the mutual insurance platform backed by Tencent, raised $360M from its US IPO but it flopped with the stock trading below its list price

  • Two more Chinese firms filed for US IPOs: podcast and audio platform Ximalaya, which claims 250M MAUs and is backed by Tencent, and Qiniu, a cloud computing and storage service for enterprises that’s backed by Alibaba.

More will follow suit:

Speaking of US-China tensions, Tencent is in talks with the US government to retain its investments in gaming firms Riot Games and Epic Games after previously being told (during the Trump administration) to divest them. Apparently, CFIUS—the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States—is assessing if there’s any national security risk around the handling of personal data.

Another giant battling government push back is, of course, Ant Group which is working to reform its ‘mutual aid’ business—a crowdfunded medical coverage service called Xianghubao—to the satisfaction of regulators. It claims over 90M users and is likely to become a regulated business.

How an exploit attacking iPhones that was conceived at, and won, a hacking event in China was quickly adopted by the Chinese government to spy on Uyghurs

Related: seven Apple suppliers stand accused of using forced labour from camps in Xinjiang

US-China tech war: Beijing's secret chipmaking champions—how Washington's sanctions boosted China's semiconductor sector

ByteDance is hiring thousands to develop an e-commerce business before the firm goes public. Early results are promising: “It sold about $26 billion worth of make-up, clothing and other merchandise in 2020, achieving in its maiden year what Alibaba’s Taobao took six years to accomplish,” reports Bloomberg.

EV maker Nio is branching overseas for the first time into Norway

Meanwhile, Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company that supplies Nio, closed a $64M Series B

SoftBank Ventures Asia led a $15M investment in autonomous mobile robot maker Youibot

Myst, an e-cigarette company co-founded by a scientist from US firm Juul, raised “tens of millions” in a Series B


Taiwan

TSMC, the world’s largest chip firm with over 50% market share, is finally expanding its operations to the US. Now reports have emerged that its planned Arizona plant may be the first of many for the firm

Bloomgberg’s Tim Culpan, who has relentlessly chronicled the company, says it is a strategy that is long overdue

For more context: Nikkei Asia Review looks at how TSMC pulled ahead of Samsung

As if to drill the point home, Taiwan’s drought is being tipped to worsen the current shortage of semiconductor component supplies


India

My colleague Sumanth went through the Zomato IPO documents and his takeaway is a doozy, including. It’s well worth a read, some brief points:

  • Zomato saw average order volume jump during Covid as contribution margins turned positive—BUT the numbers show its number of users and revenue both fell, nearly 50% and 33% year-on-year respectively

  • Zomato’s 17X multiple is more generous than international rivals like Doordash, which are growing at a rapid rate

  • Are these developments the reason it is opting to go public in India—which should still be celebrating—over the US?

Side note: it appears that Zomato may invest $100M into Grofers—an interesting potential deal since Zomato had held talks to buy Grofers and it appears that Grofers won’t be going public in the US as it had aimed. The investment is apparently part of a larger round for Grofers so stay tuned for more.

Flipkart’s IPO isn’t expected until the end of the year but that isn’t stopping it from raising $1B from investors, according to a report from Economic Times

China is not happy that there are no Chinese companies among the more than dozen firms handed approval to conduct a six-month trial to test the use and application of 5G technology. India maintains that the list was selected based on vendors picked by its telecom operators.

India has also reportedly “held up” approvals for the import of Wifi modules from China that form an essential part of many devices from firms including Dell, HP, Xiaomi, Oppo and others. That means potential delays in releasing products to market.

Imports from China of finished electronic devices - like bluetooth speakers, wireless earphones, smartphones, smartwatches and laptops - containing wifi modules are being delayed, the sources said.

The Communications Ministry's Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) Wing has withheld approval since at least November, according to the sources, who were familiar with lobbying efforts by firms seeking clearance.

Here’s one story of a Chinese company overcoming government-led issues: Hugely popular game PUBG Mobile has returned to India following its ban due to Chinese links last year. Battlegrounds Mobile India—as it is now called—”uses the color scheme of the Indian flag and is largely a replica of PUBG Mobile,” according to TechCrunch. Game maker Krafton and its publisher/investor Tencent were also forced to release a bespoke (and highly national) version of the game for China back in 2019, albeit for different reasons.

Online teaching platform Teachmint landed $16.5M led by US-based Learn Capital


South Korea

Korea’s messaging apps are doubling down on content with some big deals:

Other reads

A Japanese town used its Covid-19 grant money to build a giant squid statue (it’s for tourism, apparently) 

China is constructing towns inside Bhutan’s border


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China's big tech clampdown continues

Asia Tech Review: 4 May 2021

Welcome back,

It’s good to take a break sometimes. I personally took a long holiday last week for the first time in a long while. That much needed rest was coupled with a pause day across the whole company at The Ken. You may know that we publish one story per day in India and Southeast Asia come rain or shine, but we took last Wednesday off given the escalating situation in India. (My latest story on Y Combinator in Southeast Asia did run last week, though.)

My colleagues in India are truly an inspiration. How they can keep working—and working to our high standard—while people all around them suffer with the shortage of beds, oxygen and general chaos is incredible. A break doesn’t fix that, but we did try to channel our audience and resources to help charities that are fighting the good fight.

Twitter avatar for @jonrussellJon Russell @jonrussell
Vetted charities for those wanting to donate to India’s Covid efforts:
donate.indiacovidresources.in

Praveen Gopal Krishnan @peegeekay

We got lots of emails back from subscribers saying they donated 💯 If you haven’t already, please donate. And a shoutout to @TheProductfolks and @MotwaniSuhas. Team is doing exactly what a Product community should do. https://t.co/st5uBI7FbY

See you next week,

Jon


China

Weeks after China hit Alibaba with a $2.8B for monopolistic behaviour, so it looks like Tencent—Alibaba’s arch rival—is next in line for the cane.

Reuters reported that the Chinese government is moving to fine the Shenzhen-headquartered company at least $1.5B (10B CNY), but it’ll apparently be lower than Alibaba’s punishment.

Tencent faces penalties for not properly reporting past acquisitions and investments for antitrust reviews, an offence with a fine capped at 500,000 yuan per case, and for anticompetitive practices in some of its businesses, with music streaming in particular focus, said the sources.

The probe is said to relate to Tencent Music, which was spun out and IPOed in the US in 2018, and some of its licensing deals and acquisitions, rather than WeChat or other Tencent units. The company might be relatively spared, it seems.

"The attitude from the regulator is that unlike Alibaba you are not the biggest target here, but it would be impossible not to penalise Tencent now that the campaign is in action," said one of the people.

But other stuff is happening in the pipe in the aftermath of Alibaba’s fine and Ant’s halted IPO, namely:

What a time, then, for ByteDance to find a new CEO. 

Ok, this is a little less dramatic than it sounds. Firstly, this is for TikTok—aka the non-China business—and it is an inside appointment. Shouzi Chew—a Singaporean—is taking the top job, but he’ll also remain in his current role as ByteDance CFO.

It’s an odd appointment for sure:

  • There’s absolutely zero stardust here. Sorry, Mr Chew. TikTok caused a stir when it appointed former Disney exec Kevin Mayer to the top seat—but he stepped down after the Trump administration went after TikTok. Appointing your CFO doesn’t come close.

  • In fact, it seems to be the opposite of what you’d expect. It’s hardly a mark of separation between ByteDance and TikTok to appoint the latter’s current CFO as the former’s head

  • And finally, Chew will be based in Singapore—that’s ByteDance international HQ but a long way from its biggest market, the US—will that be significant since everyone is after TikTok’s short video app crown?

What’s happening here? Time will tell. Maybe he’s an interim appointment? Send your best answers on a postcard, or maybe a TikTok video?

These headlines dominated China tech but there is some interesting IPO reports:

  • Bike sharing: Alibaba backed Hello Inc could be the first Chinese bike sharing player to test US public markets after it filed to go public. Details of the planned IPO aren’t clear yet

  • Insurance platform: Waterdrop, a mutual fund platform backed by Tencent is again being linked with a US IPO. The latest report suggest it plans to raise $360M

Meanwhile, Huawei suffered a sales slump due to sanctions which hit its phone business, just as Apple saw a rebound in China as part of its latest (and phenomenal) results

Finally, while the government is cracking down on digital financial services, JD.com began testing out China’s digital currency—it’s using it for some salary payments. PayPal tried to position itself as a winner in China, as a cross-border player—that’s a tough one with lots of competition.


India

India is all aboard the IPO train this week as Zomato filed for what’s likely to be a seminal IPO.

Sure, at $1.1B, Zomato isn’t raising Grab SPAC level funds but—like Grab in Southeast Asia—it could be a landmark listing that moves the needle and gets others to follow its path. It’s also quite something for Zomato, which many of us will remember as a restaurant finding service way back in the day—it’s now transformed into food delivery and, dare I suggest… a Super App™

My colleague Seetha recently looked at Zomato’s business in detail, but the new numbers we got include impressive 5.5X revenue growth in 3 years but a (still) very unprofitable business. That’s not likely to change given the competition out there.

Speaking of that halo effect:

  • Robotics firm Grey Orange, which develops machines for warehouses and b2b usage, is evaluating going public via an IPO or potentially SPAC. The goal is reportedly to raise $500-$600M at a valuation of close to $2B. Seems like early days

  • A more certain bet may be Freshworks, which has quietly built a credible rival to Salesforce. It is said to have hired bankers to take it public on the Nasdaq this year at a valuation of $10B, according to Reuters, which added it might submit pipeline “in the coming weeks”

Speaking of big companies, it’s been a while since Byju’s has done an acquisition. And here’s another: a double deal to buy specialised education platforms Great Learning and Gradeup for a sum of $400M. A deal could happen this month.

India got a new unicorn when on-demand home service provider Urban Company raised $190M from—you guessed it—Tiger Global, although it was led by Prosus (FNA Naspers)

There was also a big round for ElasticRun, which develops an e-commerce platform for neighbourhood stores and raised $75M

And finally, what a week of social media disasters in India. People are frantically rushing to platforms to seek help for friends and family who have been impacted by Covid, and yet it emerged Facebook and Twitter had censored criticism of the government’s (frankly abysmal) handling of the situation:

Officials said the legally binding order was designed to tackle what it called attempts in recent days to spread coronavirus-related misinformation and create panic by posting images of dead bodies taken out of context. Twitter, which received many of the takedown requests, blocked the posts in India, though they remained visible outside the country.

“Certain people are misusing social media to create panic in society,” India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement Monday, when asked about the blocks. It didn’t specify which laws were used to issue the orders.

The absurdity reached new levels when Facebook had briefly (and, apparently, accidentally) blocked a hashtag encouraging Prime Minister Modi to resign. Sure, guys!

This is at least neat: Google is adding UPI payments over NFC to Google Pay India 

Finally, The Information does great reporting but this story on Netflix “fumbling” India seemed a little off to me and a number of other reporters who I know in/covering India tech. It’s perfectly possible to argue Netflix has done ok in India so far, and that competition—and pricing—is cutthroat and it hasn’t fallen down that sinkhole… yet


Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is currently obsessed by Digitising All Things In Indonesia—it’s a continuation of a number of themes but they are gathering more steam.

  • In cloud kitchens: Hangry raised a $13M Series A—it graduated Sequoia Surge and looks to be one of the highest funded of the program in Southeast Asia. One of its rivals is called Yummy so I guess these founders get to have some fun, at least when drawing up their names

  • In social commerce: Super, an app that helps small merchants sell online, pulled in an impressive $28M Series B round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia

  • An equally hot market is stock trading and finance apps—I wrote about it with my colleague Dita last month—and yet another huge round just landed. Following $90M for Ajaib in 2021 and a $20M round for Pluang, so Bebit raised $65M. There’s also Bareksa, which is owned by top wallet app Ovo after an acquisition in 2019

Speaking of wallet acquisitions: Fresh from raising $100M Linkaja, the state-linked mobile wallet service, acquired p2p lending iGrow, which as the name suggests is focused on agriculture loans

And sticking with Indonesia, Gojek says it will make all vehicles in its fleet electric by 2030. We heard chatter of this back in February when EV scooter maker Niu said it would be a supplier (presumably one of many) for Gojek

500 Startups is launching a virtual accelerator in Singapore to help launch companies from scratch like Antler and Entrepreneur First does (oh, hey, I wrote about them last year)

Speaking of which, I looked in detail at Y Combinator’s growing successes in Southeast Asia but also the very real challenge it faces being relevant amidst newer, local programs and more funding options than ever before

StashAway, an investment app that isn’t from Indonesia—closed a whopping $25M led by Sequoia India. It’s a pretty fascinating company and journey, its CEO once led Rocket Internet’s Zalora business. My colleagues Ben and Kay profiled the business right before this round came in

Peer-to-peer lending startup Amartha banked US$28M from Women’s World Banking Capital Partners II fund and MDI Ventures

Shopee is reportedly getting aggressive with keeping sellers off of rival platforms

A rare funding round from Thailand: e-commerce service Mercular raised $3M

A pretty nasty security issue was found in the Philippines:

For at least two months, some 345,000 sensitive court documents from the Office of the Solicitor General of the Philippines related to ongoing legal cases were made publicly available online and could have been accessed by anyone who knew where to look, according to the U.K. security company TurgenSec

A look at how edtech startup Ruangguru used temporary workers—often on a pittance of a wage that’s below the legal minimum—to grow its business

Another neat fintech feature: a handful of banks in Thailand and Singapore connected their mobile payment wallets for easy and cheap cross-border transactions

Finally: Quorn, one of the oldest alt meat brands—I still remember my vegetarian housemate at university cooking with it—is going public with a $1.3B IPO in the Philippines. It is actually an IPO for its parent company Monde Nissin, which also owns a vegan brand called Cauldron Foods. Quorn was founded in the UK way back in 1985 by acquired by the Philippines business in 2015.


Japan

Toyota is building a smart city near Mount Fuji:

That’s why Toyota is building its sensor-laden “Woven City” from the ground up a two-hour drive outside of Tokyo. There, Toyota will test autonomous vehicles for transport, deliveries and mobile shops alongside the city’s hand-picked residents as a kind of living laboratory. When construction is completed in 2024, it will seek to offer a model of what urban centers around the world could look like in the age of autonomous transport. Doing so, of course, will require convincing a broader population.


Other reads

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows that journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organisation. Its analysis of Asia Pacific is particularly troubling

Chinese workers allege forced labor, abuses in Xi’s ‘Belt and Road’ program


You just finished reading Asia Tech Review, the weekly newsletter for keeping up with the tech industry across Asia.

If someone sent this to you, you can sign up for free at Asiatechreview.com

You should also check out The Ken—we’re an independent media outlet that publishes deeply-reported and analytical business stories from India and Southeast Asia

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