China's new order of internet giants

Asia Tech Review: 23 March 2021

Welcome back,

There’s a lot happening in China this week, where the rise of new tech giants is showing. Not only did Pinduoduo overtake Alibaba on an important metric—users—but ByteDance pipped rival Tencent to buy gaming studio Montoon. These truly are new times in China, where Baidu—best known as China’s alternative to Google—is pinning its own comeback on a secondary listing in Hong Kong. BAT once stood for China’s top three internet firms—Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. It sure looks dated in 2021.

Elsewhere, there are two IPO updates from Indian tech firms, a young fintech startup in Southeast Asia is making waves with investors and Yanolja, Korea’s answer to Airbnb, is reportedly headed to IPO.

All this and more for you in today’s ATR, which is a little later than usual this week but hopefully still worth the wait.

See you next week,



A mix of social and mobile-first has helped Pinduoduo (known often as PDD) become more popular than Alibaba based on annual shoppers: 788.4M to 779M. But, PDD has a long way to go. It doubled its revenues but they are still just less than 13% of Alibaba’s annual $72B—plus Alibaba is profitable and PDD is far from that. Still, it’s a hugely impressive feat as this WSJ story explains

Swiftly after the news, however, Colin Huang—PDD’s founder and chairman, below at its IPO in 2018—stepped down to pursue new projects

ByteDance, another contender to break China’s internet duopoly, is barreling into games after it acquired Shanghai-based gaming studio Moonton Technology at a reported valuation of $4B. ByteDance is said to have outbid Tencent for Moonton, which is best known for mobile title Mobile Legends.

Alibaba has reportedly been told to divest its media assets—which include social media service Weibo and Hong Kong-based paper South China Morning Post. It looks Beijing was a little late to this, if the report is indeed correct. State officials were apparently “appalled at how expansive Alibaba’s media interests have become” when they began looking into it last year. They worry about Alibaba's potential to sway information. Ironically, the company has been criticised for this potential in the West, where critics believe a need to kowtow with Beijing impacts its investments, particularly SCMP. SCMP has always maintained its independence.

Alibaba is, meanwhile, preparing to bring its e-commerce sales deals to Tencent’s WeChat app—a move aimed at pacifying regulators who are cracking down on digital monopolies in China

Baidu’s secondary listing in Hong Kong, which could raise around $3B, is seen as key to reviving the company which was once one of China’s key internet players but has since fallen by the wayside as Tencent, Alibaba and even newer arrivals like ByteDance grow in power

China is also said to be preparing new online payment laws that will “clarify the responsibilities of platform companies involved in online transactions”

Didi is looking to go public at a valuation of $62B

Chinese internet giants like Tencent and ByteDance may be able to skirt around Apple’s upcoming changes that will prevent app developers from tracking users without their consent. That’s because they are testing new tech from the state-backed China Advertising Association, which has 2,000 members.

China’s government is reportedly restricting use of Tesla vehicles by military staff and employees of key state-owned companies due to concerns that data gathered could be a source of national-security leaks

Everyone in China is cloning Clubhouse

There’s backlash to broad use of facial recognition data in China—and surprisingly it is being led by one government-linked media outlet

China is said to have punished LinkedIn over lax censorship, although the exact scope of what upset the government isn’t clear

Tuya, a smart home and “internet of things” company, held China’s second largest IPO of 2021 when it went public on NYSE raising $915M—shares were up nearly 20% after its trading debut on Friday. Tuya is now valued around the $12B mark

A hacking group believed to be in China is targeting telecoms companies around the world with attacks that use malicious downloads in an effort to steal sensitive data from customers

Baidu’s AI chip business, Kunlun, is apparently valued at $2B following new, undisclosed funding


Zomato could go public by September in a Mumbai IPO that’s aiming to raise $650M

Delhivery is also eyeing an IPO at a target valuation of $3B, but first it reportedly plans to raise one last private round of funding

India has asked a court to block WhatsApp’s planned policy update which it says violate local laws around consumer data—WhatsApp has previously delayed implementing the change due to a backlash that saw downloads of rival apps like Telegram and Signal spike in India

CRED could be valued at $2B if it can close the $200M round it is reportedly in talks about. It’s Series C is said to be led by existing backers and likely to close within a month

Digital insurer Policy Bazaar, backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund and Tiger Global, raised an additional $75M to expand in the Middle East

Fintech startup KreditBee just raised $70M—it follows $75M raised earlier this year

Temasek is reportedly entering Ola Electric’s newest $300M round

Venture capital is booming: “India-focused VCs raised $3 billion in 2020, 40% more than in 2019”

Southeast Asia

Caesar Sengupta, the Google executive who led its Next Billion Users effort to reach consumers in emerging markets, is leaving the firm

How NFTs, aka crypto art, is giving new earning and exposure potential to artists in Southeast Asia despite high overhead costs

Promising fintech firm Brick, which runs an opening banking platform that allows banks and other financial services to connect their digital platforms, raised an undisclosed seed round—I hear the seed round was strongly contested. Though the numbers weren’t disclosed, a source tells me that Brick has raised just over $2M at a valuation of $8M. That’s impressive for a year-old company in Southeast Asia

A look at Penjana Kapital, Malaysia’s newest investment program aimed at stimulating startup deals by subsidising new funds in the country

Pluang, a savings and investment app in Indonesia, raised $20M

Indonesia’s hustling startup culture now has its own meme subculture with some social media accounts discussing important topics like burnout, high expectation and more

A look at the somewhat confusing status of marijuana in Thailand—where the government is promoting the industry but many farmers are locked out and restrictions still apply

Nikkei looks at how Sea plans to use Shopee for its next stage of growth

ByteDance is, again, hiring like mad in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has a new fund: Singapore-based M Capital Management raised a maiden fund worth just over $30M. TechCrunch reports that it plans to invest in 40 early-stage startups, primarily seed and pre-Series A, with an average initial check size of about $500,000.


Non-English versions of Wikipedia are riddled with misinformation. This Wired story looks at examples in Japanese

Line is being investigated following reports it let Chinese engineers access user data

South Korea

Yanolja, a hotels and travel app, is reportedly shooting for an IPO at a $4B valuation—the company is mainly active in Korea but it owns hotel network service Zenrooms in Southeast Asia


You might have noticed Stripe is pushing hard in Southeast Asia—we wrote about the firm’s regional plans for The Ken—and it has an online event for cross-border payments in the region on April 8. You can RSVP here

Note this is not a paid promotion, but with so many online events taking place these days I’ve long considered showcasing some of the best ones. So consider this an experiment.

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