Will it be possible for us to see a startup homegrown in a Southeast Asian market but scale up globally to the level of Amazon or Bytedance?
“In the next five years, we’ll see a lot more startups homegrown in Southeast Asia but growing internationally,” — Yinglan Tan shared at a panel on the future of Asia’s startup nucleus on Day 2 of #FIIPriority Hong Kong by the Future Investment Initiative Institute, held just last Thursday and Friday.
While we can’t be certain whether these startups going global will be at the scale of FANG or BAT, it is clear that there are increasing incentives for startups in Southeast Asia to take on markets beyond the region, whether that’s the opportunity to drive revenues and profitability (say in higher ARPU markets) or retain multinational enterprise customers (by serving their other offices). In a market that favors self-sustainability, expanding one’s TAM horizon (beyond just a single market or SEA) may be the answer.
His fellow panelists, Orbit Startups Co-Founder and Managing Director William Bao Bean, 500 Global COO and Managing Partner Courtney Powell, Lalamove COO Paul Loo, and WeLab Founder and Group CEO Simon Loong, also weighed in on this topic — and we summarized insights into three key elements of operating a global company:
The global startup cross-pollinates across markets and business units
For startups scaling across a highly heterogenous, fragmented region like Asia, the key word is cross-pollination, Yinglan shares. The strengths of being one market (scale or high ARPU) can compensate the weaknesses of being in another (market size or low ARPU). Companies can also leverage being in different markets to triangulate resource allocation to optimize profits, productivity, and product development on a group level.
The global startup leverages industry cooperation and collaboration to lower GTM costs
What Chinese companies did well was create confederations of companies working together, shares William. This collaboration within ecosystems, industries or even portfolios, when done organically, can help with opening up market segments at lower cost. Cooperation will be especially important in the growth of embedded finance sector, as demand for fintech in user experiences drives opportunities for non-fintechs, fintechs, and banks to create solutions for consumers and businesses that also ease go-to-market for the players involved.
Compliance as a key part of startup localization across markets
Another level of cooperation that is key for internationalization is one with governments and regulators. WeLab’s Simon shared their experiences expanding their banking business to Indonesia through a JV, and how it was important for them to build trust with regulators (from learning Bahasa to working with a local partner) as an already licensed and operational brand in Hong Kong coming in to help the government achieve their goals for digitalization and economic growth.
So for companies going global — how are you cross-pollinating competitive advantages across markets? How are you leveraging cooperative opportunities to lower go-to-market costs and create new value for customers? How are you building trust with governments and regulators in new markets to be compliant as you scale?
We share stories from some Singapore companies on this path — igloo, Intellect, Rainforest, WIZ.AI, and Carro — in our LinkedIn series.
Thank you to the FII Institute for having us on this panel at this year’s FII Priority conference!
View the full panel on FII Institute YouTube:
Paulo Joquiño is a writer and content producer for tech companies, and co-author of the book Navigating ASEANnovation. He is currently Editor of Insignia Business Review, the official publication of Insignia Ventures Partners, and senior content strategist for the venture capital firm, where he started right after graduation. As a university student, he took up multiple work opportunities in content and marketing for startups in Asia. These included interning as an associate at G3 Partners, a Seoul-based marketing agency for tech startups, running tech community engagements at coworking space and business community, ASPACE Philippines, and interning at workspace marketplace FlySpaces. He graduated with a BS Management Engineering at Ateneo de Manila University in 2019.