Top Asean startups and unicorns

AWS Summit Singapore

Facebook and Google, two of the most valuable companies in the world, began as startups in the US. Other companies have emerged to transform businesses and industries globally. The likes of Twitter, Airbnb, Netflix, Alibaba, Uber, Spotify, Waze and WhatsApp have changed the way things are being communicated and implemented.

Most of these companies were conceived in the US, Europe and China, and one region—the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)—now begins to catch up with the digital transformation.

Asean, a block of 10 Southeast Asian countries with a combined population of over 600 million, is now home to most successful startup airline—AirAsia which reinvented the airline industry.

From the airline industry, several unicorns, or companies with a valuation of more than $1 billion, and highly successful digital companies also came out of the region, including ride-hailing app Grab, subscription video-on-demand service iflix, e-commerce platform Lazada, Indonesia ride-hailing app Go Jek, hotel booking service Traveloka, online sellers Shopee, Zalora, Tokopedia, gaming hardware provider Razer, Vietnamese gaming company VNG and real estate innovator Revolution Precrafted of the Philippines.

Others are beginning to catch attention, including Matahari Mall, PropertyGuru, Bukalapak, Zalora,

Lamudi, Food Panda and Carmudi. The last four are under the Rocket Internet Group of Germany.

Emerging startups include helicopter-hailing service provider Ascent, office assistant Supahands and medical service provider Halodoc, Malaysian fashion provider Shoppr, Indonesian hybrid media platform Kumparan, job hiring platform Bhinneka, instant messaging app Momo, Singapore-based advertising solution provider Knorex, restaurant reservation platform Eatigo and financial technology company FinAccel.

American consulting firm A.T. Kearney said Asean has the potential to leapfrog other countries and rank as an elite global digital economy. “A true digital revolution will transform Asean by 2025,” it said.

“Transforming ASEAN into a global digital economy powerhouse could potentially generate an additional $1 trillion in GDP over the next 10 years. Realizing this goal will require a joint effort and a shared vision across Asean,” it said.

“The spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation is very strong in Southeast Asia,” Mai-Lan Tomsen Bukovec, vice president and general manager of Amazon S3, Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) object storage service, said during the AWS Summit Singapore 2018.

“There is digital transformation happening all over the world. It is all based for the most part on AWS. Right here in Asia, we have many different enterprises that are working on this journey of digital transformation,” said Bukovec.

AWS, the cloud-computing arm of, empowers companies to adopt cloud solutions. It prides itself as the biggest AI solutions provider in the world.

Executives of Amazon Web Services lead a panel discussion during the AWS Summit Singapore.

AWS, which launched its first storage service called S3 in 2006, is the fastest technology company in history to hit $10 billion in annual run rate.

“There are new companies that are evolving from day one. We have seen a lot of interesting, large startups across the region. Everyone is talking about—Go Jek, Grab, Traveloka, Tokopedia and so on, but what is interesting I think is the next batch of startups that are coming through,” said Nick Walton, managing director of AWS in Asean.

“They are not in the scale that big unicorns are. But we heard about Halodoc which is a startup from Indonesia providing health services through their platform. We know companies like Shoppr in Malaysia who are using AWS to analyze 10 million images a day, helping provide fashion advice,” he said.

“I expect that in a couple years time, there should be another 15 to 20 unicorns in Southeast Asia. What we focus on in AWS is working with startups, both big and small, and helping set them up to be successful,” said Walton.

Walton said there is also a good set of startups coming from the Philippines. “ is the obvious one that is a real standout. But again, there is another batch of startups that are off the radar at the moment, but have good ideas—real smart, good entrepreneurs, ambitious entrepreneurs who run on AWS. Not all of them will be successful, but some will which is exciting,” he said.

In the Philippines,, the most successful product directory in the Philippines, has been acquired by OLX. Other notable startups in the Philippines included MetroDeal, CashCashPinoy, Kalibrr and Galleon.

April 2018



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