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Asia Tech Review: 13 January 2020

January 13 · Issue #140 · View online
Asia Tech Review
Welcome back,
And, yes, we are back.
The last decade closed with a mini crisis for me. I won’t go into details now, but I hope it’ll make for an enlightening story when all is sorted. With a bit of luck, that’ll be soon. That explains why this newsletter had its longest hiatus ever: a full month! I’m sorry for that. I appreciate all the messages from people asking when ATR would resume, it’s great to know people read and find value.
Catching up on the backblog is impossible, so this week’s email is a regular recap of the last seven days with a few of the more important older updates sprinkled in for good measure.
Thanks for keeping patient and belated best wishes for the new year!
PS: You can get Asia tech news as it happens by subscribing to the ATR Telegram channel. It’s totally free and there’s no catch, just follow 👉🏻

Indonesia's Vision-ary new capital city
Masayoshi Son rushes to Indonesia with plans for a 'smart capital'
This has rightly gotten a lot of attention. I’m uneasy when private companies work with governments on national projects – this is common in Southeast Asia – but that’s amplified when it is a VC pledging to assist, they aren’t exactly known for doing what’s best for all.
At a basic level, this isn’t even about SoftBank but, of course, the firms another factor of intrigue.
It is still early for its Vision Fund – the life cycle of an investment fund is typically 7-10 years – but the project hasn’t exactly shown a propensity to invest prudently and with sustainability in mind. There’s no doubt that governments can learn a lot from startups and VCs – particularly the Vision Fund and its portfolio of top, top companies – but there’s an uneasy feeling about Masayoshi Son’s keenness “to bring ‘a lot of artificial intelligence’ to [the] jungle city” that could replace Jakarta as Indonesia’s capital.
My colleague Nadine explains in her newsletter that Indonesia’s minister of Maritime Affairs and Investments has a lot to gain from these rumours, but so too does SoftBank. It has made large bets that are dependent on Indonesia’s economy advancing – Grab and Tokopedia – and getting chummy with politicans is part of what it takes to be big in tech today. Just ask Jack Ma who got into that game early.
All the same, these deals are likely to be funneled via portfolio companies the same way SoftBank did in July when it ‘invested’ $2B into Indonesia’s infrastructure via Grab. That’ll means more chaos for all of us, especially the PR people running behind the SoftBank announcement train 😉
Tracking Singapore's payment license applications
This is for those struggling to keep up, very much including me. MAS, Singapore’s central bank, will issue two digital full bank licenses and three wholesale bank licenses. There have been over 21 applications, the public bids include some big names.
Digital Full Bank License (7 applications overall)
  • Grab and Singtel
  • Razer, Sheng Siong Holdings, FWD, LinkSure Global, Insignia Ventures Partners and Carro
  • Beyond Consortium: V3 Group, EZ-Link, Far East Organisation, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance (MSIG) and (Temasek-owned) Heliconia Capital
  • Sea Limited
Digital Wholesale Banking License (14 applications overall)
  • Ant Financial
  • iFast, Yillion Group and Hande Group
  • Xiaomi Finance, AMTD Group, SP Group and Funding Societies
  •, Sheng Ye Capital and Phillip Capital
  • *ByteDance is is reported to have bid
A decision on the winners is due in June.
The project is likely to spur other governments in Southeast Asia into action. Malaysia, for one, just announced it will issue five licenses to new online banks.
How smartphone apps revolutionised China in the last decade
Facebook’s Singapore office is building improved tools for advertisers in China – it said to already make $5B from the country link
Unprofitable Chinese companies can now go public following a change of law, this obviously bodes well for tech startups seeking IPO and the Chinese government, which wants to battle back against the lure of US stock exchanges link
Speaking of which, EV maker Lixiang is said to be planning a US IPO that could raise upwards of $500M link
Tencent said WeChat mini programs, which function like apps, made $115 billion in revenue in 2019, that’s an annual jump of 160% link
Another boomer is TikTok, which saw worldwide revenue grow to over $50M in December according to an estimate – note this is for TikTok not parent company ByteDance which runs other services too link
Edutech startup VIP Kid has struggled lately but its ‘Dami Wangxiao’ sub brand, which offers English and Maths live-streaming, raised $80M led by Tencent and Sequoia China link
Social shopping service Little Red Book could soon be valued at $6B link
A Tencent-led group completed a €3B deal to buy 10% of Universal Music Group link
Did you know? Mobike lost over 200,000 bikes due to vandalism or theft in 2019 alone. link
Hong Kong
Human Rights Watch chief was barred from entering Hong Kong
Ctrip and Netease are both reportedly in talks over a potential Hong Kong IPO, following a blockbuster $13B listing from Alibaba in November link (as is Baidu, too, according to another report link)
Inside the toxic culture and troubling incidents at OYO
India’s Supreme Court said the internet shutdown in Kashmir is illegal – at over 150 days, it is the longest outage in any democracy link
Huawei got the green light to take part in India’s 5G trials link
Baidu, another major Chinese name, is finally showing interest in India link
Facebook has denied reports that it will expand Lasso, its Tiktok competitor, to India and Indonesia by May link
Reliance revolutionised telecom in India, now it is getting into online groceries link
OnePlus will make India its global tech hub link
Byju’s raised $200M from Tiger Global at a valuation of $8B – the deal allowed some existing investors to exit via secondary sales link
Zomato is widely reported to be raising $150M from Ant Financial at a valuation of $3B link
PayU, the Naspers-owned business, is buying a controlling stake in PaySense at a valuation of $185 million – it’ll be merged with credit business LazyPay link
SoftBank has hired the former interim head of Google India – Vikas Agnihotri will become its first operating partner in India link
SoftBank keeps walking away from startup investments
Sony is developing visual sensors for self-driving vehicles link
Southeast Asia
Indonesian army wields internet 'news' as a weapon in Papua
Venture builder Antler raised $50M from a collection of global investors including B Capital from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and Japan’s Credit Saison link
Lightnet, a project that aims to use blockchain tech for remittance and financial services, raised $31.2M from UOB’s investment arm and others – this feels very 2017-2018 (during the ICO craze) but its notable that one co-founder is from the family behind Thai mega conglomerate CP link
Indonesia may add fees to e-wallet transactions, according to a Reuters report link
Indonesia-based edtech startup Ruangguru pocketed a $150 Series C led by General Atlantic and GGV Capital – it had been linked with SoftBank’s Vision Fund but it didn’t join the deal link
Spotify is getting serious about podcasts in Southeast Asia based on a new job listing link
Photo of the week
Praveen Gopal Krishnan
This is one of my favourite photos of at @TheKenWeb’s Bangalore office with the entire global team.
Ok this is 100% self-serving, but I’m excited that we added another reporter to The Ken’s Southeast Asia team who was part of offsite – well, “onsite” – this past week in Bangalore. Runners up were my many (delicious) food pics from the last few days and portraits of The Ken’s cat collective.
That's all for now, see you next week!
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