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Asia Tech Review: March 25 2019

March 25 · Issue #107 · View online
Asia Tech Review
Welcome back,
I spent last week at Singapore’s Money2020 event which I value as one of the best for fintech in Asia – all the important companies are there – but this year the show, solid though it was, seemed to lack the same zip as last year. Perhaps it is the impact of Singapore’s much-hyped Fintech Festival event; perhaps the fintech bubble has settled as the big dogs begin to consolidate; or maybe it was the lack of crypto startups rushing about with frenzied energy and doling out money for coveted sponsorship slots? Either way, fintech in Southeast Asia is maturing and Singapore is still the place to go to slot in half a dozen meetings per day without worries about traffic.
On to this week’s update.

🚕 Grab, Go-Jek and the green face emoji 🚕
My head is all about fintech after the past week’s event, and increasing it is Grab and Go-Jek who are sucking up the attention when it comes to fintech in Southeast Asia.
In case you’ve been living under a stone, or aren’t in the region, the evolution of ride-hailing is truly most advanced in Southeast Asia where – without Uber – Grab and Go-Jek are both offering a range of services that go well beyond transport. Payments, financial services like loans, food delivery, on-demand services, games and video streaming. The goal is to build a ‘super app’ (I wince whenever I hear that phrase) that operates like a one-stop-shop for all things people might need in Southeast Asia, the pitch to investors being that this is a region that will grow massively as internet access increases among the 600 million-plus people living here.
The thesis is neatly summarized in this Fortune story from last week. Despite starting out with a classic anecdote from Grab’s PR playbook – “No foreigner would have thought to do that,” chortles [Grab CEO Anthony] Tan.” – is actually a thorough read, and it includes some serious shade thrown by Go-Jek CEO Nadiem Makarim on the ‘super app’ (🤢) race.
[Excuse quoting my own tweet but I don’t want to paste it all in]
The Fortune explainer is lacking some local context, which is provided by Michael Smith, an early stage VC with Seed Plus, who wrote a very strong blog post in response.
In particular, Smith argues that the entire concept of a super app (🤢) in Southeast Asia doesn’t make sense since the strategy is unique to WeChat which has a genuine monopoly on Chinese internet consumption. Grab and Go-Jek, he argues, aren’t the same position to be an everyday app because none of their services are as sticky as chat.
It’s a great point, and one I was increasingly pondering at the Money2020 show where Grab announced SMEs loans and other products within its ride-hailing app. That’s an app I personally rare use (because I don’t need to) and, having suffered a bricked phone, I realized I didn’t even have the app on my phone in Singapore. That’s a $16 billion company that is building an ecosystem that is entirely reliant on me downloading their app. An ecosystem that I’m rarely a part of.
Also read: Recap of the state of Southeast Asia fintech from SCMP link
Tencent sees slowest annual profit growth for 13 years
Related: Bloomberg’s Tim Culpan argues things aren’t going too badly for Tencent link
Meanwhile Tencent Music is still profitable on paper – first earnings report included $127M loss due to one-off costs of $221M link
Alibaba, Tencent and a number of auto makers have created a $1.5 billion ride-hailing venture that could rival Didi Chuxing link
Xiaomi missed revenue expectations but profit tripled to $276 million link
A look at the tough life of a startup worker in China – “no sleep, no sex, no life” link
CareerTu helps Chinese students get data-related jobs in the US – already profitable and currently in Y Combinator link
Profile of Connie Chan, the ‘China Whisperer’ at A16z who just became partner at the US firm link
💸Deals 💸 Insta360 raised $30M ahead of planned 2020 IPO (link), ByteDance bought game developer Shanghai Mokun (link), AI startup Megvii (Face++) is reportedly planning $800M IPO in US or Hong Kong (link), 36kr – ‘China’s TechCrunch’ that also does co-working and more – is reportedly planning a $100M IPO (link)
How India’s data labellers are powering the global AI race
Ola raised $300M from Hyundai and Kia, follows the auto firms’ deals with Grab in Southeast Asia and India-based car rental startup Revv link
Facebook is reportedly on the hunt for content investments in India link
Social media firms are tasked with developing an ethics code ahead of elections link
In juicy rumors, Airbnb is said to be exploring a $100M-$200M investment in OYO having recently acquired HotelTonight link
Netflix is testing a mobile-only package in India, having done so in Malaysia and other places last year link
Lee Fixel, a key figure of Tiger Global’s India strategy, is leaving the firm link
Meanwhile in evidence of the Vision Fund’s increased Asia focus – Lydia Jett, a long-standing SoftBank executive focused on Asia, is now a partner with the Vision Fund link
Xiaomi announced a $65 smartphone for India, its cheapest device yet link
WeChat is reportedly launching UPI payments inside WeChat – too little, too late? link // Xiaomi also just got into payments in India link
💸Deals 💸CoinDCX raised undisclosed funds from Bain Capital (link), Drivezy is reportedly raising from SoftBank and Amazon (link), PharmEasy is reportedly raising $100M from SoftBank at a $400M valuation (link), Cred – from Freecharge founder Kunal Shah – is reportedly raising another $75M-$100M (link)
A look at the rise of deep tech startups in Japan
Vision Fund investor Mubadala wants to lure portfolio companies to Dubai/Middle East via a new tech hub link (🔒 paywalled)
Southeast Asia
Kargo comes out of stealth with $7.6M from Travis Kalanick, Sequoia and others
Lazada is taking cues from Alibaba as it battles Shopee and other rivals link
Golden Gate Ventures is raising a $200M ‘growth’ fund that’s anchored by Korea’s Hanwha link
Razer partnered with Tencent to focus on mobile game software, although plans for its next smartphone are unclear link
Indonesia is regulating motorbike taxis link
Go-Jek has again failed to get a license to operate in the Philippines – looks like it will need to restructure its local business as Grab has done link
Singapore is planning automated street sweeping vehicles link
💸Deals 💸 Instarem closed $41M Series C (link), AnyMind Group closed $13.4M Series B (link)
Outside of Asia Tech
Thailand’s election results are rolling in and it looks like the military party has a surprise win – although the results may have changed depending on when you read this. I’ll say nothing more for now 🤐 link
The US says China’s “meddling” is adversely affecting Hong Kong’s position as a global business hub link
Photo of the week
Asia is something else for crazy crisp flavours
That's all for now, see you next week!
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