So much can change in 12 years. After I first joined For Millionaires in 2012, I used to be the one author it had based mostly out of Asia. For a number of years, it typically felt like I used to be writing to appropriate misperceptions I noticed in my articles’ feedback or on Twitter.

Although Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent have been innovating quickly, they have been often offered as copies of Western firms (“Alibaba, the Amazon of China,” and so forth). Regardless of being dwelling to one-sixth of the world’s inhabitants, India was seen as a homogenous mass. Individuals didn’t even trouble being attentive to Southeast Asia outdoors of Singapore.

However I’ve to confess I additionally had misperceptions about markets outdoors of Taiwan, the place I dwell, and I used to be actually relieved when different journalists joined For Millionaires’s Asia staff to supply on-the-ground experience. For this text, I requested my colleagues on For Millionaires’s Asia staff for his or her opinions on how outdoors perceptions of tech in every of their international locations have advanced. They’re Rita Liao (China), Manish Singh and Jagmeet Singh (India), and Kate Park (South Korea), 4 of the neatest folks I do know. (Observe: Ivan Mehta can also be a wise author on this staff, however his principal remit is definitely wanting a lot additional away than Asia.)

As we speak is my final day at For Millionaires. If there’s one factor I hope I’ve completed in my decade-plus right here, it’s making it clear why Asia’s tech ecosystems matter. They don’t simply affect folks inside their market. They’re influencing the remainder of the world, by means of short-form movies, live-streaming, tremendous apps, fintech, crypto, and way more. They’ve acquired Western firms, modified how social media is used, launched attention-grabbing preliminary public choices, and grow to be essential manufacturing hubs for high smartphone makers. Ignoring them means you find yourself with a really myopic view of know-how.

Southeast Asia

Jakarta, one of many busiest startup hubs in Southeast Asia

I’m going to start out with Southeast Asia, because it’s my principal beat. To say that startups there have advanced at a panoramic tempo over the previous decade is an understatement. Regardless of its progress, nonetheless, tech in Southeast Asia continues to be underestimated by many individuals outdoors the area. I’ll give an instance of why that’s unsuitable.

In 2013, I used to be despatched by For Millionaires to the World Entrepreneur Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I met Anthony Tan, who based Seize the yr earlier than. At that time, its focus was to make hailing a taxi in Malaysia simpler and safer, with its larger ambition, to evolve into an excellent app and monetary companies supplier throughout eight Southeast Asian international locations — Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — was nonetheless nascent.

Then Uber launched in Singapore in 2013. Over the subsequent yr, the two companies battled it out with a expensive march into ever extra territories. By 2018, Uber had bought its Southeast Asia enterprise to Seize (SoftBank and Didi, which invested in each, gained huge). I bear in mind at the moment studying a variety of feedback from outdoors of Asia expressing shock {that a} native startup had “beat Uber.” However as former For Millionaires author Jon Russell famous in Could 2018, “the Seize deal feels someway totally different since, previous to final yr, Uber and Seize have been pretty evenly matched.”

I consider that the Uber-Seize deal was the primary time many individuals began to concentrate to Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem, particularly outdoors of Singapore. Like different locations, SEA is presently impacted by the funding downturn — a stark distinction to the increase of 2021 and 2022 when funding occurred so rapidly my protection might barely sustain (and to be trustworthy, typically I couldn’t).

Startups in Southeast Asia deserve consideration, not simply due to the area’s scale — Indonesia alone is the world’s fourth most populous nation — and its variety; however as a result of they’re creating progressive merchandise that may make an affect in lots of different international locations.

One in every of my favourite tales for For Millionaires was a characteristic about shariah-compliant fintech constructed for Muslim customers. These embody financing for small companies that don’t contain curiosity (which is prohibited by shariah regulation), on-line fee gateways that keep away from non-compliant transactions like purchases of alcohol, tobacco and pork, and saving accounts for pilgrimages to Mecca.

Southeast Asia’s shariah-compliant fintech has a chance to interrupt into different markets. Based on a report by DinarStandard and fintech Ellipses, the market measurement of Islam fintech within the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) international locations is anticipated to develop at a 17.9% CAGR by 2026, in comparison with conventional fintech’s 13.5% CAGR over the identical interval.

An space I feel the place Southeast Asian startups are wonderful general is fintech companies developed for unbanked or underbanked clients — that’s, individuals who have little to no entry to conventional monetary companies like banking accounts or loans, typically as a consequence of points like an absence of credit score bureau infrastructure, an issue that exists in markets around the globe.

One standout is Kredivo, which has raised about $400 million in fairness to date and is creating a variety of merchandise, together with instantaneous credit score financing for e-commerce and offline purchases, and private loans. It additionally operates a neobank known as Krom. Since a lot of its clients don’t have a credit score rating, Kredivo, like many different fintech startups focusing on underbanked clients, has its personal system for measuring creditworthiness, combining information sources like telcos, e-commerce accounts, and financial institution accounts.

The big variety of unbanked and underbanked folks in Southeast Asia additionally helped give rise to a thriving crypto and web3 scene. As Rita reported in 2022, there’s demand for various crypto-related finance to develop within the area. DeFi is doing particularly effectively as a result of it offers customers an opportunity to earn yield and entry to capital with out conventional monetary intermediaries. Every Southeast Asian nation of web3 adoption has its personal taste of crypto innovation. For instance, Vietnam has “hardcore engineers,” whereas Singapore produces SaaS merchandise. One notable startup is Pintu, a crypto buying and selling app that raised funding at a quick clip between 2021 and 2022.


Shenzhen's skyline

Shenzhen’s skyline by Rita Liao

For China, I requested Rita to present me an outline of the various tendencies she’s seen evolve through the years, particularly ones which have influenced different markets. She’s probably the most insightful journalist I can consider overlaying China tech. After I began at For Millionaires, China was nonetheless seen by many Western readers as a tech ecosystem stuffed with copycats, particularly of American firms. For instance, Baidu was also known as “China’s Google” (and I’m embarrassed to say I wrote simply that within the headline of my first article for For Millionaires). That notion has modified dramatically over the previous 10 years.

Much less U.S. enterprise capital corporations are investing in China now, as a consequence of geopolitical and different elements, however they’ve already set tendencies around the globe, and proceed to take action.

I’ll begin with TikTok since it’s the first social media app from a Chinese language tech firm to achieve its degree of success in the USA. Developed by ByteDance because the abroad model of Douyin, it launched in 2017 and shortly merged with Musically after ByteDance acquired the latter. The short-form video and live-streaming codecs that it popularized additionally finally have been copied as core options on Fb, Instagram, and YouTube. Its success was not precisely characteristic innovation, however extra execution. Rita notes that live-streaming was round earlier than TikTok launched its Dwell characteristic in 2019 within the U.S. — YouTube had it in place from 2011 — however TikTok (and Douyin, its Chinese language model) have made it a key characteristic of its vastly common app.

Eight years on, TikTok continues its momentum. A Pew Analysis Middle report just lately discovered “comparatively explosive progress” during the last two years, with about a third of people surveyed saying that they had used the platform.

It was additionally, arguably, a sufferer of that success. In 2020, simply 4 years after its launch, the U.S. authorities educated its eyes on it as a safety menace. It grew to become a political soccer and an epic saga. The battle appeared finally to die down — even President Biden’s reelection staff joined it — however it’s not out. Within the final week, the U.S Senate asked Biden’s staff to cease utilizing the app. The app stays banned in a number of different international locations, like India, and it was just lately included amongst social media platforms known as to Congress over little one security. Past all of this, although, its affect on web tradition is evident, and so is its power as a enterprise: it’s anticipated to overhaul Fb in influencer spending this yr.

One other influential app is WeChat, developed by Tencent. The stripped down model out there outdoors of China makes it exhausting to see simply how important it’s to the every day lives of Chinese language customers. WeChat could have began as “simply” a messaging platform, however it additionally was a key innovator of the “tremendous app” mannequin, with social networking, procuring, video games, journey hailing, maps, and film reserving all inside the app. It’s spawned an ecosystem, too, with third-party “mini applications,” or mini apps by third celebration builders, out there. Extra importantly, it’s became one among China’s greatest cell funds suppliers (one thing Jon Russell first lined in 2016), utilized by service suppliers like taxi drivers to simply accept funds. You could possibly *most likely* survive in China with out WeChat, however your life can be loads more durable to navigate.

In locations like the USA and Europe, firms like Fb and Telegram have tried to duplicate WeChat’s success as an excellent app. Traction has been uneven, although. The idea has seen probably the most success in international locations the place information is pricey and downloading one app with a number of companies is extra cost-friendly than a number of apps.

Two different notable examples of how Asia has actually run with the tremendous app idea are Seize and rival Gojek. Each began as ride-hailing apps, however now supply monetary companies, like funds, on-demand supply, and logistics.

One other Chinese language firm having an affect in different markets is PDD, which began as a a lot smaller e-commerce competitor towards giants like Alibaba and JD, earlier than giving rise to social commerce. PDD owns Pinduoduo and its sister app Temu. Pinduoduo permits customers to make group purchases for decrease costs. Which may make it tempting to check it to Groupon, however it’s totally different in two methods. First, staff purchases are initiated by patrons, not sellers. Secondly, it’s centered on garments, produce and different every day use objects (in actual fact, PDD has invested closely in agriculture, as Rita lined). Temu provides cheap factory-to-consumer items.

PDD’s bid to compete with Amazon within the U.S., launched in 2022, has generated a variety of downloads due to beneficiant person subsidies, making Temu probably the most downloaded app within the U.S. final yr. It’s making an affect in different methods, too. Final December, my colleague Alex Wilhelm made an argument for why folks ought to take note of the rivalry between PDD and Alibaba. Alex famous that PDD is now price greater than Alibaba, although Alibaba continues to be loads larger. This will imply good issues for China’s startup ecosystem.

“Main tech firms in China have lengthy been essential startup traders, and that position might grow to be much more essential within the Chinese language tech ecosystem as enterprise capital funding within the nation declines,” Alex wrote. “So if Alibaba and PDD have a lot of worth and money, they may assist preserve home startups afloat in the event that they need to.”


Aerial skyline view of Bengaluru

Skyline view of Bengaluru

When Rita joined For Millionaires, I used to be so relieved to lastly have on-the-ground experience for such an unlimited and sophisticated market. I felt the identical method when Manish after which Jagmeet got here onboard to cowl India. I’m not too proud to say I by no means felt geared up to report on India’s tech scene effectively. I’ll provide you with one instance why. In September 2013 I wrote an article about how Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s Gadgets & Companies was a guess on rising markets and meant it would unload Nokia’s characteristic cellphone enterprise to concentrate on low-cost smartphones as a substitute.

However this text emerged solely after I had drafted one about how Microsoft was planning to double down on characteristic telephones because it dug deeper into markets in India. I despatched it to my editor Ingrid Lunden, and she or he pointed me to analysis exhibiting international gross sales of smartphones have been starting to overhaul characteristic telephones. I needed to rewrite my article as a result of I wrongly assumed that buyers in India have been nonetheless prepared to accept characteristic telephones when smartphones have been taking off in the remainder of the world.

One of many myths Manish dispelled along with his reporting was the misperception that its customers are prepared to sacrifice high quality and expertise for worth. In an article from final September, Manish wrote that although Indian customers are historically seen as price-conscious, they’re more and more demanding premium objects. Not solely do they need luxurious smartphones, however additionally they need luxurious inns, actual property, vehicles, and even followers as patrons pay a premium for aesthetics.

“Indian customers’ willingness to dig deeper into their wallets has main implications for startups working throughout practically each class, permitting corporations to enhance their revenue margins with out compromising on high quality,” Manish famous.

One other false impression about India is that the nation is a homogenous mass. As Jagmeet advised me in our Slack messages, India has advanced demographics encompassing totally different age, revenue, and language brackets. So Amazon, Fb, and Walmart all failed after they took a one-sized-fits-all method to India.

Free Fundamentals, a Fb-owned free app that permit folks connect with Fb and different websites like BabyCenter, Wikipedia, and Bing, is an attention-grabbing case research. Created to be used in markets all through Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America, it was meant to extend web adoption amongst “the subsequent billion,” as customers in rising markets have been typically known as. Fb clearly additionally wished to achieve extra customers. However in India and plenty of different international locations, Free Fundamentals instantly led to backlash for undermining web neutrality. As Jagmeet advised me, legislators together with Rajeev Chandrasekhar, now the deputy IT prime minister and a member of India’s ruling celebration, led political outrage towards Free Fundamentals. On a elementary degree, Fb additionally underestimated what Indian customers need—entry to all the web as a substitute of a pre-selected assortment of websites.

One other instance of an American tech big bungling its India strategy was the launch of Android One smartphones in 2014. Designed for affordability, neither its {hardware} or software program might compete with rivals from Indian and Chinese language producers like Xiaomi.

There are some issues in India’s tech ecosystem which can be nonetheless creating, like its growing significance as a producing hub for firms like Apple, Samsung, and Google. Manish advised me that no one thought India would grow to be a key {hardware} manufacturing hub a decade in the past. However that has modified as a consequence of elements like a authorities push and incentives, alongside India’s rising financial system.

Manish additionally famous that the Indian inventory market is open to tech startups. Zomato, which was amongst a crop of tech firms that listed in 2021, is performing effectively, and funding banks like Nomura, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Jefferies are pursuing different Indian startups.

South Korea

A view of Seoul by Kate Park

A view of Seoul by Kate Park

In 2013, my then-editor in chief requested me to go to SparkLabs’ first Demo Day in South Korea. I sat at dinner with the founders of SparkLabs, which has since grown into a worldwide community of startups accelerators and enterprise capital funds, and listened to them speak about how they wished to present again to South Korea’s startups after their very own successes as entrepreneurs. South Korea’s startup ecosystem was then fledgling, with chaebols like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and SK dominating the tech business.

Since then, the South Korean startup ecosystem has blossomed, due to a mix of personal investments and billions of dollars in government support from businesses just like the Ministry of Science & ICT and the Ministry of SMEs & Startups. Amongst her different insights, Kate advised me that chaebols are getting in on the act with company enterprise capital arms like Samsung Catalyst Fund, devoted to deep-tech, LG Technology Ventures, and Hyundai’s strategic investment fund.

All this capital has borne fruit within the type of unicorns like neobank Toss, e-commerce app Coupang, peer-to-peer market Danggeun, and actual property platform Zigbang. Examples of startups which have gone public embody Coupang and sport writer Krafton.

Coupang is particularly attention-grabbing as a result of only a few years after it was based by Bom Kim in 2010, it had not solely grow to be the market chief in South Korea, however redefined e-commerce with its ultra-fast deliveries. For instance, if somebody ordered an merchandise by midnight, it could be at their doorstep by 7 A.M. This was due to Coupang’s heavy funding in its logistics community. When it was based, there have been no main third-party logistics suppliers like UPS or FedEx in South Korea. In consequence Coupang needed to construct its personal infrastructure, together with success and logistics facilities. Because of this about 70% of South Korea’s inhabitants now lives within seven miles of a Coupang logistics center.

The corporate is taking a two-pronged method to international growth. Over the previous few years, it has entered Taiwan and Japan. And in 2023, Coupang acquired Farfetch in a deal price $500 million, giving it a presence in much more markets.


Another beautiful day in Taipei by Catherine Shu

One other lovely day in Taipei by Catherine Shu

I saved Taiwan for the final as a result of I dwell right here and it is rather particular to me. In 2011, James Hill, who labored on the Institute for Data Trade, pitched me about an incubator program whereas I used to be nonetheless on the Taipei Occasions. “What the hell is an incubator program,” I believed. “Is it a hen factor?” I rapidly realized it was not a hen factor, and wrote about startups for the very first time in this article. Rereading it for the primary time in years jogged my memory I used the phrase “Net start-up.” Over the subsequent yr I continued to cowl Taiwanese Net start-ups, together with Pinkoi and Hulihealth. In 2012, John Biggs was related with me and requested if I’d be curious about becoming a member of For Millionaires since they wanted a author in Asia.

Taiwan’s startup ecosystem is near my coronary heart, however typically overshadowed by TSMC and different gamers within the semiconductor business. However startups proceed to develop and through my time at For Millionaires, it was gratifying to see 4 startups hit unicorn standing after which go public: Appier, Excellent Corp., Gogoro and 91APP. However Taiwanese startups nonetheless want a variety of monetary and authorities help of the kind seen in South Korea and Japan, and I hope they get it.

To be clear, the Taiwanese authorities does supply funding. These embody grants of up to $100 million NTD ($3.2 million USD) for startups which can be lower than 5 years previous by means of Taiwan’s Nationwide Growth Fund and a whole bunch of other programs. Outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration additionally carried out insurance policies just like the New Southbound Policy for companies that plan to increase to South and Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

However what startups want is more cash to maintain later-stage progress. That is particularly essential for startups in sectors like deep-tech, which will take years earlier than they’re prepared for commercialization. A recent report by PwC and the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research discovered that almost all, or 77.3%, of funding occurs at angel and seed phases, with relaxation stretched out between growth-stage rounds.

This problem has, in fact, been compounded by the funding winter. VCs I talked to stated it’s typically tough for startups to get funding as soon as they hit Collection B and past. To make sure, the identical factor is presently taking place around the globe, however in Taiwan it’s particularly essential for startups to get long-term help in the event that they need to scale into different markets and put the nation’s startup ecosystem on the map. Monetary help doesn’t simply come within the type of capital. Founders and VCs additionally need to see extra tax subsidies for startups, much like those the federal government carried out for the biotech and semiconductor industries. Rules may also be modified to make acquiring international funding simpler.

Startups face the query of the place to increase very early on as a result of Taiwan is comparatively small with a inhabitants of 23.6 million folks. Over the past decade, I’ve heard a variety of totally different goal markets named by founders and traders. Those most often talked about are Southeast Asia, Japan, and South Korea due to their proximity, so I used to be shocked to see that the PwC named the USA as the highest goal picked by the startups it surveyed.

However that is sensible. Taiwan unicorn Excellent Corp, which supplies AI and augmented actuality software program for magnificence and trend manufacturers, has grown in the USA, along with different markets. Excellent Corp. has its personal app, YouCam, that lets customers attempt on totally different hair and make-up appears to be like, however its know-how has additionally been utilized by shoppers like magnificence conglomerates Estée Lauder and L’Oréal Paris and built-in into apps like YouTube, Snap, and Google Search.

Like Excellent Corp., Appier’s tech can also be centered round AI, which it makes use of to assist firms with person acquisition methods. The PwC/Taiwan Institute of Financial Analysis discovered that greater than 70% of the startups it surveyed have been engaged on AI tasks. The highest sector they’re focusing on is healthcare. In Taiwan, AI has already been deployed at Taichung’s China Medical University Hospital and Taipei’s National Taiwan University to assist with analysis.

One supply of hope for startups is President-elect Lai Ching-te’s promise to assist startups by means of strategic investments, loosening laws, and creating 20,000 new startup jobs. However loads continues to be unknown, together with coverage particulars and the way lengthy it is going to take to move new laws since no celebration holds an absolute majority within the Legislative Yuan. I lined Lai’s potential affect on the startup ecosystem.


Wow. Twelve years at For Millionaires. Writing this text means I spent a variety of time shifting by means of my previous posts, revisiting reminiscences from my time at For Millionaires. It was a visit down reminiscence lane and, in some circumstances, a visit down typo lane. In the event you made it with me to the top of this text, thanks.

I’m grateful to the individuals who have learn my work through the years and the startups and traders I’ve spoken to for my articles. I hope I’ve completed my half to assist extra readers perceive why tech in Asia just isn’t solely important to observe, however actually thrilling. Keep watch over Asia tech, or else it’s going to sneak up behind you after which do the tech equal of popping a balloon proper subsequent to your ears. For my readers in Chinese language-speaking international locations: 謝謝您們這麼用心,認真,持續閱讀我的報導.

Please proceed following Rita, Kate, Jagmeet, Manish and Ivan’s work at their writer pages. It’s been a pleasure, and intensely humbling, to be thought of their peer. If you wish to get in contact with me, my DMs are open on LinkedIn and X.