Grace Sun Xia, Tencent’s Senior Director of Corporate Strategy and Investment, sat down for a highly anticipated fireside chat with Harry Wang, Founding Partner at Linear Venture – a VC that works with early stage startups in China – at Echelon Thailand.

I identify opportunities in other markets, and bring in companies to Tencent’s ecosystem,” says Grace, who spent time in Silicon Valley studying & working but returned to China to capture of its market opportunity.

What are her views on China’s ecosystem?

“In China, there is a large capital pool where a lot of companies can go big in a short amount of time.”

“China VCs are constantly looking at Asian markets – our secret is to get local and capable companies to work with us. We want to back them throughout the multiple stages of their business and we want to work with proven Chinese business models to help them succeed.”

What are her views on Southeast Asia’s paralleling ecosystem?

“Tencent started the process looking into the region two years ago,” says Grace. “There are more opportunities than challenges.”

Tencent led Go-Jek’s investment round for $1.2 billion in early May this year to strengthen its presence in Indonesia.

“Southeast Asia is a unique environment, the size is decent, the GDP is $2.3 trillion so technology and innovative business models can drive a large value increase,” says Grace.

Tencent’s Senior Director of Corporate Strategy believes a few business models can be successfully replicated in the region:

  • Share economy: it picked up great momentum in China and has good expansion potential in Southeast Asia.

China is in the process of transitioning from a manufacturing to a service centric economy and this is where “sharing” can drive the shift forward. But big corporations, regulators and the government need to work together to put boundaries around the sharing economy.

  • Tech infrastructure: payment apps need to be built to overcome the lack of credit card adoption.
  • Omni-channel: convergence of online and offline where brick and mortar stores can be used as fulfillment centres.

“In China, all the major ecommerce players have been investing in grocery stores and consumer electronics chains to gain access to a massive population that still shops offline.”

  • Diverse content & media space: China’s media space can facilitate anything from donations, transfer of virtual goods, content licensing, advertising, etc.

“Social platforms don’t have to be the centre piece of all services, Go-Jek is a good example as they are on the way to becoming a WeChat platform. Platforms with high frequency transactions can begin to monetize the traffic.”

“Content is king for all media companies in China. Those with the capability of creating IP (intellectual property) are able to connect with their fans, make income and own all rights to their content.”

Her final comments?

“China is know to be able to re-invent business models, but actually a lot of the new tech is coming out of China. How can anyone get sick of China’s market? There’s so much.”


Here’s what you should know today.

1. Shopee has seen a rise in popularity in Indonesia

Some metrics indicate it’s already beating fellow Singaporean mobile shopping app Carousell, which is almost three years older.

Shopee counts 200,000 daily transactions in Indonesia

At the Indonesian ecommerce summit (IESE) last week, the startup hosted a press conference, claiming to be Indonesia’s largest ecommerce player.

It’s tough to compare this directly with competitor’s metrics, as this data is released irregularly, if at all. Daily transactions, for example, are typically not disclosed by Indonesian ecommerce companies.

With potentially a good part of US$500 million fresh in its war chest, Shopee’s Indonesia operation could be one of the best-funded ecommerce endeavors in the country right now.

Read the rest of the story here.


2. Tencent results beat estimates as WeChat and games power growth

Revenue climbed to 49.6 billion yuan ($7.2 billion) in the three months ended March.

China’s internet titans are defying a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy. Chairman Pony Ma is now bolstering a $300 billion empire that encompasses everything from online gaming and social media to film and TV production.

WeChat had 937.8 million monthly active users and the mobile version of QQ had 678 million users at the end of the quarter. Revenue from Value Added Services, which includes online games and messaging, soared 41 percent to 35.1 billion yuan.

“We see strong ambition from Tencent in building a closed-loop ecosystem on WeChat,” Chen said in a March report, adding that the mini programs could help Tencent in app distribution, mobile payments and data-driven user profiling.

Read the rest of the story here.



3. Malaysia’s eCommerceMILO shutting down after four years

Ecommerce insights portal announces its shut down after four years in business. The website targets online merchants, retailers and industry players. The founders have addressed some controversy surrounding the platform’s name, as it resembles a certain beverage brand.

We wish the eCommerceMILO team the best of luck in their future endeavors.

Read the rest of the story here.


4. Recommended Reading: Cheat sheet: Department stores are nearing a death spiral

 “Right now, everyone’s in a bad place, but as they reconfigure, it’s going to come down to cross-channel capabilities,” said Jessica Ramirez, an analyst at the boutique retail firm Jane Halli and Associates. “Buy online, pick up in-store, reserve online, store shipping — these things are all very important. If you don’t have this approach, you’re in the dark ages.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Here’s what you need to know today.

1. B2B platform Bizzy acquires small startup, replaces CEO

Indonesian ecommerce company Bizzy has acquired a startup called Alpha. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Bizzy supplies other businesses with office equipment, electronics and stationery in bulk. The little-known startup Alpha has expertise in things like raw materials and spare parts, making it valuable to Bizzy’s business.

Post-acquisition, Alpha’s CEO Andrew Mawikere will become Bizzy’s new CEO.

Bizzy’s former CEO, Peter Goldsworthy, will take on a new role as Bizzy’s president.

The acquisition will see Bizzy make way into new markets with direct materials and services relating to spare parts, adding to its capabilities of supplying office necessities.

Read the rest of the story here.

eIQ published a guest post by Hermawan Sutanto, Chief Commercial Officer at Bizzy Indonesia in November 2016. To read his insights on Southeast Asia’s B2B ecommerce landscape, click here.


2. Tencent zones in on Southeast Asia, invests in karaoke app Smule

Smule, maker of music and karaoke apps, has secured US$54 million in a round of funding led by Tencent.

Tencent is zoning in on Southeast Asia for new opportunities across the fast-growing region. Thailand is a primary focus, illustrated by the company’s joint venture with e-book platform, Ookbee at the start of this year.

Read the rest of the story here


3. Instagram launches mobile web sharing to pursue global growth

In pursuit of international growth where networks are slow and data is expensive, Instagram has given its mobile website a massive upgrade that adds core features of the main app, including photo sharing and a lightweight version of the Explore tab.

 The mobile web launch ties in with Instagram’s global growth strategy aimed at the 80% of its users outside the US. Other product updates in this vein include web sign-up, a better on-boarding flow for low-end Android users, and the recent addition of offline functionality.

This could benefit users in Southeast Asia, where social commerce counts for a significant portion of ecommerce sales, especially in Thailand, a country with over 7.8 million Instagram users.

Read the rest of the story here.

In his seminal presentation at DLD15, NYU professor and serial entrepreneur Scott Galloway coined the term “The Four Horsemen” to describe the four most dominant companies in digital that have a combined market cap of $1.3 trillion (2014). These companies are Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.


Galloway’s Four Horsemen theory assumes a Western-centric view; the moment we move east, we start to see different pockets of power, most notably in China, and increasingly in Southeast Asia – the following are these differences.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

China’s version of the Four Horsemen is called BAT, representing the three kingdoms in China – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

Baidu: The Search Giant

Often considered the “Google of China”, the bulk of Baidu’s revenues come from search advertising. Unlike Google, Baidu has struggled to stay relevant in an environment that has rapidly shifted towards mobile and ecommerce. Discovery on mobile is increasingly favoring apps over search – ask yourself, do you find yourself searching less on mobile than on desktop?

And then there’s ecommerce. With the dominance of Alibaba, product searches are moving away from Baidu and straight onto Alibaba properties like Taobao and Tmall. The very same is happening to Google with over 55% of product searches now starting on Amazon and this is not even accounting for the damage Alexa aka Amazon’s next trojan horse may inflict on Google.

Alibaba: Ecommerce & More

Alibaba is the king of ecommerce, responsible for over 80% of online sales in China (B2C and C2C combined). Over the last 20 years, Jack Ma’s empire has grown into one that puts even Jeff Bezos to shame.

With expansion and investments in areas like advertising, health, entertainment and transportation, Alibaba is more than ecommerce nowadays. Its digital advertising business last year surpassed Baidu to become the number one in China in terms of net digital ad revenue share (28.9% vs. 21.3%), and is estimated to reach 33.7% by 2018 (vs. Baidu’s 17.6%).

Tencent: Gaming & WeChat

Tencent, the biggest among the BATs in terms of market cap – $300 billion vs. Alibaba’s $288 and Baidu’s $60 billion, 2017 – is best known for its popular messaging app WeChat. Its main revenue sources are gaming and value added services like virtual goods, etc.

The company has dabbled in ecommerce since the early 2000’s until it gave up on organic growth and took an investment in Alibaba’s competitor JD. Today, Tencent is JD’s biggest shareholder with 21.25% ownership, surpassing the 16.2% stake of JD Founder and CEO Richard Liu Qiangdong.

Three Kingdoms become Four Horsemen

With the global rise of on-demand and ride-sharing, China’s Didi Chuxing has cemented itself as the fourth horseman in China. The company is the result of a civil war between Didi Dache (backed by Tencent) and Kuaidi Dache (backed by Alibaba) and the newly merged entity subsequently assimilated Uber China to become the third most valuable private company globally, only trailing Uber ($68 billion) and Ant Financial ($60 billion).

Didi’s recent funding round of $5.5 billion values the company at $50 billion and gives it the ammunition needed to expand internationally and invest in self-driving technology.

With Baidu at risk of becoming the next Yahoo, many have looked at news reading app Toutiao to become one of the Four Horsemen in China. Launched in 2011, the company has benefited from the mobile and vertical media wave in China to become one of the most prominent digital media properties in the country.

Valued at $11 billion based on its recent $1 billion funding round, Toutiao is said to have 78 million daily active users and 175 million monthly active users with users spending an average 76 minutes on the app per day.

Southeast Asia: A Proxy War for Chinese Horsemen

The Southeast Asian tech space, despite being very nascent, has provided plenty of promising local successes to root for. There’s Tokopedia and Go-Jek in Indonesia and of course Grab, Garena (which owns Shopee) and Lazada regionally.

However, if we look beneath the surface, we’re seeing signs of a looming proxy war between Chinese tech giants, with expected local casualties through collateral damage.

Alibaba made its big entry into Southeast Asia through its Lazada purchase, Jack Ma’s biggest international acquisition to date. Its ongoing tour-de-force has led many local ecommerce players to join forces (e.g. Orami) or throw in the towel (e.g. Ascend Group).

JD entered Indonesia organically in 2015 to test the waters and it is now said to be in talks to invest millions into Tokopedia. All this follows the news of Tencent, JD’s biggest shareholder, leading the recent $1.2 billion investment into Indonesia’s Go-Jek, valuing the on-demand motorbike startup at a massive $3 billion.

Then there’s Didi Chuxing, who, through its acquisition of Uber China, “participation” in the anti-Uber alliance, and a crisp $350 million investment in Grab should know quite a lot by now about operating in international markets and Southeast Asia in particular.

Fresh off a massive $5.5 billion round, Didi may be going after its “allies” in Southeast Asia. What’s that phrase again? Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…

With an Alibaba camp (Lazada), a Tencent fraction (potentially Tokopedia, Go-Jek, and Shopee), and Didi Chuxing, there’s room for one more Horseman in Southeast Asia.

But it won’t be a Chinese company, the fourth Horseman in Southeast Asia is either going to be Facebook or Google, with my bets on the social media giant.

The whole Facebook vs. Google story in Southeast Asia deserves an entire article by itself but it basically boils down to:

  1. Google’s assets are narrowed down to search-only due to the lack of long-tail publisher inventory in Southeast Asia, which is required for a thriving display ad ecosystem to compete with Facebook;
  2. Southeast Asia is already mobile-first or, in some cases like Myanmar, mobile-only and less people are searching on mobile (same issue Baidu faced in China); and,
  3. The rise of ecommerce in Southeast Asia is eating into Google’s lucrative product searches. Post-Alibaba acquisition, Lazada is set to replicate Tmall’s ad monetization strategy. It has already started recruiting for its Marketing Solutions team as seen from job postings on its site. Survey data from ecommerceIQ for Indonesia shows 57% of users start their online shopping journeys with product searches on marketplaces like Lazada and Tokopedia, bypassing the Google tollgates.

Why Southeast Asia? Not for the obvious reasons.

Why all this sudden interest in Southeast Asia from our Chinese neighbors? The obvious, often reported, reasons:

  • Geographically close to China;
  • Huge, untapped market with 600 million people and a growing middle class;
  • China’s economy is slowing down and the BATs are sitting on piles of cash to spend on (overseas) growth;
  • Cultural affinity: Southeast Asia is home to the largest community of overseas Chinese (over 25 million across the region)

However, the main reason is that Southeast Asia–and with Southeast Asia I mean emerging Southeast Asia (i.e. Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam)–is very similar to China about 10 years ago. This is especially true when we look at aspects like prevalent business models, digital advertising landscape, and mobile adoption.

Primary Business Model: Ad-Driven vs. Commerce-Driven

Whereas US companies’ de facto way of monetization is advertising, Chinese firms have historically looked at ecommerce and transactions as a way to generate revenues. The poster child for this is of course Tencent. In 2016, only 18% of Tencent’s revenues came from advertising, up from 9.5% a decade earlier.

71% of Tencent revenues came from value added services (VAS), driven by online gaming, virtual goods sales and digital music downloads. Compare this to Facebook, who generated 98% of its revenues from advertising in 2016.

Another more recent example is Quora, the unicorn Q&A app now worth $1.8 billion after its latest $80 million funding round. After 8 years, the best Quora could come up with are intrusive, text-based contextual ads that were pioneered by Google in 2003.

On the other side of the world, Fenda, a Chinese Quora/Reddit hybrid, has gone beyond advertising and built a $100 million business by monetizing transactions. Technode explains how this model works:

“Users who are knowledgeable about a particular topic can set a price, usually between 1-500 RMB for their answers and get paid for answering questions from others. If they don’t reply within 48 hours, the money will be reimbursed to those who raised the questions.

In addition to connecting questioners and respondents in the Q&A chat interface, Fenda has an eavesdropping feature to engage more listeners. Anyone who is curious about the dialogue can listen to the reply for 1 RMB, which is split between the user who asked the question and the user who answered. After the completion of dialogue, Fenda will take 10% from the overall income from both parties.”

Non-Existent Long-Tail Publisher Ecosystem

At the very root of the ad-driven vs. commerce-driven dichotomy between US and China (and increasingly Southeast Asia) is an immature online advertising environment, perpetuated by a “chicken-and-egg” problem of supply and demand issues:

Supply-Side Issues

Internet adoption in China and emerging Southeast Asian countries didn’t reach critical mass until the mid-2000’s. These markets skipped most of the Web 1.0 and “Web 1.5” booms and jumped straight into Web 2.0, resulting in digital content creation happening mainly on closed social media platforms like Facebook or on vertically-integrated portals like Sina and Sanook.

Unlike in the US, there aren’t millions of long-tail websites and blogs that form the basis for the many ad networks and programmatic advertising. To make things worse, closed platforms like Facebook and portals like Sina sell most (if not all) of their ad inventory direct to consumer, bypassing exchanges for higher margins. We call this phenomenon a “No-Tail” ecosystem.

Demand-Side Issues

Aforementioned lack of quality ad inventory has led advertisers to buy directly on big portals and closed systems like Facebook. As a result, the lack of demand for ad networks like Google Display Network in Southeast Asia has suppressed RPM rates (revenue per 1,000 impressions) for local ad networks, providing little incentive for content creators.

In turn, content creators have found other ways to monetize. In Southeast Asia, peddling merchandise to your Facebook and Instagram audience has been one of the most popular and lucrative ways to make money. In Thailand, this has led to estimates of 33% of ecommerce GMV coming from social commerce.

In China, content creators are leveraging WeChat and increasingly live video apps to sell merchandise and generate revenue off virtual goods transactions. Meanwhile in the US, the de facto ways for bloggers to make money is still to create content and monetize through AdSense and affiliate marketing.

Mobile-First, Mobile-Only

The other striking similarity between China and emerging Southeast Asia is that both are mobile-first and in some areas mobile-only. Granted, some coastal areas in China developed pre-mobile era but given the size of China, many people are still coming online and these are mobile-first or mobile-only.

Unlike in the US, new startups in China are frequently building for the mobile user first then later expanding to desktop users. Fenda started out on WeChat followed by its own apps and website while Toutiao started out as an app.

In Southeast Asia, ecommerce players like Lazada already see over half of their orders coming from mobile. Indonesia’s BaBe, the country’s leading news aggregator app backed by China’s Toutiao, followed a similar path to its majority investor by taking a mobile-first approach.

Learning From Past Mistakes

All of these ecosystem similarities mean that Chinese companies entering Southeast Asia will have a higher chance to succeed.

It’s not the first time that Chinese BATs have ventured abroad, winding up with mixed results. Baidu announced its international expansion plans as early as 2006, launched in Japan with in 2007 then later shut it down in 2015 after lack of traction.

This time around, Alibaba, Tencent and perhaps Didi Chuxing are hopefully smarter and are more confident playing on familiar grounds – Southeast Asia.

Here’s what you should know today.

1. Indonesia’s Go-Jek raises $1.2 billion led by Tencent

The deal, which we understand was signed last week, values the company at $3 billion post money. It is expected to be officially announced “soon.”

Go-Jek raised $550 million as recently as August 2016, when it commanded a valuation of $1.3 billion so this new deal has pushed that figure up considerably over a short period of time

Go-Jek claims to have over 200,000 drivers across some 25 cities in Indonesia. It started out as a pure bike taxi player, but it has since expanded into four wheels with its GoCar private car service and a partnership with taxi firm Blue Bird.

The region’s ride-sharing market itself is predicted to grow from $2.5 billion in 2015 to $13 billion by 2025, according to a report co-authored by Google. Indonesia’s share of that segment is forecast to jump from an estimated $0.8 billion to $5.6 billion over that same period.

With the funding, Go-Jek will be valued at $3 billion.

Read the rest of the story here.


2. Facebook’s express Wi-Fi launches commercially in India

In India, Facebook is currently working with a number of local ISPs and 500 local entrepreneurs, but that number is about to grow.

The company previously launched the service commercially in Kenya and it’s also trialing it in Tanzania, Nigeria and Indonesia.

, the challenge of expanding the service to other countries isn’t so much technical as it is about understanding the local markets and needs. Chances are, though, that we’ll soon see more commercial launches in the other countries where Facebook is already testing the service.

Read the rest of the story here.


3. Recommended Reading: Walmart Ecommerce chief says there’s more work to do

When asked about the fate of mall-based retailers, including Sears and Macy’s, Marc Lore said he thinks the retail sector is still “fairly healthy” but that some brick-and-mortar brands may not survive over the long haul.

“There’s a chance that we will see some definitely not make it,” he said. “It’s not easy to change and adapt when things are moving really fast — you have to stay on top of it, and not everybody is. People are changing the way they shop, and companies that are able to adapt will do well and flourish. Those that don’t, won’t.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Here’s what you should know today.

1. China’s reportedly in talks to invest in Indonesian marketplace Tokopedia

JD is reportedly in early-stage negotiations to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in one of Indonesia’s largest online marketplaces.

JD’s potential investment may propel Jakarta-based Tokopedia past $1 billion in valuation

A successful deal with Tokopedia will take JD’s competition with Alibaba to Indonesia, an oil-rich country of 260 million that’s experiencing a surge in smartphone usage and middle class affluence.

Unlike Alibaba and fellow Chinese internet giant Tencent, JD has tended to grow its business organically, relying on its own networks of shippers and delivery-people to control quality and service.

Read the rest of the story here.


2. Singapore to help SMEs compete in the global marketplace

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s Budget 2017 has placed a strong emphasis on helping businesses stay competitive and grow in an increasingly global marketplace.

The new Go Digital Programme is a government ‘leg up’ for SMEs and an exciting new addition to a series of strategies to strengthen small and medium-sized businesses in Singapore.

More than $80 million will be made available from the government to fund these initiatives.

Read the rest of the story here.


3. Recommended Reading: A complete guide to Alibaba’s cross-border payment solution: Alipay ePass program

Alibaba’s Alipay ePass payment program is one such tool and was once expected to be the solution to international luxury brands’ battle with counterfeiting issues and the rampant overseas daigou market.

Alibaba launched its Alipay ePass payment system with U.S. brands on their e-commerce platform, allowing Chinese shoppers to pay for products with Chinese currency through Alipay.

ePass was designed to bring more than just a payment solution. Alibaba’s cross-border payment system also helps brands with logistics and marketing issues.

Merchants that join ePass also have access to Alibaba’s global logistics network.

Read the rest of the story here.