From startup to success: 5 Unicorns from South-East Asia You Need to Know


Who could have imagined a few years back that South-East Asia would become the place to be for so many successful startup companies reaching the unicorn status?

Looking from afar at the South-East Asian countries we imagine tropical beaches and relaxing sunsets. However, if we take a closer look we see that SEA is home to over 620 million people from 11 countries, with a combined GDP of US$2.57 trillion.

And that is something to consider by any startup founder or investor interested to start a business here or invest in one.

Let’s discover some of the biggest tech startups that reached the unicorn status in South-East Asia.


5 Big Unicorns of the South-East Asian landscape

1. Grab

It goes without saying that Grab is one of the most successful startups from SEA and it’s today valued at US$6 billion.

Though initially started in Kuala Lumpur back in 2012, the Grab founders chose Singapore soon after in order to continue their regional expansion.

They appeared as an answer to the American-based company Uber and teamed up with large investors like China’s Didi to provide great service and low-cost to its customers from the region.

These days, we can easily take a Grab in 30 cities from Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.  

2. Sea

The company that carries the acronym for South-East Asia was formerly known under the name of Garena.

They come close behind Grab and they are heavily supported by big investors such as Tencent. At this moment, they are evaluated at $4.5billion.

The company was founded in 2009 in Singapore by Forrest Li, a Chinese-born entrepreneur, and it was rebranded after securing $550 million funding to be able to compete against Chinese e-commerce giants, such as Alibaba.

The company looks to establish itself as a major player in the e-commerce space from SEA and they display a big interest for Indonesia, one of the largest countries in the region.

Among their main businesses, we can name the online gaming brand Garena, the online shopping brand Shopee and the payment service AirPay.

3. Lazada

Lazada is the name that comes to everybody’s minds when thinking about a great customer experience.

The SEA e-commerce store was established in 2011 in Singapore by Maximillian Bittner and it is evaluated today at US$3.2 billion.

Along the years, Lazada grew fast and made a name for itself across the SEA region, including China and India where it faced serious competition from JD, Alibaba, Flipkart and Snapdeal.

One of the biggest developments for Lazada came from Alibaba which invested more than US$2 billion in order to expand the company’s operations in South-East Asia.

The company continues to invest into enhancing the shopping experience by creating better logistics and faster payment.

4. Go-Jek

We all know Grab and Uber are big in South-East Asia, but we have to mention Go-Jek and their strong presence in Indonesia if we want to have the entire picture.

Why is Indonesia important? Simply because it is the largest economy in South-East Asia and Go-Jek’s Indonesian management team places a high focus on the country they know best.

Go-Jek was founded in 2011 and received in the last years large funding support from big companies, such as Google, Temasek and China’s Meituan-Dianping, Tencent and JD and this is quite a good reason for them to remain optimistic about the following years.

Besides transport options on demand, Go-Jek’s services include grocery delivery and the Go-Pay mobile payment app.

5. Traveloka

Traveloka was founded in 2012 and it is considered to be the number one flight search and booking website in Indonesia.

It is valued at US$2 billion providing airline and accommodation ticketing services and focusing mainly on the local Indonesian market.

Its platform permits users access all the necessary tourism infrastructure by easy booking services for hotels, airlines, local operators, travel agencies, etc. The main countries – besides Indonesia – reached by Traveloka include Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines.

Among the biggest investors of the company, we can name Expedia, East Ventures, Hillhouse Capital Group, and Sequoia Capital.


Long gone are the years one could see unicorns rising only from the Western and the highly-developed Asian countries.

These days it is normal to see American and Chinese giant companies investing large sums of money in startups from South-East Asia and competing on the local markets.

As this region continues to grow organically, but also by developing common economic policies, we expect to see more companies reaching the unicorn status in countries from South-East Asia.

Are you looking to become the next unicorn in the digital space?

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