Tue. Feb 18th, 2020

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” – Bruce Lee

In the wake of the WeWork/Softbank debacle, investors’ flight to quality amidst global economic uncertainty, and the momentum to drive more Southeast Asia exits, Bruce Lee’s famous words, “be like water,” best encapsulates a compelling approach to taking on the next decade of Southeast Asia tech.

The last ten years have seen Southeast Asia’s ecosystem born out of the war chests and digital infrastructure of global giants, from Alibaba to Amazon, and it’s only in the latter part of the decade that local unicorns have emerged, in part thanks as well to the Midas touch of big tech.

While the influence of these maturing markets will remain strong as more money doubles down on the region, what has become clear over the past decade is that the firepower of these tech giants needs to match with local partnerships, maturity, and expertise. In other words, what will determine the wins in this region is the ability to “be like water” and embrace the region’s many shapes.

Becoming the markets

China’s big tech is already demonstrating this “be water” approach in shoring up their positions in the region, taking more entering more ground-up, market-specific initiatives, especially in fintech, with Ant Financial, Xiaomi, and Tencent (through Sea) joining the Singapore digital banking race and JD launching a mobile wallet in Thailand with Central Group.

Go-jek and Grab are also taking on the challenges of securing market-specific positions in the region, albeit through different routes. Grab’s gung-ho approach has landed it significant beachheads across several markets, and now it’s a question of securing sustainable foundation in each market amidst the competition and pressure to show long-term profitability.

Go-jek, on the other hand, is going in the reverse, taking a more plug-and-play route given the success of their ecosystem take on Indonesia, now working out which stack of services and acquisitions will establish their presence in other markets without draining their stronghold in Indonesia.

Becoming the industry
Founders endemic to their industry have an advantage tackling industry-specific inefficiencies. Ritase’s Iman Kusnadi, with more than a decade in logistics, shares his views on transforming logistics in Indonesia. Read more »

Becoming the rural economy
This “be water” approach reflects in how startups are bringing digital to the region’s rural economy.  Read how startups like Payfazz and Shipper are tapping into existing community infrastructure and network efforts to scale their services. Read more »

Becoming the future of the region
In this feature for the organizers of SuperReturn, we talk about the “be water” approach in the LP-GP dynamic when it comes to investing, where it’s not just about making the best bets, but setting up the odds for success from the very beginning. Read more »

Becoming the healthtech SEA needs
While there’s a wide range of healthtech solutions, which ones will really be effective in Southeast Asia? According to our healthtech analyst Linh Nguyen, it’s a matter of finding the golden ratio between “care” and technology for each market. Read more »

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