Thailand Startup 2017 Wrap Up: Fundings, Exits & Noteworthy Events
Summary report on the Thailand tech startup ecosystem in 2017
Looking back on 2017 as funding activities started to cool down but surge up in value, and category winners started to flourish.
Before starting this post, I would like to express my sincere thanks for all of your kind messages and interests. This annual post was initially started for just a few friends, and I am truly grateful to know it has been useful to thousands of founders, investors and interested people, amazingly from already over 10 countries. Wishing everyone a very happy holiday with your friends and family!
Biggest deal of the year comes back to e-commerce sector thanks to end-to-end e-commerce solutions aCommerce’s $65M Series B round. This number is, again, Thailand’s new record, hitting almost 4x of the previous $17.5M figure set by Omise. To demonstrate the increasing appreciation of successful startups grown out of Thailand, the data are shown below.
Biggest disclosed funding in Thailand (2012–2017):
- 2012: $2M (Ookbee, Series A)
- 2013: $1.1M (HotelQuickly, Seed)
- 2014: $10.7M (aCommerce, Series A)
- 2015: $7M (2C2P, Series C)
- 2016: $17.5M (Omise, Series B)
- 2017: $65M (aCommerce, Series B)
Deal Breakdown & Highlights
- After the consecutive growing period, 2017 started to cool down in terms of deal number but continued to grow in size, with at least $160M in disclosed funding, approximately double of 2016.
- Multiple biggest investment records were set this year by aCommerce ($65M), followed by Pomelo ($19M+) and Ookbee ($19M).
- Most investment amount started to come from a few growth-stage companies as the high-value startups secure larger deals at higher premiums. Around 2/3 of Thailand’s total announced funding this year were from the top 3 companies above alone. This pattern will likely continue over the next few years due to both the ecosystem becoming more mature and influx of the money from Asian powerhouses.
- 7 out of 8 announced Series A rounds involved participation from local Thai investors, demonstrating that the Series A gap no longer exists and the round is already well taken care of by local investors. However, the larger size of post-A rounds still indicates a considerable need for foreign capital to fill in.
- Sector-wise, Fintech continued to lead the category with the highest deal number at 6 deals, followed by Lifestyle at 5 and Commerce and Services at 4 each.
- In terms of disclosed funding amount, Commerce was the leader with $85M, followed by Lifestyle at $24M and Fintech which dropped to $14M.
- Lastly, HR Tech had officially caught up with over $6M fundraising closed in 2017 alone compared to around $3M in total so far till 2016. Among the funded companies are Helpster, GetLinks, Fastwork and WorkVenture which focus on hiring of various segments from freelancers and on-demand services to tech-focused workforce.
Notable deals in 2017 include the following:
- Post-Series B — Ookbee ($19M), Omise (undisclosed)
- Series B — aCommerce ($65M), Pomelo ($19M+)
- Pre-Series B — Eko ($2M)
- Series A — Deliveree ($14.5M), Zanroo ($7.4M), WorkVenture ($3.6M), Finnomena ($3.2M), T2P ($3M), Giztix ($1.65M), Digio (undisclosed), Event Pop (undisclosed)
- Strategic — Favstay ($2.8M)
Again, I could not emphasize enough that fundraising only indicates the investors’ confidence and speed of growth the companies aim for. Don’t fall victim to the halo effect – there’s a number of companies outside the spotlight which raised very minimum amount of money (or not at all) and still achieved a fantastic growth in a more organic way.
The deal size itself is not a big point here but the consolidation of companies on their way to one of the very first tech IPOs in Thailand made it an interesting news for the country. The two companies share a lot in common — both are driven by the most robust community in their respective field, and make the majority of their revenue from advertisement. As currently most of the country’s online spending are still going out to overseas players like facebook and google, this formation of to-be online media powerhouse also serves the purpose of enabling the local providers to understand and serve the local businesses better. Apart from advertising, Wongnai has been exploring new growth engine from non-media businesses such as food delivery and payment as the company explores new opportunities along their vision to ‘connect people to good stuff’.
The New Wave of Corporate Capital
At least 10 companies had formally joined Thailand’s investor circle of the startup revolution scene in 2017, either by setting up a new venture investment unit or making direct investment into technology companies. Nonetheless, I will not cover needless eye-catching figures like how many hundreds of dollars were committed by these corporations due to the fact that
- some funds will be mainly deployed into overseas companies and funds rather than local startups;
- some funds will focus more on traditional SMEs, not solely startups;
- and to be honest, some funds may not be very active or last for a long time.
The list of the corporations (and their respective investment unit) is as follows. For further details such as fund size and investment policy, there’s an abundant PRs which can be easily looked up.
- Financials: Bangkok Bank (Bualuang Ventures), Bank of Ayudhya (Krungsri Finnovate), Kasikornbank (Beacon Venture Capital), Muang Thai Life Insurance (Fuchsia)
- F&B: Boonrawd Brewery
- Industrial & Property Development: Siam Cement Group (AddVentures), Ananda Development (Ananda UrbanTech), Sansiri (Siri Ventures)
- Resources: PTT (Express Solution)
- Retail: Central Group
The China Giants’ Market Entry
Not many companies could win the regional game in this highly fragmented Southeast Asia market, and the big players know the single-market leaders will be the best bets they have. Key movement in Thailand for the Chinese this year were:
- JD.com officially set its foothold in Thailand through e-commerce and fintech-focused joint ventures with retail conglomerate Central Group. The aggregate investment could be up to $500 million. The e-commerce giant also made investment into online fashion Pomelo.
- Tencent doubled down its push into Thailand with a new joint venture with Ookbee called Ookbee U to focus on user-generated content (UGC) market. Previously the WeChat owner had acquired one of Thailand’s pioneer web portals Sanook and rebranded to Tencent Thailand in 2016.
- Alibaba invested another approximately $1 billion to increase its stake in Lazada Group from 51% to around 83% after its acquisition in 2016. The deal implies the new valuation of the regional e-commerce platform at a staggering $3.15 billion.
- Fintech startup Omise acquired the payment and e-wallet business of Paysbuy, one of Thailand’s very first payment gateways and a subsidiary of mobile operator DTAC. This deal gave Omise access to tier-one enterprises with a strong footprint in various industries including telco, insurance, hospitality, travel and e-retail. This brought a brand new paradigm for the ecosystem because we normally see large corporations buying startups and this deal went exactly the other way around — with a startup on the buy side for a part of larger corporation.
- Social listening companies Thoth Zocial and OBVOC merged together at a combined value of $9M and raised a new $1M funding. The vertical merger deal will help combine their customer portfolio of over 100 clients in Thailand as well as wider expertise and offerings to help clients from marketing and public relations to product functions.
The ICO (Initial Coin Offering)
The global phenomenon of ICO made no exception to the land of smiles, and OmiseGO became the first ICO project in Thailand, raising $25 million for the development of an open payment platform and decentralized exchange based on Ethereum, an open-source public blockchain. (This was also among the first cases of a controlled ICO as opposed to the gold rush ones) Despite the public’s seemingly over excitement and appreciation of the ICO, the fact that such high-tech product developed in Thailand was gaining the visibility and acceptance on the global level is a startling milestone to applaud.
The Law Amendment for the Startup Ecosystem
After the long efforts by many stakeholders, the cabinet has approved the drafting of the amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code of Thailand in order to support startup companies and investors better. The upcoming changes will address three key issues which have been impediments to the local ecosystem so far — Convertible Note, Preference shares, and ESOP.
The Public Market
While most prominent exits have been trade sales in this region, the landscape is about to change gradually. Following the footsteps of Australia’s ASX and Singapore’s SGX, Thailand’s public market started to adapt and show a positive welcome signal for technology companies to consider getting listed locally. This year software-oriented HR management company Humanica undertook an IPO on the main bourse SET. It’s interesting to see the shares of technology companies being traded at relatively high P/E, implying investors’ anticipation and confidence of continuing growth.
The other two companies which got listed on the second bourse mai in 2016 are Comanche International which is a software developer for tourism industry with focus on hotels and Netbay which provides electronic transaction services to government sector.
Some observation points worth mentioning:
- It took 12–14 years for the companies above before becoming public, but with more robust ecosystem the new generation startups are expected to get listed within a much shorter period.
- These three companies had less than THB 100M (around $3M) in annual net profit in 2016.
- All of them also had a healthy net profit margin in common at 20–32%.
I never hide my personal affection towards helping founders go public rather than selling their companies and (more importantly) people to foreigners, and the next few years will be an exciting time for the pioneers who will have an opportunity to show an example for younger entrepreneurs to look up to.
As local winners start to blossom, Thailand ecosystem can look forward to more big and small exits, with regional giants and big corporations keeping a closer look and the stock exchanges awaiting to welcome more technology companies. Continuing entries of regional and greater APAC players will come with both bigger opportunities and threats, and differences between noises and signals are about to show.
Note: All contents and opinions expressed in this story are humbly of my own and do not represent those of any of my current or previous employers.