As Good as It Gets: The Top 10 Asian Startups
Silicon Valley has traditionally been the cradle of startup civilization. However, in recent years, Asian startups have begun rising to the forefront. In fact, more than 30% of all startups to attain unicorn status since 2009 originate from Asia. With increased investment in tech companies and digital marketing in Asia, Asian startups are poised to give their American counterparts a run for their money.
The Beijing-based ridesharing startup has become a legendary success story in only three years of operation. The company’s distinctive orange-wheeled bicycles can be seen whizzing around cities from Shanghai to Rotterdam. Their innovative dockless sharing system allows users to leave their bicycles almost anywhere. Mobike reached unicorn status in 2017 and is currently valued at around $3 billion. With more than 100 million users, it is now the largest bicycle ridesharing company in the world.
The company has revolutionized AI-driven online news since it launched in 2012. Today, it owns six of the most popular apps in China. Toutiao’s popular news, pp currently boasts over 600 million users and is worth $11 billion. The startup has been snapping up new properties left and right, including Musical.ly and American video app Flipagram. Toutiao has expanded outside of China with its TopBuzz app available in Japan, Brazil, and the United States. According to industry insiders, the company is exploring an IPO in the US.
This Chinese real estate company has found runaway success by mixing traditional business practices with modern technology. Lianjia has been in business for more than 15 years, but never really took off until they morphed into a proptech firm. They now offer expedited real estate services on their website and their app. The company also has trademark green brick-and-mortar locations distributed strategically around China where potential buyers and sellers can meet a real estate agent in person to discuss property transactions. Lianjia is currently valued at $6 billion and has raised more than $1 billion from venture capitalists.
The Chinese government is investing heavily in AI, and SenseTime has reaped the rewards of this interest. The company’s facial recognition software was first developed by a team of scientists in Hong Kong in 2014 and received backing from the government. Today, some of China’s largest companies utilize the technology to verify identification and detect fraud. Heavy hitters like Qualcomm and Alibaba have seen the startup’s promise and have injected abundant cash into the company. SenseTime is now worth around $1 billion and has received over $600 in funding from venture capitalists.
5. Viva Republica
CEO Seunggun Lee founded the mobile payment company in 2013 after he became exasperated with the clumsy, time-consuming nature of online money transfers. He developed Toss, an app that quickly allows users to transfer funds from their smartphones. He soon built the company into one of South Korea’s most successful startups, attracting investment from heavyweights like PayPal and Qualcomm. Viva Republica is valued at around $600 million and is poised to be a major game changer in Asia’s fintech sector.
Ofo has the success story that every startup would love to emulate. Started by a group of university students in Beijing, the company raised initial funds of $1 million to bring their yellow bicycles onto the city’s streets. Ofo’s ridesharing service soon spread like wildfire across China and expanded into other Asian countries like Japan and Singapore. By 2017, Ofo had also entered markets in Europe and the United States. Currently, Ofo boasts a fleet of 10 million bicycles and is valued at around $3 billion.
In the complex world of automotive startups, there are many non-starters, flashing a fantastic PR campaign and then sinking like a stone never to be heard of again. Chinese unicorn NIO is not one of these firms. The company caused industry jaws to collectively drop when they debuted their blisteringly fast EP9 electric supercar in 2017. They also introduced the ES8, a more practical electric SUV, at the end of the year. NIO has big plans to introduce a self-driving car by 2020. They are widely seen as China’s answer to the publicity and technology juggernaut that is Tesla.
Japan’s biggest startup relies on the basic human urge to shop. The company’s simple app lets users buy and sell items from the convenience of their smartphone; Mercari takes a 10% cut of each sale. The app has grown to include more than 40 million users in both Japan and the US. The startup had no trouble in attracting a bevy of interested investors and reached unicorn status in 2016. Mercari recently announced that they are preparing for an IPO in June 2018.
At last count, China had almost 9 million trucks hauling goods on its roads. Beijing startup Fuyoukache launched in 2014 to solve the thorny problem of managing this enormous transport fleet. After modest initial funding, the logistics firm began attracting a massive influx of funding from venture capitalists at Legend Capital and ZhenFund. By 2018, they had collected almost $1 billion in investments.
10. Renew Power
In 2011, Indian entrepreneur Sumant Sinha left Suzlon Energy to launch his own renewable energy company. Since then, he has transformed Renew Power into one of the most successful startups in India. With dozens of wind turbine farms and multiple solar projects, Renew Power has emerged as a leading contender in Asia’s solar and wind energy sector. The company is currently valued at $2 billion and has attracted investment from such diverse sources as Goldman Sachs and the Canadian government.
Asia is rapidly expanding the infrastructure needed for a robust startup community. Asian countries have overtaken Europe in venture capital funding. With multiple startups from China, India and South Korea reaching unicorn status, the startup market in Asia has never looked so promising. As existing firms continue to grow and new companies pop up, the global startup market continues to tip towards Asia.