Every day we read about the latest and largest investment in tech firms in The United States and the subsequent adoration of the startup leaders behind the companies. Recent reports indicate that this trend is now shifting in favor of an increased focus on investing in tech companies in Asia. While the Asian tech startup world gets more and more mature, bigger and bigger investments are being poured into the Asian startups who want to stake a claim at the high stakes table. But Asian startup leaders seldom gain the adoration their western peers get, often staying under the radar until at least a billion dollar valuation is stamped on their company. Here’s a mix of exciting startup founders from small and big startups in Asia.
1. Jack Ma – Alibaba
While Alibaba technically can’t really be called a startup anymore, writing a list like this without mentioning the great Jack Ma is impossible. The story of Jack Ma coming from nowhere to becoming the richest man in China is one of our times best rags-to-richest story. Not touching a computer until at the age of 33, his achievement is truly remarkable. The fact that he’s also charismatic and funny further places him as the most exiting startup leader in Asia.
“When you have one million dollars, you're a lucky person. When you have 10 million dollars, you've got trouble, a lot of headaches. When you have more than one billion dollars, or a hundred million dollars, that's a responsibility you have – it's the trust of people on you, because people believe you can spend money better than the others.”
– Jack Ma
2. Lei Jun – Xiaomi
As in the case with Alibaba, it’s hard to see Xiaomi as a startup, being the worlds third biggest smartphone manufacturer with 5000 employees, but the startup tag is still hanging on to Lei Jun’s company that’s challenging Samsung and Apple. Know as the “Steve Jobs of China”, with his black-jeans-and-t-shirt trademark style Lei Jun co-founded fast-growing mobile phone maker Xiaomi in 2010 and set on the path to becomming on of the worlds largest tech companies. Flying a bit under the radar in the US, Jun earlier this month claimed at the National People’s Congress in Beijing that Xiaomi was on the path of growing the firms sales more than 50%, to $16 billion, this year.
“If people really want to compare Xiaomi to a foreign company, you can say it looks a bit like Apple. But it’s really more like Amazon with some elements of Google. So take these three companies together and it’s easier to clearly understand what kind of company Xiaomi is. Xiaomi selling mobile phones is like Amazon selling Kindles. So you can understand why we sell them for so cheap”
– Lei Jun
3. Wei Cheng – Didi Dache
Making the top three most exciting startup leaders in Asia all Chinese is Wei Cheng, co-founder and CEO of Didi Dache, China’s answer to Uber. With a announced merger with rival firm Kuaidi Dache (joint taxi-hailing market leader with 99.8% combined), Wei Cheng is set to co-chair the newly founded company with Kuaidi Dache CEO Dexter Chuanwei Lu, which analysts say could be valued at 6 billion U.S. dollars. Kuaidi Dache recently raised $600 million led by SoftBank, while Didi Dache raised $700 million from Tencent and others. Didi Dache is tightly integrated with Tencent’s WeChat app, making a Chinese market entry for Uber (coupled with continuing legal issues), a hard nut to crack.
“This is a Valentine’s Day’s gift to the Chinese people and our great journey is just getting started from here.”
– Wei Cheng
4. Praney Chulet – Quikr NXT
Leading the worlds fastest growing e-commerce market, India, is Pranay Chulet with his company Quikr NXT, which recently secured a fresh round of investment of $150 million, putting the estimated value of Quikr NXT at $1 billion. Quikr NXT is an online classifieds website where sellers can list anything they want to sell and communicate with sellers without giving out personal information. Its main verticals include cars, real estate, jobs, household electronics and services, having over 50 categories and Chulet thinks his company will grow 10 times in the next 3 years, further establishing their market leading position in one of the biggest economies in the world.
“We are initiating the Indian masses into transacting online. Many Indians in the hinterland are selling farm produce, such as “desi ghee (Indian clarified butter), mithai (Indian sweets) and even buffaloes.”
– Praney Chulet
5. William Tanuwijaya – Tokopedia
In the biggest publicized investment in South East Asia, Tokopedia of Indonesia is looking to be the Alibaba of the world's fourth most populous country, and its ecommerce market is fast becoming one of Asia’s most attractive destinations for investors. At the moment Tokopedia is a C2C marketplace but CEO William Tanuwijaya cites Jack Ma as an inspiration and might want to diversify his business model in the future. For sure, Tanuwijaya is one of the new influential tech leaders in SE Asia.
“If we can convince and carry the level of the company to match what the investors expect, it will provide them with the confidence to put money into other startups. This is what happened in Silicon Valley, China, India, Japan and South Korea. One story of success inspires other stories, and it eventually snowballs.”
– William Tanuwijaya
6. Steven Lam – GoGoVan
Uber for logistics in Asia, GoGoVan is the first and most popular logistic booking mobile app in Hong Kong. In less than one year, GoGoVan has built the largest logistic fleet in Hong Kong, which includes 18,000+ cargo vans and trucks. GoGoVan is rapidly expanding in South East Asia and looks set to be the market leader in SE Asia’s logistic network.
“Only good ideas are copied. We can’t worry about the others; we can only improve ourselves.”
– Steven Lam
Patrick Grove – iFlix
Singapore born Patrick Grove is one of the most visible personalities in Asia’s startup ecosystem, with a track record that’s turning heads. He has again and again taken successful concepts and given them an Asian twist. Grove is the CEO of Catcha Group who owns iFlix, (basically Netflix for Asia as the name suggests), and says that iFlix has a mobile-first focus. Many people in South East Asia only connect to the internet through their smartphones, so mobile-first seems like a safe bet for iFlix who haven't launched yet but are set to take the Asian entertainment business with storm.
“We were frustrated that, with such busy work schedules and always being mobile, it was impossible to watch what we wanted when we wanted. We saw that Netflix had pioneered a great internet TV business model, and wondered if that would work in Asia with a focus on mobile.”
– Patrick Grove
David Lee – Shakr
Trying to democratize the video ad business is South Korean based Shakr Media, with its founder and CEO David Lee at the helm. Shakr is a marketplace where designers can sell their Adobe After Effects video templates to individuals and SMBs, while getting the majority of the revenue. As a graduate of 500startups batch 10 and with over 500 video templates for SMBs and individuals to choose from, Shakr has positioned itself as one of the easiest ways for marketers and small businesses to produce video ads with no expertise needed.
“App developers have benefited from the app economy for many years, it’s our goal to give that to designers and enable them the creative and financial freedom their talent deserve.”
– David Lee
Did I miss someone who deserve to be on the (completely subjective) list? Leave your comment below.