Editor’s take: The week that was – March 30-April 3

Home office. Photo by Djurdjica Boskovic on Unsplash

As we come to the end of another week, a few things are clear.

We don’t know how long the pandemic will last and how the downturn will play out. The rules that defined private equity and venture capital investing are being rewritten. Work, as we know it, may never be the same again as many continue to hurt on the jobs front and need a helping hand.

We understand these are difficult times for our readers as well as our reporters. Amidst lockdowns and challenges of working from home, we are using all our journalistic firepower to track the ongoing changes, as the startup and investing landscape gets reshaped. We believe that some of the standout companies of the next decade will be shaped and burnished by this crisis.

If you are not a subscriber, I would encourage you to pick up a subscription to take full advantage of the exclusives, analysis and data-led stories the DealStreetAsia team puts out every week. Independent media companies need your support, especially in these times.

Top 10 things from the week that was

1. We ended the week with the news break from our Indonesia reporter Ardi Wirdana on C-level exits and mass layoffs at Traveloka. The sudden turn of events has dealt a blow to the unicorn which had planned to continue its expansion beyond Southeast Asia in 2020. It had kicked off the process by launching services in Australia last year.

It also comes at a time when the online travel company has been in talks to raise around $500 million in fresh funding. We understand the process is being handled by its chief strategy officer, Joydeep Chakraborty.

2. Another company that has been forced to cut jobs is Malaysian streaming platform iflix. Our features editor Kenneth Lim has the details here.

iflix is confronted with a 31 July 2020 deadline to complete a public listing, failing which it may be forced to redeem over $47.5 million of convertible loans.

Its latest layoffs highlight how Southeast Asia’s streaming players have struggled to compete with Netflix and other international players. Last week, Singtel-backed streaming service HOOQ Digital filed for liquidation, citing an inability to provide sustainable returns and cover escalating costs.

3. The situation is quite challenging in India too. This story from Madhurima Nandy at Mint highlights the severe disruption that startups in the fast-growing consumer categories such as fashion, beauty and furniture are facing on account of the 21-day lockdown by the Indian government to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

A story from India that I found moving was by Mihir Dalal & Salman S.H from Mint on how the gig economy hurts the small guys.

Gig economy workers are among the worst affected by the COVID-19 outbreak as their earnings have almost vanished. While clever corporate jargon such as driver entrepreneurs and delivery partners as well as on-demand and flexible hours may have got many to sign up, the story notes that as far as drivers and blue-collar workers are concerned, the crisis makes it clear it’s much safer and more lucrative to seek employment in traditional sectors.

4. The big news from the PE space is that CVC Capital Partners has closed its fifth Asia Pacific fund at its hard cap of $4.5 billion, exceeding an original target of $4 billion. The increased fund size, CVC said, “reflects the expanded investment capability” of the firm across Asia.

CVC had recently bagged an exit from Japanese home services and nursing care company HITOWA Holdings, which it sold to Polaris Capital. It is learnt to be amongst suitors for Vietnam-based education firm Apollo English, Indonesia’s Soho Global Health and Hong Kong’s gaming company Leyou Technologies Holdings.

Meanwhile, my colleague Mars W. Mosqueda Jr. wrote about Sydney-headquartered fund-of-funds manager ROC Partners making another close of its fourth Asia private equity fund at $120.15 million.

5. It is not news anymore that a new education revolution is well underway.

My colleague Eudora Wang covered Beijing-based online education startup Yuanfudao‘s announcement of it raising $1 billion at a $7.8 valuation in a Hillhouse Capital-led round. China’s online education industry is projected to reach nearly $64 billion this year.

Our Vietnam reporter Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc explains how the education revolution is playing out in the Southeast Asian country — in the form of blended learning. Vietnam boasts a 70% internet penetration but has a lot of catching up to do with other markets in online education. According to some estimates, e-learning could become a $750 million market in the country by 2030.

6. As most Southeast Asian unicorns pursue their ‘super app’ strategy, Ravi Balakrishnan has this interesting development on how their ambitions have also turned them into, among other things, digital media owners. The likes of Grab, Gojek and Shopee have all started to pay more attention to in-app advertising and marketing, hoping it will become a revenue spinner for them as it has been for Amazon.

7. Our most popular story this week was this analytical long read from Kristie Neo on the challenges faced by first-time fund managers in SEA in raising their debut vehicles.

In Southeast Asia, there are at least 19 venture capital firms raising capital for the first time. Some of these funds were experimenting with a new strategy, exploring an underserved market or an underrated sector, putting risk capital where risk is deemed the greatest – until COVID-19 burst onto the scene.

8. We began our week by writing about one of the best-kept secrets in the Indonesian startup space – e-commerce unicorn Tokopedia having made a strategic investment in local last-mile delivery company SiCepat to boost its logistics capabilities.

The deal was sealed last year and Tokopedia’s investment was part of SiCepat’s $50 million Series A funding round. This marks Tokopedia’s second investment in a last-mile delivery startup, as it had earlier teamed up with local conglomerate Triputra Group and China’s SF Express to set up a last-mile delivery platform, Anteraja.id, with an initial investment of $50 million.

9. Sticking with Indonesia, among our most-read story this week was an analysis by Andi Haswidi, Sarah Yuniarni – on how grassroots anger threatens Indonesian P2P lenders’ efforts to repair their image.

Consider the data points: The number of borrower accounts in the country has quadrupled in the past year to 20.5 million as of January, while the number of lender accounts almost tripled to 616,000. The total value of outstanding loans also more than doubled in the given period. The overall default rate, meanwhile, increased to 4 per cent as of January from 1.7 per cent a year before.

The situation may get a lot worse as the ongoing coronavirus outbreak may lead to more individuals and small companies that have borrowed monies via the P2P route to default in droves. Our Indonesia team will continue to track this development.

10. Now for some positive news – mega deals are booming in China again, and its IPO market appears to have made a comeback.

Large deals reported in China last week include Pinduoduo raising $1.1 billion in a private placement, Alibaba planning to buy at least 10% stake in Chinese courier Yunda, Legend Biotech raising $150.5 million, 4Paradigm closing a $230 million Series C+ round and Hualan Bio’s vaccine unit raising $292 million from Hillhouse and M&A specialist Liu Xiaodan.

Another significant development was Shanghai topping the global IPO league table for the first time in nearly three years. A total of 33 companies raised $7.31 billion on the Shanghai mainboard and the city’s startup-focused STAR market, according to Refinitiv data for the first quarter, easily outstripping Nasdaq, where 17 companies raised $5.13 billion.

SoftBank this week

A weekly wrap is never complete without SoftBank Group, and on the news front, there was plenty from the Japanese behemoth. Here are some of the stories we carried.

  • The biggest news was SoftBank scrapping a $3 billion agreement to buy WeWork stock from former Chief Executive Officer Adam Neumann and other shareholders, despite threats of legal action from some members of the company’s board.
  • SoftBank offers a glimpse of the pain the private equity world is in. Its desperate scramble must resonate with many private equity firms out there, whose portfolio companies will inevitably need their patrons’ help.
  • SoftBank-backed car trader Chehaoduo said to explore funding options, while the satellite operator OneWeb, which it has backed, has filed for bankruptcy.

Finally

The biggest talking point among startups and investors this weekend is the Luckin Coffee scandal.

After the US-listed Chinese coffee chain said its COO had fabricated transactions in 2019, its shares plunged over 80 per cent. One can safely assume that the chain (touted as a rival to Starbucks), and which had about 4500 outlets in 2019-end, will fail to achieve its target of being in 10,000 locations by the end of 2021.

The Luckin Coffee scandal, in addition to dealing a new blow to corporate China, and catching out the some of the world’s most powerful investors including BlackRock, GIC Pte and Louis Dreyfus, may also impact Indonesian coffee startups Kopi Kenangan and Fore, which have emulated Luckin’s grab-and-go model and are looking to raise mega-rounds of their own.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.