It isn’t just Mixed Martial Arts packing a punch in Southeast Asia—the cage action has never been more thrilling, my colleagues from Jakarta and Bangkok tell me. Tech startups’ one-two punch is also evident across many countries; knockout matches and submission finishes are already driving investors to the region.
‘Factory Asia’ to ‘Market Asia’ to ‘Power Asia’—the change in the moniker for Southeast Asia is well timed.
A region which grew in the shadows of China for a long time is finally coming out of it. And in no small measure due to China itself. Be it the looming trade war with the US, in which case businesses are rethinking their supply chains out of China and relocating it to Southeast Asia. Or be it the growth imperatives of Chinese companies, in which case investing, acquiring or partnering with Southeast Asian companies is already common.
Cultural similarities aside, Southeast Asia allows Chinese (and, increasingly, Indian) companies to internationalise—an image makeover, of sorts. The world’s highest-valued startup, Beijing-based Bytedance, for instance, is swiftly building out a base in Singapore. Not just for itself but for TikTok, its runaway popular short video app.
With the combined economy of the region approaching $3 trillion, about the same as India’s today, Southeast Asia is a story that business journalists would find hard to resist. The 10-member ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is already chalking out an integration plan, the ASEAN Economic Community 2025, to facilitate better flow of capital, data, and people in the region. Not just new economy companies, even large conglomerates and family-owned businesses in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and everywhere else are dipping their toes in technology and new investment infrastructure. Venture capitalists are unicorn-hunting, too.
As technology comes to play a dominant role in all this, we at The Ken believe the region needs a new kind of tech journalism.
One that connects the dots, not just relays deal announcements.
One that questions businesses to better understand them, not just serve as cheerleader.
One that serves the readers, not advertisers and investors.
As chroniclers of news, it’s hard for journalists not to get carried away when a company gets robots to make pizzas in trucks, en route to raising hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. Or when every big internet company invests in every other small internet company hoping things add up to yield a Flubber-like lift to the valuation.
But in region after region, it’s evident that tech has transitioned from being a minnow to becoming uncomfortably close to establishment, if not becoming the establishment itself. Who would have thought Indonesian unicorn Gojek’s founder, Nadiem Makarim, would choose politics over leading a cut-throat super-app business?
In the last year or so, the excesses of a good number of Silicon Valley darlings have changed the rules of the tech game. Already planned IPOs in Southeast Asia are being dumped; egregious startups are flaming out; green shoots are visible in the unlikeliest of places.
So, with great hope, we enter Southeast Asia with a new edition of The Ken.
It’s not easy to cover a region of nearly 650 million people in 11 extremely diverse countries. But we think we’ve got you covered. Since our launch in October 2016, we’ve decidedly taken an India-centric lens to the stories we write; our Southeast Asia team will do the same. Our five writers in five countries will tell stories that are inside out, with deep reporting and whip-smart analysis—journalistic investments that make features must-read and memorable, while also imbuing them with longer shelf-life.
Over the next few days you’ll hear more from my colleague Jon Russell, our Southeast Asia editor, and his hand-picked team, excited and raring to go. For a little over three years, The Ken has done just one thing—publish one story a day. Now, we have another edition doing the same, in a new geography. It’s going to be hard; we are aware of it. But as tomes of behavioural science research show, it’s better to focus on ‘where you are going, than how you are feeling’. So here we go.
Thank you for being our subscribers and TKSEA early adopters.
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Here’s to our mutually rewarding and long association.
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