It’s 2012. And the venue, the sidelines of a tech event in Singapore. A scrum of young entrepreneurs have crowded around Vinnie Lauria—a young investor, recently arrived from the US—jostling for his business card. Their goal? Just a few hundred thousand dollars from a seed investment pot estimated at $5 million.
The firepower at Lauria’s disposal—and consequently, his stardom among entrepreneurs—has dramatically risen since then.
Golden Gate Ventures, which Lauria founded with Singaporean Jeff Paine and fellow American Paul Bragiel, recently closed its third fund at $100 million. It is working on completing a second $200 million ‘growth fund’ in partnership with Hanwha Asset Management, one of the top fund managers in South Korea with over $80 billion in assets under management. Today, the Singapore-based fund dishes out multi-million-dollar cheques, stretching to Series A, B and beyond.
There are others too, clamouring for a piece of this very lucrative Southeast Asia VC pie. Venture capital funds began to set up bases in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in the early 2010s. Many have grown their fund sizes beyond $100 million in less than 10 years.
Since 2012, the region has given rise to 10 unicorn startups with a combined market value of $34 billion. Along the way, the VC deal volume quadrupled from 2012 to 2017 to reach 524 deals, according to a report by Bain & Company. The same report predicts that at least 10 new unicorn startups will emerge from the region by 2024.
Jungle Ventures, founded by Amit Anand and Anurag Srivastava, debuted with a $10 million fund in 2012. They closed a third fund of $240 million in October, becoming one of the largest VC firms in the region.
Seed investor Wavemaker Partners, which also began in 2012, is in the process of raising $100 million for its third regional fund. It started with a maiden fund of just $6.5 million.
This sort of hyper-growth is typical of startups in Southeast Asia currently. Unicorns like Grab (valued at $14 billion), Gojek (approaching $10 billion) and Tokopedia ($7 billion) have raised billions from investors like SoftBank, Google and Tencent. And Southeast Asia’s top VCs have ridden this growth wave.
On the flip side, less than a third of early stage-funded startups went on to raise Series B rounds, according to a 2018 report by the Singapore Venture Capital & Private Equity Association. Which means that the region’s promising startups need “growth funds”, leaving more room for Southeast Asia’s VCs to grow.
There are plenty of concerns too. Several VCs feel their move to larger deals leaves the important seed stage under-capitalised. VCs themselves face accusations of following the money. In this case, higher income from management fees after raising larger funds.
Startup exits—events during which investors recoup their funds—are few and far between currently, which does not bode well for VC firms.