Southeast Asia’s largest property classified business—PropertyGuru— looked all set to stage a rare Southeast Asia exit this year. It filed for a $256-million initial public offering (IPO) on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) on 7 October.

On 23 October—a mere two days before the shares were set to trade—it cancelled the listing, citing market uncertainty. Its newly-appointed chairman, Olivier Lim, said PropertyGuru had a committed existing shareholder base and access to private capital markets in case it needed new funds.

The company had raised $125 million from Private Equity (PE) firms such as American firm TPG Capital, Indonesian media conglomerate Emtek Group, and Australian PE firm Square Peg Capital. The company’s Series C round was said to be the largest in the region at the time in 2015.

PropertyGuru took in even more PE capital last October in a $144-million Series D round from US-based PE investor KKR & Co. It declared itself profitable and cash-flow positive, hinting that its valuation was now closer to the billion-dollar mark.

The deal with TPG Capital showed that the region was beginning to look attractive to not just venture capitalists, but to big investors. It was rare for a Southeast Asian tech company to raise money from PE firms as big as TPG, which has about $9.8 billion in assets under management in Asia alone. At least, until the Grab-Gojek explosion in 2016, which was further fuelled by the exit of Uber’s Southeast Asian operations, leaving both Gojek and Grab in the super-app battle.

But as attractive as the region is, Southeast Asia suffers from an IPO exit drought—PE firms typically have an exit horizon that includes the IPO route. An exception to that was gaming and e-commerce company Sea Group, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2017.

Tech alert

In recent years, US private equity firms are beginning to enter the tech investments space. Warburg Pincus, which has over $62 billion of assets under management, is an existing investor in Indonesian ride-hailing unicorn Gojek. Other Southeast Asian startups in its portfolio are Vietnamese payment startup MoMo and Indonesian tax compliance solutions startup OnlinePajak. In June, it raised a $4.25 billion fund for China and Southeast Asia. [Image via Christine Roy/Unsplash]

Accordingly, PropertyGuru’s potential was viewed as a confidence boost to venture investors and founders in the region.

A profitable unicorn business going public—what could go wrong?

You may have heard of Murphy’s Law, a popular saying that means “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. Turns out, Murphy’s been very active in PropertyGuru’s case.

First, coworking company WeWork’s disastrous IPO caused the market to question the sustainability of tech businesses, putting a dent into PropertyGuru’s plans. Second, ASX’s lacklustre 2019 performance—having only raised $416 million as at September— widened the dent some more.

AUTHOR

Ka Kay Lum

Based in Kuala Lumpur, Ka Kay covers investment activities, aka following the money, across Southeast Asia and in-depth stories on the often-overlooked Malaysian startup ecosystem. She was previously a regional writer for Nikkei-owned DealStreetAsia.

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