13.10.2020, 17:01

Delving into Vietnam’s hidden unicorn

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Hello readers,

When I was in school, I had a classmate who was an academic dark horse. Throughout the semester, they were just one of many students around, but when exam results came out at the end of the year, they’d be at the top of the class.

Vietnamese tech company VNLife is just like this classmate of mine – it’s one of Southeast Asia’s unicorns, but it’s been pretty keeping a pretty low profile relative to the other big names in the region.

Today we look at:

How VNLife
achieved unicorn status
and what lies ahead for the company
What this cloud communications platform plans on doing with its latest round of funding
Other newsy highlights such as iSeed’s new Southeast Asian micro-fund and Razorpay’s newly attained unicorn status

Vietnam’s hidden unicorn

Delving into Vietnam’s hidden unicorn

VNPay is one of the largest QR code payment networks in Vietnam, but its parent company VNLife is relatively unknown to most consumers. Founded in 2007 as an SMS banking enabler, VNLife is a hidden unicorn and has been quietly working toward becoming one of the country’s biggest tech companies.

Symbiosis : Aside from its VNPay network, VNLife is also powering the mobile apps of the country’s 22 banks. It eschews the traditional super-app strategy in favor of building a constellation of super apps, with one for each of its partners. This relationship with banks gives the company access to data on a consumer’s transactions and credit-worthiness.
Painting a complete picture : The next step for VNLife is to attain data that will help it put together a complete portrait of customers. It has travel booking service VNTravel, runs Vietnam Airlines’ app, and has its “new retail” arm to help Vietnam’s large and small enterprises sell goods both online and offline. This gives it access to travel and consumer transaction data.
Stiff competition : While it is dominant as a banking software provider, VNLife is up against some strong competitors in the race to be a leading super app. Aside from homegrown rival MoMo, regional giants Grab and Shopee are also contenders in the arena. Plus, local telcos are beginning to pilot mobile money offerings, extending digital payments to Vietnam’s rural population.

Read more:
Vietnam’s newest unicorn has been hiding in plain sight

Flying higher

Beep! You have one new message.
Amsterdam-based cloud communications platform MessageBird announced that it has
raised US$200 million
in a series C funding round led by Silicon Valley’s Spark Capital. This brings the company’s total valuation to US$3 billion.

Founded in 2011 MessageBird offers both omnichannel products and cloud communications application programming interfaces to enable developers and enterprises to communicate with customers.
MessageBird is evolving in response to a global surge in demand for messaging-first customer communication platforms as a result of Covid-19. The startup is going from being a communications platform-as-a-service company to an
platform-as-a-service company.
The fresh funding will enable MessageBird to triple the size of its global team and expand further into its core markets in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

Quick bytes

1️⃣ TikTok rival mulls going public

American video-sharing social network and entertainment platform Triller, which is a direct rival of TikTok, is reportedly in discussions with blank-check acquisition companies about a merger that would
take the company public , says people familiar with the matter. This comes at a time when TikTok and its parent company ByteDance are facing challenges both in the US and elsewhere in the world.

2️⃣ Sowing seeds of growth

India micro-fund iSeed has announced
the launch of iSeed SEA , a micro-fund that looks to back ambitious startups across Southeast Asia at the earliest possible stages. It will focus on startups in Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand and will be sector-agnostic.

3️⃣ When money goes digital

Trials for digital yuan
are underway
in Shenzhen, where the Chinese government has made 10 million yuan (or nearly US$1.5 billion) worth of digital currency available to 50000 randomly selected residents who applied for the trial. Digital yuan is not a form of cryptocurrency – it is issued and managed by the central bank, serving as the statutory, digital version of the country’s physical currency.

4️⃣ Razorpay becomes a unicorn

Indian fintech startup Razorpay
raised US$100 million
in a new financing round co-led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and Sequoia India. This new investment values the startup at a little more than US$1 billion, bringing it into India’s stable of unicorns.

5️⃣ The rise of podcasts in India

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increase in podcast listeners in India and
a surge of growth
for the streaming platforms that host them. With the production of video content halted as a result of the pandemic, many content creators and consumers in the country have turned to podcasts for entertainment.

6️⃣ Money for this Middle Eastern startup

Retalio, a retail supply chain startup, announced its launch from stealth mode after
raising US$2.3 million
in a pre-seed round led by VC firm Shorooq Partners. The company offers a mobile app that provides retailers access to a list of suppliers and aims to be a one-stop shop for informal grocery retailers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Deep Dive: Vietnam’s brutal e-wallet war

Cash remains supreme in Vietnam, which means that there’s plenty of opportunities for a fintech player to conquer the market and become the digital payment provider to the country’s 97 million people.

At the moment, several e-wallet operators are battling to win the hearts and wallets of Vietnam. Who will come out on top?

On this episode of Deep Dive,
Tech in Asia
journalist Thu Huong Le discusses the Vietnamese fintech landscape, the challenges of starting up a fintech business in the country, and the future of its e-wallet scene.

Listen here:
Apple Podcast

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