Asia Pacific is home to over one-third of start-up unicorns in the world. A unicorn is a start-up company with a valuation of at least $1 billion. According to data from CB Insight*, there are over 400 unicorns worldwide – 140 of which are found in Asia Pacific.
The number of unicorns in Asia is growing exponentially. In 2018, the number rocketed to 115 companies, and hit 140 by the end of September, 2019.
Among the first unicorns in Asia were two Chinese fashion retail companies. VANCL is an online direct sales company offering men’s garments. The company hit $1 billion in valuation in 2010. Two years later, casual-wear company Trendy Group International achieved unicorn status.
The e-commerce sector dominates the Asia unicorn start-up scene, followed by AI, supply chain and logistics delivery, transportation, and telecommunications. However, the retail, hardware, health, travel and financial technology sectors are also increasingly finding their way into the list.
Top Ten Asian Unicorns by Valuation
Among the ten start-up companies with the highest valuation in Asia Pacific, there are six Chinese companies. The other four are from Singapore, Indonesia, India and South Korea.
The two companies leading the Asia Pacific list, Toutiao (Bytedance) and Didi Chuxing, are also the highest-valued start-ups worldwide.
Bytedance (Toutiao), China, value $75 billion
Bytedance is a Beijing-based Internet technology company founded in 2012, which achieved unicorn status in 2016. The company utilises AI algorithms to provide personalised content to users. It operates, among others, the Chinese news platform Toutiao. According to statistics from research firm Trustdata, Toutiao has more than 200 million monthly active users in China. Other companies operated by ByteDance include video-sharing application TikTok and content aggregator TopBuzz.
ByteDance has received a total of $4.4 billion in investment as of April, 2019. Investors include Sequoia Capital China, SIG Asia Investments, Sina Weibo and Softbank Group.
Didi Chuxing, China, value $56 billion
Didi Chuxing is a mobile transportation platform based in Beijing, China. It was formed by the merger of Kuaidi Dache and DiDi Dache in 2015. It offers services in 400 cities in China, claims to have 550 million users, and has provided 10 billion trips a year. Didi Chuxing has received over $19bn investment in total, including from Softbank Group, Alibaba Group and Apple.
Besides in China, Didi also operates in Australia, Japan and South America. In 2016, Didi bought the US competitor Uber’s China business.
Kuaishou, China, value $18 billion
Kuaishou is a social platform that offers short video sharing and live streaming. Launched in 2011, the plattform has more than 200 million daily active users. The company recently set the goal to reach 300 million by February 2020.
Kuaishou is backed by Tencent. One of the biggest competitors is Bytedance’s TikTok.
Grab, Singapore, value $14.3 billion
Grab is an on-demand transportation service from Singapore. It was founded in 2012 and has become one of the only two ‘decacorns’ in Southeast Asia – companies valued at over $10 billion. It operates all across Southeast Asia and acquired Uber’s operations in the region in 2018. In return, Uber received a 27.5% stake in Grab. Softbank Group, GGV Capital and Vertex Venture Holdings are some investors in Grab.
Bitmain Technologies, China, value $12 billion
Another Beijing-based start-up, Bitmain Technologies designs application-specific integrated circuit chips for bitcoin mining. Founded in 2013, Bitmain Technologies became a unicorn in 2018. Sequoia Capital China and IDG Capital count among Bitmain’s investors. The company has raised $450 million in investment as of July, 2018.
DJI Innovations, China, value $10 billion
DJI Innovations is a drone manufacturing company based in Shenzhen, China, and founded in 2006. It is backed by Sequoia Capital. It is the world’s largest producer of consumer drones and operates in Asia, Europe, and North America.
One97 Communications, India, value $10 billion
In 2015, Indian-based mobile internet company One97 Communications became a unicorn. It is backed by notable companies such as Alibaba Group. One97 runs Paytm, India’s largest digital goods marketplace.
Go-Jek, Indonesia, value $10 billion
Go-Jek is a ride-hailing company from Indonesia, and head-to-head competitor of Grab in Southeast Asia. It reached unicorn status in 2016. Besides transportation services, it has also tapped logistics, payment, food delivery, and other on-demand services. It has received total funding of $3.3 billion as of July, 2019, from multiple companies including Sequoia Capital India and Google.
Beike Zhaofang, China, value $10 billion
Beike Zhaofang is an online real estate platform founded in 2018, that offers brokerage and financial services for Chinese renters and homebuyers. It secured $800 million in funding from investors, led by Tencent Holdings, in 2019. Beike Zhaofang’s unicorn status is quite new – it hit the $1 billion mark in July of 2019.
Coupang, South Korea, value $9 billion
Founded in 2010, Coupang is the biggest e-commerce player in South Korea. It joined the Asia unicorn list in 2015. Its guaranteed next-day delivery service, Rocket Delivery, surpassed 1 billion deliveries within just four years of its launch. Coupang is headquartered in Seoul, and currently only operates in South Korea, but has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Silicon Valley, Seattle and Los Angeles. By November of 2018, it had received a total of $3.8 billion in investment.
*numbers as of September 30, 2019