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Murli Ravi is the head of South Asia investments for JAFCO Asia, and from his perch in Singapore, he’s never seen so much cross-border activity as in the last 12 months. Ravi joined JAFCO in 2008, after studying the regional venture community as a senior analyst with INSEAD. “Let’s just say I’ve made three trips the U.S. in 2013. I made zero trips to the U.S. in the four years prior,” he observes.
Late yesterday, I Skyped with Ravi to learn more.
Globalization is an ongoing trend. What are you seeing?
I cover a lot of territory – Southeast Asia, India, Australia – and I’m seeing a preponderance of people not just coming to Singapore and staying here, including U.S. companies, but I’m seeing startups in Singapore whose attitude is to quickly expand. I see many more of them looking to enter China and India, which are both about five hours away [from Singapore] by plane, and even sometimes Japan and Europe and the U.S.
What’s changed in the last 12 months?
I think Southeast Asia as a whole just has a much larger pool of talent coming online now for startups to harness. Also, historically, broadband penetration wasn’t high. Incomes were low. The smart guys would typically leave. All of those patterns are reversing.
What types of companies are coming to Singapore from the U.S.?
Broadly, you have a lot of small U.S companies and Australian companies and even Japanese companies that are realizing that Southeast Asia is an interesting market. If you just look at the English-speaking countries across the region – India, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and almost all the others have some English in a business context – that’s close to two billion people, or roughly 30 percent of humanity.
You also see companies move here because [their product is better suited to the market in Asia]. I sit on the board of a company called Bubbly , formerly Bubble Motion, that was founded in the Valley but moved to Singapore.
I remember reading about that move and thinking that it boiled down to lower costs for the company.
Well, Bubbly is a social messaging service like Twitter, except that instead of read and tweet, you speak and listen, which also appeals to the markets here. Unlike on Twitter, where you’re talking to the world and hoping someone will talk back, with Bubbly, it feels like someone is talking to you because you hear them in your ear, whether it’s a friend or a celebrity who has recorded a message about picking up her kids or an upcoming show. Unlike on Twitter, by the way, consumers here are also willing to pay to listen to celebrities. Right now, the biggest markets for Bubbly are India, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines – all of which have their own celebrities.
Are Western celebrities taking advantage of the platform?
There are soccer players from the English community on the platform. Snoop Dogg is on Bubbly, too. Some celebrities transcend boundaries.
Snoop Dogg is an appealing character, though I believe his new name is Snoopzilla, for the record. Do other recent transplants jump to mind?
A couple of other companies that have taken the same route are Vuclip — which hasn’t quite moved its headquarters to Asia, but does focus mostly on Asian and especially Indian audiences — andMig33 — which did move and has seen success in Indonesia in particular.
You also have companies like Line and Kakaotalk that didn’t originate in Southeast Asia but now have a huge user base in this region. Coincidentally or otherwise, these messaging companies have a lot of similarities with Bubbly.
What about enterprise companies?
It’s so far been a little less common for enterprise companies to move here, and I see that as a major untapped opportunity. There are lots of inefficiencies in the way big business is done in some of the countries here, which gives more competitive firms from elsewhere a potential advantage if they choose to come here. Equally, some startups from this region who are able to thrive here have shown that they are quite capable of stepping onto the world stage, because the historical lack of resources available to small companies is a sort of trial by fire.
Flint, a young, Redwood City, Calif.-based mobile payments startup that targets mobile entrepreneurs, has raised $6 million in Series B funding from the wireless service provider Digicel Group, SVG Ventures, Storm Ventures, and True Ventures. The company has raised $9 million to date.
Iris Mobile, a five-year-old, Chicago-based mobile marketing company, has raised $3 million in Series A funding from Origin Ventures, Hyde Park Angels, Hyde Park Venture Partners, OCA Ventures, and Illinois Ventures.
Itembase, a two-year-old, Berlin-based startup behind an online platform that helps users track their purchase data, has raised $3.25 in Series A funding from High-Tech Gründerfonds, Rheingau Founders, German Startups Groups, Westtech Ventures, HR Alpharound, and individual investors. In concert with the funding, the company announced it also has a new board chair: early Skype investor Morten Lund.
iMoney Group, an 18-month-old Kuala Lumpur company that has created an online personal finance platform and is expanding across Southeast Asia, has raised $2 million in Series A funding from Fenox Venture Capital, 500 Startups, Vogel Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Econa AG, and Rebright Partners. Earlier this year, the company raised $500,000 in seed financing from Asia Venture Group.
Komli Media, a seven-year-old, Mumbai-based digital advertising platform company, has raised $30 million from new investor Peepul Capital, along with previous investors Helion Venture Partners, Norwest Venture Partners, Nexus Venture Partners, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Komli has raised roughly $100 million to date.
Tiger Pistol, a two-year-old, Melbourne, Australia-based social media marketing company, has raised $1 million from Rampersand, a new firm. Tiger Pistol has raised $2 million to date.
Yesterday, in a revised SEC filing, Twitter set an initial price range for shares in its IPO at $17-$20, for a valuation of about $11 billion. The filing shows that Twitter plans to price the offering on Nov. 6th.
Line, a two-year-old Japan-based messaging application that allows people to exchange information, play games, and send virtual stickers, is expected to go public next year on the Tokyo stock exchange, according to a Nikkei.com report flagged by TechCrunch. Nikkei reports that Line’s valuation is expected to fall somewhere between $800 million and $1 billion. According to the New York Times, Line has 230 million registered users — a number it took Facebook five years to reach.
Clipless, a months-old mobile coupon app for Android, has been acquired by deal aggregator 8coupons for an undisclosed amount. Clipless never disclosed outside funding; 8coupons, a seven-year-old, New York-based company hasn’t either, though TechCrunch reports that its valuation is $30 million.
ZeroVM, a year-old, Tel Aviv-based cloud technology company, was acquired yesterday by the publicly traded Web-hosting company Rackspace. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The New York Times is holding its Global Forum Asia conference in Singapore today. By the time StrictlyVC hits your inbox, it’ll be over, but you can check out what you missed here, including recorded interviews with HP’s Meg Whitman and Airbnb’s Brian Chesky.
TechCrunch Disrupt Europe gets underway this weekend in Berlin. You can learn more here.
Eric Olson has joined Origin Ventures, the Chicago-based early-stage venture capital firm, as an associate. Olson most recently served in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, working with a group tasked with assessing Chicago’s economy and helping it grow at a faster rate. Before that, Olson was a management consultant at A.T. Kearney and an associate at DFJ Portage Ventures.
Boston-based Third Rock Ventures – which invests in biotech drug, device, and diagnostic companies – is looking to hire a senior associate with three to five years of work experience in the life sciences industry for its San Francisco office. Applicants should have an MBA; an undergrad degree in life sciences is “strongly preferred.”
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System is looking for a senior portfolio manager to focus on its co-investment program. (H/T: peHUB)
The decline of Wikipedia.
Paul Graham pegs the value of all companies to pass through his eight-year-old Y Combinator at $13.7 billion.
There’s been a lot of speculation that teens aren’t driving because they’re too busy with their social media and/or they’re more environmentally conscious than earlier generations. A new study says the real reason is much simpler: they’re broke.
Former NSA director Michael Hayden is overheard talking on background to a reporter while riding a commuter train.
Insights into why you look like your dog.
Children will drop their ice cream cones when you race down the street on one of these babies.
We’ve no idea what problem this is solving.
Star Wars Lightsaber Thumb Wrestling Kit. (We know. You can thank us later.)
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