Southeast Asia: The Next Growth Frontier for Tech Companies

Southeast Asia’s tech sector is thriving with increasingly connected consumers and a spike in businesses adopting digital solutions. We chat with Prithvi Rai, Founder and CEO at borneo and Forrest Li, Chairman and Group CEO of Sea Ltd, to find out what makes Southeast Asia and Singapore a growing market for tech

30 October 2020 / By SGN

Today’s highly connected and digitised world has transformed the way businesses are started and managed. As Southeast Asia’s tech sector continues to face rapid growth, more start-ups founders are starting to capitalise on these opportunities. 

“We chose Singapore as our global headquarters as our mission is to empower companies to achieve their business objectives while ensuring data privacy and customer trust,” says Prithvi Rai, Founder and CEO at borneo. “Initiatives like Smart Nation will drive Singapore’s reputation as a technology hub and the “data trust capital” of the world, which was a key consideration for Prithvi and his team to choose Singapore as their global headquarters for borneo.”  

Forrest Li, Chairman and Group CEO of Sea Ltd, believes that businesses like Sea play an important role to foster the overall tech ecosystem. “We are especially committed to partnering with the government to ensure that our community is wholly well-positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities ahead,” he says.

An Emerging Destination for Tech Growth

Southeast Asia was already rapidly embracing digitalisation, but the pandemic has dramatically accelerated this shift, says Forrest. The latest Singapore Youth Report published by Sea Insights found that entrepreneurs in Singapore have shifted to e-commerce platforms to tap into new sources of demand and income streams, with close to 80 per cent of respondents saying that this increased usage would last beyond the pandemic. “People are fundamentally changing how they live, work and entertain themselves,” Forrest says. This change will unlock significant growth opportunities over the long run, and that enterprises that embrace this trend will be more resilient and better positioned to capture these opportunities in the long term. 

Forrest (pictured) believes that Southeast Asia’s young, fast-growing, and upwardly mobile population makes it a region where the growth of the digital economy will have a particularly significant impact. 

Forrest shares that the most successful businesses in this region over the last few years are those who have been able to ride the wave of digitalisation in the region and develop products and services that are localised to the needs and preferences of users in this region. These were critical factors to Sea’s success, and Forrest shares that their digital entertainment business has experienced significant growth beyond Southeast Asia as a result. 

The Rise of a New Threat: Why Cybersecurity Is Key Today

As more businesses embrace digital transformation and tech adoption, we see an explosion in the volume and value of data, requiring greater expertise and more powerful data protection and privacy management tools. Prithvi anticipated this shift based on his experience working for global tech giants like Facebook, Uber, Yahoo! over the last two decades. At that time, they had to solve problems related to data security, jurisdiction, and regulatory compliance at global scale, which are all table stakes today.

Prithvi (pictured) says, “privacy done right will become a huge competitive advantage for companies, sectors, and countries.”

The Founder and CEO of borneo emphasises that businesses today will have to act fast to ensure they have the right data security and privacy controls in place, which is critical to maintaining user trust. This, coupled with the fact that many start-ups lack in-house security expertise and resources, was what prompted Prithvi to start borneo, a privacy data management platform that uses advanced machine learning to give customers real-time visibility over their data to understand, identify and promptly remediate data privacy risks.

Ensuring security and privacy of data is key in today’s hyper-connected world. Under Forrest’s lead, Sea has been focused on building its technology capabilities to identify and mitigate risks and protect users. “Vigilance is key today. It’s essential for our community to stay aware of fast-evolving risks and keep our guard up,” Forrest says. He shares that it was especially encouraging that the Singapore government has also introduced cybersecurity initiatives, such as the establishment of the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) in 2015 and the Cybersecurity Act in 2018, to strengthen the national protection of cybersecurity. 

Singapore: At the Heart of the Action

Singapore is in a unique position, recognised as a gateway for businesses to tap on the economies of Southeast Asia. The government has also been placing greater effort and emphasis on supporting the growth of the region’s tech ecosystem, and Forrest says that this has been vital in enhancing the tech talent pipeline and building out the hard and soft infrastructure needed to support innovation and entrepreneurship.

As working remotely becomes the new normal and technological adoption for businesses continue even after the pandemic, Prithvi sees enormous opportunities for artificial intelligence and machine learning to power the insights, security solutions, and privacy data management – all of which will be very critical with all data going online.

Prithvi adds that Singapore offers several advantages which span across its sound legal structures, taxation, access to a global talent pool and connectivity to key markets like China, India, and Southeast Asia. “These factors along with the government’s technology-first vision makes Singapore the ideal launchpad for many global companies in the foreseeable future,” he says, adding that he predicts that more technology start-ups will move their headquarters here.

“Singapore’s forward-thinking approach to driving the digitalisation of the economy and support for start-ups and innovation has created one of the most vibrant technology ecosystems in the world.” Forrest says that all this aspect will help drive the next phase of growth for the tech ecosystem in Singapore and serve as a model example for the rest of the region.

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