Why Google, Stripe and DBS built their engineering teams in Singapore

There has never been a better time for companies to catch Asia’s digitalisation wave from Singapore. The city-state has the capabilities to ensure that companies building engineering teams here are all set for regional expansion, according to representatives from Google, Stripe and DBS at a recent Singapore Tech Forum webinar.

2 February 2021 / By EDB

“Five years ago, tech in Singapore was like an early stage startup that had raised its first seed round and was building its capabilities. Today, it is a growth stage startup with many preconditions met.”

— Mr Patrick Teo, Site Lead and Engineering Director for Payments, Google

Why here, why now?

Sure, Singapore boasts proximity to the growing Southeast Asia (SEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC) markets. But why exactly is now the right time to build engineering teams here?

1. Be close to customers
The centre of gravity for tech is shifting. APAC is home to over half of the global population and now accounts for nearly half of the world’s internet users.

To have a stake in this future, rapid technological innovation that focuses on the needs of this growing market is required. Singapore continues to drive innovation in this region, retaining its top spot in Asia on the Global Innovation Index.

The emerging needs of APAC’s users can also be quickly addressed thanks to Singapore’s proximity to economies in Asia and access to regional insights.

For instance, Google’s engineering team, set up here in 2016, represents over 20 nationalities with insights on regional user needs. Working alongside other teams, the Singapore team helped build Google Pay India, contributing to India’s shift from cash to digital payments and helping Google Pay become India’s top payment app just two years after its launch. 

Equally responsive to burgeoning demand for smoother online payment flows in Malaysia, Stripe built the FPX payment scheme completely from the ground up within two years of starting its engineering hub in Singapore. “Singapore serves as a great hub that is close in proximity to this region’s population and users,” shares Mr Brian Weng, Head of Engineering APAC of Stripe.

2. Be close to talent
Singapore is building a pipeline of junior tech talent at remarkable speed. “SEA has a short history in tech, but it’s improving fast,” says Mr Weng.

Both Google and Stripe have been successful in acquiring tech entrants, which Mr Teo and Mr Weng credit to Singapore’s active grooming of engineering talent.

To ensure these young engineers possess in-demand skills, industry leaders like Google are collaborating with universities to shape curricula. In 2019, Google partnered Singapore Management University to launch the SMU-Google Squared Data & Analytics Programme that nurtures industry-ready data analytics talent.

Beyond technical skills, companies such as DBS train junior tech talent to navigate this highly-regulated industry by pairing them with more senior talent, who benefit by staying attuned with the latest tech developments.

“Our results have shown a tremendous change in talent ecosystem in Singapore,” notes Ms Soh Siew Choo, Managing Director of DBS.

To supplement its growing pool of local tech talent, Singapore actively woos the right people globally, and it helps that Singapore is one of the most liveable cities for Asian expats. For Stripe’s first landing team in 2018, Mr Weng recounts that the company attracted many mid- to senior-level engineers from across the world.

A Taiwanese citizen who’s lived and worked in Silicon Valley for over a decade, Mr Weng himself relocated here because of the exciting opportunities in SEA and Singapore that he expects will grow in the decade ahead. Singapore may be “the best place to be in APAC if you are in this industry,” he adds.

In addition, many local tech talents working overseas are returning home, sensing the growing opportunities in the region. Google’s Mr Teo is one such example – thanks to his “super bullish” outlook on the tech ecosystem here, he decided to return to Singapore after working in Silicon Valley for almost 27 years.

To ensure the steady growth of Singapore’s tech talent ecosystem amid the global tech talent crunch, the new Tech.Pass scheme helps draw accomplished founders, leaders and technical experts to contribute to Singapore’s tech ecosystem in a myriad of ways – such as by starting companies, mentoring young talent and building world-class engineering teams.

3. Be close to partners
Tech giants and promising players have all set up their regional headquarters here – from FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Alphabet, formerly Google), to BATs (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent), to fast-growing companies in the region like Stripe, Lazada, Grab and Sea Group.

Singapore also continues to be the top pick for firms expanding into Asian markets, claiming the top spot on the 2020 Global Expansion Tech Index.

As a result, companies can collaborate with other companies in the growing tech ecosystem to co-create innovative solutions.

Mr Teo shared that development of Google Pay in Singapore benefits from having major partners in the same location. For instance, Google Pay collaborates closely with both Stripe and DBS on integrated merchant and consumer digital payment transactions.

DBS has also launched creative investment products like the digiPortfolio through partnerships with fintech companies here. “We have a symbiotic relationship with fintech companies. We’re not just creating stuff on our own, but we’re partnering startups to multiply the value we provide to our clients,” Ms Soh says.

Secure the early mover advantage in Asia’s digital economy

What do you do when presented with a startup in its growth stage – in this case, Singapore’s vibrant tech ecosystem – all set for expansion? Our panellists’ advice is to join it – whether by building your own tech engineering team here, or by making the move yourself.

This article was first published by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB). The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), a government agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is responsible for strategies that enhance Singapore’s position as a global centre for business, innovation, and talent. Have the latest insights, stories and analyses on how companies are growing in Asia delivered to your inbox here.

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