10 Key Takeaways From FF Asia 2024

By Marco De Novellis // 24 April 2024

Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, delivered the opening address at FF Asia 2024
Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, delivered the opening address at FF Asia 2024.

Our third annual edition of FF Asia brought together 200+ of the leading minds and innovators in Asia tech. Read our top takeaways, covering AI, deeptech, the future of work, and more!

The Southeast Asia tech ecosystem reached a combined valuation of more than $395b in 2023, with new innovations, investment opportunities, and global businesses thriving in the region and across the Asia-Pacific.

Our third annual edition of FF Asia in Singapore brought together inspirational founders, investors, and corporate and government leaders from over 17 countries and 40+ industries to discuss the future of tech innovation in Asia.

Opening the day’s events, Heng Swee Keat (Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore) discussed the rapid growth of Singapore’s tech startup ecosystem, before Henry Ward (Carta), Meng Xiong Kuok (K3 Ventures), and Rob Schimek (bolttech) sat down with Pinn Lawjindakul (Lightspeed) to talk about the journey from startup to scaleup to unicorn!

We heard Eddy Chan (Intudo), Kuo-Yi Lim (Monk’s Hill Ventures), Tessa Wijaya (Xendit), and Dayu Dara Permata (Pinhome) shed light on Indonesia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and Tim Hwang (FiscalNote), Alan Qi (Fudan University), and Sam Sharps (Tony Blair Institute for Global Change) discuss the rapid advancements in AI with Vaishali Rastogi (BCG).

We learned about the next industrial revolution in space from Andrew Bacon (Space Forge) and Anthony Baker (SatVu), and how to prepare for a liquidity event from Andreas Ehn (Approach), Angela Huang (EE Capital), and Anthony Zaccaria (Linktree).

Plus, we hosted a series of breakout discussions, covering everything from digital assets and the future of fintech with Tushar Aggarwal (Stashfin), to longevity, climate tech, and the new creator economy with Amrapali Gan (HOXTON / OnlyFans).

What’s next for Asia tech? Here’s our key takeaways:

1. Singapore has become a global-Asian node for tech innovation

Out of the $8.6b of VC investment in Southeast Asia tech startups in 2023, 60% ($4.3b) went to startups in Singapore. There are now 4,000 tech startups in Singapore, 200 startup incubators, and the number of active VCs has doubled to 400 in the past five years.

Singapore’s unique position as a neutral country with a proactive innovation ecosystem and strong linkages to the Asia region and the world offers a stable base for startups to access capital and talent, and expand to new markets across the region and globally.

Pinn Lawjindakul (Lightspeed), Henry Ward (Carta), Meng Xiong Kuok (K3 Ventures), and Rob Schimek (bolttech) share their unicorn startup stories.
Pinn Lawjindakul (Lightspeed), Henry Ward (Carta), Meng Xiong Kuok (K3 Ventures), and Rob Schimek (bolttech) share their unicorn startup stories.

2. One size does not fit all in Southeast Asia

With its 18,000 islands and 280 million population, Indonesia epitomises the complexities of operating and expanding in the SEA market – a melting pot of diverse cultures, languages, ways of doing business, and regulatory frameworks.

60-70% of consumer needs are common across the region, but to adapt to the last 30-40%, you need to be hyperlocal, particularly in go-to-market and distribution. Founders should tailor their offerings to reflect local tastes, purchasing behaviours, and economic realities. Establish regional HQs, start small, hire local talent, focus on specific segments, and then expand.

3. Corporate venture building is helping companies drive innovation

The next wave of venture capital will focus on more concentrated bets, verticalized solutions, and supporting startups in their path to profitability and exits. Investors are becoming more discerning, focusing on profitability and sustainable business models. At the same time, corporate venture building is emerging as a powerful tool for established companies to innovate and startups to get vital funding and support. By partnering with startups, corporations can leverage their assets, expertise, and distribution channels to create new businesses and unlock value. 

Kara Owen (British High Commissioner to Singapore) speaking at our evening welcome reception.
Kara Owen (British High Commissioner to Singapore) speaking at our evening welcome reception.

4. More liquidity events are crucial for the region’s growth

With a successful exit, founders make money, recycle their capital, and redeploy into startups and funds directly – that’s what creates a self-sustaining venture capital ecosystem. In SEA, however, exit opportunities and exit multiples are low compared with markets like the US and China, and IPOs aren’t always the most viable or attractive option. Alternative paths to liquidity, strategic acquisitions or secondary markets, must be explored further to improve the exit landscape and unlock more capital and growth.

5. AI will level the playing field for new company creation

AI is a once-in-a-generation technological shift. Anything that can be automated will be, and we’re seeing an explosion of AI agents in every job function and industry. For founders, AI enables businesses to optimise workflows and make informed strategic decisions faster, offering new insights into consumer behaviour, market conditions, and potential bottlenecks.

We’ll see new generations of AI founders too, as generative AI tools enable everyone to build and scale a business like never before, in all corners of the globe, and quicker than previously thought possible. First, LLMs need to be customised for Asian markets, and we need regional cooperation on regulatory frameworks to ensure the deployment of AI technologies that benefit society as a whole.

Caesar Sengupta (Arta Finance) and Tushar Aggarwal (StashFin) discuss the future of fintech during the breakout sessions.

6. Space Tech will open new opportunities for net zero

Space tech is moving beyond traditional applications, like navigation and weather, to enabling the in-orbit manufacturing of advanced materials. Space Forge, for example, is working towards building automated, uncrewed orbital factories where supermaterials could be made in space for use on earth. Making use of resources in space will allow for more efficient production of materials like semiconductors, revolutionise industries from energy to healthcare, and reduce energy losses on earth. Within 10 years, mobile phones, electric bikes, and various products you interact with in your daily life will have space-made components in them.

7. Traditional hierarchies will be turned on their head

New generations are challenging established hierarchies, changing working practices, and shaping the future of work. Companies like Samsung are introducing virtual onboarding and encouraging Gen Z board representation. We’re seeing gaming and virtual experiences in hiring and learning and development – recruitment of Gen Alpha talent is already taking place in virtual worlds like Roblox and Fortnite. Traditional organisations must adapt fast to attract and retain talent.

Tracy Davis (Founders HR) speaks to Kay Vasey (MeshMinds) and Tim Rath (Tychocapital) about a new generation of tech talent.

8. Fintech startups are driving financial inclusion

More than 60% of Southeast Asians are underbanked or unbanked with limited access to financial institutions and challenges around trust. Fintech solutions, like e-wallets and mobile payments, are helping to bridge this gap. 

Xendit is Southeast Asia’s answer to Stripe and raised $300m in its Series D funding round in 2022. It’s now expanded from Indonesia to markets including the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, and processes more than $30b in payments each year. Uber’s ‘break things and say sorry to regulators later’ approach doesn’t work in fintech. Companies like Xendit must navigate complex regulatory landscapes and build trust with both customers and regulators.

9. Our Rising Stars are building electric motorbikes and reinventing customer experiences with AI

Our Rising Stars brought the FF magic to Singapore, pitching exciting startup ideas with world-changing potential. James Chan’s Ion Mobility is building Southeast Asia’s top EV mobility company to clean the air and change the way motorcyclists move. 

JJ Chai’s Rainforest is developing a digital-first house of brands with products for the modern parent. Jianfeng Lu’s WIZ.AI is deploying conversational AI to enable businesses to connect to their customers at scale.

Read about our Rising Stars of 2023.

JJ Chai pitches his new house of brands, Rainforest, as one of our FF Asia Rising Stars.

10. Successful founders turn competitors into collaborators 

A fierce competitor today could be your friend tomorrow. Take GoTo, created after the 2021 merger of Indonesia’s two biggest startups; the ride-hailing app, Gojek, and the marketplace, Tokopedia. GoTo is now the largest tech group in Indonesia, capturing around 70% of national household consumption. Leveraging collective strengths – fintechs partnering with banks, and corporates with governments – will be essential to unlocking the full potential of the SEA startup ecosystem.

FF Asia would not be possible without our valued partners. Special thanks to Allen & Overy, Carta, Boston Consulting Group, HSBC, Liquidity, London Stock Exchange, Singapore Economic Development Board, Singapore Global Network, and the Singapore Tourism Board.

Click here to learn more about our flagship forums and events for founders.

Data referenced in this article is from Dealroom