Southeast Asia’s internet and app economy has been on a tear. Its unicorns and super apps continue to disrupt and redefine value chains across markets. The region is home to the just formed GoTo, a merger between ride-hailing giant GoJek and Tokopedia in Indonesia, Singapore’s Grab and SEA Group, as well as Vietnam’s VNG. At the last count, 39 businesses reached a US$1 billion valuation—with Singapore and Indonesia accounting for most of the current surge. Carsome, one of the region’s largest online used car marketplace, recently became Malaysia’s first unicorn.
Some of them are now exploring listings overseas, preferably in the US, as they expand their market reach. Southeast Asia’s business hubs, meanwhile, are also beginning to roll out the red carpet. The Indonesia Stock Exchange has started to relax listing rules for young tech firms. Singapore has kicked off several new initiatives, such as the Anchor Fund@65, established between the government and Temasek, as well as new grants for enterprises that are planning to go public. The city-state also opened the door for special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs)—as an alternative form to raise capital—to list on the Singapore Exchange.
But beyond capital, what does it take for Southeast Asia’s aspiring founders to realise their full potential in the new age of the unicorns? In our work with startups, as well as with their investors, we’ve seen that for many, ambitious expansion projects might be the right decision, but that they must be supplemented by a well-thought-out strategic communications plan.
Simply doing the bare minimum in terms of communications won’t work. Competition is fierce in the startup world, and differentiating oneself from the pack is what matters in the end. It is important to build and maintain a network, to engage stakeholders who have supported the company throughout its journey.
There are some pitfalls to keep in mind when it comes to investor relations.
Investor relations goes beyond press releases, and hitting the right note requires a good understanding of investors and their portfolios. Getting the formula wrong—revealing too much, too little, too soon, or too late—could potentially lead to investor indifference, or even strained relationships.
When mistakes are made repeatedly, startups can lose credibility in the eyes of its backers, and that could affect future investment decisions. To prevent this from happening, entrepreneurs need to iron out the strategy from the very start, including key messages and objectives, target audiences and the right medium.
Communicating the firm’s purpose, its unique selling point, and why stakeholders should care is an essential part. It has to be done right and timed right to reach the optimal result.
There is no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to communications. And neither can startups employ a “spray and pray” approach. As we’ve reiterated in a previous post, Southeast Asia is a highly fragmented market, which calls for a mix of regional and local PR strategies. While the overarching message has to be consistent across markets, the communications strategy should also be grounded in a thorough understanding of—and familiarity with—local nuances which are different for each market: relevant local issues, the local investor and media landscape, endemic cultural norms.
Not paying attention to these intricacies can easily erode trust and confidence. Not to mention that one could also miss out on a good tier one publication with substantial readership in the market.
Trust is something that’s hard to win and difficult to keep. Startups should ensure that investors are aware of developments along the way. Don’t share only good news and milestones, but also points that need improvement. Having regular briefings and updates ensures that stakeholders are all on the same page.
Having a communications partner who understands the nuances in the startup ecosystem can make all the difference in gaining the support of the right investors. Communication is not a one-off initiative; it is something that has to be actively managed. A partner with the right specialised knowledge and market expertise can help build a compelling narrative, one that can engage stakeholders and supplement the startup’s growth journey.
Want your startup to reach the right stakeholders and optimise results? Reach out to our team of investor relations and financial communications experts who can help lead the way in the age of the unicorns.