For entrepreneurs in Asia, the future seems brighter than ever.
More so than elsewhere in the world, Asia “leapfrogged other forms of connectivity” to become so-called “mobile-first,” said Jesus Martin, chief strategy at Microsoft Asia.
“And because Asia went mobile-first, mobile became the platform that underpinned innovations and new business models.” Mobile first refers to the strategy of designing products and experiences for smartphones and tablets.
This is also why Asia’s start-up scene is taking off.
“We got the biggest share … of investments coming into the region,” said Martin said, citing CB Insight’s report, where Asia leads global deal share at 36% in the fourth-quarter of 2021.
“The outlook couldn’t be better.”
Martin said that China, India and South Korea are seeing unicorns created “every week.” He was referring to startups with a value of at least $1 billion.
“In India, SaaS has the potential to become the next $1 trillion business,” he added, referring to software as a service, which allows users to access software through the internet rather than installing them in a cloud computing platform.
What are some of the hottest trends in the Asian start-up scene this year? CNBC Make It finds out.
1. Super apps
According to Microsoft, super apps are “truly thriving” and the “newest powerhouse for innovation” in Asia. A super app is a one-stop portal that allows a user to access several services from one single app.
Beyond just hailing a cab or having food delivered, one can even book medical appointments, take up loans or pay with a mobile wallet, said Martin.
He highlighted the example of Grab — a super app offering services in food deliveries, transportation and financial services.
“They are changing the way we live, making it simple to get a ride anywhere or to order food, and are pioneering the move of taking a customer’s entire lifestyle online,” he said.
Other popular super apps in the region include China’s WeChat, India’s Paytm, Indonesia’s GoTo, Vietnam’s Zalo and South Korea’s Kakao.
“They are the reason why we are seeing real change happen, with more people in Asia gaining access to products, services, employment, engagement through social media, and more,” said Martin.
When it comes to gaming, Asia is leading the pack.
According to research firm Niko Partners, Asian gamers will generate over $41 billion in revenue by 2025, with Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam being the fastest growing markets in Southeast Asia.
Globally, most revenue is generated in China — home to gaming giants like NetEase and Tencent.
Microsoft Asia said that cloud gaming specifically, is a huge area of growth in the region, especially in markets like South Korea, China and Japan. The appeal lies in the ability of users to “play in any device anywhere, anytime.”
“Asia’s gaming industry remains a global driver, shifting gaming across multiple devices. With the number of video gamers approaching three billion globally, Asia Pacific is responsible for over half of it,” according to Martin.
Martin attributed this to the increasing use of smartphone users in the region.
According to analytics firm Newzoo, five of the top 10 countries with the highest number of smartphone users are located in Asia, with China and India leading the way.
As more people stayed home during the pandemic, e-commerce sales saw a massive boost around the world. That trend is set to continue accelerating in Southeast Asia this year, said Microsoft Asia.
An estimated 70 million more people — from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — shopped online since the pandemic began, according to a 2021 report from Facebook and Bain & Company.
“E-commerce in the region is leading in social marketing and customer experience,” said Martin, listing Singapore’s Shopee and India’s Reliance Jio as examples.
“They have built retail ecosystems with the customer at the center providing the best selection, a range of prices, digital payments and logistics that ensure fast delivery.”