Just returned from San Francisco, where I met with startup investors, founders, and tech-sector friends. There was interest in exploring Asian consumer technology companies, but with a cautious undertone. 

Why the Caution?

US inflation, geopolitical tensions, and upcoming elections cast a shadow of uncertainty. However, there are bright sides: Southeast Asia founders have a unique opportunity to: 

  • Market Products in the US: Target a massive and affluent consumer base. 
  • Embrace Cutting-Edge Tech: Collaborate with US companies leading in innovation. 
  • Raise Capital: Secure funding from US venture capitalists (VCs) who heavily invest in promising startups. 

The US: A Land of Plenty

The US is a magnet for ambitious companies for several reasons: 

  • Massive Market: A population of 330 million, offering immense potential for consumer-focused businesses. 
  • Open Economy: Ranked #5 globally, fostering an environment for business growth. 
  • Affluent Consumers: With an average annual income of USD 76,000 (#5 globally), American consumers have significant spending power, supporting a USD 25 tn GDP. 

But An Asian Model Could Need Tweaks 

There exists a strong US-centric worldview among investors. They might seek a “Netflix of X” approach, which may not work well for Southeast Asia companies. To capture their attention, Southeast Asia founders need to showcase: 

  • Exceptional Scale: Demonstrate significant market share or user base in their home markets. 
  • Explosive Growth: Highlight high growth rates that are hard to ignore. 
  • Innovative Business Models: Offer unique value propositions that stand out. 

The US Offers More Than Just Capital 

Apart from VC funding (over $200 billion invested annually between 2021-23!), the US boasts a wealth of other resources: 

  • Top Tech Talent: A pool of highly skilled individuals who can expedite development. 
  • Massive R&D Investments: Driving innovation across all industries. 
  • Thriving Startup Ecosystem: Accelerators, angel investors, and experienced founders who can become valuable partners. 

Trailblazing Innovation

US companies are pushing boundaries in areas like self-driving cars (think Waymo). Can SOUTHEAST ASIA replicate such ground-breaking ideas? Perhaps collaboration or partnerships can bridge the gap and bring these cutting-edge technologies to Southeast Asia. 

Tech vs. Market: A Tale of Two Approaches 

A key difference exists: US startups are often tech-driven, while SOUTHEAST ASIA startups prioritize market needs. Both approaches have merit, and valuable lessons can be exchanged. 

Riding the Hottest Trends 

The US is excited about AI, deep tech, electric vehicles, and climate tech. SOUTHEAST ASIA startups operating in these spaces are well-positioned to attract local investor interest. 

The Rise of D2C Brands 

The US consumer’s appetite for new brands mirrors the early excitement around D2C brands in Southeast Asia. There could be selective opportunities for SOUTHEAST ASIA companies looking to expand their reach. 

Building a US Presence: Why It Matters 

While not mandatory, establishing a foothold in the US can significantly boost a company’s profile and open doors to new opportunities. Several Southeast Asia startups like EngageRocket, Nium, Castlery, and Igloohome have made inroads into the US market. 

The Takeaway for Southeast Asia Founders 

The US market presents a golden opportunity but requires careful navigation. By leveraging the unique strengths of both regions, Southeast Asia founders can unlock tremendous growth potential.  

Tech Trek: Exploring Innovation in San Francisco, Jun 2024  

Tech Trek: Exploring Innovation in San Francisco, Jun 2024  

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  • Roshan is a Partner at Redseer Strategy Consultants and is focused on Southeast Asia. He was ranked highly by key long-only and long-short institutional investors. He has organized several conferences, corporate events, and non-deal-roadshows.