The next big thing: 10 Malaysian startups to watch in 2018

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The ASEAN is not only the world’s seventh-largest economy, but it’s also the fastest-growing internet market, and tech companies in the region are racing to scale.

Malaysia is home to several such companies, thanks to support from government agencies, venture capitalists, and accelerators.

A look at Tech in Asia‘s recent funding reveals growing support for players in niche markets, such as flower delivery and student housing. We looked at 10 companies that completed funding rounds in 2017 and 2018, mostly from seed to series B.

1. Carsome

Carsome co-founders Eric Cheng (L) and Teoh Jiun Ee

Total funding amount: $27.4 million

Lead investors: Burda Principal Investments

Latest funding type: Series B

Competitors: iCar AsiaCarro and Carmudi

Launched in 2015, Carsome is a selling platform that also functions like a broker for cars. Anyone who needs to sell a car can get in touch with the company, which will inspect the vehicle for free and assess its value. The platform assures customers that the pricing is totally transparent and free of hidden charges and markups. To prove this, it allows the seller to log in and view live bidding results.

As a bonus, Carsome handles all paperwork, which it promises to complete within five days.

In 2016, the company expanded operations to Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore. Carsome faces the challenge of differentiation from its competitors, which have raised larger amount of funding.

2. Iflix

iFlix gets $45m funding in battle against Netflix

Photo credit: Iflix

Total funding amount: $298 million

Lead investors: Hearst CommunicationsJungle Ventures, Malaysia’s Catcha GroupSky, and the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company

Latest funding type: Series D

Competitors: HooqViuViki, and Netflix.

Iflix offers video-on-demand (VOD) services in Asia and Africa, where the app is available in 25 countries. The key to achieving this is the app’s availability in 14 languages, including English, Chinese, Burmese, Arabic, and Swahili. Since its founding in 2014, Iflix has managed to ink 230 studio partnerships.

In its latest funding round in 2017, Iflix raised $133 million from 13 investors. While Iflix has found success in partnering with local telecom companies and enabling smartphone downloads, its competitors have emulated this strategy.

This has increased the need for differentiation. In 2017, Iflix joined the live sports streaming business. This year, it announced a free video-streaming service supported by ads.

3. BloomThis

Total funding amount: $800,000

Lead investors: Singapore’s REAPRA and US-based consulting company Venture Builders.

Latest funding type: Seed

Competitors: 50 Gram

Who knew flowers could drive a hot startup? BloomThis is an online shop of “designer flowers and gifts.”

The flowers can be delivered on demand when ordered by 1:00 pm except on Sundays, as the flower supply chain tends to slow down on weekends. BloomThis also offers a weekly subscription service.

In 2017, BloomThis raised seed funding of $600,000 for expansion to Indonesia and Singapore.

4. PurelyB

The PurelyB team

Total funding amount: $800,000

Lead investors: 500 Startups, Brunsfield Ventures

Latest funding type: Equity crowdfunding (pre-series A funding round)

PurelyB is a one-stop portal offering everything women need to know about living healthy lifestyles. It offers articles, recipes, and videos in English and Chinese, and sell health programs complete with meal delivery.

In May 2016, PurelyB launched a marketplace, but it was eventually shut down after eight months after the company made a discovery: users treated it more as a source of product recommendations and went shopping elsewhere.

PurelyB has since narrowed their focus to content, adding a subscription model to the free articles and videos on the website.

In 2017, PurelyB launched an equity crowdfunding campaign, which started with a private round for existing members before being offered to the public. Share price was set a $5.35 (RM23) per unit, and the campaign raised a total of $300,000.

After expansion to Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, PurelyB plans to enter Dubai and Australia.

5. Supahands

Total funding amount: Undisclosed

Lead investors: Intres Capital Partners, Axiata, 500 Startups

Latest funding type: Seed round

Competitors: Datarama and Jakarta’s Oxide.

Supahands offers to perform tedious and repetitive machine learning, data management, and content moderation tasks for companies. It’s positioned in the space between freelancer marketplaces and BPOs.

One key differentiation point for Supahands is the combination of software and human involvement. Another unique point for Supahands is that it also offers tools for project management, work automation, and autorouting.

Formed in 2014, it has provided services to a medical technology company, music-streaming app, and telecom service provider, among others. Its other clients include Grab and iCarAsia.

Over the past three years, Supahands has enjoyed a compound annual growth rate of 400 percent.

It plans to scale its workforce across ASEAN this year and hopes to begin expansion to India or China. This larger workforce would enable the startup to serve companies across the region with different cultures and languages.

6. HostelHunting

The co-founders of HostelHunting.com

HostelHunting’s co-founders / Photo credit: HostelHunting

Total funding amount: Undisclosed

Lead investors: Hoop PartnersAccord Ventures and KK Fund

Latest funding type: Series A

Competitors: GomfyStudent.com and XchangeHousing

Operating in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, the platform acts like an Airbnb for student accommodation. HostelHunting takes a service fee for each successful booking.

It’s looking to expand the platform’s operations to other markets in Southeast Asia.

7. Wobb

Photo credit: Wobb

Total funding amount: $398,300

Lead investors: Cradle Fund

Latest funding type: Venture – series unknown

Competitors: JobstreetStartupJobsMaukerja, and TribeHired

Wobb is a recruitment app focused on attracting young professionals. The platform highlights companies’ work cultures vy showing photos of office interiors and featuring current employees. This enables job seekers to assess culture fit with potential employers even before sending in an application.

With a database of more than 60,000 job seekers, Wobb relies on an advertising model. The company said in 2017 that revenue had surpassed $469,000.

After signing up, job seekers receive an invitation to meet Wobb’s founder, Derek Toh, over coffee. Toh used to be a director at recruitment firm Robert Walters in Malaysia before founding Wobb in 2014.

Wobb raised $398,300 (RM1,700,741) in a venture round via the crowdfunding platform pitchIN in 2017. As many as 76 participants made equity investments. RM800,000 came from Cradle Fund, a Malaysian government agency that invests in the early stage of startups.

8. Kaodim

Kaodim team photo

The Kaodim team / Photo credit: Kaodim

Total funding amount: $11.6 million

Lead investors: Square Peg Capital

Latest funding type: Series B

Competitors: ServisHeroFlagAHero

The Kaodim platform matches service seekers with pre-screened and qualified providers. The services it offers range from pest control, plumbing, and photography to catering, cleaning, and fitness coaching.

Within four months of launching, over $10M worth of sales had reportedly been gained through the platform, and more than 20,000 customers had been matched with service providers.

Kaodim charges $1 to $6 (RM3 to MR20) to suppliers when they post proposals and respond to requests. Customers need not pay to use the platform.

In 2017, Kaodim raised $7 million in a series B round.

The company claims to have the highest revenue among service-hiring platforms across Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

9. Jirnexu

Jirnexu team photo

The Jirnexu team / Photo credit: Jirnexu

Total funding amount: $17 million

Lead investors: SIG ChinaSBI GroupCento Ventures, and Celebes Capital.

Latest funding type: Series B

Competitors: iMoneyMoneySmart

Formerly known as Saving Plus, Jirnexu offers financial institutions a full-stack fintech solution. It began with offering financial comparison websites, but it eventually evolved to a streamlined process that allows customers to select and apply for financial products with ease.

Most of the company’s revenue comes from Malaysia. Jirnexu’s revenue grew by 100 percent from 2016 to 2017, and it expects to report the same this year. But while it almost reached profitability in 2017, it’s focusing on growth strategies like launching products, says CEO and founder Yuen Tuck Siew.

Its series B round in May attracted $11 million.

Jirnexu has an edge in that it deals with both back- and front-end work – it provides information to customers, but it also works with financial institutions.

10. iPrice

iprice on laptop

Photo credit: iPrice

Total funding amount: $9.8 million

Lead investors: Line Corporation

Latest funding type: Series B

Another price comparison platform, iPrice gathers information on product availability and pricing from various e-commerce websites, like Lazada and Shopee. It also aggregates products from clothing e-tailers such as Zalora and ASOS.

By doing so, it aims to be a one-stop shopping destination for shoppers all over Southeast Asia.

The startup says it’s on track to reach more than 150 million visitors this year. Apart from Malaysia and Indonesia, iPrice operates in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Its series B round this year raised $4 million.

Apart from building a large consumer base and leveraging Southeast Asians’ growing adoption of ecommerce, iPrice has formed B2B partnerships, such as with Samsung in Indonesia and Mediacorp in Singapore.