Climbing its way back to success

Go-Studio was also hampered by the commercial failure of a high-profile production called Foxtrot 6—an action film set in the future, featuring some of Indonesia’s best-known actors.

“The Foxtrot film was invested in heavily and it didn’t pan out,” said a former Gojek employee who requested anonymity. “It didn’t bring the returns they were supposed to.”

The controversial film projects coincided with internal disagreements at Gojek about the structure and alignment of its entertainment arm. The original leadership of Go-Studio was eventually replaced and reorganised as GoPlay Originals. Go-Live, a division that was meant to stage live events such as e-sports competitions and concerts, was disbanded.

Building an ecosystem

Building an ecosystem

Gojek’s interest in content and entertainment grew after the 2017 acquisition of Indonesian online ticketing startup Loket, according to a former employee of GoEntertainment, which is Gojek’s umbrella unit for content and events. Founded in 2013 by serial tech entrepreneur Edy Sulistyo, Loket was built for event organisers to handle ticket distribution and payments for concerts and sports tournaments.

The tech Loket had was good, and the company was an expert at implementing it on a mass scale. Loket got the chance to prove this during the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Ticket sales had been chaotic, with some events playing out in front of half-empty stadiums, even though distributors claimed they had sold out. When ticket sales were moved to Loket, the situation improved.

What Loket lacked was business experience, the former GoEntertainment employee said, which is why the Gojek takeover made sense. Gojek wanted to integrate Loket’s ticketing expertise with its app, where it already offered ticket sales through its GoTix feature, and its wallet GoPay. Gojek users could now use GoPay to not just pay for their rides and food deliveries, but also to purchase tickets for events and movies.

Overkill in Content. How did they plan before realizing there isn’t a big enough market?

Gojek’s ambitions continued to grow. Instead of supporting others’ films and events, Gojek realised it could make its own movies to distribute through its channel. The driving force behind this line of thought was to extend the use cases for GoPay, another former employee said.

In Indonesia, only 2% of the 260 million people have credit cards, which means mobile wallets are usually pre-loaded with credit. Gojek made this easy by letting people use their drivers as pay-in points: you’d give them cash, and they’d top up the desired amount in your GoPay wallet.

Now, Gojek wanted to introduce more ways for users to spend GoPay credits. Buying event tickets was obvious, but paying for content seemed like an achievable next step. Gojek equipped its new Go-Studio and Go-Live divisions’ team leaders with a bold vision and the promise of funds to get there.

There was talk of a “US$80 million-90 million budget” for the entertainment group, one former employee said. Gojek wanted to get into live events, such as e-sports and pop concerts. The film division was supposed to get US$50 million, but that sum was then chopped down to US$4 million, said another former employee.

Exploring the Local Selling Points to Regulate Digital Currencies Safely

“The Act provides regulatory certainty to industry players,” said Luno’s Goh. “More importantly, it gives consumers a clear sense of the players they can trust, ensuring they are in a position to make informed choices of the companies who will safeguard their funds.”

A necessary move

A necessary move

Lawyers that we spoke to believe the PSA was a necessary regulation. Not only did it plug loopholes in the old Money-Changing and Remittance Businesses Act 1979, which did not govern e-wallets and cryptocurrency exchanges, but it brings the law into this century, by addressing the entire chain of electronic payments.

“The [new] Act has been positioned in trying to update the legislation and to bring it under one roof,” said Pinsent’s Tan.

London-based fintech company Revolut sees the PSA as encouraging innovation and growth of e-payments services in Singapore. “Revolut views the Act as timely as it provides regulatory certainty over a number of different activities,” said Eddie Lee, regional director of operations, Asia Pacific, Revolut. “At the same time, it strengthens consumer protection and promotes confidence in the use of e-payments.”

E-payments Services Act’s major changes

Licences
E-payments companies can be licensed as a major or standard payment institution
Transaction limits
Fintech companies can only store S$5,000 in a wallet at any time. There’s also a S$30,000 annual transaction limit
ATM withdrawals
Fintech companies cannot allow customers to withdraw money directly from their account via ATMs
Cryptocurrency exchanges have now gained a semblance of legitimacy by being licensed under the Act. Before the PSA, cryptocurrency exchanges walked a fine line, as the Monetary Authority of Singapore kept a close eye to ensure that digital tokens did not constitute securities. These exchanges worked with no real formal regulation on operating their business in Singapore.

The clarity of the PSA has been lauded by many, with transparency being the key that will help these licensed startups attract investors, according to Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing director, TSMP Law Corporation. “Third parties also have the benefit of knowing that the ecosystem has rigorous regulatory oversight,” she said.

Singapore is one of the latecomers to the licensing game in the fintech sector. In Malaysia and Thailand, e-payments startups and cryptocurrency exchanges have been licensed since 2019. The Philippines has regulated e-wallets since 2009 and crypto exchanges since 2017.

Lucky winners

It’s easy to see that crypto startups are one of the biggest beneficiaries of the PSA. Being licensed will not only bring them legitimacy, but also allow them to open and maintain bank accounts in Singapore. In 2017, Singapore banks closed the accounts of several cryptocurrency and payments services companies, without providing a reason. “Being regulated under PSA, banks should not be able to refuse you an account,” said Golden Gate Ventures’ Drijkoningen.

Luno’s Goh believes the PSA is the herald for more countries to make such frameworks if it still doesn’t exist, or refine them if they do. Ultimately this will lead to a boost in customer trust and confidence in licensed operators. Luno’s credibility propelled after it attained a licence in Malaysia, not just with partners and customers in the country but in other Southeast Asian markets as well.

How Data Points Prove That Southeast Asians are Crazy About Apps

Operating systems: Indonesian smartphone users lag behind because the country has 93% Android users. Apps on Google’s Play Store tend to be free, while being part of Apple’s ecosystem more often requires paying a small sum for an app. It also forms a habit of paying.In comparison, in Vietnam it’s 64% Android, and in the Philippines, 83% people use it. Globally, the iOS App Store generates much higher revenue than Google’s Play Store—App Store revenue was US$25.5 billion in the second quarter of the year ended 2019 vs Play Store’s US$14.2 billion in the same period.

Growing app in Southeast Asia

Growing app in Southeast Asia

The growth rate of new app downloads in Southeast Asia is the highest in Indonesia. Singapore and Thailand aren’t downloading much. Interestingly, the countries which have seen a slowdown in new app downloads have higher growth rates of in-app spend.

In other words, there are two kinds of users. The download-use-chuck-download variety, and the download-pay-keep variety. That these user behaviours also extend to the macro level of a whole country shows the state of the economy.

As an economy matures, long-term users become more willing to spend for apps and in-app purchases. Take the infamous Candy Crush, for example. It has been around since 2012, and while the game no longer features in top downloads, it was still raking in record numbers in revenue many years after its inception thanks to high in-app spends.

Different Southeast Asian countries are at different stages of economic maturity. While Singapore is on one extreme end of the spectrum, Indonesia is in many ways the region’s most immature app economy, still demonstrating high growth rates of new downloads, but slow progress in monetisation.

According to Chaudhary of M&C Saatchi, growth in downloads will only happen in markets where there’s still room for internet penetration. In an emerging market like Indonesia and the Philippines, for example, internet users make up 64% and 67% of the population, as per the We Are Social report, versus Singapore’s 88% and Thailand’s 75%.

App spend, on the other hand, is directly related to per capita income the market has, said Chaudhary. But considering that Indonesia and the Philippines have a much bigger population than, say, Singapore, Chaudhary sees these emerging markets surpassing the city-state’s app spend at some point.

One hour more than the global average. That’s how much screen-time most people living in Southeast Asia get. The data reveals a fair bit: Facebook frenzy, a Chinese dark horse, Grab’s stronghold, and more

Population by country

Indonesia
260 million
Philippines
105 million
Singapore
5.6 million
That’s despite Singapore being an affluent market. “As the affluence of the huge emerging markets increases, you will see higher growth.”

It’s not just Singapore’s ranking that could tip though. With internet penetration, rapidly evolving technology, and a willingness to spend, apps are only going to mushroom. Even Facebook’s Fantastic Four will need to reinvent to maintain that iron grip over Southeast Asia.

Blocking Websites At Work Aims To Prevent Smartphone Break Time

Indonesia-based ride-hailing app Gojek didn’t make it into the top 20 apps by downloads or MAU in Southeast Asia, roughly two years since it began its international expansion. (We’ve written about Gojek’s overseas expansion struggles.) It only landed in the top 20 MAU chart towards the end of 2019.

Gojek’s Singaporean arch rival Grab, though, ranks much higher overall. After all, Grab has been focused on building a regional footprint from the get-go.

Gojek’s active users ranking is still mostly driven by its large user base in home country Indonesia—also the region’s biggest market with a 260 million population. Popularity in Indonesia automatically catapults an app into the regional ranks. In Indonesia, Gojek was the seventh most popular app by MAU in 2019, as per App Annie. Grab doesn’t make it into the country’s top 10.

It’s also worth noting that Gojek’s regional ranks don’t take into consideration Vietnam and Thailand, where it goes by local brand names—GoViet and GET, respectively. That’s not to say that Gojek is particularly strong in those countries. In Vietnam, GoViet doesn’t figure in the top 10 by downloads and MAU. It’s the same story for GET in Thailand.

However, the company saw a surge in new downloads in Singapore last year, thanks to better ride supply. From 10 million completed trips in June 2019, the company grew to 30 million trips by November. But while Gojek was the city-state’s top downloaded app in 2019, that wasn’t enough to bump it into the top ranks by MAU.

Willing to pay?

Willing to pay?

While users are happy to download and use new apps—ranging from social media and messaging, shopping, food ordering and transportation—spending on downloads or in-app purchases signal a more invested user base.

An in-app purchase is almost always for an added benefit. Think updating to Tinder Gold for better matches on the dating app, or buying outfits and gear inside a mobile game. Netflix subscriptions can also factor in here. It refers to everything that’s billed through the app store itself.

Spender bender

Southeast Asia is no singular, homogeneous entity. And that statement is proved by how much Southeast Asians vary, country to country, in priorities with regards to what they spend on apps.

Singaporeans are the big spenders. The country soars way above the global average app store spend of just US$2.63 per internet user in 2019. Thailand and Malaysia also stand out with a higher average spend per internet user than their neighbours.

Indonesians, despite operating with higher per capita GDP than their Vietnamese and Filipino neighbours, don’t part with their cash easily. At least not over apps.

So it’s not just a case of rich country = more app payments. There are other factors:

Mobile gaming: App Annie’s consumer-spend metric tracks payments that are made directly through the iOS App Store or Google Play. Mostly gaming spends, the data research company says. Now, game publishers from China, Japan and South Korea entered some markets like Thailand and Malaysia early because of geographical proximity and cultural affinity. No surprise that Thais and Malaysians caught on.

How 3 Major Apps are Helping Working Singles and Couples who aren’t Cooking During COVID-19

Restaurants that were once dine in-only are now rushing to sign up for delivery. Grab says new merchant applications have tripled. LINE MAN claims the number of restaurants applying to join its platform rose by 5X. Neither company provided raw numbers.

What’s Happened So Far with Precautions And What’s Being Done?

Thailand’s food delivery companies are enjoying their moment in the sun, but it remains unclear whether this sudden boom can help make their businesses sustainable. Discounts, promotions and free-delivery codes have been standard in recent weeks, indicating that platforms are burning more money than ever to gain new users and restaurants.

And it’s not like delivery can save Thailand’s restaurant industry.

Kasikorn Research Center—K-Research, a division of Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank—downgraded its 2020 revenue forecast for restaurants in the country by nearly 10% to 402-412 billion baht (US$12-12.7 billion). The food delivery industry, though, is projected to gross 38.61 billion baht (US$1.19 billion). That’s barely 10% of the restaurant industry and leaves a significant shortfall for eateries, even without accounting for platform operators’ revenue share.

Then there’s the very real possibility of a thorough lockdown, in which case systems will further collapse. Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krua-ngam has said publicly that it’s a possibility. Would that mean a whole new order?

Foodpanda, others in a fast food rush

Foodpanda, others in a fast food rush

Unlike neighbours Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, Thailand’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak has been gradual with no strict lockdown. However, that changed for restaurants with the 21 March order.

“We saw the impact the next day with new users in Bangkok and the surrounding areas seeing heavy uplift,” Felde says.

Bangkok’s outdoor advertising industry is a major beneficiary of Thailand’s four-way food fight, with the city’s billboards decorated with promotions and discounts for each company. Adding new users is the easy bit for food delivery apps—far harder, however, is managing this new demand from restaurants.

A LINE MAN driver giving a ride to a Lalamove driver is looked over by a GET advert [Image: Jon Russell/The Ken]

Foodpanda onboards restaurants through a field-based team that visits each establishment. It also draws up a contract, supplies point-of-sale tablets and trains merchants on the tech and processes. Those methods have had to adapt to the Covid-period, with online verification taking over.

Still, Felde says the process tops out at verifying 3,000 new restaurants per week—although last week, Foodpanda managed 2,000—which would leave as many as 7,000 applicants unmet. The Foodpanda Thailand CEO admits that “there will be a backlash” from restaurants forced to wait due to the process. Foodpanda claims to work with 50,000 restaurants.

In an emailed response, Tarin Thaniyavarn—country head of Grab Thailand—said GrabFood is working to reduce restaurant onboarding to 7-10 days from a usual 14-21 days. GET, too, is reducing its process from what was typically one month prior to the Covid-19 outbreak to one week, CEO Pinya Nittayakasetwat told The Ken.

LINE MAN has taken a contrarian approach with a focus on self-service. It has synchronised its listings with Wongnai—a popular restaurant finding service—so that new restaurant listings on Wongnai are fast-tracked to the LINE MAN platform.