With its young population and growing middle-class sector, Southeast Asia is one of the hotspots for any startup looking to expand into other markets. In fact, tech startups from the region attracted investments totalling US$8.2 billion in 2020. This is a mere 3.5 per cent dip from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, compared to drops of 31 and 38 per cent in India and Africa respectively.
The region’s transformation into a tech hub is partly aided by a large, untapped consumer base. Covid-19 spurred digital adoption among the population, with 70 per cent of Southeast Asia — 400 million people — now online thanks to the pandemic, according to research by Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company.
Southeast Asia’s diversity and tech capabilities make it a lucrative market for tech startups that want to go global. It is home to an incredibly diverse and young population, with more than 30 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 34. Both the supply of talent and demand for digital products and services are growing.
Furthermore, the market is also maturing at a rapid rate, with homegrown startups expanding throughout the region and some even venturing beyond.
Seven of Southeast Asia’s most important digital sectors — e-commerce, online media, transport and food, travel, financial services, healthtech, and edtech — are projected to grow to more than US$300 billion in gross merchandise volume in 2025. Some of the region’s startups have also made headlines on the international stage. Singapore’s Sea, for example, became the world’s best performing stock.
For startups looking to expand in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is a perfect entry point
Malaysia is currently ranked the 11th emerging startup destination in the world. Startup hotbeds like Kuala Lumpur, its capital city, Penang, and Selangor boast low costs and a wealth of talent. Strong government support, through initiatives such as the Technology Start-ups Funding Relief Facility and the PENJANA Fund, also make Malaysia an ideal choice for any startup seeking to establish their presence in Southeast Asia.
Geographically, Malaysia is located in the heart of ASEAN. Its immediate neighbours are Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore, which are also three burgeoning tech hubs, making Malaysia perfect for startups seeking cross-country collaboration. Malaysia’s conducive startup environment is thus great for startups who want to understand Southeast Asia’s culture, consumer behaviour, and country regulations.
With its balanced mix of languages, people, and industries, Malaysia is truly a microcosm of Southeast Asia’s buzzing tech startup ecosystem.
Revolutionising the F&B industry through Slurp!
One particular stand-out homegrown startup is Slurp!, a company whose main objective is to deliver cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) system solutions for food and beverage retailers across Malaysia.
Its flagship product, Slurp! POS, is an iPad-based POS system specially developed with the food and beverage industry in mind. By tapping on cloud technology and remote support capabilities and consolidating them in a stack that consists of both hardware and software, Slurp! aims to help businesses enhance their efficiency and customer experience.
“When we started in 2014 the F&B merchants were still using something built in the 90s to run their business, the system obviously had outdated UI/UX and tech stack so they had difficulty from even extracting the simplest of data from their POS,” explained co-founder and chief executive officer, Reza Razali.
In 2018, they saw a similar pain point in the fuel retail industry and decided to focus their efforts there.
Even old legacy systems can benefit from Slurp!’s innovative solutions. Their products and services lower both hardware and support cost, as the hardware does not need to be custom-built and its preventive maintenance system can spot and resolve problems remotely before they occur.
Furthermore, Slurp’s products enhance customer experience and engagement. “Our solution is able to integrate to other business systems a lot faster, while delivering real-time data, than legacy solutions,” said Razali.
This allows new solutions to be delivered to customers in a shorter span of time, he added.
What makes Slurp! unique is that the company is still majority founder-owned. “Founders still own more than 90 per cent of the company,” said Razali. “We like that as it gives us a lot of flexibility in running the business.”
Surpassing challenges and roadblocks
Exploring a brand new market despite the similar pain points they saw in the industry was no easy task.
“Two years ago we started building a Point of Sale for the fuel retail industry and our solutions are currently used by the largest fuel retailer in Malaysia, Petronas,” Razali explained. “Our solution is designed to lower the total cost of ownership for a fuel retail point of sale by delivering cloud access, remote support capabilities bundled in a superior hardware and software stack,” he said.
Despite challenges and roadblocks, Slurp!’s vision and determination to explore important collaborative opportunities with pioneers in the industry landed them this partnership, and the company is now actively looking for partners in several southeast Asian countries as they plan to scale beyond Malaysia.
One of the steps they have made is participating in a go-to-market programme organised by MaGIC for startups looking at the European market. Despite travel restrictions, the programme gave them a comprehensive understanding of how to expand beyond Malaysia and what the complexities are of exploring unique markets.
“MaGIC has given us exposure to various programmes they ran in its early days, including the e@Stanford programme, which was useful in giving us the exposure to go global,” said Razali.
With all the tools and key insights that the company has gained over the years, from providing solutions to the F&B industry, to exploring the world of retail fuel, and now to taking on the global stage, the future is looking bright for Slurp!
This article is produced by the e27 team, sponsored by MaGIC
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