November 12, 2015

WHY ASIA IS ON THE RISE WHEN IT COMES TO TECH

Trends today quickly emerge and can just as quickly vanish. That means a lot can happen in three months, so I’m taking this opportunity to look back at RISE Conference 2015 – a ‘start-up party’ in Asia organised by the Web Summit team, to see if the topics discussed have already become old news or continue to move the needle.

For anyone who doesn’t know about Web Summit, it is one of the world’s most influential tech events, growing from 400 to over 22,000 attendees since it started in 2011. The RISE Conference, its Asian equivalent, kicked-off with a bang; attracting over 5,000 attendees from over 75 countries and I was lucky enough to receive a ticket as part of the Women in Tech programme.

The Centre Stage: China is no longer a nation of copycats but of innovators

Speakers including Neil Shen, founder of Sequoia Capital China, Jean Liu, President of Didi Kuaidi China and Pete Lau, CEO of OnePlus kicked-off discussions on the main stage by debunking the myth that China is a land of copycats.

Shen said there is often a misperception in foreign media that Chinese start-ups mimic companies like Google and Facebook; however, he argued that these companies are as innovative as their western counterparts.

“15 or 16 years ago, when the first batch of entrepreneurs founded their companies in China, the US was five or ten years ahead of us, so it was only natural for us to want to learn from them! But if you look at the market now, every successful company from that batch has since gone beyond learning and moved on to innovating,” he said.

Shen highlighted three things every tech company should consider when it comes to innovation – local customer needs, infrastructure, and different market dynamics.

Three months on and anyone who might have casted doubt on Shen’s claim will be less sceptical after reading about the multi-billion-dollar merger of Meituan and Dianping, two of China’s biggest Internet start-ups. According to the Wall Street Journal, the merger of China’s top group deals sites is set to open a new chapter of China’s O2O (Online-to-offline) industry. This comes after years of fierce competition between the two companies, that saw both sides offering price cuts, favorable retail rates and doing anything to gain the attention of both consumers and merchants.

The deal surprised many in western markets, with few being able to picture similar competitors like Lyft and Uber ending up in this sort of ‘marriage’, but this illustrates how Chinese companies are willing to join forces to be innovative and best serve local customers.

The Enterprise Stage: The grass is always greener –Asia is the hotbed for FinTech

SJ blog 3From Bitcoin to the mobile payment revolution, cloud computing to big data analytics, investors and start-ups came to the Enterprise Stage to exchange views and experiences. Amongst which, I was fascinated by the presentation from PayPal’s global director John Lunn, who said in the next 3-5 years there will be more change in finance and the way we use our money than in the previous 20 years.

The way payments are made is changing faster than at any time since the invention of money and this is especially true in Asia, where the growth of retail e-commerce in 2016 will reach US$1,589B, according to a report “Interconnected Commerce – A Revolution in Value Creation”, developed by the global leading interconnection and data centre company Equinix.

As such, global investment in FinTech grew by over 200 per cent between 2013 and 2014, reaching more than US$12 billion last year, according to market analysis firm CB Insights. Players in the traditional banking and finance sectors must heed customer demands for innovation or run the risk of being side lined.

Since August, mobile payments have continued to dominate the headlines of both financial and technology publications, and with initiatives like Hong Kong’s e-cheque system coming into play early next year this space looks set for growth.

All eyes on Asia

Amid concerns over China’s economic stability, investors at the RISE Conference also shared thoughts on the outlook of Asia’s technology industry.

One of the most anticipated panel disSJ blog 4cussions included Jing Ulrich, managing director of JP Morgan Chase in Asia-Pacific.

When asked if the tech bubble in Asia is about to burst, Jing Ulrich said the answer was ‘both Yes and No’. She admitted investors are placing future bets on start-ups like Airbnb, but the current level of risk is nowhere near that witnessed prior to the dot.com bubble that burst in 1999.

Figures she quoted show the number of IPOs in the tech sector is also much lower than it was 15 years ago – 69 in 2014 compared to 350 in 1999 – indicating greater security and less risk. “We all have to be ready for when the music stops and the music sometimes does, eventually, stop,” she said. And several months on, Jing’s predictions seem correct. The Chinese market continues to stabilize and technology in particular, is going from strength to strength.

RISE is set to come back to Hong Kong again in 2016 and, with these many correct predictions, I can’t wait to attend. (lewispr.com)