Friday Letter: Peng T. Ong betting big on Southeast Asian technification

The co-founder of Monk’s Hill Ventures talks about why the region is growing fast.

Earlier this month you may recall I wrote about Southeast Asia and how much fundraising is taking place there and that there are already a number of fast-growing unicorns there.

But we’re not done writing about Southeast Asia, which is why I was happy to meet with Peng T. Ong, a Singapore investor who was in the San Francisco Bay Area this week.

Ong is co-founder and managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, a Series A investor that backs companies through Southeast Asia. Before Monk’s Hill Ventures, Ong was a venture partner at the China-focused firm GSR Ventures. He was also previously co-founder of the online dating site now known as Match.com, also known as Electric Classifieds, and he served as CEO of Interwoven, which went public and was then acquired for $775 million a decade ago.

Ong was in town for events, and I saw him speak about the technification of service verticals in Southeast Asia. Ironically, the techie event was held in the American Bookbinders Museum in San Francisco, a much older kind of technology. But Ong is a book lover and said he will often return home when travelling with suitcases full of books.

But this week he was more focused on technification, or the adoption of tech in business operations that historically don’t use technology. For example, think of a company that uses AI to optimize its logistics, such as managing the delivery routes of its drivers and offering customization for the users. Technification is about companies harnessing tech to provide cheaper, more efficient and seamless services, Ong says.

Ong says he witnessed the “raw power of technification in China” while he was with GSR Ventures. “I saw multi-billion-dollar tech companies that did not exist 10 years ago dominating industries across the board.”

Ong sees similar events happening in Southeast Asia, a region that boasts 11 unicorns, five of which have risen in the last two years.

Ong says that Southeast Asia countries are geographically small, so, by necessity, the companies that are being formed are multi-national and are geared to think outside their own borders and consider expansion.

“A lot of the Southeast Asia countries like Indonesia and Philippines and Vietnam, are taking turns being the fastest growing country in the region, which is exciting to experience and it increases the digitization of the area,” he said.

In other words, technification is breeding more technification in Southeast Asia.

You can read more view from Monk’s Hill Ventures on their website.

I would love to hear your feedback about Southeast Asia and anything else tech and venture-related. You can contact me via my email at alastair.g@peimedia.com. I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area and happy to meet folks in person.