The ‘turbulent’ days of 2 Southeast Asian unicorns listed in the US


Starting as a small video game company founded by Forrest Li, Sea has grown to become Southeast Asia’s leading e-commerce and gaming empire.

In 2017, this company had an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange (USA), then made Forrest Li and 2 other co-founders in turn billionaires. At its peak, the market capitalization of Shopee’s parent company surpassed the $200 billion mark.

Sea’s success has become an inspiring and motivating story for many technology startups in the region to pursue the dream of listing in the US.

But since setting a record in October 2021, the group’s capitalization has “evaporated” more than 130 billion USD, equivalent to two-thirds of its value. Currently, Sea’s market capitalization is just over $68 billion.

Last November, investors massively sold shares of the Southeast Asian technology company because its quarterly business report was not as expected. The decline continued after Tencent Holdings – Sea’s major shareholder – announced a partial sale of shares.

The sell-off became more intense after India’s ban on the Garena Free Fire game app. After the news of this ban, Sea lost up to 16 billion USD in market capitalization in just the trading session on February 14.

The 'turbulent' days of 2 Southeast Asian unicorns listed in the US - Photo 1.

Sea’s market capitalization is just over $68 billion, down sharply from more than $200 billion in October last year. Photo: Bloomberg

According to BloombergNew Delhi’s ban on Free Fire, a hugely profitable game for Sea, shows the challenges the company faces due to geopolitical tensions, as well as increasingly fierce competition from competitors like Alibaba’s Lazada e-commerce platform.

Over the past two years, India has banned hundreds of Chinese apps, but the imposition of a ban on Sea surprised investors. Sea was founded by Forrest Li, who was born in China but now holds Singaporean citizenship. Sea’s largest shareholder is Tencent Holdings, the Chinese internet giant. Investors are also concerned that India may even ban Shopee, Sea’s second pillar. Shopee currently has about 300 employees and 20,000 sellers in India.

Not stopping here, “turbulence” continued to come to Sea when the group announced its business results for the fourth quarter of 2021 and gave a gloomy forecast about the business situation of the digital entertainment segment. Sea forecasts revenue from the mobile game segment to only reach $ 2.9-3.1 billion in 2022, marking the first decline. In 2021, the group achieved revenue of USD 4.6 billion in this segment.

In the wake of the stock’s continuous decline, on March 7, Sea employees received a reassuring email from CEO Forrest Li. “Don’t worry, we’re still in a strong position and know what to do,” he wrote. “This is just a short-term drop. We need to get through it to reach our full long-term potential.”


After much speculation, Singapore-based ride-hailing company Grab also officially listed in the US through a merger with SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) Altimeter Growth in early December last year.

However, contrary to many’s expectations, the Southeast Asian super unicorn had a “bitter” debut as the share price dropped 21% in the first session.

But that’s not the worst thing the company’s management and investors have had to see. In the trading session on March 3, this code dropped by 37% after the poor fourth quarter of 2021 business results were announced.

Grab’s fourth-quarter revenue last year was only $122 million, down 44% year-on-year. During the period, Grab reported a loss of nearly $1.1 billion, largely due to the cost of a blockbuster IPO in the US last year. In the same period in 2020, Grab only lost about 576 million USD.

The 'turbulent' days of 2 Southeast Asian unicorns listed in the US - Photo 2.

Grab listed in the US last December. Photo: Grab

Grab raised $4.5 billion in an IPO last year and was valued at nearly $40 billion at the time. But with the stock down more than 60%, the market cap is only about $15.3 billion.

The listing time is not really favorable for this company. Covid-19 has taken a heavy toll on ride-hailing services. Besides, the global stock market has also fluctuated in recent times due to the tension between Russia and Ukraine. Previously, the merger with Altimeter was delayed because of an audit. The activities of SPACs in recent years have also been monitored by the authorities.

Grab’s main business is ride-hailing, food and goods delivery. The company is facing increasing competition in Southeast Asia. One of the company’s biggest competitors is Indonesian ride-hailing app Gojek, which merged with e-commerce platform PT Tokopedia to become GoTo. After the merger, GoTo is preparing to IPO in Indonesia and possibly in the US in the near future. Besides GoTo, Sea is also one of Grab’s “foreign” competitors.

According to Linh Lam

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