AppWorks Ecosystem Surpasses Unicorn Valuation in 2017

Jun Wakabayashi, Analyst (若林純 / 分析師)

Jun is an Analyst covering both AppWorks Accelerator and Greater Southeast Asia. Born and bred in America, Jun brings a wealth of international experience to AppWorks. He spent the last several years before joining AppWorks working for Focus Reports, where he conducted sector-based market research and interviewed high-level government leaders and industry executives across the globe. He’s now lived in 7 countries outside US and Taiwan, while traveling to upwards of 50 for leisure, collectively highlighting his unique propensity for cross-cultural immersion and international business. Jun received his Bachelors in Finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business.

    • AppWorks’ Year in Review 2017 reveals our community is together valued at US$ 1.6 billion
    • New US$ 100 million Fund III will focus on financing Series A and B rounds across GSEA
    • AppWorks Funds invested in 8 deals across fintech, e-commerce, security, and social media verticals

In 2017, Greater Southeast Asia (GSEA) was without a doubt launched into a new level of global stardom. Not only did SIngapore-based Internet and gaming company Sea–the original curator of the term “GSEA”–make its long anticipated public debut on the NYSE, but several foreign tech giants put down the stepping stones for their initial foray into the region including Amazon via PrimeNow in Singapore, Expedia via Indonesia’s Traveloka, and Alibaba via its billion dollar investment in unicorn darling Tokopedia.

It almost seems as if the cat’s finally been let out of the bag–that GSEA is an incredibly prospective region, ripe with riches just waiting to be unlocked, eventually. A recently updated report by Google and Singapore’s Temasek quoted a region that is now home to the world’s 3rd largest population of Internet users and an online market that is set to exceed US$ 200 billion by 2025. If nothing else, this has further validated our focus on building a regional startup community and support system that also leverages Taiwan’s unique positioning to strengthen entrepreneurs all across GSEA.

Accordingly, and in the true fashion of any startup, AppWorks has needed to iterate in line with looming paradigm shifts in order to better serve our community and effectively cater to its needs moving forward. This past year marked several milestones in an overall emphasis on helping our startups capture a piece of the region’s rapidly growing Internet economy, and equipping them with the proper resources to fully capitalize on the region’s digital awakening.

Of the 52 startups across AW#14 and AW#15 that graduated from AppWorks Accelerator in 2017, more than half of the combined cohort actually originated from countries outside of Taiwan, namely Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Korea, while 25% comprised of female co-founders. These two figures truly highlight just how far we’ve come since AW#1 in expanding the diversity of our community, in terms of both perspectives and demographics. And if the CEOs of the world’s leading tech companies today serve as any indication, diversity is a core underlying asset that can most certainly serve as a great driver of innovation.

With the addition of 52 AW#14 and AW#15 startups, our community has scaled to a stage like never seen before. The AppWorks Ecosystem now counts 323 active alumni startups and 780 founders in its network. These AppWorks startups are generating US$ 1.3B in total revenues, growing at 65% year-over-year, and have created 5,696 jobs, increasing by 53% from the prior year. They have raised US$ 432M from both AppWorks Funds and third-party investors, up 57% from last year, and together exhibit a composite valuation of US$ 1.6B, roughly a 75% uptick over the last 12 months. In other words, 2017 marks the year that The AppWorks Ecosystem has finally crossed the valuation mark of a unicorn.

Meanwhile, AppWorks Funds made 8 investments in several promising startups including Shopback, Umbo CV, Morning Shop, EMQ, ReCactus, and Intowow, while helping them raise a total of US$ 99.4M across these rounds. Moving forward, however, we’re anticipating many startups to encounter a US$ 5 – 15M gap in Series-A and Series-B financing spanning the next 12 months. This is in part why we’ve raised our 3rd fund of US$ 100M to help startups bridge the proverbial valley of death and clear the way for future growth.

ShopBack (AW#13), based in Singapore, has expanded  to Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan.

As value-added mentors, partners, and investors, we’ve directed a lot of our time and resources in enabling more GSEA startups to enter key markets such as Taiwan and Indonesia, while helping them harness Taiwan’s formidable supply of talent and set up R&D teams here in Taipei.

True to these efforts, AppWorks Landing Pod was launched late last year and designed to help founders / CEOs of fast-growing tech startups immerse themselves in local ecosystems across GSEA to best prepare for formal expansion. The first iteration of this 3-week immersive program was initiated this past November in Indonesia, where we see emerging opportunities across the country’s expansive and rapidly growing online economy.

That being said, shortages of quality talent still remains one of the foremost challenges that growing tech companies face today. AppWorks School was started 18 months ago as a separate channel to build a more fortified pipeline of skilled labor and help our community meet the technical demands of tomorrow.

iOS Class #4 Orientation

We’ve now managed to graduate 49 newly trained developers through our 14-week free coding program, which offers both iOS and Android tracks. 80% of these graduates went on to pursue successful software engineering careers in prominent Internet companies such as Pubgame, 91APP, and Bahamut with an average annual salary of US$ 20,400.

Spanning all pillars of our platform, AppWorks closes out the year with a special acknowledgement to its team in all they’ve done to empower founders and elevate the startup ecosystem all across Greater Southeast Asia, while setting its sights on even greater horizons in 2018.

For highlights of all the initiatives and achievements that sought to reinforce our community across the region in 2017, visit AppWorks’ Year in Review 2017.



TP Lin, Associate (林子樸 / 經理)
負責投資。七年光電產業經驗,為隆達電子創廠員工之一,見證公司成立、併購與上市,過程中經歷產品研發工程師、研發主管、專案管理等不同職務歷練。在 AppWorks 負責協助軟硬整合新創團隊,充分運用台灣與中國的硬體製造能力。台灣大學物理學士、光電碩士。

前一陣子,Uber 的新聞鬧得沸沸揚揚,早期投資人一口氣把創辦人告上法庭。照理來說,投資人應該和創辦人站在一起,共同為公司努力,但我們卻時不時就會聽到投資人與創辦人鬧翻、對未來方向不一致、產生路線之爭,甚至不惜對簿公堂,讓人覺得有些可惜。


投資人關係 IR (Investor Relations) 和所有關係一樣,最重要的是從一開始就要找到對的人,這跟選擇一個對的創業夥伴一樣重要。好的投資人除了要能提供新創團隊該階段成長需要的資本,對創業的過程與產業也要有相當的了解,在團隊努力往前時,他們要能適時提供協助和建議,進而引進關鍵資源。相對的,團隊也絕對不能因為急需對方的金錢挹注,而忽略彼此的目標、價值觀,以及對產業發展的看法是否契合。所以,當有團隊針對募資前來諮詢時,我都會建議他們,除了投資人選擇要不要投資你們,你們也應該好好思考要不要讓這個投資人入股。




一如共同創辦人、上下游廠商等創業過程中的其他關係,投資人和被投資人之間的信任非常重要,因為有了信任基礎,你們才能一起做出可以幫助公司發展的決定。當然,這信任關係並非一朝一夕可以建立,它需要一點時間,在建立信任關係的過程中,你必須 keep your investor in the loop,盡可能讓投資人了解公司目前的狀況,包括公司的主要政策、業務走向,如此一來,投資人才有辦法對你的公司提供建設性的意見和援助。


一. 違反合約

二. 隱藏壞消息
業績和公司狀況的浮動對大部分新創公司來說都是家常便飯,但很多 CEO 擔心投資人知道這些狀況後,會留下不好的印象,總想著等業積改善再向對方報告,然後一拖再拖,以致錯失調整的機會,陷入無法收拾的窘境。


四. 預料之外的危機



一、寄送月報 (或週報)
至少每月固定發一封 email 給投資人,報告公司現況,信件中可以包含以下資訊:
關鍵績效指標 / 管理報表:簡單來說,就是幾個關鍵數字的更新,例如:日活躍用戶 DAU / 月活躍用戶 MAU / 每用戶平均貢獻 ARPU 等公司營運領先的指標。
團隊狀況: 團隊是否有人事異動,對公司又會造成什麼影響。
請求協助 Call to Action:最重要的一點是,可以請投資人提供團隊需要的協助,如介紹通路、合作夥伴、人才,幫忙推廣產品、提供意見。你越積極請投資人幫忙,就越能讓投資人了解你對未來的規劃,讓雙方攜手向前。

除了報告公司狀況的 email ,也需定期與投資人開會,如董事會、策略會議等,這些會議的目的是一起討論公司未來的方向與策略。建議早期團隊召開董事會的頻率不要低於一季一次,若能召開月會勢必更有幫助。而會議的重點,除了更新 email 中的事項,一定要預留時間,和投資人溝通並討論公司接下來要面臨的重大挑戰為何,並且說明為了因應挑戰,必須做那些重要決定,請投資人提供建議,讓彼此達成共識。

10 mins              CEO 從宏觀的角度簡述公司目前的狀況,並提出未來的發展重點與挑戰
40 – 60 mins    公司的各項表現,從數字面更新公司與產品狀況
15 mins             公司組織與人員異動
30 – 60 mins    針對公司下一季的目標與策略進行討論



想瞭解更多創業相關知識,歡迎追蹤 AppWorks Fan Page

Fireside Chat with AppWorks Partner, Joseph Chan

Jun Wakabayashi, Analyst (若林純 / 分析師)

Jun is an Analyst covering both AppWorks Accelerator and Greater Southeast Asia. Born and bred in America, Jun brings a wealth of international experience to AppWorks. He spent the last several years before joining AppWorks working for Focus Reports, where he conducted sector-based market research and interviewed high-level government leaders and industry executives across the globe. He’s now lived in 7 countries outside US and Taiwan, while traveling to upwards of 50 for leisure, collectively highlighting his unique propensity for cross-cultural immersion and international business. Jun received his Bachelors in Finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Joseph Chan, Partner at AppWorks, the largest accelerator in Greater Southeast Asia (Taiwan + Southeast Asia), depicts his initial, almost chance encounter with AppWorks, while illustrating how the company’s accelerator program will help Taiwan mold a more sustainable economic future. He also details future regional plans for AppWorks’ venture capital arm, and how they ultimately plan on leveraging their planned US$ 100 million Fund III to help position themselves as a key player in the region’s startup landscape.

Serendipitous Beginnings

Despite a longstanding career evaluating and investing in hardware-related ventures, the internet space has always served as an undying passion for AppWorks Partner Joseph Chan.

Chan first came across AppWorks by what he would consider a stroke of serendipity. During his decade-long tenure at CID, one of the largest and fastest growing investment vehicles in Asia, a handful of market segments such as consumer beauty and biotechnology were pursued outside the traditional hardware verticals where the group built its core competencies. Software companies, however, never seemed to wet investors’ appetites quite as much.

This reluctance towards internet ventures stemmed from a myriad of reasons including a badly bruised ego following the dot-com crash, misalignment with incentives traditionally found in hardware investments, and an almost microscopic-sized market potential in the eyes of Taiwanese investors. As a point of reference, CID at the time was managing funds cumulatively exceeding USD 1 billion, visibly minimizing AppWorks’ first fund of USD 11 million.

Around 2012, a promising young visionary named Jamie Lin, AppWorks’ Founding Partner, knocked on the front door seeking capital to invest in Taiwan’s internet startups. Lukewarm at the idea, but certainly acknowledging Lin’s tenacity and wits, CID’s founding partners decided to take a chance and delegated this project to Chan who, as luck would have it, was the only team member at the time to have any experience—let alone interest—related to the internet space, which came as a result of his first job out of university working for NASDAQ-listed GigaMedia, what was then operating as a broadband ISP.

That bet soon paid off. AppWorks Fund I saw the successful IPOs of two portfolio companies, NetPublishing and KuoBrothers. Meanwhile, the company had already courted enough institutional support to launch its second fund of USD 50 million, enabling AppWorks to cast a much wider net and eventually invest in 40 of Taiwan’s and Southeast Asia’s most promising tech startups.

An Urgent Calling

Consequently, Chan saw transitioning over to AppWorks as a prime opportunity to apply his years of financial expertise and investor insight to a critically important purpose greater than himself—that being AppWorks’ mission to cultivate Taiwan’s innovative capabilities and encompassing ecosystem for internet entrepreneurs.

Although hardware manufacturing and semiconductors have largely supported Taiwan’s economy to date, Chan is adamant in suggesting that software will essentially serve as the country’s saving grace in the coming decade. “30 percent of all hardware-related companies listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange will likely evaporate in the next 10 years,” he warns.

He specifically cites “one-trick ponies” or companies that only specialize in low-value, original manufacturing components as the ones at most risk of being in firing range. “These type of products can be easily vertically integrated into larger conglomerates, or even more likely, replicated by low-cost manufacturers in China,” exclaims Chan.

Creating a new generation of software-based blue chip stocks will not only help Taiwan ensure a sustainable economic future, but also re-capture value from current global blue chip leaders to prevent the country from paying what Chan refers to as a “Google tax” or “Facebook tax” in perpetuity.

“Given that Taiwan’s e-commerce market is currently valued at roughly USD 34 billion, and assuming startups are allocating on average 7 to 9 percent of their budgets to online marketing, we’re leaking out a significant chunk of value that ultimately benefits foreign platforms like Facebook, which currently serves as the dominant channel for online advertising in Taiwan,” Chan laments.

Back to Basics

AppWorks Accelerator was created to plug that gap. Pre-dating the venture arm, the company’s accelerator program was established in 2010 and aims to equip bold and ambitious entrepreneurs from all over Greater Southeast Asia (GSEA) with the necessary resources, mentorship, training, and connections to get their businesses off the ground. Operating in 6-month batches, AppWorks Accelerator has now graduated 15 batches, encompassing over 323 startups and 780 founders.

With nearly 15 years of experience in institutional investing, Chan advises on many matters, particularly pertaining to fundraising, finance, and legal—all pertinent areas for any founder in his or her own right. But Chan believes the most important aspect that their program can help cultivate, but certainly not instill, is drive.

“In Taiwan, many founders of course have dreams and ambitions, but do they have the insight or experience to see the broader picture—particularly one that expands beyond the borders of Taiwan—and be willing to do whatever it takes to get there?” postulates Chan. “We’re all ex-founders and operators, giving us experienced insight into what exactly founders need, and also what they will need, but perhaps aren’t yet aware of.”

And AppWorks has certainly proved its worth. Many former batch companies such as EZTABLE and Umbo CV have all gone on to receive additional rounds of financing after graduating from the program and execute steadfast expansion strategies into the region.

Looking Outward

Operating in a similar fashion to a startup, AppWorks itself is no different. Since the VC arm underpins the effective development and operation of the accelerator program, AppWorks has expanded the scope of their market to investments all across Greater Southeast East. They’ve now become of the most active early stage investors in the region, executing 10 – 15 deals per year. These efforts will be further accelerated through AppWorks Fund III, targeting a sum of USD 100 million upon completion of fundraising. The sizable fund will primarily focus on financing startups’ Series A and B rounds that fall under the themes of GSEA and AI.

However, with a track record that’s been so far primarily centered on Taiwan and Taiwanese entrepreneurs, how can AppWorks possibly be seen as a serious investor, let alone advisor, in any other country across the region?

Chan responds with a two-pronged approach: “First, fundamentally speaking, Taiwan is a fantastic market to launch an internet business, especially with such a digitally-savvy population and internet penetration rates reaching 87 percent—among the highest in the region. That alone gives us enough leverage to appeal to internet startups across Southeast Asia. Second, in hot markets such as Indonesia where we have yet to develop a proven track record, we will take on a more subordinate role in financing deals, partnering with local funds that have already established reputable expertise and insight.”

Southeast Asia is a vibrant region full of hopes and promises, with tech enthusiasts, investors, and entrepreneurs alike all peering in and waiting for the floodgates to open. Whether or not AppWorks, and in turn Taiwan, will be at the forefront of that impending wave—only time will tell. But, if the past few years have been even a sliver of indication for Chan, serendipity will likely continue serving as a fortuitous force moving forward.

We’re on a diehard mission to push Taiwan and Southeast Asia forward, and truly believe in the Internet’s ability to keep reinventing the world and make it a better place. If you’re also passionate about helping entrepreneurs and startups, and think you you’ve got the energy, attitude, and appetite for making a difference, join our team!

Why more and more startups are targeting Greater Southeast Asia

Jun Wakabayashi, Analyst (若林純 / 分析師)

Jun is an Analyst covering both AppWorks Accelerator and Greater Southeast Asia. Born and bred in America, Jun brings a wealth of international experience to AppWorks. He spent the last several years before joining AppWorks working for Focus Reports, where he conducted sector-based market research and interviewed high-level government leaders and industry executives across the globe. He’s now lived in 7 countries outside US and Taiwan, while traveling to upwards of 50 for leisure, collectively highlighting his unique propensity for cross-cultural immersion and international business. Jun received his Bachelors in Finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Within the realm of tech startups, Southeast Asia has certainly elicited no shortage of investor interest and cash-strapped entrepreneurs chasing the unicorn dream—and rightly so. The region is home to the world’s third largest base of Internet users, with a fast-growing online economy now set to exceed US$ 200 billion by 2025, according to an updated report co-authored by Google and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek. With 3.8 million new users coming online each month, market opportunities are increasingly ripe for the taking across these frontier markets that are just now coming to terms with rising affluence, consumer sophistication, and widespread digital penetration.

As a region, Southeast Asia has become a ubiquitous classification that is generally understood to encompass the 10 nations under ASEAN, with a primary focus on the six largest markets of Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. But what if you, perhaps quite sensibly, lumped Taiwan into the mix? So enters Greater Southeast Asia.

Source: sea

Simply put, Greater Southeast Asia (GSEA) is Taiwan + Southeast Asia. The term was most recently popularized by Singapore-based internet and gaming company Sea in their recent IPO filing on the NYSE. In the group’s prospectus summary, GSEA is characterized as “one of the world’s fastest growing regions in terms of per capita GDP and at the early stages of internet penetration,” with “markets [becoming] increasingly interdependent, particularly for internet business models.”

It’s a rather colorful illustration that has long been applied to the formative grouping of 10 ASEAN nations. And given that 90 percent of Sea’s revenues is largely derived from its Garena gaming business, there’s a stark possibility that Taiwan was merely roped in for its regional dominance in online gaming.

However, a closer side-by-side comparison reveals a market that can not only hold its own when it comes to economic clout and technical ingenuity, but also serve as a guiding beacon for its more emerging brethren in the region that have only recently begun fully embracing the digital age.

A Diamond in the Rough

By and large, Southeast Asia’s startup landscape is still in its infancy, particularly when stacked up against mature markets such as US and Europe or even China where unicorns are comparatively abundant. To date, only 10 startups have crossed the coveted billion-dollar valuation threshold, with an average age of 6.5 years running across the board.

Unbeknownst to most, there is actually one unicorn to have come out of Taiwan’s stable—online English learning service TutorABC, which was established in 2004. That being said, Taiwan’s internet sector extends much further, with the earliest instance of e-commerce dating back to the late 90s when local online shopping champion PChome was founded. That means Taiwanese citizens have been purchasing on the web for the better part of two decades. It should therefore come as no surprise that the percentage of residents who shop online in Taiwan is surpassed only by the US and UK. Coupled with smartphone penetration reaching upwards of 75.8%—the 2nd highest in the world—this little island has actually given way to the largest e-commerce market in Greater Southeast Asia, for now at least.

Source: Frost & Sullivan

Aside from a few other challengers such as Momo, Taobao, and Yahoo!, PChome’s dominance over the domestic market had been left more or less uncontested since its establishment—that is until Singapore-based Shopee (Sea’s e-commerce arm) entered Taiwan in 2015. By adopting a mobile-first strategy, Shopee truly hit home with the nation’s digitally savvy and cyber-hungry population. Monthly orders grew rapidly to roughly 5.8 million per month, effectively usurping PChome as the market leader and contributing more than a third of the group’s total orders by Q2 2017.


Naturally, more and more foreign players have caught wind of the latent opportunities in Taiwan’s internet and mobile economy that are evidently up for grabs, despite its maturity. Southeast Asian startups such as Carousell, Shopback, and Honestbee have increasingly prioritized Taiwan along their regional conquests, a trend that’s likely to continue moving forward.

Startup Sanctuary

With only a population of 23.5 million people, Taiwan actually boasts the second largest economy in terms of nominal GDP when stacked against ASEAN countries. The country also displays—albeit unofficially—a human development index of .882, superceded only by Singapore in the GSEA region, while also scoring highly on most international rankings including global competitiveness, ease of doing business, and most notably innovation; According to Bloomberg’s Global Innovation Survey in 2014, Taiwan was cited to have the highest number of patents per population, and per R&D expenditure in the world.

Source: IMF

While unable to keep pace with the lucrative growth rates of an Indonesia or Philippines, Taiwan offers several fundamental factors conducive for bootstrapping and developing startups. Not only are the living costs a third of what you might find in Singapore, but the availability of technical talent far exceeds the rest of GSEA–perhaps best validated by Google’s US$ 1.1 billion acquihire of HTC’s smartphone assets, reportedly consisting of 2,000 engineering and design talent.

Currently, Taiwan boasts roughly 8,000 software engineering graduates per year, with average annual salaries hovering around US$ 20,400, compared to approximately 4,400 graduates and US$ 35,000 respectively in Singapore.

This is on top of the roughly 25,000 electrical engineers the country’s academic system churns out every year, truly speaking to the country’s longstanding heritage of semiconductor and hardware manufacturing. This grants aspiring innovators a unique opportunity to capitalize on the trending intersection of hardware and software, especially when it comes to IoT, smart city, and Industry 4.0.

From a VC funding perspective, although visibly minimized by Singapore and Indonesia, Taiwan still manages to come in a resilient third. And if we back out the billions of dollars raised by the region’s handful of unicorns, namely Grab of Singapore and Go-Jek of Indonesia, you realize Taiwan is just as good a place for an early-stage startup to raise money as those 2 countries.

Source: CB Insights, Taiwan Startup Stadium

Certainly recognizing its limitations as an end-all, be-all type market, Taiwan’s government has been pushing for a more future-ready environment that fosters and embraces innovation, rather than stifles it. Whether it’s establishing a regulatory sandbox, launching a dedicated AI research lab, unveiling a US$ 333 million national VC fund, or even just loosening its borders for foreign talent, it’s clear that Taiwan is keen on cultivating an ecosystem that can attract and enable startups from all over the region to keep up with the evolutionary pace of technology.

Redefining Old Cliques

2017 marked the 50th anniversary of ASEAN, a collective club of chaotic and sprawling settlements, historically only seen in the underbelly of neighboring behemoths China and India, until recent times that is. Open up the front page of Tech in Asia or e27 and you’re bound to come across the latest high-flying valuations of Southeast Asian tech startups disrupting traditional industries.

For Taiwan, though, the last 50 years have largely operated under the impetus of “Greater China.” While this term is not an official political classification, it infers an dependent type of relationship that has long confined Taiwan and its economic future to forces outside of its own control.

Taiwan’s “New Southbound Policy,” short of formally joining the intergovernmental organization, strives to align the island nation with ASEAN countries. Specifically, it fittingly contextualizes the country’s technical brawn, mature digital economy, and longstanding penchant towards innovation as the beating heart of a region currently bursting with opportunities.

If you’re a startup in the region looking to capture both scale and monetization, both growth and margin, and to build both local operations and a regional R&D hub, then expanding your scope to include both SEA + Taiwan hence, Greater Southeast Asia, is increasingly looking like an avenue that you can’t afford to miss.

For more information on how ambitious entrepreneurs across Greater Southeast Asia can leverage AppWorks Accelerator to capitalize on the region’s digital awakening, visit our website.

GSEA’s Cashback King Enters Taiwan

螢幕快照 2017-12-05 下午5.46.51

Jun Wakabayashi, Analyst (若林純 / 分析師)

Jun Wakabayashi is an Analyst covering Greater Southeast Asia. Born and bred in America, Jun brings a wealth of international experience to AppWorks. He spent the last several years working for Focus Reports, conducting sector-based market research and interviewing high-level government leaders and industry executives across the globe. He’s now lived in 7 countries outside US and Taiwan, while traveling to upwards of 50 for leisure, collectively highlighting his unique propensity for cross-cultural immersion and international business. Jun received his bachelors in finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business.

The co-founder of Singapore-based ShopBack, Joel Leong shares his experience in translating the cashback model to Taiwan and highlights the pivotal role that AppWorks Accelerator played in facilitating their market entry.

Cash is King

Who wouldn’t want free money…is exactly the premise that prompted Joel Leong and his co-founders to establish ShopBack in 2014. Fast forward 3 years, the Singapore-based startup has now become the largest cashback provider in Greater Southeast Asia (GSEA). Avid online shoppers are able to unlock tantalizing discounts and lucrative cashback rewards by simply accessing ShopBack’s app and online portal and browsing through any one of the company’s over 1,300 merchant partners spanning electronics, fashion, travel, among many other verticals. If a purchase is made, then ShopBack is paid a commission, which ultimately gets shared with the consumer in the form of cashback. This symbiotic relationship is what has allowed the company to recently nab a hefty US$ 25 million new round of financing, while accelerating its regional conquest across 6 countries in GSEA, including in the last year Taiwan.

While Taiwan is at times outshined by the notoriety of its emerging brethren in the region, it still punches well above its weight when it comes to e-commerce, and lacks no shortage of market opportunities for the taking. “If you really look at the data you find that GMV from Taiwan’s e-commerce alone [US$ 30 billion a year] actually beats all of Southeast Asia combined,” reveals Leong. “Of course, I recognize in the next few years that it’s going to change, but for now what we see is a huge market with potential.”

In Taiwan, merchants are much more privy to affiliate marketing due to surging rates charged by Facebook—the country’s dominant online advertising channel—and a developed online retail economy where e-commerce essentially serves as a way of life. That being said, foreign companies like ShopBack still face an upward battle, particularly when navigating an unfamiliar environment and cold courting local online retail partners. Joining AppWorks Accelerator #13 was ShopBack’s way of effectively tipping the scale in their favor.

A Successful Marriage

Having already graduated 15 batches of 323 startups and 780 founders, AppWorks has amassed the largest active alumni base of any accelerator in the region. Consequently, AppWorks has grown into vital platform for aspiring Internet entrepreneurs, specifically in its home market of Taiwan where it has forged linkages with most of the top-tier Internet companies such as PChome, GOMAJI, and momo, each commanding fierce customer loyalty among locals.

Through a revolving cycle of mentorship, networking, and training during its 6-month program, AppWorks Accelerator pushes its teams to “fail fast, learn fast, and iterate faster,” minimizing non-value adding blunders and shortcutting the time that they would otherwise spend knocking on doors one-by-one.

And like every couple joined in holy matrimony, the relationship has gradually evolved over time. “When we came here we just wanted to be part of the accelerator, have that sort of credibility, and at the same time grow our team,” recounts Leong. “But then it has gone on to some crucial mentorships, invaluable connections, and now with the help of AppWorks we’re trying to localize our site even more by trying to build another technical hub here and hiring Taiwanese coders to help us make our site more palatable for the Taiwanese market.”

The same guidance that has proved instrumental to ShopBack’s landing in Taiwan is exactly the type of support that they’ve passed on to Taiwanese startups such as KKday or TokiChoi who are currently expanding across GSEA. This cross-border “pay-it-forward” mentality is what has enabled such a powerful, tight-knit community among AppWorks startups.

Southbound Horizons

When stacked up against countries such as Thailand or Indonesia where their sizable markets alone are large enough to support startups’ growth and justify an all-out campaign solely focused on winning home turf, Taiwan is not always at the top of the agenda for regional expansion. However, according to ShopBack’s co-founder, where Taiwan might fall short in brawn, it makes up in brains.

“Taiwan is ahead in terms of technical talent—there’s no debate about that. Harnessing Taiwan’s rich reservoir of human capital might be very beneficial to Southeast Asian startups, especially those at the growth stage,” emphasizes Leong.

Under the government’s new ASEAN facing initiatives (dubbed “New Southbound Policy”), Taiwan will direct more effort on promoting and anchoring its economic clout among ASEAN nations. Taipei City, for example, has created the “Southeast Asia Startup Star” program that aims to attract all unicorns and centaurs in the region to setup tech teams and R&D centers.

Naturally, as Taiwan strengthens its ties in the region, a larger pool of startups will begin to realize that there’s plenty of room to play in Taiwan. “Some startups such as Shopee, Carousell, and Honestbee—the early adopters—have already done that. Those are good starts. Overtime more will surely follow suit, eventually creating a seamless bridge between both sides of the strait,” Leong envisions.

Calling all growing startups across Greater Southeast Asia, visit AppWorks Accelerator for more details on how we can help facilitate your market entry in Taiwan.