There is a an interesting battle for supremacy being fought in the Southeast Asian market, between two super apps, Grab and Go-Jek. The companies offer everything from ride hailing, to groceries, to financial services. Super apps, or apps that bundle various services into one platform, have also gained a lot of investor attention as they offer a way to collect massive amounts of data on customer behaviour by monopolising users’ time and provide a new way to engage with them.
However, will there be more super apps in India and other parts of the world in the future? It is definitely a model that a lot of new-age companies are gravitating to. Hans Tung, managing partner of venture capital firm GGV Capital, says there won’t be too many but a handful of such apps in every country and region.
He spoke to Fortune India about super apps and the Indian startup scene, on the sidelines of a summit organised by TiE Delhi-NCR in Gurugram. Edited excerpts:
You spoke about super apps in your presentation. Tell us more about it. Do you see super apps in India?
In China, WeChat and Meituan are good examples of super apps. In the U.S., Uber is becoming a super app. By super apps we mean an app that does more than one function, has multiple functions, all kind of related, so that they all can help to take a bigger share of the wallet from the consumers. Meituan is a super app because it offers ticketing, it offers flight sharing, it offers food delivery, it also offers B2B services: SAAS [software as a service] solutions for restaurants to use, manage their work processes. So when an app does several things well, it becomes a super app. Uber is a super app with bike-sharing, scooter sharing, and at the same time takeout, and now they have a rewards programme. So it makes it easy for consumers to use Uber for various needs.
We think that over time a company like Swiggy will end up being a super app in India. I don't think there will be many super apps but there will definitely be a handful in each country, in each region. That will be very meaningful and material, that the users will end up spending a disproportionate amount of their time on the wallet on super apps.
Talking of the startup scenario in India, what are the next set of technologies and the kind of startups that you see emerging in the country?
We are still learning about the Indian market. A lot of the apps are not just copies from overseas. Over time, small founders can come up with apps or solutions to address the needs of the local market. In China, we see a lot of apps that deal with demand aggregation. China has a lot of communities and high-rises. So you might have say a community of 10,000 people living in close proximity, so having an app that lets you purchase by building or by community makes it easy to (aggregate) demand and make delivery more efficient. We are also seeing things happening on the supply side; that’s just intermediation, that makes it easier for whoever produces the goods, the food, to get to the user through only one layer of marketplace, or of merchants, bypassing multiple layers of distribution. Whenever there is enough smartphone penetration, more people are on the cloud, more data on the cloud, it makes it easier for demand aggregation, supply chain disintermediation to happen much quicker.
There has been some amount of uncertainty regarding regulation for startups in India. Do you see it as a challenge for startups and investors in India?
With any emerging market regulations is always (a challenge), the unpredictability is always there. There is something that both the startups and VCs [venture capitalists] understand. But if what you are doing something… that adds value and help improves efficiency… over time the government policy will be more favourable.
You have invested in the Southeast Asian, LatAm, U.S. and Chinese markets. What are the key differences you notice between them?
The U.S. and China, there is more experience, people have done things at scale. That was always the case with China. We saw great growth between 2005 to now. What we are predicting in LatAm, South East Asia and India, as the Internet penetration rises, urbanisation happens, with the rising middle class, there should be opportunities to build more and more businesses. And, have more experienced founders and teams that scale.
In the U.S. and China we have seen companies, founded by somebody, who has gone through a startup two or three times already. We don't see that in India yet, but we know it is coming.
Globally, what are the countries and regions you see more startups and innovation emerging from?
Looking at the next set of users, it will come from countries with a large population. Brazil, Indonesia, and India, those three are the biggest. So it's not hard to know where to look for, where the growth could happen. Whether it could happen in Africa, Eastern Europe, Middle East, and other places? Sure. But there is not that kind of concentration in one geography that offers hundreds and millions of users.
If you look at the unicorns in India, there are in a variety of sectors—e-commerce, fintech, logistics, and edtech. What are the other kinds of startups that could attract similar funding and a unicorn status?
Consumer Internet usually is the largest, then it is SAAS, enterprise, then there is deep tech. We tend to look at different sets of consumers from social networking, to commerce, to social commerce, to live streaming to entertainment to education to fintech. There are many areas that can produce unicorns.