Sharing some Asia podcast discoveries

I love podcasts, and have been a regular user for about 15 years. I also love audiobooks, which means when I discover a podcast and start going through the backlog, my GoodReads Reading Challenge suffers.

This year I have discovered a number of deep podcast catalogs that I thought I would share (in no particular order).


AnalyseAsia

analyse asia cover art

Topic: Startups in Asia

You probably know who the “unicorns” are here in North America, but do you know what is happening on the Asia side of AsiaPac?

Map of the most well funded started in Asia-Oceania
Credit: CB Insights

Bernard Leong’s AnalyseAsia podcast features interviews with various startup founders, VCs, institutional tech economy people from all over Asia. He is based in Singapore, and there is a good amount of content about Southeast Asia which is what interested me.

For a quick hit, check out this informative interview with Justin Hall on VC in Southeast Asia →


Disrupting Japan

Disrupting Japan cover art

Topic: Startups in Japan

Earlier this year LinkedIn listed Japan’s 20 best startups to work for. On the list is a company I was interested in called Shizen Energy, a utilities startup based in Fukuoka (a place I really want to visit!) that has been building renewable energy

Looking around I found this English-language interview with founder Ken Isono on the Disrupting Japan podcast. This was a fascinating interview as it turns out the podcast host Tim Romero works for TEPCO Ventures. I did my master’s thesis on energy security in Japan, so hearing two energy people discuss how to revolutionize Japan’s (and the world’s) energy mix was brilliant. They discuss all sorts of things, including the decentralization/localization of energy projects, which reminded me of the Citizen Energy project I learned about in Ikoma-shi, Nara.

During the interview Ken Isono uses a very interesting metaphor. He argues that in the future renewables will make energy free — so cheap it won’t be worth metering. He points out that in some areas of Europe the energy price is negative. In thinking about what that future looks like for utilities, he says they will have to shift much like telecom industries after the rise of Skype 20 years ago: “International calls became free. I think the same thing will happen in energy.” That didn’t destroy the phone companies, but they had to shift their business model away from charging for long distance calls to selling other value-added services. The same thing could happen in energy.

Fascinating interview. Give it a listen.


The Meiji at 150 Podcast

UBC Meiji at 150 Podcast cover art

Topic: History of the Meiji period

I love Japanese history, but my focus has always been the Sengoku and Edo periods because of my background in classical Japanese martial arts. I almost minored in Japanese history when I was an undergrad at UBC. This year I have been exploring other parts of Japanese history by reading a few books. Then I discovered the Meiji at 150 history podcast — produced by my alma mater UBC — and well, I have been stacking up the books on my Want To Read shelf all year listening to this thing.

Last year the 1868 Meiji Restoration celebrated its sesquicentennial, and UBC kicked off a lot of projects to explore that period of Japan’s modernization. In the show, Dr. Tristan Grunow interviews academics on various aspects of the Meiji, and I have learned a lot. Just listen to the show on coffee in Japan (I bought the book).

Learning about the Asian fintech boom

After reading Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built with a friend, we decided to get together for a discussion with the old #StartupCoffeeKL group to go over some of our learnings. For me, the biggest takeaway was the impact Alibaba was having on the financial world. As Mary Meeker points out in the 2018 Internet Trends report, eCommerce is the culmination of a number of verticals, and Alibaba has been innovating in all of them.

Slide containing text:

E-Commerce = A Look @ Tools + Numbers...

Payment
Online Store
Online Payment
Fraud Prevention
Purchase Financing
Customer Support
Finding Customers
Delivering Product
KP 2018 Internet Trends slide on eCommerce tools

For the eCommerce giant fintech may have started merely with payment transactions, but soon turned into other offerings and eventually was turned into Alipay (2004) and then (controversially) Ant Financial (2010). The whole battle over the wallet is playing out very differently in China and is fascinating to learn about. The mix of heavily regulated banking infrastructure and wide population of unbanked has made for a dynamic context. But Alibaba has been aggressive in gaining a foothold in other markets too. Alipay has bought into Mynt in the Philippines, Ascend Money in Thailand, and in 2017 Alibaba took a $200B (40%) stake in KakaoPay, the payment arm of Korean chat giant KakaoTalk. Alibaba’s messaging platform is not that popular so it is is interesting to see them take a stake in a different platform to get the kind of business intelligence Tencent is getting from WeChat. In preparations for the Olympics, and to accommodate the massive amounts of Chinese tourists in Japan, Alipay has made huge strides, going from about 50K retailers in 2018 to more than 300K. But they are not stopping there, and are looking to bring their partners along too.

Other companies are getting in on the act. Tony Fernandes’ AirAsia is trying to make the switch from a low cost airline to a data company and has spun out BigPay. Hear him talk about this shift in this short CNBC interview.

Slide from recent AirAsia investor deck showing their shift in business model.

It is interesting to see how these payment products are being born out of other data-intensive businesses. I am not sure if you can built a payments company from the ground up with no data anymore. Grab and Gojek in Southeast Asia are also examples of this. They are both covered in this month’s fintech special report from The Economist which I recommend. Two small tidbits from that special I would like to highlight:

This quote from Singapore about competition shows that not all models are the same:

“As a public policymaker, we are working with banks to rationalise their costs, and create a level playing field for them to compete with non-regulated entities.”

This approach has had the desired consequence: fintechs in Singapore have largely shifted from offering services to consumers to offering digital services to banks.

Secondly, from the same article, I found this comment about Ant Financial by Piyush Gupta, the chief executive of DBS, Singapore’s biggest bank illustrative:

“They are getting the customer relationship and the data to create value, and then passing the regulated part of the activity to banks.”

It makes me wonder, are we seeing another Uber-style disruption in the offing? You already know how I feel about that…

In conclusion fintech in Asia is a boom that has been going on for a while but just got on my radar this year. Payments seems to be a vertical on fire (think of even Apple getting into it with their own card earlier this year), but it is not one that I fully understand. And in Asia we have a very dynamic lab that we in North America could learn from. I certainly intend to continue learning about it.