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SINGAPORE - In front of an open-air Jakarta restaurant, delivery drivers clad in the orange colours of Southeast Asia tech group Sea Ltd wait for orders next to the green-jacketed riders of market leaders Gojek and Grab, in what has become the latest battleground for tech supremacy in Southeast Asia.
The humble noodles eatery signed up for Sea's nascent ShopeeFood service a month ago, but "immediately, there were orders everyday," said manager M.A Rasyid.
Riding on the success of a cash-generating gaming business, U.S.-listed Sea has invested heavily in its Shopee e-commerce brand and successfully taken on Alibaba's Lazada and other rivals in recent years. Its share price has risen five-fold over the past year, giving Singapore-based Sea a market value of $111 billion.
Now it is muscling into food delivery and financial services in Indonesia, the world's fourth-most-populous country, posing a new threat to regional rivals including ride-hailing and delivery unicorns Grab and GoJek.
At stake is a slice of the more than 400 million internet users in Southeast Asia's digital economy, which is estimated to triple to $309 billion by 2025, according to a study by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company.
Tech behemoths, including Tencent, a major investor in Sea, Alibaba, Google and Softbank Group Corp, are big backers of regional champions.
Sources say Sea's aggressive expansion is one driver of merger discussions between Gojek and e-commerce platform Tokopedia. The Indonesian firms aim to create an $18 billion powerhouse to fight off Sea and regional giant Grab.
Meanwhile, Grab and others, including travel app Traveloka and Indonesian e-commerce unicorn Bukalapak, are rushing for public listings, hoping to ride the coattails of Sea's stock rally while defending their turf, according to Reuters interviews with over a dozen people.
"Sea is like Thanos, massive and powerful, and able to take down half of the world, or in this case half the startups," Willson Cuaca, co-founder of East Ventures and an early backer of Tokopedia, joked as he compared Sea to the powerful villain in the Marvel film series.
"Like the Avengers, companies need to band together if they want to ensure their survival and to win the war."
CASH IS KING
Sea's stock rally reflects a scarcity of options for investors seeking exposure to the booming Southeast Asia internet sector. It went public in 2017 and has raised some $7 billion in share and debt sales, with early investor Tencent now holding a stake of about 20%.
That investor appetite, combined with a need to raise cash to match Sea's muscle, is forcing rivals to seek listings as quickly as they can, bankers and executives familiar with the matter say.
Sources say the Gojek-Tokopedia merger, which is likely to be finalised within weeks, will be followed by a Jakarta listing in the second half of 2021, then a mega IPO in the United States targeted for 2022.