Today we detour from our usual China fare to examine a trend that could quickly gain traction due to an increasingly difficult business climate for internet companies in China. That trend has seen a growing number of Chinese entrepreneurs pack their bags for Singapore, which is nearby geographically and has many cultural ties to China due to its large ethnic Chinese population. And equally important, the city state is far friendlier to companies from a range of realms, such as the internet, crypto trading and finance.
In a major move on that front, Asia Innovations Group Ltd. announced at the end of last week it would make a backdoor listing in New York using a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called Magnum Opus Acquisition Ltd. (OPA).
The announcement was relatively thin on financial information, saying only the deal would value Asia Innovations at about $2.5 billion at the expected closing in the first quarter of next year. It also gave some relatively detailed information about Asia Innovations' business, which is centered on a suite of social media apps targeting users in developing markets.
But from our perspective, the most interesting thing about this listing is the company's very Chinese background, despite its base in Singapore. The executives are a who's-who of second-generation entrepreneurs from China's high-tech realm, many of them most likely in their late 30s or early 40s.
The group is led by co-founder and CEO Andy Tian, whose bio says he grew up in New York, but we suspect was born in China to parents who later migrated to the U.S. Tian founded a social app in China that he later sold to mid-sized gaming company Zynga, then stayed on as the head of Zynga China. Before that he was a member of Google's (GOOG,GOOGL) early team in China, helping to bring its Android mobile operating system to the country.
Then there's co-founder and President Ouyang Yun, whose previous affiliations include high-ranking jobs at Tencent (OTCPK:TCEHY) and Gaopeng, the Chinese internet giant's former group buying joint venture with U.S. company Groupon (GRPN), which pioneered the group buying business model. Co-founder and CTO Liu Mingling was a former top executive at Caijing, once China's leading financial publication, while CFO Darren Huang previously worked as the business finance director for HP's (HPQ) China PC division.
Asia Innovations certainly isn't the first such Chinese team to pick Singapore as its base to put some distance between itself and heavy-handed regulators in Beijing. One of the highest profile cases to follow a similar path is UP Fintech (TIGR), also known as Tiger Brokers, which was founded in Beijing as a broker helping Chinese to buy U.S. and Hong Kong stocks. But lately the company has shifted gears and moved to Singapore after being warned by Chinese regulators that it was possibly operating illegally in its former home country.
Another example is Babel Finance, which relocated its headquarters to Singapore after Beijing outlawed its core cryptocurrency trading business. Another related case involves autonomous truck technology company TuSimple (TSP), which is consolidating its operations in the U.S. city of San Diego as it prepares to divest its China business.
All that said, we'll take a closer look at what Asia Innovations actually does and just how exposed it is to China. The company doesn't say in its limited materials so far whether Chinese are among its pool of 400 million registered users in 150 countries and regions at the end of last year. But circumstantial evidence certainly points in that direction.
The company currently operates out of 18 offices worldwide, with four of those in the Mainland Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Yiyang. What's more, the simplified Chinese used in both Mainland China and Singapore is one of the many languages supported by its suite of apps, all of which are available in Apple's China app store.
There's nothing inherently suspicious about operating a social media app in China, though such operators are subject to the country's strict self-policing rules that require them to remove any sensitive user-generated content. U.S. professional social media giant LinkedIn previously tried to navigate between that Chinese environment and the more-open environment in the rest of the world, and ultimately decided to pull the plug on its China operation last year.
Asia Innovations' apps are mostly social media-related, anchored by its livestreaming Uplive app launched in 2016 three years after the company's founding. It also operates voice apps, real time translation, e-commerce, gaming and dating apps. Its key focus is developing markets, which is reflected in its global footprint. Aside from its four offices in China, its other major global centers include Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Islamabad, Delhi and Jakarta.
Those markets are relatively less competitive than western markets and are also being targeted by Yalla (YALA), another company we've written about that is based in the Middle East but whose founding team also has strong Chinese connections.
In terms of other financials, there's really not much. Asia Innovations said the SPAC merger would give it proceeds of around $200 million, which is how much Magnum Opus raised at the time of its IPO last year. It added it could raise another $150 million after completion of the merger, and that Asia Innovations current shareholders would own 84% of the listed company after completion of its listing.
One of the company's earliest investors is Silicon Valley venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins, while the only other one listed in its press release last week is China-based MSA Capital. The company says its revenue more than doubled in 2021 from the previous year, but it doesn't give any figure.
Based on a relatively high price-to-sales (P/S) ratio of around 10, which is what we might typically see for this kind of high-growth company, and the targeted $2.5 billion target market value, we could estimate the company might expect to post 2022 revenue of about $250 million. But we will undoubtedly get some more precise figures as the deal comes closer to closing.
Editor's Note: The summary bullets for this article were chosen by Seeking Alpha editors.
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