Filipino unicorn sets eyes outside ASEAN

MANILA, Philippines — A homegrown startup finally managed to get unicorn status with a valuation of over $1 billion but unlike most of its peers, it has set its sights far beyond its regional turf.

Revolution Precrafted Properties Limited now joins the very exclusive unicorn club in Southeast Asia that includes ride-sharing firms Grab and Go-Jek, travel firm Traveloka, and tech platform Sea Ltd.

Unlike these service-based platforms aiming to expand into and dominate market share in Southeast Asia, Revolution Precrafted's export-oriented model means it is not geographically dependent.

The firm develops pre-built parts of designer homes and offices. Robbie Antonio, son of Century Properties founder and chair Jose EB Antonio, founded it in 2015. 

“Unlike many of the unicorns in Southeast Asia, we’re really focused on the world, not just Southeast Asia,” Antonio said on the sidelines of the 2017 ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (ABIS) on Monday, November 13.

"We’re really hoping to have a footprint in major parts of the world including America, Europe. The goal is to be the biggest home supplier in the world,” he emphasized.

At the moment, however, the firm’s expansion has been confined to the neighboring countries, which Antonio explained was only because of close proximity.

“In the end, we’re shipping homes. It is not exactly as easy as shipping other goods like clothing or appliances. It’s a much more complicated job.”

The firm recently entered Indonesia after closing a deal early this year with Indonesian conglomerate Bakrie Group. Revolution Precrafted will supply 5 mega studios and 5 hectares of office spaces and storage facilities for a studio project in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Antonio pointed out, however, that there are other deals in the works in the the US and Central America. He plans to expand in phases.

“We’ve identified 18 countries we want to open offices in. I just came from the Middle East and we’re going to penetrate that market as well,” he said.

Branded housing

The new insight Antonio has brought to the prefabricated industry is to combine it with the sheen of exclusivity in a style reminiscent of Century Properties' use of the Trump and Paris Hilton brands for some of their high-end residential buildings in Manila. 

Revolution Precrafted’s roster of high-profile designers for its pre-crafted structures include New York-based architecture firm Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie Architects, Jean Nouvel Design, and music star and designer Lenny Kravitz.

 “I didn’t start the pre-fabricated space, but clearly we’re the only ones who are doing this from a branded perspective so we have intellectual property. But I wanted to keep operating and capital expenses down,”  Antonio said.

Antonio pointed out that the firm consciously tries to minimize operating and capital expenses, emphasizing that “unlike some of the other ASEAN unicorns, Revolution Precrafted is already highly profitable.”

The firm owns no land and carries no inventory while it outsources its construction to factories that use robotics to execute the firm's designs.

"Unlike Grab or Go-Jek which would need to raise $2 billion [to expand], we don't. We're never in that position," Antonio said.

ASEAN financing troubles

While Revolution Precrafted’s strategy may differ from its other high-profile peers, one common problem for all of them is "access to funding" in the region. 

Speaking at an ABIS panel discussing financial inclusion in the region, Antonio said early stage financing for startups in the region was quite poor and hinders competitiveness compared to developed markets.

“There are about a 1,000 unicorns in the world, most of which are situated in America for one reason: access to funding,” he said.

"It’s not like we have fewer brilliant people here in Southeast Asia. We’re close to double the population of the America, yet t there are only 9 unicorns in the [region]."  – Rappler.com