Vantage Point: Tech layoffs should be viewed in response to changing business landscape

This weekly newsletter highlights top developments and trends across Southeast Asia’s digital economy and ecosystem, without losing sight of the solid links between the online and offline worlds.

Executive Summary

  • Sea Ltd – More to layoffs than meets the eye
  • Emtek deepens exposure to Bukalapak ecosystem
  • Grab is mapping out the future
  • Closure of GrabMart Kilat is a positive

Sea Ltd – More to layoffs than meets the eye

Staff layoffs make headline news as it is presumed to mean that the company in question has somehow taken a misstep and over-invested, resulting in the need to let people go. 

The simple fact is that the business environment changes over time and dynamic companies will adapt to these changes relatively quickly, which may, unfortunately, lead to some job losses. The other point is that certain segments require high levels of initial investment to bring them to scale after which those segments may require fewer people going forward.

This is an unfortunate symptom of the fast-moving technology environment, which may see a negative impact in some segments as mobility picks up. 

The recent news that Shopee was laying off staff received a lot of attention although not many details regarding the exact numbers were known. Shopee has reportedly reduced its headcount across Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Europe, with ShopeeFood and ShopeePay teams in SE Asia among the most impacted. 

The Thai market, where Shopee has reportedly laid off 50% of its ShopeePay and ShopeeFood staff, is a relatively recent addition for the company, which is mainly focused on Indonesia and Vietnam currently. ShopeeFood has also reportedly laid off staff in Malaysia and has delayed its expansion into Singapore for now.

The company also mentioned the closure of the pilot project in Spain but this would only affect a few cross-border employees as the firm had limited on-the-ground presence. Sea Ltd had also recently closed its operations in France after only five months, so closing another pilot market should be seen as a pragmatic move rather than anything else. 

Sea Ltd’s Shopee’s India operations were closed for good reason as despite it being a large market, the company was targeted as being somehow under Chinese influence by the government. India, citing security concerns, also banned Sea’s hit mobile game, Free Fire, alongside other Chinese apps. Sea is backed by Chinese technology giant Tencent.

There have not yet been any significant layoffs in Indonesia, which is the company’s largest market for Shopee. Also, its core market of Brazil was not mentioned as one of the countries in Latin America affected by recent layoffs.

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