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Big game: For years, Southeast Asia's young companies were fueled by billions of dollars in venture capital from growth-chasing investors, including SoftBank Group's controversial $100 billion Vision Fund.   © Illustration by Parvati Pillai
The Big Story

Coronavirus stalks Southeast Asia's once-thriving unicorns

For Gojek, Grab and more, quest for profit becomes struggle for survival

SHOTARO TANI, WATARU SUZUKI and PETER GUEST, Nikkei staff writers | Southeast Asia

JAKARTA/TOKYO -- Car-leasing startup Smove was startlingly popular and easy to use, even in expensive and rule-bound Singapore. With the tap of a prepaid card, anyone could jump in a vehicle off the street, start it with a push of a button and drive for as little as $1 per quarter hour.

As ride-hailing giants Uber Technologies and Grab expanded through Southeast Asia, rapidly and seemingly unstoppably, founder Tom Lokenvitz thought he'd found a way to ride on their coattails. By 2015 he'd scored a deal supplying cars to Uber's drivers -- which he scrambled to fill by taking out long leases to increase his fleet numbers. Meanwhile, Grab and Uber worked the upstart's playbook, offering deep discounts and subsidizing rides in an intensifying battle for market share in the region.

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