Asia-Pacific’s Leading Disruptors 2019: Taiwan

FinanceAsia is showcasing the entrepreneurs who are leading the wave of technological disruption across the region. Here we look at Taiwan.

In line with our mission to shed light on the many investment opportunities popping up across Asia and Australasia, FinanceAsia is showcasing the entrepreneurs who are leading the wave of technological disruption in different countries and across a range of sectors.

Their companies range in size and maturity, but these people share a common drive and vision to compete against established institutions, whether in financial services, retail, energy, robotics, or logistics, to name just a few of the industries featured.

Following our methodology, we have selected five entrepreneurs from each of Asia Pacific's largest economies. Taiwan is the focus of today's article.


Taiwanese startups have suffered from entrepreneurial brain drain, as potential founders flock to the mainland’s larger markets.

The government is taking steps to address this. A special entrepreneur visa launched last year to encourage foreign businesspeople to set up shop on the island. Authorities have also sponsored startups and tech parks across the country.


Company: Appier

Headquarters: Taipei

Year founded: 2012

Industry: AI

Prominent backers: Sequoia Capital, Softbank

Lee is chief operating officer and co-founder of Appier, a provider of machine learning software to companies around the world. Born and raised in Taiwan, the entrepreneur met her future Appier co-founders while studying for her doctorate in immunology at Stanford University.

While not formally trained in business, Lee found success by applying her skills as a high-level medical researcher to Appier’s development. There was nonetheless a learning curve, as Lee and her co-founders tried to understand what the market needed. Ultimately, the startup went through eight evolutions before launching Appier.

“There is a need for market-driven innovation,” Lee explained. Her team saw that many companies wanted to use AI for marketing and customer engagement but lacked data scientists to implement the technology. Appier has found success by filling this gap; it is an affordable means for businesses to collect and use information about online customer interactions to direct business strategy.

Lee was Appier’s first non-engineering hire and she has led the tech firm into global expansion. The company has 14 offices with more than 400 employees in 12 countries and while not actively fundraising, Lee said the company is still a startup and wouldn’t turn away investors.


Company: WeMo

Headquarters: Taipei

Year founded: 2015

Industry: Transportation

Prominent backers: None

Wu is the founder and chief executive officer of electric scooter sharing platform WeMo – a portmanteau of “We” and “Motorcycle”.

As an undergraduate, Wu studied electrical engineering at the University of Southern California before entering Columbia’s MBA programme. After finishing school, the entrepreneur worked first as an engineer with Intel in Silicon Valley and later moved to Taipei as a consultant at McKinsey.

WeMo is Wu’s first startup, financed with help from family and friends. With plans to double the scooter fleet from 3,000 to 6,000 by the end of the year, he expects to be profitable by the middle of next year.

“We are investing in one of the biggest disruptive technologies in the mobility sector,” Wu said in an interview with FinanceAsia.

The WeMo staff is more than 100 people strong, the majority of whom are deployed throughout Taipei’s streets to maintain parked scooters and batteries.

While bicycle rentals recall the heaps of dumped bikes – estimates exceed 16 million – strewn through Chinese cities, Wu isn’t concerned. For one, electric scooters require drivers’ licenses to operate. Road safety regulations place a higher burden on WeMo customers and reduce the odds of someone trashing a scooter and abandoning it by the side of the road.

In addition, Wu has leveraged technology to keep a close eye on his fleet. The scooters are equipped with GPS and monitoring software and WeMo is notified if one malfunctions.

According to Wu, most rides with WeMo scooters last less than ten minutes and cost about $1.50.


Company: Gogoro

Headquarters: Taipei

Year founded: 2011

Industry: Transportation

Backers: Temasek, Panasonic

Luke is the co-founder and chief executive officer of electric scooter startup Gogoro. Launched in response to the rising global population and increased pollution, Gogoro’s scooters represent an alternative means of transport in cities.

With funding from venture capital groups, as well as the Taiwanese government, Gogoro has developed a series of SmartScooters for urban riders with interchangeable electric batteries. The scooters can be found on streets around the world, including Berlin, Madrid and Taipei.

Before Gogoro, Luke worked as chief innovation officer at smartphone developer HTC and as a brand developer for Microsoft.


Company: AsiaYo

Headquarters: Taipei

Year founded: 2014

Industry: Accommodation

Backers: 500 Startups, East Ventures

Cheng is the founder and chief executive officer of accommodation and travel bookings platform AsiaYo. The service is available in 60 cities across Asia and has more than 60,000 accommodation locations available for rental.

Launched in 2013, AsiaYo uses machine learning to improve customer experience. The company promises a personalised holiday using AYSort, an artificial intelligence system, and has plans to expand into Southeast Asia.

Cheng studied electrical engineering at Taiwan’s National University and graduated in 2001. As incomes rise around Asia, he and his company are set to capitalise on an increasing number of people with money to spend and places to see.


Company: Funnow

Headquarters: Taipei

Year founded: 2016

Industry: Entertainment

Backers: Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, SparkLabs

Chen is the co-founder and chief executive officer at event booking site Funnow. The entrepreneur comes from the investment industry, where he trained and worked as an equity analyst before branching out to start Funnow.

Users of the smartphone app can book everything from restaurant reservations to beauty appointments. Funnow is currently available in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia.


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