It all began with a challenge. In 2012, Thailand’s e-commerce landscape was already burgeoning thanks to the surging penetration of the 3G mobile broadband network and the rising use of smartphones. Yet, online businesses had major problems in completing transactions due to a complicated checkout system.
“Consumers could not store their credit cards on e-commerce sites. The payment experience was not seamless at all. Still, no player in the market was offering a solution for this,” Jun Hasegawa, co-founder of Thai payment and blockchain startup Synqa, told CrASIA.
As a serial entrepreneur, Hasegawa moved to Bangkok in 2012 and began to explore opportunities in the budding e-commerce sector with his local friend, Ezra Don Harinsut. Initially, the idea was to build an e-commerce platform equipped with a smooth checkout process. The two founded Omise Holdings (which means “shops” in Japanese) in June 2013, but the financial plight soon loomed over the young company, to the point where Hasegawa had to sell his watches and shoes to keep his business afloat.
Hasegawa and his team decided to split from their initial e-commerce ambitions and bet on the payment venture. Shortly after the pivot, Omise secured USD 300,000 from East Ventures in a seed financing round in August 2014. The business has grown rapidly since then. While Hasegawa did not disclose actual figures, he said that his company has reported “over 2x” year-on-year growth in a recent time frame.
Omise Holdings was rebranded as Synqa Holdings last April, which is reminiscent of “evolution” in Japanese. Just a few months after the rebranding, in June, Synqa bagged USD 80 million in a Series C led by SCB 10X, the venture capital arm of the Siam Commercial Bank PCL, and Tokyo-listed asset manager Sparx Group.
Envisioning financial inclusion via blockchain
The goal of democratizing financial services continued to linger on Hasegawa’s mind. “Our vision is that payments should be available for everyone. This is not a privilege but a human right,” said Hasegawa.
Hasegawa and his team have continued to delve into the core payment infrastructure, looking for ways to allow people to get easier financial access whether they have bank accounts or not. Under Synqa, the firm manages two business verticals, a payment gateway business named Omise, and a fintech solutions provider called Opn, launched last March.
Omise is an e-payment processor that offers B2C and B2B payment services that can be adopted into websites and mobile applications. The platform currently operates in Thailand, Singapore, and Japan. It counts brands such as Pomelo, True Group, BMW, and McDonald’s as customers, as well as other small and medium-sized companies. Omise monetizes through a consumption-based system, where the commission fee depends on the size of the partnership deal, Hasegawa explained.
Synqa was also the developer of the OMG network, previously known as OmiseGo, an Ethereum-based money transfer and payments tool. The platform was sold to Hong Kong-based Genesis Block Ventures last December.
“Bitcoin does not have smart contracts, meaning that there is no flexibility other than transferring the value. We thought Ethereum could be the technology to provide open financial access for everyone. That’s how we started OmiseGo,” said Hasegawa. A smart contract is a self-executing contract where the terms of the agreement between buyer and seller are directly written into lines of code.
After selling the OMG network, Hasegawa has continued his passion for blockchain technology through the Opn division. While Opn has not launched any product yet, Hasegawa hinted that commercial services, such as blockchain-based e-wallet solutions might come “very soon.”
“If there is a business that has already acquired 10 million end users, we can transform the company into a fintech firm by integrating our solutions. In return, we will also gain 10 million customers overnight. That’s how the approach works,” Hasegawa said.
“The payment industry has evolved. Enterprises have started to embed fintech solutions into their ecosystem. For example, Apple has started to embed payment solutions into its ecosystem throughout the years, from Apple Pay and Apple Card to Apple Cash. And now, there is Grab Finance and GoTo in Southeast Asia,” he added.
Hasegawa also revealed expansion plans for Synqa, which is set to enter Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam in the next two years. The company also plans additional fundraising activities.
“We are going to raise more money in another funding round. But we are not sure about when and how. An IPO would be another way of raising money, but the question is whether this is the right way to achieve our vision. Meanwhile, we also have to be responsible and accountable to our shareholders,” Hasegawa said.