Tech

Tim Culpan is a technology columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

An internet company that's still private, venture-backed and about to make an actual profit -- huh? Say again?

As the world celebrates the IPO success of an unprofitable photo-sharing social media site, it's exciting to consider that there are actually online startups with earnings.

PropertyGuru Pte is such a company. Well, it will be this year, after a series of investments start to generate income, Chief Executive Officer Hari Krishnan said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

What's even more amazing is that the Singapore-based real-estate website isn't hunting for money. It hasn't taken on fresh capital for 20 months, after raising S$175 million ($124 million), with Krishnan telling Bloomberg's Pooja Thakur and Yoolim Lee that he doesn't need more cash.

Back in December, I made the case that 2017 should be the year for Southeast Asian startups to get their time in the spotlight, and news of PropertyGuru reaching the profit threshold helps make the point.

To be successful, as I warned then, the region's startups need to broaden the scope of their investment, ditch the copycat culture and find ways to do business across borders. PropertyGuru seems to have done all three, though to be fair, a real-estate listing website isn't exactly innovative.

Unicorn Hunting
Outside of China and India, Asia still has few startups that have reached a $1 billion valuation
Source: CB Insights

An expansion spurt over the past few years took the company beyond Singapore to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, while it's also invested in technology and started deploying drones to take aerial photographs.

There are a lot of businesses being developed in the Asean region right now, from motorbike couriers to online recruitment, and these startups probably will attract interest, funding and hype. This is all good, because funding attracts funding and hype begets hype, and that's what the region needs to keep up the momentum. In the end, though, these companies need to prove there are profits to be made.

In terms of excitement, listing properties for rent or purchase can't match disappearing photos that turn you into a puppy, but at least the income isn't ephemeral.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Paul Sillitoe at psillitoe@bloomberg.net