Japan’s latest unicorn is a Thai mobile payments company

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Mobile payment gateway provider Opn Co. was valued at around $1 billion in a $120 million funding round last month, making it one of Japan’s few unicorns.

The Tokyo-based company, formerly known as Omise, owes much of its success to its early entry into another Asian nation: Thailand. Entering the market in 2013, when it relied heavily on cash transactions, Opn captured a significant share of mobile payments by helping small businesses transition to digital and influencing major network operators to adopt its technology, the company said.

The Series C+ funding marks a rare success for a Japanese startup at a time when venture capital is bracing for a sharp downturn in the industry. JIC Venture Growth Investments and Mars Growth Capital Pte participated in the round, while Japan’s largest bank Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. agreed to provide around $38 million under a loan guarantee program arranged by the country’s Ministry of Commerce.

“Our priority now is to grow our product line and expand our presence in existing and new markets,” Opn co-founder and CEO Jun Hasegawa said in an interview. “While we are still considering ways to grow our business, our options in the future may include a global IPO to expand our global reach.”

Opn designs software that helps merchants set up payments on their mobile or desktop websites. Its biggest market is Thailand, home to Hasegawa co-founder Ezra Don Harinsut, 41. The company’s clients include True, one of Thailand’s largest telecommunications conglomerates, and Total Access Communication Public Co., or DTAC.

The startup plans to use proceeds from the funding to expand its services to new markets, including Vietnam and the Philippines. Besides Japan and Thailand, Opn currently operates in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. In the long term, Hasegawa aims to make Opn services available in at least 36 major countries, including the US and European economies.

“We want to have a footprint in every major country,” Hasegawa said.

Despite growing competition in mobile payments, Hasegawa says Opn’s years of experience in Southeast Asian markets and its ability to adapt to complex local regulations give it an edge over rivals. In April, the company named Chris Misner, who had served as managing director of Apple Inc.’s Asia-Pacific online store, to its board of directors.

Revenue has doubled every year since 2019 as more consumers switched to digital payments in the wake of the global pandemic, helping Opn reach 100 million transactions per year. The company did not disclose detailed earnings figures.

But Hasegawa was not always successful in his endeavors. In 2017, he made $25 million through an initial coin offering, an unregulated sales process that had exploded in popularity that year. His company was working at the time to facilitate payments with cryptocurrency, and his OmiseGo tokens were worth over $2 billion at one point. They fell when the market crashed and the company sold OmiseGo in December 2020.

“I learned a lot from my past failures, and they made me think about the service you always need, all the time,” Hasegawa said. Now, “we have a strong desire to create a global financial infrastructure, that’s what we’re looking for.”

(Updated with information about board members; an earlier version corrected the spelling of DTAC in the fifth paragraph)

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