Customer platform HubSpot recently announced the findings of a study conducted by Milieu Insight that explored the trends and innovations shaping the startup landscape in Southeast Asia and India.

HubSpot’s new report reveals that on average, about half (53%) of startups across the region found it easier to grow their businesses in the past year compared to previous years. Notably, startups recognize the need to balance growth and profitability, with the majority of regional startups agreeing that a clear path to profitability (98%) has become more important in the last year as compared to the years prior.

This resilience is characterized by an interesting dichotomy: while geographical expansion presents challenges, with 23% of startups finding it harder to enter new markets, customer acquisition and retention have become more manageable. Although 18% mentioned that acquiring customers has become more challenging, more than half (55%) of startups report improvements in customer acquisition and retention. Increased competition (31%), stricter customer demands (31%), and access to capital (29%) were cited as the key challenges to customer acquisition among those who mentioned acquiring customers have gotten harder.

“These signs of growing resilience are a testament to the region’s entrepreneurial spirit and adaptability,” Laurence Butler, global senior director of HubSpot for Startups, said. “While digital transformation has been a focus among the region’s SMBs in recent years, the digital-first nature of modern startups empowers them to swiftly adapt to volatile market conditions by leveraging data analytics and foundational technologies such as CRM platforms. Most startups now recognize the critical importance of having a clear path to profitability, marking a shift towards focusing on core markets and building robust customer relationships, which are crucial for long-term sustainability.”

The survey findings also revealed that startups in the region have built a robust foundation of technology and are leveraging their tech stack to collect, structure, and analyze customer data to drive business growth.

Almost all (99%) startups say they are using at least one CRM tool and eight in ten (81%) startups are satisfied with their tech stack. CRM platforms consolidate customer data from multiple sources, creating a single source of truth that enables brands to accurately track and measure the impact or effectiveness of their customer engagement efforts.

Consequently, 71% of startups surveyed perceive that they have an adequate amount of data at their disposal to identify new opportunities for business growth. The collective use of data and technology is not only helping drive innovation and build better customer relationships, but may have also contributed to the enhanced resilience and adaptability of startups in the backdrop of a persisting global funding winter.

The report also uncovered a disparity between countries surveyed. More than a third of startups (38%) in the Philippines reported a lack of sufficient data on their business prospects and the customer journey. Only 58% of startups in the Philippines indicated satisfaction with their tech stack, the lowest among all countries surveyed. This could have contributed to local startups’ inability to collect the right data for better decision-making and also their growth prospects. Nearly half (48%) expressed that it is more difficult than before to grow their companies, almost double the regional average of 25%.

Talent Gaps

The report also shows that startups are struggling to fill key positions, with marketing (46%), customer success (40%), as well as sales and business development (38%) roles being the most difficult to hire for among go-to-market positions.

For non-go-to-market positions, AI and machine learning engineers top the list of hardest-to-hire roles (35%), followed closely by experts in data analytics (33%), product management, (33%) and industry-specific specialists (33%). Software engineers also remain in high demand (32%).

Cost and experience are identified as the primary shortcomings in the current talent pool across the region. Other challenges include a lack of soft skills among candidates and mismatch of expectations regarding remote and hybrid working arrangements.

Role of AI

The majority of startups across the region (98%) agree that AI is important in their future strategy, particularly among those in India and Indonesia. 73% of respondents in India and 63% in Indonesia strongly agreed with this statement, the highest sentiments registered among all countries surveyed.

In terms of key opportunities, 32% of startups see AI as a way to bring products to market faster; 30% believe AI can help in delivering products more quickly; and 30% view AI as a tool to level the playing field against bigger competitors and incumbents.

These findings were based on responses from 600 startup founders and decision-makers across Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and India. The research was conducted from last February to March.