AdAsia Holdings, a Singaporean advertising technology startup announced today it has raised a US$12 million Series A from JAFCO Asia. The deal is one of Southeast Asia’s largest confirmed rounds in 2017.

In a conversation with e27, AdAsia Co-founder and CEO Kosuke Sogo said the company is planning to IPO in late-2018 or early-2019 (depending on the status of the bourse it chooses). The company is eyeing either Hong Kong or Tokyo for the listing.

When asked how Sogo has changed his management style or business outlook with and IPO on the horizon, he told e27 there has not been any changes because it was all part of the plan. He cited is previous experience working at a tech startup trying to IPO as being a model he could follow and adjust.

“When we started the company last year, we already decided to go IPO, so we prepared everything in advance,” said Sogo.

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The company’s other co-founder is Otohiko Kozutsumi and the duo has led AdAsia to remarkably fast growth. AdAsia is about one-year-old and already has seven offices in six countries, 84 employees, and 300 clients.

One of the major goals with the funding is to grow the staff to 400 by the end of 2018.

It also plans to use the investment to enter China, Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia this year. Finally, AdAsia will open a product development center in Vietnam and work to integrate AI and machine learning into current and future products.

“We can use AI to estimate the ROI on marketing activity. Then our clients can allocate their budget properly and maximise their ROI,” said Sogo.

When it comes to China, Sogo acknowledges that it is a tough market, but said their approach is to coordinate with local companies in the country.

AdAsia’s success is in-part thanks to a growing industry sector called ‘programmatic advertising’. In the most basic of definitions, programmatic ad buy is when companies use software to purchase digital advertising instead of the traditional, human-based sales process.

The company also has in-house digital marketing people to support clients throughout the process.

“We provide a one-stop advertising platform that is integrated with analytical tools. This means that our clients or publishers, they just need to use our platform — even if they need to use multiple technologies,” said Sogo.

Sogo said AdAsia clients include both SMEs and big brands.

AdAsia is sector agnostic, but Sogo said that recently  big brands have been approaching the company to shift from TV advertising to mobile.

Growing fast

As one might expect from a young but rapidly growing company, hiring and onboarding has been the company’s biggest challenge, according to Sogo.

While zero to 90 is a lot of new people, growing to 400 employees is another beast. Sogo’s plan to smooth the process is to make sure a core of those hires are in human resources.

“So right now we are hiring our HR in each market. So we need to build a global HR team in each market,” he said.

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To give an idea of its speed of expansion, below is a breakdown to help understand.

  • In April 2016, AdAsia was Founded in Singapore
  • In May 2016, it opened its second office in Bangkok
  • In October 2016, it launched in Vietnam and Indonesia
  • In November 2016, it entered Taiwan
  • In December 2016, AdAsia opened a second office in Vietnam (Hanoi)
  • In January 2017, it expanded its Singapore office
  • In February 2017, the company entered Cambodia
  • In April 2017, AdAsia raised its Series A funding and opened an office in Shanghai.

As for JAFCO Asia, it is a regional subsidiary of global venture capital firm JAFCO Co., Ltd.

The company has over US$850 million under management, 330 portfolio companies and 220 exits to its name. Started in 1990, it has offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei and Seoul.