Google Acqui-Hires Work Chat Startup Pie To Build Engineering Team In Southeast Asia

Google today announced that it is building its first engineering team devoted to Southeast Asia, and the search giant has gobbled up Pie, a Slack-like team communications service based in Singapore, to kick-start things.

Pie, which raised $1.2 million in funding last year led by Gree Ventures, is the first acquisition Google has made in Southeast Asia. The startup offers an enterprise chat app that helps teams communicate without email. Its nine-person team will transition to Google in full and the Pie chat service will be shuttered.

The acquisition was undisclosed — both Pie founder and CEO Pieter Walraven and Google declined to comment on the price of the deal.

Pie’s basic premise is was very much like Slack — and a host of other, better funded rivals in Asia like Eko and ChatWork — and it tried to differentiate itself by focusing on a very basic experience targeted at non-technical companies. We had heard recently that Pie was in the process of raising new funding — it seems, then, that things had become tricky enough for an exit to Google to be the most attractive way to proceed.

The deal, which is an acqui-hire, has been made to boost a new Google team that will focus on developing products for Southeast Asia in the same way that Google has done in India over the past year. We’re seeing some of the fruits of Google’s local efforts there — it is rolling out free WiFi on the country’s railways, has made dedicated apps, opened a YouTube production studio, and added offline features to YouTube — and we can expect similar things in Southeast Asia, a region that’s home to more than 600 million people.

In conjunction with this deal, Google announced that it is hiring engineers and fresh graduates to join its new unit. It also opened a new internship program for current students, who are being offered the chance to spend 12 weeks at its Sydney office in Australia.

Finally, Google put a call out to existing staffers in the U.S. who want to ‘come home’ to Singapore or move to the city-state. The company will hold an event at its Mountain View on March 8 with more information — that’s strictly for existing employees, however.

Caesar Sengupta, who is vice president of Google’s “Next Billion Users” team, explained in a blog post that the company needs to localize its team to reflect the many differences in Southeast Asia:

The computing experience for most of these first-timers, coming online in places like India, Indonesia and the Philippines, is very different from the one many of us grew up with — and not the one that most of Google’s services were originally designed for. Their main (and in most cases, only) “computer” is a low-cost smartphone. Connectivity is expensive in relation to incomes, and frequently patchy – websites, maps and especially videos can take minutes to load and often time out. And for many, there is just not enough relevant content available in their language.

These aren’t easy problems to fix, but we’d like to do a better job of addressing them. That’s why we’re building a new engineering team in Singapore – to get closer to the next billion users coming online and to develop products that will work for them.

Southeast Asia, which once seemed like a part of the world forgotten by tech companies, is viewed as an area with immense potential thanks to rising smartphone sales and high Internet activity. Twitter, Google and Facebook are among the global firms that have offices there, and the region is increasingly attractive to tech companies and startups in China and India that seek out overseas growth opportunities.