Southeast Asia grocery delivery startup HappyFresh changes its CEO

It’s fair to say that HappyFresh, one of a number of startups working to make the business of on-demand grocery shopping viable in Southeast Asia, didn’t have a great 2016.

The two-year-old company pulled out of two countries to “focus on sustainability and profitability” and raised an ominous ‘undisclosed’ Series B round having previously closed a $12 million Series A a year prior. Now TechCrunch has learnt that it has also changed its CEO.

Co-founder Markus Bilher has vacated the role to become vice-chairman of the company, with Guillem Segarra — previously HappyFresh senior vice president of operations and a former Lazada executive — stepping into the top role.

Bilher didn’t comment on the change directly other than that he is “very happy to have Guillem take over and take the company to the next level.”

HappyFresh raised its Series B round, which was led by Dubai-based PE firm Samena Capital at the end of August. According to LinkedIn, the CEO swap happened in November. Make what you will of that. Bilher is now listed as an investor at Vertex Ventures, the Singapore-based VC firm that has backed HappyFresh.

To be fair to HappyFresh, it is not the only one to have run into bumps with an on-demand shopping service in Southeast Asia.

Redmart, a startup long-heralded as one to watch in Southeast Asia, sold its business to Alibaba-owned Lazada in November after running into financial issues. Sources told TechCrunch the deal was $30-$40 million, which is likely to have underwhelmed investors who pumped $55 million into the company.

Another challenger, HonestBee, has seemingly had to scale back ambitious plans for Southeast Asia, too.

HonestBee raised $15 million last year to execute on an ambitious plan to get into over half a dozen countries in Southeast Asia and the surrounding region. Over a year later, however, and the service is present in just four cities, illustrating the challenge of scaling a capital-intensive business on a limited budget.

Last year, we reported that Amazon is planning to launch services, including grocery delivery, in Singapore in the first quarter of 2017, so there may yet be more fireworks. As someone who lives in the region and uses these services, I’m hoping 2017 pans out better for my own selfish reasons if nothing else.