CEO of S’pore gaming company Sea, formerly Garena, becomes a billionaire

The company renamed to Sea in 2017.

Matthias Ang | March 3, 08:29 pm

The founder and chief executive officer of Singapore’s gaming powerhouse Sea, originally Garena, has joined the billionaire’s club.

According to Bloomberg, he is Forrest Li, the 41-year-old China-born founder of Garena, which rebranded to Sea in 2017.

Bloomberg reported that Li’s climb to billionaire status has largely been due to the popularity of Free Fire, a mobile game where players find weapons and battle it out until they are the last man standing.

More than 40 million players are estimated to play the game daily, with over 350 million users having registered for the game.

They were even the number one mobile game in over 22 countries during January, 2018.

Additionally, Free Fire was also the fourth most downloaded game of 2018.

Popularity of mobile game led to an increase in shares

Bloomberg reported that the popularity of Free Fire contributed greatly to an increase in the shares of Sea, which rose by 35 per cent on Feb. 27.

As such, Li’s 13.8 per cent stake of Sea, in which he is also the company’s CEO, is currently worth roughly US$1billion.

Bloomberg noted that this was the largest increase since the company’s public offering in 2017 and that the surge had occurred after Sea reported a doubling in sales and strong growth at its e-commerce unit Shopee.

What’s more, Sea forecasted that its annual adjusted revenue at both Garena — having now become the gaming arm of Sea — and Shopee will, at the very least, double.

Investors backing company despite losses

Even so, Bloomberg highlighted that the company has been facing widening losses since it went public in 2017.

In 2018, Sea posted a net loss of US$961 million.

Bloomberg further reported that Sea had invested extensively to expand beyond games and into e-commerce, where it faces competition from platforms such as Lazada, which is owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

The Straits Times (ST) reported that in 2017, much of the US$550 million the company secured for funding, just before it rebranded, was ploughed into its e-commerce platform, Shopee.

Bloomberg added however, that investors are betting that Sea’s expansion into e-commerce will strengthen their gaming arm and create a regional internet-services model.

Who is Forrest Li?

According to Bloomberg, Li was born and raised in Tianjin, before moving to Shanghai to attend university.

During this time, Li spent most of his time playing computer games until dawn at an internet cafe.

He had also adopted his name from the “Forrest Gump” after identifying with the titular character played by Tom Hanks.

Li then worked for Motorola Solutions Inc. and Corning Inc. in China initially, after graduation.

However, he saw a limited future working as a white-collar manager and enrolled into Stanford’s MBA program.

Bloomberg added that Li has credited the commencement speech by the late Steve Jobs as a source of inspiration, which would result in Li founding Garena in 2009 in Singapore.

At the time of its rebranding to Sea in 2017, ST reported that the company was valued at more than US$3 billion, which made it South-east Asia’s largest unicorn.

Top image collage left image from Milken Institute, right image from Seagroup website

About Matthias Ang

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