Born and raised in the port city of Tianjin by state-company lifers, Forrest Li, as he’s now known, enrolled at a Shanghai University in his teens, arriving in a big city teeming with flashy people who spoke an unfamiliar dialect.
Shell-shocked, he spent most nights playing games at an internet cafe till dawn. Now, Li runs the Singapore-based startup that’s valued at more than $3.75 billion.
“Our aspiration is to build Garena into a $100-billion consumer company in 10 years,” the still soft-spoken Li, 39, said during a rare interview in his office. Garena is shooting for a U.S. initial public offering in two to three years, with possibly a secondary listing somewhere in Southeast Asia.
Established in 2009, Garena found early success in Singapore with the help of investor and mentor Tencent. Starting out as an online gaming company, it quickly grew into one of the biggest companies in regional retail and payments.
It has grown net revenue 13-fold since 2011 to $270 million in 2015. That’s a compounded annual growth rate of 95 percent, according to Nash.
Other priorities include shoring up Shopee and AirPay, Garena’s recently introduced mobile marketplace and payments services. They’re targeting a region with 620 million consumers on the cusp of an online shopping boom.
The company has raised more than $500 million, most recently a $170 million series D in March. Several members of billionaire Robert Kuok’s family were early backers. Other big-name investors include Keytone Ventures and Khazanah Nasional Bhd., Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund.