He clinched the top spot in Singapore’s richest this year, with a net worth of US $ 23 billion (S $ 31 billion).
The group’s founder, president and CEO, Forrest Li, took the stage today (November 9) to deliver his speech at Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH) 2021.
Sea is touted as Southeast Asia’s most valuable company and has deepened its foray into fintech beyond games and e-commerce. Its main businesses include online game developer Garena, e-commerce platform Shopee, and digital payments and financial services company SeaMoney.
The billionaire, decked out in his black suit and white shirt, stood humbly in the center of the stage with a virtual backdrop.
Forrest gave attendees an overview of his thought path, his perspective on the post-pandemic world, and valuable lessons learned from Sea over the past 12 years of operation.
“From day one at sea, our core belief has always been that technology holds the greatest potential to improve people’s lives. These beliefs guide everything we do.
“It shows at Shopee, where we want to connect and empower consumers. At SeaMoney, we provide financial assistance to those who do not have access to it. At Garena, we strive to delight our players with high quality, affordable entertainment. “
Three lessons to build a successful startup
Forrest shared three lessons learned from Sea over the past 12 years of running the company that he hopes can “spark ideas for the next generation of tech companies.”
The first lesson is to make it our mission to serve users, he said.
“This is our first core value at Sea. At Sea, we serve our users, by that we mean being customer-centric all the time. We always ask what will be most important to users, what we can do to improve their lives the most. “
The second lesson is that customers need to see that businesses really want to help them. “It creates loyalty that money cannot buy,” he said.
He gave an example of one of Garena’s most popular games, Free Fire.
“When it started to take off, some said it would make more sense to charge people to play. We chose not to. Today Free Fire is a very successful game. It generates revenue from optional improvements to the gaming experience while remaining completely free to all users, ”said Forrest.
“We focus on the joy of players from all walks of life first and when we stuck with that success followed.”
Forrest also advised companies to seek out traditionally underserved communities: “It allows us to make an impact on their lives. This is why we invest so much to offer our services to these people.
The third lesson would be to have the courage to enter new markets.
“I realized that the combination of two things is necessary to do this well: confidence in what you know and the humility to work on what you know. “
He noted that many companies tend to think about all the differences between the new market and the one they already find themselves in when considering expansion. This can lead to a lack of confidence from some young companies and eventually decide not to grow at all.
“One thing we discovered at sea is that markets often have more in common than we realize and assume. By focusing on the similarities, it can give you the confidence you need to venture into a new place, ”he said.
Our post-pandemic future
Forrest believes that across the world, technology will be the key to recovering from the pandemic.
“In a post-pandemic world. I think we need to redouble our efforts to use technology to improve life everywhere. The question now is, what happens from here? Is the trend starting to fade as countries emerge from lockdown, or is it continuing? “
“I think it’s going to continue. The pandemic only accelerated a digital transformation, which was already underway. “
The pandemic has accelerated the pace of innovation, perhaps “five years faster than we should have otherwise”. “So getting us out of the pandemic doesn’t change the direction of transformation. At the most, it can only affect his pace, ”said Forrest.
Forrest backed up his point with a survey conducted by Sea in conjunction with the World Economic Forum that interviewed 80,000 people in Southeast Asia.
Respondents were asked what the three things are most likely to happen in a post-pandemic world, and one of the main responses was the increased use of digital tools and technologies.
“It’s no surprise that during the pandemic more communities than ever have started to go online. For many, it was the result of a shared need to survive as physical movement became much more limited, ”said Forrest.
Even now, the group’s research shows that consumers and businesses, especially small individual businesses, are hungry for products and services that will help them go digital.
The research is articulated with real programs carried out by the company. For example, the group has partnered with internet centers in Malaysia to provide free e-commerce training to rural entrepreneurs.
“In the three months since the program started, more than 1,600 rural vendors have volunteered for training to help get their businesses online. It shows a strong appetite among them to digitize and connect with more consumers. “
“In other words, digitization is a trend that lends itself to acceleration.
“The more people see what the Internet has to offer, the more they want it and the reason is not just technological advancement. This is because it helps improve their lives and livelihoods. “
As the digital transformation continues, Forrest stressed that we must not create a larger gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. “We must help those who lack digital literacy to acquire it. They are therefore not left behind. “
Startups should use technology as a force for good
Forrest hopes entrepreneurs can use technology as a force to build inclusiveness and asks them to strive to use it that way.
“As we look for opportunities, we keep asking ourselves if we are continuing to serve our communities. This is a key checklist that has fueled our growth. So for me, using technology to do good in the world shouldn’t just be a corporate social responsibility project, but a goal that can guide the activity of a business as a whole, ”said Forrest. .
“If we strive to think first about what will really help people and improve their lives, there will be no problem getting people on board. If your mission is above all to serve your community, success will follow for the next generation of tech companies.
“Let’s use technology to create a better world for generations to come. He has all the potential to do so. We just have to exploit it in the right way.
Singapore well positioned to be at the center of opportunity
The digital age is the future, and Forrest believes that a country like Singapore is “uniquely positioned to be at the center of so many opportunities.”
“Singapore has the limits of being a small city-state in a corner of the world with a small domestic market, but with more and more work and activity online, such physical limits are no longer so important.”
He added that Sea is proud to be a Singaporean company, “because this place has always been an environment that has allowed us to thrive”.
Sea’s achievements today are not only due to an enabling environment, but success also comes from the government’s open efforts to connect communities, empower consumers and empower small businesses.
“It’s not often that you find a place as conducive to innovation and innovators as Singapore. What is crucial is not that one part of the innovation ecosystem is strong. But so that all parties are strong.
He noted that economic agencies like ESG and their efforts to bring the industry together to get leaders to share their expertise and support young entrepreneurs at events such as the SWITCH conference is a way that helps to “open up doors ”and“ create new opportunities ”for businesses.
A strong talent pool is also crucial for a successful startup ecosystem, and Singapore’s ‘high caliber education system’ creates a deep and skilled local talent pool for businesses. “It’s this talent pool that allowed us to build a strong team when Sea needed to grow. “
The humble billionaire also attributed the formation of Sea to Singapore’s ecosystem.
“In fact, that’s how Sea was born. It was in Singapore that I met my co-founders without whom I would probably never have built a business.
“Thank you, Singapore. Today Sea is able to serve a global market because of our strong home base and all the benefits we received here when we started out. “
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Featured Image Credit: Guru Gamer, Sea
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