Forbes recently unveiled its list of 2020 Forbes Singapore Rich List, which highlighted the top 50 richest in Singapore.
One interesting finding is that all three of Sea’s co-founders are included in the list.
Chairman and CEO Forrest Li added US$5.53 billion to his wealth and entered the ranks of the top ten richest for the first time ever. He is currently the seventh richest in Singapore.
Meanwhile, Sea’s chief operating officer Gang Ye (No. 11, US$4.3 billion) saw an impressive 356 per cent jump in his net worth – this is the largest percentage gain of any fortune on the list.
Thanks to the exponential rise in Sea’s shares, the firm’s third co-founder David Chen became a billionaire as well and makes his debut at No. 25 with a net worth of US$1.37 billion.
The gaming and e-commerce firm is a homegrown success story best known for its super-hit Free Fire online game, but how exactly did the co-founders grow the company and earn their riches?
All three of the co-founders hail from China.
Chen and Ye first came to Singapore as teenagers under a government scheme to recruit foreign talent through scholarship programmes.
Chen studied computer engineering at the National University of Singapore while Ye went to Hwa Chong Institution and Raffles Junior College. He later attained bachelor degrees in computer science and economics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
On the other hand, Li had earned an engineering degree from Shanghai Jiaotong University.
He then worked at Motorola Solutions Inc. and Corning Inc. in China, and later pursued an MBA at Stanford University.
His then-girlfriend (now wife) was also from Stanford. When he attended her graduation ceremony back in 2005, Steve Jobs was also present.
Jobs delivered a memorable commencement speech, urging the class to “stay hungry, stay foolish.” Those four words were ingrained in Li’s mind, and inspired him to chase his dreams.
After Li completed his MBA, he followed his wife to Singapore.
He worked for nine months with MTV Network’s digital team before starting his first business, GG Game, which develops single-player gaming products.
Angel investors for GG Game included Skype co-founder Toivo Annus; Bryan, who is the son-in-law of billionaire Robert Kuok; and Kuok Khoon Hong, CEO of palm oil major Wilmar.
The venture was short-lived, but a fresh funding of about US$1 million earned him another chance to redeem himself.
He started anew with Garena in 2009, roping in fellow co-founders Chen and Ye.
Short for Global Arena, it is a leading online games developer and publisher with a global footprint across more than 130 markets.
It developed Free Fire, a popular mobile battle royale game, which has hit 100 million peak daily users in the second quarter of 2020.
According to data from App Annie, it continues to be the highest grossing mobile game in Southeast Asia and Latin America.
In addition, Garena exclusively licenses and publishes games from global partners. It also hosts esports events, ranging from local tournaments to global esports competitions.
In a 2009 interview with TechinAsia, Li simply described Garena as a “community for gamers worldwide.”
At that time – the first year of its launch – it had 23 million registered gamers from 210 countries.
They ramped up their user base through their flagship product, which is a downloadable gaming platform (garena.com).
The most exciting thing about this platform is every time you log on, you will be immediately connected to another 400,000 gamers who are also on the platform at that moment. They are from every corner of the world, but share the same passion on games.
Through the platform, gamers can chat, challenge opponents, and play their favourite games online with millions of other gamers.
According to Li, their big break only came in 2010 when they secured a distribution license in Southeast Asia with US game developer Riot Games, which had just released League of Legends at the time.
It helped Garena turn profitable within the next two years, and opened doors of opportunities for them to secure other game titles.
That was …