It reached number one as the richest in Singapore this year, with a net worth of US $ 23 billion (Singapore $ 31 billion).
Sea group founder, president and CEO Forrest Li took to the stage today (November 9) to deliver his keynote address at Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH) 2021.
Sea is considered the most valuable company in Southeast Asia and has been deepening its foray into fintech beyond gaming and e-commerce. Its key businesses include online game developer Garena, e-commerce platform Shopee and digital payments and financial services company SeaMoney.
The billionaire, dressed in his black suit and white shirt, rose humbly to the center of the stage with a virtual background.
Forrest gave participants an insight into their thinking, their views on the post-pandemic world, and the valuable lessons learned from Sea over the past 12 years of operations.
“Since day one at sea, our deep belief has always been that technology has the greatest potential to improve people’s lives. These beliefs drive everything we do.”
“This is seen in Shopee, where we want to connect and empower consumers. At SeaMoney, we offer financial assistance to those who don’t have access to it. At Garena, we strive to delight our players with high-quality, affordable entertainment.”
Three lessons for building a successful startup
Forrest shared three lessons learned from Sea in the last 12 years of running the company, which he hoped could “awaken ideas for the next generation of technology companies.”
The first lesson is to make it the mission to serve users, he said.
“This is our first core value at Sea. At Sea we serve our users, by that we mean we are relentlessly customer focused. We always wonder what will be most important to users, what we can do to improve their vides “.
The second lesson is that customers need to see that companies really want to help them. “It creates a loyalty that money can’t buy,” he said.
He gave an example of one of Garena’s most popular games, Free Fire.
“When it started taking 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 upgrades to the experience of the game, even though it’s totally free for all users to play, ”Forrest said.
“We first focused on bringing joy to players from all backgrounds and when we stayed true to that, success followed.”
Forrest also advised companies looking for communities that are traditionally poorly cared for: “This allows us to have an impact on their lives. That’s 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’ve realized that the combination of two things is necessary to do it right: confidence in what you know and humility to work on what you know.”
He noted that many companies tend to think about all the differences between the new market and what they already find when it comes to considering an expansion. This can cause some young companies to lack confidence and eventually decide not to expand.
“One thing we’ve discovered at sea is that markets often have more in common than we expect and assume. Focusing on similarities can give you the confidence you need to venture into a new place,” he said.
Our post-pandemic future
Forrest believes that worldwide, technology will be the key to recovering from the pandemic.
“In a post-pandemic world. I think we need to redouble the use of technology to improve lives everywhere. The question now is, what happens from here? Does the trend start to reverse as countries exit the blockade or does it continue? “
“I think it will continue. The pandemic has only accelerated a digital transformation, which was already under way.”
The pandemic has accelerated the pace of innovation, perhaps “five years faster than we would have done otherwise.” “So getting out of the pandemic doesn’t change the direction of the transformation. At most, it can only affect its pace,” Forrest said.
Forrest backed his opinion with a survey conducted by Sea in collaboration with the World Economic Forum that surveyed 80,000 people in Southeast Asia.
Respondents were asked what were the three most likely things to happen in a post-pandemic world, and one of the main answers was the increased use of digital tools and technologies.
“It’s no wonder that during the pandemic, more communities never began to connect. For many, this was out of a shared need to survive, as physical movements were much more limited,” he said. Forrest.
Even now, the group’s research shows that both consumers and businesses, especially small, individually owned businesses, are hungry for products and services that help them digitize even more.
The research is linked to real company programs. For example, the group partnered with Internet centers in Malaysia to offer free e-commerce training to rural entrepreneurs.
“In just three months since the program’s launch, more than 1,600 rural vendors have applied to the training to help put their businesses online. This shows a strong appetite between 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. It’s because it helps them improve their lives and their 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 have to help those who do not have digital fluency to achieve this. That way they don’t fall behind ”.
Startups should use technology as a force for good
Forrest hopes that entrepreneurs can use technology as a force to build inclusion and calls on them to strive to use it that way.
“As we look for opportunities, we wondered if we continue to serve our communities. This is a key checklist that has stimulated our growth. So for me, using technology to do good in the world shouldn’t just be of being a corporate social responsibility project, but a goal that can guide the business of an entire company, ”Forrest said.
“If we strive to think first about what will really help people and improve their lives, there will be no problem in getting users to join. If your mission is, first and foremost, to serve your community, success it will follow the next generation of technology companies out there. ”
“We use technology to create a better world for future generations. It has all the potential to do just that. We just have to make the most of it. “
Singapore is well located for being in the center of opportunities
The digital age is the future and Forrest believes a country like Singapore is “especially well placed to be at the center of many opportunities”.
“Singapore has the limitations of being a small city-state in a corner of the world with a small domestic market, but with more and more work and online activities, these physical boundaries are no longer so important.”
He added that Sea is proud to be a Singapore company, “because this place has always been an environment that allowed us to thrive.”
Sea’s successes today are not only thanks to a supportive environment, but success also comes from the government’s open efforts to connect communities, empower consumers, and empower small businesses.
“It’s not uncommon to find a place that is as supportive of innovation and innovators as Singapore. What’s crucial is not that only a part of the innovation ecosystem is strong. But for all parts to be strong.”
He noted that economic agencies like ESG and their efforts to bring industry together to get leaders to share their experience and support young entrepreneurs at events like the SWITCH conference is a way to help “open doors” and “create new opportunities “for companies.
A strong talent group is also crucial for a business ecosystem to thrive, and Singapore’s “high-caliber education system” creates a deep, qualified local talent fund for companies to hire. “It was this talent group that allowed us to build a strong team when Sea needed to grow.”
The humble billionaire also attributed the formation of the sea to Singapore’s ecosystem.
“In fact, that’s how Mar was. It was in Singapore where I met my co-founders without whom I would probably never have set up a business. “
“Thank you, Singapore. Today, Sea is able to serve a global market because we have such a solid home base and for all the advantages they gave us here when we were just starting out.”
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Featured Image Credit: Guru Gamer, Sea