Tech company Sea: From start-up to regional tech giant

Before Sea became a well-known tech name, it was a start-up working out of a small shophouse office in Maxwell Road.
Before Sea became a well-known tech name, it was a start-up working out of a small shophouse office in Maxwell Road.PHOTO: SEA LIMITED

SINGAPORE - Singapore-based tech company Sea, which owns e-commerce platform Shopee and game developer Garena, is a home-grown outfit that the country hopes to have more of.

The company, founded by entrepreneur Forrest Li, was cited by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (Nov 24) as one with a strong global footprint beyond South-east Asia.

Its revenue doubled to US$1.2 billion (S$1.6 billion) for the third quarter. But its net losses also doubled to US$419.9 million and quarter-on-quarter growth in e-commerce gross merchandise value dropped to 16 per cent, from 29 per cent in the second quarter.

But before Sea became one of the region's most well-known tech names, it was a start-up working out of a small shophouse office in Maxwell Road.

Mr Li started small - founding Sea in 2009 as a game publisher called Garena - but has since transformed the company into a regional heavyweight with businesses in gaming, e-commerce and digital finance. Its e-commerce platform Shopee is one of the fastest-growing regional players and is also an incubator for budding entrepreneurs.

At a virtual forum organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times earlier this year, Mr Li, a member of the board of directors of the Singapore Economic Development Board, said that the firm did not have an easy start, as it had trouble raising capital right after the global financial crisis.

"Basically, nobody was really looking at South-east Asia as a promising investment opportunity. It was different from today. We pretty much just used our own money, and some money from our family and friends. That's how we got started," he said.

The firm started by working with game developers and partners.

Then, it went into e-commerce with Shopee, which has proven to be vital during the pandemic. The platform has also changed the fortunes of small and medium-sized enterprises across the region, helping them to digitalise and expand their outreach. It even has a Shopee University initiative, which trains retailers to go online.