When you get inspired, do you take action? When Steve Jobs gave his famous 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech, Forrest Li was a student in the audience. Inspired, he decided to take action and as a result, he’s built the biggest billion dollar startup in Southeast Asia.
Today, he’s raised his latest round of funding after a recent $170 million round, valuing his startup at $3.75 billion: The biggest ‘Unicorn’ in Southeast Asia.
Forrest remembers the day of the speech, saying “I was fortunate to be among the audience there for my wife’s graduation that day and deeply impressed by Job’s entrepreneurial spirit”.
Forrest then replayed the video on YouTube every day for months, and now says “It gave me the courage to do what I am doing now.”
He took to heart Steve’s advice to “Stay hungry, stay foolish” and followed the three big lessons in Steve’s speech:
LOVE and LOSS:
Forrest followed his then-girlfriend, Liqian Ma, back to Singapore, where they got married. That was the love. There, he attracted some angel investors and launched his first start-up, GG Game. That was the loss…
With the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, his company failed and he went back to tell his investors he had lost their money. As Forrest says, “They appreciated the honesty.”
FOLLOW your HEART:
As Steve Jobs said, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Forrest decided to learn from his mistakes and try again.
Amazingly, his investors decided to invest another $1 million in him.
The reason Forrest thinks that happened? “For angel investors, they bet on people, and they feel that someday you can make something happen.”
Forrest used the money and started again with another startup, Garena (which stands for “Global Arena”). Aimed at the online gamers, he tried to get Riot Games, the game deveopers behind League of Legends, to let Garena be their distribution partner in South East Asia.
His big break came in 2010, when Riot Games’ board met to approve the deal. “I did not sleep much that night”, Forrest remembers, “By 6:40 a.m. I received confirmation that the board approved the license to Garena. I was exhilarated, immediately rushed to the office and got the term sheet signed at 7:15 a.m.”
CONNECT the DOTS:
With deal in hand, Forrest began growing Garena rapidly, and in the last six years he has grown annual revenue by over 95% year on year to over $300 million in 2015. He’s attracted 23 million gamers from 210 countries, and raised over $500 million in funding from Tencent, Keystone Ventures and a series of investors.
Realizing there was a pattern in the investors he was attracting, and the new opportunities that then resulted, he connected the dots and branched out from gaming to Shopee (e-commerce) and AirPay (online payments) which are now both growing rapidly, which has then in turn attracted new investors, including Singapore’s Temasek, Indonesia’s DPG and Japan’s Misteltoe (run by Masayoshi Son’s brother).
In Forrest’s official statement on the new investment today, he referred back to Steve Jobs’ speech, saying “We are proud to welcome three of Asia’s most respected investment firms to Garena. Their insights and connectivity across the region will support and accelerate our mission to ‘connect the dots’ for our customers.”
Millions have watched Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech, but how many have followed it literally the way Forrest has?
The true power of inspiration is not in the thoughts that it inspires, but in the action that it inspires.
What’s your greatest inspiration and what action are you taking as a result?
Meanwhile, Forrest (who’s Chinese name is Li Xiaodong and who chose his English name after Forrest Gump) will keep following his heart and connecting the dots to grow what is most likely going to be South East Asia’s first $100 billion business.