Nick Nash; Group President; Sea; Garena

From Start-Up To Unicorn

Published 5th January 2017
Published 5th January 2017

How does a startup become Singapore’s first billion-dollar internet company? Sea (formerly Garena), founded in 2009 by Group CEO and Chairman Forrest Li, aspires to be like the internet giants Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd. HQ Asia speaks with Group President Nick Nash on how they’re capitalising on market gaps and finding talent to drive business.

How Sea is Addressing the Market Gaps

In Southeast Asia, one in 10 individuals has a credit card, which means we needed to build a way to address the 90% of the market that doesn’t have a credit card. They typically transact in cash.

AirPay, which began as a payment platform for our digital content business, is now a flourishing thirdparty payment business in ASEAN for the unbanked population. In fact, it’s the second largest fintech (financial technology company) business in all of Southeast Asia.

For the consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketplace, we noticed a pertinent gap and went on to launch our e-commerce business Shopee in the middle of 2015. At that time, we felt that consumers were ready for Southeast Asia’s very own Taobao (the e-commerce site owned by Alibaba) but no one has built it yet.

How to Apply the Triple-C Quadrant

Triple-C stands for computers, cell phones and cameras — so electronics, essentially. Ask yourself if your company is Triple-C or non-Triple-C. This can lead into four different choices that a company can make (see Figure 1). For example, you can be asset light and Triple-C or asset heavy and non-Triple-C. It turns out the single best place to be on that 2x2 chessboard is asset light and non-Triple-C. And that is exactly what Taobao has built.


We think that what will happen in Southeast Asia is very similar to China— there will be a leader in the non- Triple-C, asset light category and there will be a leader in the Triple-C, asset heavy category. We have a strong conviction that Shopee will play the role of non-Triple-C and asset light (like Taobao).

The data seems to bear that out in terms of month-to-month adoption of the business. It is truly the fastest growing marketplace in the region because of the particular business model.

How to Build People Capabilities in a New Business Stream

We think deeply about the context of making a very specific decision. For example, before Shopee we had never had an e-commerce business and we didn’t necessarily have the talent base. So we did a few things to limit that risk.

First, we shopped around Southeast Asia and found the most talented e-commerce professionals we could. We then thought intimately about how we could take our learnings from other parts of the business and apply those to Shopee. We looked for advantages to help us overcome the hurdles of launching a new business.

What Talent Looks Like at Sea

We look for much more than raw intelligence. We search for people with a deep, sincere sense of humility and for people who genuinely love to give back, to serve customers. We’re looking for adaptability. With these skills, people can flourish as situations evolve and become more complex.

In our company of almost 5,000 people, how do we find the universities in Southeast Asia that have a passion for entrepreneurship? What are the roles that we create for them? These are the questions we ask ourselves. How do we structure work so that we bring out the best in our talent and make them excited? One way is through a deep level of meritocracy and empowering people to find their true passions. That’s a very important goal for us.

This article originally appeared in HQ Asia (Issue 10).

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