Quick, name a unicorn in Southeast Asia! The most obvious names that come to mind might be Grab, the Uber rival that is currently raising at a $2 billion-plus valuation, Lazada, the e-commerce company Alibaba invested $1 billion into, or perhaps Go-Jek, the motorbike taxi on-demand service in Indonesia that just joined the billion-dollar club.
How about Garena?
Despite a low profile, the games company is valued at close to $4 billion following its most recent $170 million funding round in March from Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the Malaysian government’s strategic investment fund, and Chinese tech giant Tencent, a long-term, existing investor.
That round makes Garena Southeast Asia’s highest-valued tech startup — if you can call a near-$4 billion company a “startup,” that is. Yet still little is really known about it.
That’s probably because the company shied away from media attention for the longest time — getting anyone at the company to confirm anything on record, used to be mission impossible for reporters — but over the past year or so that barrier has dropped. Today, Garena execs are prominent fixtures at tech events across Asia and beyond.
Last month, I had the opportunity to interview Garena President Nick Nash at the Techsauce Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, to find more about this intriguing company, which began in games but has expanded to payments, shopping, messaging apps and more.
Nash — who previously spent more than a decade with General Atlantic, heading up its ASEAN business among other things — covered a range of topics in our chat, including:
- How Garena started out as a gaming business
- Why it is now focused on payments and social commerce in Southeast Asia
- How its Shopee app is performing in Southeast Asia’s competitive e-commerce space
- How Garena retains its culture as it grows into a multi-billion dollar company
- Taking inspiration from companies and business models in China
- And why emerging markets are the place to be right now
This post was updated to correct Nash’s previous employer