AP­PETITE FOR DIS­RUP­TION

The Peak (Malaysia) - - Contents - TEXT RENYI LIM ART DI­REC­TION PENNY CHEW PHO­TOG­RA­PHY GER­ALD GOH / IM­AGE ROM PHO­TOG­RA­PHY AS­SIS­TANTS SAI­FUL AZWAN & GE­ORGE CHONG PRO­DUC­TION SUP­PORT METAL BEES MAKEUP & HAIR AN­GE­LINE LOW

Per­sis­tent, re­silient and en­tirely ac­cus­tomed to mov­ing at light speed, it seems there’s no stop­ping Patrick Grove, Co-Founder and Group CEO of Catcha Group. He tells us about the unas­sail­able power of the In­ter­net, the im­por­tance of be­ing dis­rup­tive and why he loves hear­ing the word ‘no’.

Per­sis­tent, re­silient and en­tirely ac­cus­tomed to mov­ing at light speed, it seems there’s no stop­ping Patrick Grove, Co-Founder and Group CEO of Catcha Group. He tells us about the unas­sail­able power of the In­ter­net, the im­por­tance of be­ing dis­rup­tive and why he loves hear­ing the word ‘no’.

Here’s a tricky ques­tion for Patrick Grove: how long can he sur­vive with­out ac­cess to the In­ter­net? “I guess the lit­mus test is how quickly you turn your phone on after a flight once your plane lands,” says the Co-Founder and Group CEO of Catcha Group, rais­ing an eye­brow at the prospect of not be­ing teth­ered to a Wi-Fi or data con­nec­tion. “Some­one like me – I’m al­ready turn­ing it on as the plane’s de­scend­ing or when we hit the run­way! Be­fore peo­ple stand up and grab their lug­gage, I’ll have caught up with ev­ery­thing and cleared all my mes­sages.”

If any­thing, plough­ing through traf­fic be­tween Sin­ga­pore and Kuala Lumpur on his way to this in­ter­view has re­in­forced his be­lief in how vi­tal it is to stay con­nected. “I was stuck in a car for two hours more than I wanted to be, but I was still mak­ing calls and keep­ing busy. There was no down­time and things were con­stantly on the go. The ve­loc­ity of in­for­ma­tion and its abil­ity to flow so quickly is just in­cred­i­ble.” It’s a be­lief that stretches back to 1999, when the Sin­ga­pore­born Aus­tralian en­tre­pre­neur formed the on­line search en­gine and por­tal net­work, Catcha.com. Now, how­ever, cou­pled with the im­mense pop­u­lar­ity of smart­phones in the South-East Asian re­gion, it’s cre­ated a busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment rich in tan­ta­lis­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties that Grove has wasted no time div­ing into.

PUSH THE TEMPO

“My mis­sion from the start has been to cre­ate a great com­pany that goes global and dis­rupts the en­tire in­dus­try,” ex­plains Grove, who op­er­ates from Catcha Group’s head­quar­ters in Mid Val­ley City, while also mak­ing fre­quent stops around the wider re­gion. And dis­rupt he has, right from the days of Catcha.com when he ar­rived on the dot-com scene as a driven, en­er­getic new­comer with co-founders Ken Tsu­ru­maru, Nic Lim and John Wong, ready to ride the In­ter­net wave to­wards be­com­ing the Ya­hoo.com of South-East Asia.

Even the sub­se­quent punc­tur­ing of the dot-com bub­ble in 2000, which scup­pered Catcha Group’s plans to list its busi­ness on the Sin­ga­pore Ex­change Lim­ited, leav­ing it deep in debt with its op­er­a­tions in dis­ar­ray, failed to de­ter Grove com­pletely. Catcha Group dug its heels in, di­ver­si­fied into mag­a­zine pub­lish­ing and, even­tu­ally, picked up the pieces within three years, re­pay­ing its debts and chart­ing a course back into on­line me­dia.

“As some­one who’s al­ways wanted to be an en­tre­pre­neur, I’ve also learnt that ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son, and that rea­son leads you to an­other destiny. Ac­cept­ing the fact that things hap­pen is im­por­tant, but turn­ing them into lessons that will help you grow is cru­cial,” he af­firms. “It took eight years of stum­bles and piv­ots be­fore Catcha Group fi­nally found some mea­sure of suc­cess. We tried ev­ery­thing – a free SMS ser­vice and even a dat­ing ser­vice. There’s a list of things we tried, failed and com­pletely messed up, but we learned so much. That’s key – learn­ing from your mis­takes and not let­ting it bring you down.”

Swiftly but steadily from 2006 on­wards, the com­pany be­gan build­ing up its sta­ble of on­line com­pa­nies, mak­ing con­sid­er­able in­vest­ments in its own ideas and those of like-minded en­trepreneurs. A par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on on­line clas­si­fieds busi­ness saw the ac­qui­si­tion of the dig­i­tal real es­tate net­work iProp­erty Group Lim­ited, iCar Asia Lim­ited – an ASEAN net­work of au­to­mo­tive por­tals en­com­pass­ing car clas­si­fieds and con­tent – and En­sogo Ltd, an Asian net­work of flash sales web­sites.

“You have to be fast,” in­sists Grove, who de­scribes Catcha Group as ‘young, hun­gry, and dis­rup­tive’. “As we pri­mar­ily fo­cus on emerg­ing mar­kets, we tend to look for prob­lems that are lo­cal to the mar­ket – a prob­lem that is faced by cit­i­zens of that coun­try. From there, we look at how we can ad­dress it by mak­ing it faster, cheaper and more ef­fi­cient. That’s how we dis­rupt.” For him, time is clearly of the essence. “Hire fast, launch fast, start your mar­ket fast, de­cide on your brand fast. You can­not spend a lot of time pon­der­ing. You have to ex­e­cute rapidly, make mis­takes, learn and just keep it­er­at­ing.

“When build­ing a dis­rup­tive busi­ness, you should also be able to iden­tify the prob­lem that you are try­ing to solve. But dis­rup­tion, in truth, means noth­ing if there is no ex­e­cu­tion. Many peo­ple suf­fer from what I call ‘paral­y­sis of anal­y­sis’, where they spend too much time think­ing about whether to go left or right. If you’re some­one who makes de­ci­sions a lot, you have to get used to trust­ing your gut.”

Is that what it takes to be­come not just a dot-com sur­vivor, but a suc­ceeder – gut in­stinct? “And per­se­ver­ance,” Grove adds firmly. “That in­nate abil­ity to keep go­ing when the end seems near, to never give up, to never stop, and to keep try­ing and try­ing un­til some­thing fi­nally works. Build­ing and scal­ing a suc­cess­ful startup is a long and tu­mul­tuous jour­ney, but it’s im­por­tant to have fun and en­joy it. I love the jour­ney and the strug­gle. I love hear­ing ‘no’ and shar­ing with peo­ple. You may fail at first, but keep­ing push­ing, piv­ot­ing and try­ing to solve that prob­lem.”

CATCH THE MO­MENT

The most well-known feather in Catcha Group’s cap, iflix – an In­ter­net TV ser­vice launched in 2015 – is cur­rently avail­able to over one bil­lion con­sumers across 24 ter­ri­to­ries through­out Asia, the Mid­dle East and Africa, pro­vid­ing sub­scribers with un­lim­ited ac­cess to a com­pre­hen­sive va­ri­ety of tele­vi­sion se­ries and movies. While the best of Hol­ly­wood’s of­fer­ings are only a click away, iflix’s strength lies in its di­verse non-English lan­guage con­tent from the Asian re­gion (Korean dra­mas have proved par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar) and lo­cally pro­duced shows and films, which view­ers can eas­ily grasp and re­late to.

Cou­pled with its low price point – RM10 per month in Malaysia ver­sus Net­flix’s RM33 sub­scrip­tion fee – iflix’s wide-reach­ing ap­peal now seems ob­vi­ous but, ac­cord­ing to Grove, rais­ing an ini­tial USD30 mil­lion of fund­ing to get it off the ground was a valu­able ex­er­cise in it­self. “iflix had 115 re­jec­tions be­fore some­body said yes, just as iProp­erty got 74 ‘nos’ be­fore some­one agreed to in­vest in it,” he re­calls. “All you need is one per­son to say ‘yes’. Imag­ine if we had stopped after meet­ing 74 – that 75th meet­ing was es­sen­tially worth RM2.25 bil­lion. So ac­cept that peo­ple are go­ing to say ‘no’, and keep push­ing.”

The fruits of Grove’s de­ter­mi­na­tion are hardly lim­ited to iflix. One of his most notable achieve­ments over the past 14 years has been the fact that he’s taken five of the com­pa­nies he founded from start-up to IPO, a feat he at­tributes to his strat­egy of the five Ps: pivot, prob­lem, pas­sion, peo­ple and per­se­ver­ance. “Ev­ery suc­cess­ful dig­i­tal com­pany to­day is very dif­fer­ent from when they first started out,” he says. “With the mind­set that you should al­ways be chang­ing, grow­ing and adapt­ing, your busi­ness will evolve into a big, beau­ti­ful com­pany.

“Pivot means hav­ing the courage to ex­per­i­ment, the au­dac­ity to test and try again if it doesn’t work, the courage to take a chance, and the abil­ity to step out of your com­fort zone and do things dif­fer­ently from every­one else. Keep piv­ot­ing and grow­ing into dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the dig­i­tal world.” An ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of this strat­egy has been iProp­erty Group Lim­ited, which was pub­licly listed on the Aus­tralian Se­cu­ri­ties Ex­change

AC­CEPT­ING the FACT that things hap­pen is im­por­tant, but turn­ing them into LESSONS that will help you grow is CRU­CIAL.

in 2007 be­fore be­ing ac­quired in 2015 by REA Group – part of Ru­pert Mur­doch’s Aus­tralian con­glom­er­ate, News Corp – in a trans­ac­tion val­ued in ex­cess of USD534 mil­lion.

As one of the largest In­ter­net ex­its in ASEAN his­tory, the sale must have been par­tic­u­larly sweet for Grove. “Hav­ing grown iProp­erty from noth­ing to USD30.2 mil­lion rev­enue in seven years, sell­ing it to REA Group was cer­tainly not an easy de­ci­sion,” he muses. “But, at the end of the day, it’s not about the buy­outs – it’s the sat­is­fac­tion of build­ing a busi­ness that is fo­cused on solv­ing a prob­lem by pro­vid­ing an ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion.” Against a con­tin­ued sense of ur­gency to gain as much dom­i­nance as pos­si­ble in key emerg­ing Asian mar­kets, does Grove not feel he thrives on the ex­cite­ment that comes from risk and un­pre­dictabil­ity?

“Of course, be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur means tak­ing risks. You stake your rep­u­ta­tion on an un­proven idea and you could also sac­ri­fice your pay­check for the first cou­ple of months – maybe even a year. Tak­ing risks is scary, no mat­ter what the sit­u­a­tion, but there’s also a great sense of ful­fil­ment in do­ing some­thing that peo­ple say you can’t do. It’s all about prov­ing them wrong.”

PUMPED UP CLICKS

Fresh from the RM105 mil­lion sale of me­dia startup Rev Asia to Me­dia Prima in May last year, as well as a highly en­cour­ag­ing round of fundrais­ing for iflix in Au­gust, which gath­ered an ad­di­tional USD133 mil­lion from in­vestors such as Hearst me­dia group and EDBI (the cor­po­rate in­vest­ment arm of the Sin­ga­pore Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Board), it looks like there’s more than enough fuel to fire Catcha Group and Grove’s en­gines through 2018. Be­sides, he can’t help but be ex­cited about the pos­si­bil­i­ties wait­ing to be un­leashed from one par­tic­u­lar fea­ture of the South-East Asian re­gion.

“It’s peo­ple’s ob­ses­sions with their mo­bile phones!” he ex­claims. “Pre­vi­ously, this part of the world was al­ways con­sid­ered a sec­ondary, by-the-way mar­ket. We were at the bot­tom of any list of coun­tries be­hind Amer­ica, China, Ja­pan, Korea and Rus­sia. I think what’s in­ter­est­ing is that now, in South­East Asia, there are more smart­phone users than in all of Amer­ica or Europe. If you think about build­ing an app like, say, Uber or Grab, we’re now one of the big­gest re­gions in the world, as a block. We’ve gone from be­ing at the bot­tom of the to-do list to quite high up in terms of where to al­lo­cate time, money, peo­ple and re­sources, and that’s one thing that re­ally stands out.”

Ever one for in­creased con­nec­tiv­ity, Grove was also in­stru­men­tal in the launch of the Malaysian gov­ern­ment’s Dig­i­tal Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) in March 2017 – an in­ter­lock­ing sys­tem of vir­tual and phys­i­cal zones de­vel­oped with the aim of pro­pel­ling the coun­try’s dig­i­tal econ­omy and e-com­merce in­dus­try. “The gov­ern­ment asked me to share some ideas with Prime Min­is­ter Dato’ Sri Na­jib Tun Razak on how to grow an In­ter­net econ­omy, which the Malaysia Dig­i­tal Econ­omy Cor­po­ra­tion re­ally liked as well. Every­one charged 100 miles an hour to make it hap­pen, and I re­mem­ber peo­ple in the gov­ern­ment say­ing, ‘ Wow, we’ve never seen the ad­min­is­tra­tion move so fast on a de­ci­sion!’ It took me by com­plete sur­prise.”

With Catcha Group tak­ing on the role of a strate­gic part­ner, it’s now re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing Kuala Lumpur In­ter­net City (KLIC) – the DFTZ’s first satel­lite ser­vices hub. “In re­la­tion to the dig­i­tal econ­omy, the Malaysian gov­ern­ment is prob­a­bly the most for­ward-think­ing gov­ern­ment in South­East Asia,” Grove re­marks. “Sil­i­con Val­ley, China, Dubai and Ber­lin are tech­nol­ogy hubs, but in South-East Asia, no one was re­ally putting a hand up and say­ing, ‘ We want to be the tech­no­log­i­cal cen­tre of ex­cel­lence for the dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion.’ So, here’s a great op­por­tu­nity for the Malaysian peo­ple and this econ­omy to be­come the cen­tre of in­no­va­tion and dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy in South-East Asia.”

Does it mean – with all this to keep him oc­cu­pied – that Grove’s party days are over? (Catcha Group’s motto, in­ci­den­tally, is ‘work hard, play hard’, which goes some way to ex­plain­ing why it has a punch­bag, pool ta­ble and bar in its of­fice.) “By play­ing hard, it means what­ever it is that you’re into, you should give 100 per cent,” he clar­i­fies. “I don’t re­ally party at all – for me, it’s very much a work hard, keep fit hard thing, so I’ll go jog­ging, med­i­tate and play ten­nis four times a week. You should never be in a sce­nario where you have to tone down some­thing you love be­cause work is busy. I be­lieve you can do both.”

To un­der­line his point, he men­tions that he’s just fin­ished watch­ing Medici: Masters of Florence on iflix (“I like be­ing en­ter­tained and learn­ing about his­tory at the same time”), and even ended up pur­chas­ing a 700page book on the Medici fam­ily. Re­ally, it’s amaz­ing that he’s got any time to read at all. “I think so too!” he laughs. And with that, he’s off to his next meet­ing – no doubt to stir up a lit­tle more dis­rup­tion.

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