7 Facts About Forrest Li, Sea Ltd & Shopee Founder

On Tuesday (31 Aug), Singaporean businessman Forrest Li became the richest man here with a valuation of over S$26.6 billion via Sea Ltd, the company he founded.

If you’re not familiar with that name, you might be more familiar with Shopee, Garena, or SeaMoney, which Sea Ltd owns. Mr Li had a hand in founding all 3.

Shopee Founder Forrest Li Becomes S’pore’s Richest Man With S$26 Billion Fortune

While he’s a successful billionaire now, it took decades of study and work in order to get to where he is today.

It also took a leap of faith to jump from being a promoter for Motorola in Shanghai to setting up his own businesses.

Read on to find out about Mr Li, including how he could only afford a single bedroom in a 3-room flat in Braddell when he first came to Singapore.

1. Worked as a recruiter at Motorola in Shanghai

Forrest Xiaodong Li was born in Tianjin in China and later became a Singaporean after moving here.

After graduating from Shanghai Jiaotong University, Mr Li worked as an HR recruiter in companies like Motorola in Shanghai, according to Forbes.

He’d spend most of his nights in Internet cafes playing games, which incidentally would form much of his later success.

However, he did not see a long-term future that satisfied him if he continued where he was.

He told Forbes,

I kind of knew what my résumé would look like five years later. And somehow I didn’t feel excited.

This came after he’d read thousands of résumés.

So, he quit after 4 years and went to further his studies at Stanford University in America, where he’d meet 2 extremely important people — his wife Ma Liqian, and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

2. Inspired by Steve Jobs’ ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ speech

Steve Jobs gave a speech in 2005 that will be remembered for the ages, and Mr Li just happened to witness it live as he was attending his wife’s graduation, he told The Straits Times (ST).

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The mantra ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ would spur Mr Li on from then onwards.

Another lesson he took from the speech was to take his passion and run with it. For him, that was gaming.

The speech inspired Mr Li so much that he watched it 2 to 3 times a day for months to “accumulate the courage to be an entrepreneur”.

3. Could only afford to live in a rented bedroom in Braddell 

Following his wife’s graduation from Stanford, Mr Li arrived with her in Singapore.

But things certainly weren’t easy back then, as he could only afford to rent a bedroom in a 3-room flat in Braddell, according to Business Times. He also reportedly had $100,000 in student debt.

When he started Garena in 2009, it operated out of a shophouse at Maxwell Road.

Mr Li definitely wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, that much we can say.

4. Owns a football club & is passionate about sports

Mr Li, like many Singaporeans, enjoys football and has said he is an Arsenal and Barcelona fan.

But not many fans can buy over a football club. He can, though.

In Feb last year, Mr Li made waves in Singapore football and the region when he bought over Home United in the Singapore Premier League for an undisclosed fee.

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The club was renamed the Lion City Sailors in reference to his company Sea and soon started spending money previously unheard of in the league to bring in talents, both local and foreign.

The club’s goal is to win the league and compete in Asia’s biggest tournament, the Asian Champions League.

In an interview with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), Mr Li also spoke about his desire to raise Singapore’s football level by nurturing youths.

5. Named himself after Forrest Gump

The story goes that one of Mr Li’s college tutors could not pronounce his name.

When he was asked to pick a “Western” name, Mr Li thought of the movie Forrest Gump and named himself after the titular character.

He’s also found inspiration through the character played by Tom Hanks, saying, “Because of (Forrest Gump’s) persistence and his courage, he lived a very successful and very meaningful life… by helping a lot of other people.”

Mr Li also admires the fact that Forrest Gump has a good heart.

6. Calls humility a core value

The secrets to Mr Li’s success? Being humble, patient, and persistent.

“Staying humble is the core (of our five principles). It’s only if you’re able to stay humble that you can serve, run, adapt, and commit,” he said.

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Not everything Mr Li does turn to gold — behind his successes were definitely failures.

He shared that securing funding was difficult as he started after the global financial crisis of 2009, and of course, GG.Game didn’t take off.

But he never gave up and continued on his path after each failure. He said:

Success is just several actual miles away from a failure. And it’s all about if you can keep doing and keep going until you reach the destination. And don’t give up too early.

7. Conquered South East Asia through games & shopping

Thought gaming was a waste of time? This man literally made a fortune out of it.

Mr Li noticed that South East Asia was a largely untapped market. By entering the market, first with games then with e-commerce, Mr Li has become a kingpin of what is an extremely diverse area with many languages and races.

And of course, Singapore is at the centre of Sea Ltd’s operations.

Garena did not begin by publishing its own games but instead secured partnerships with publishers to bring them over to South East Asia.

Eventually, they were able to create their own game, Free Fire, which is one of the most downloaded mobile games in the world at over 1 billion. If you want to call Garena the Tencent of SEA, you can easily do that.

Later, he targeted e-commerce as his next venture, wanting to become the Alibaba of SEA. This paid off especially during the pandemic as people stayed home more and relied on deliveries.

Right place at the right time, or visionary? You decide.

Success with humility

Until a few years ago, few had heard of Forrest Li. But today, his name is probably impossible to ignore since he’s the richest man in Singapore.

Many have been inspired by Steve Jobs, but we wonder if one day the next generation will be inspired by Forrest Li instead.

What we do know is that the sky is definitely the limit and that making money should not be a priority over being a good person at heart.

Have news you must share? Get in touch with us via email at news@mustsharenews.com.

Featured image adapted from Olympic Council of Asia.