Forrest Li said that he probably spent more time playing games at cybercafés than on academics when he was younger. Born in Tianjin, China, and a graduate of Shanghai Jiaotong University, the entrepreneur moved to Singapore and in 2009 founded SEA Group, a New York Stock Exchange–listed e-commerce and video game development giant and the second-biggest public company in Southeast Asia. The company started as gaming platform Garena with Li’s co-founders Gang Ye and David Chen. It soon became one of the biggest esports and gaming distributors throughout Southeast Asia. Garena’s profits have subsidized the growth of the e-commerce arm Shopee, allowing the app to experiment and integrate other functions, like digital payments.
Southeast Asia watchers credit the rise of Shopee with scaring local rivals Gojek and Tokopedia into a merger, in order to maintain competitiveness. Both Garena and Shopee have found success outside the region — for example, in Brazil. The question will be whether it can keep up growth.