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Garena joins global billionaire club


THERE are now at least 25 mobile Internet companies in the world worth at least a billion dollars each, new data from digital consulting firm Digi-Capital shows. And Singapore social gaming start-up Garena has only just made the list, going by its US$1 billion valuation in the latest World Start-up Report.

It joins household names like Whatsapp, Twitter and Uber in the billion-dollar club, along with other companies across a wide range of sectors: games, messaging, transport, music, social and mobile commerce.

Of the top 25 companies that have achieved billion-dollar valuations, 12 originated from the US, nine from Asia and three from Europe. Japan and South Korea's free messaging platforms LINE and Kakao spearhead the Asian charge, boasting valuations of US$10 billion and US$2.4 billion respectively.

Garena, the sole Singapore representative, is a publisher of multi-player online games such as FIFA Online and League of Legends, as well as the creator of mobile communication app BeeTalk. It is believed to have amassed over 100 million members on its platform since its founding in 2009.

This means the home-grown gaming start-up accrued value at an average rate of US$200 million each year of its existence, to be given a US$1 billion price tag after five years.

Notably, gaming seems to be a newly burgeoning sector here, an analysis of Digi-Capital's data reveals. For instance, eighth- placed King, creator of popular mobile game Candy Crush Saga, acquired Singapore gaming start-up Nonstop Games for up to US$100 million just last month.

New York-listed King, valued at US$7 billion, said that the buyout was part of its plans to leverage Nonstop Games' massive player base and expand beyond casual games.

In addition, US-based online games portal IGG (I Got Games) - sealing the 20th spot with a US$1.6 billion valuation - is backed by Vertex Venture Holdings, the venture capital arm of Singapore's Temasek.

IGG in 2008 raised over US$10 million in Series B funding, in a round led by Vertex and joined by two other venture capital firms.

According to the World Start-up Report, video streaming site Viki and luxury goods flash sales site Reebonz were the next biggest start-ups in Singapore after Garena.

Viki, acquired by Japan's e-commerce giant Rakuten for US$200 million a year ago, is now part of its digital content business - one of the fastest growing units at Rakuten.

Reebonz, also valued at US$200 million, recently unveiled a service that allows its members to not only purchase new or pre-owned luxury goods, but also sell or consign their pre-owned items.

Said Digi-Capital head Tim Merel: "Entering the billion-dollar club is difficult, but staying there is even harder. Some pivot beyond their initial success to greater heights, while others struggle to move beyond their legacy of success. There are former billion-dollar companies which have dropped out of the club, and others risk doing so."