Asia’s Netflix aims to shake up startup world

Dubbed as Asia's answer to U.S. video streaming company Netflix, iflix has yet to debut its service but its founder is confident that the new startup will trigger a shake-up in the industry.

"Our 'BHAG' (Big hairy audacious goal) is for iflix to be the first serious, credible and sizable ASEAN internet company that is floated on the Nasdaq, which we love to do in the next 12-24 months," Patrick Grove, co-founder and CEO of Kuala Lumpur-based tech investment firm Catcha Group, told CNBC's "Managing Asia."

The video-on-demand service debuts in Malaysia next month and will likely feature popular Hollywood content from Warner Bros and MGM, according to The Australian. iflix will also bulk up its collection with Asian programs, ranging from Cantonese-language Hong Kong dramas to South Korean hit series, in order to compete head-on with its bigger and more established rivals.

Grove has plans to expand iflix into other parts of Southeast Asia over the next 3-6 months and is betting big on the region's booming smartphone usage, which could hit 700 million by 2019, according to a report by Ericsson last June.

"One of the things we love about Southeast Asia is that it's now a bigger market than America. 700 million people here want to be entertained on their phones, but there are only 280 million people in America," the Singapore-born entrepreneur said. "Netflix can be the pre-eminent product in the developed world and iflix will be the equivalent in the developing world over the next two years."

Patrick Grove, co-founder and CEO of Catcha Group.
CNBC
Patrick Grove, co-founder and CEO of Catcha Group.

Dotcom's comeback kid

Catcha Group, which was established in 1999 as a search engine, is now a household name inthe Southeast Asia's startup scene, but the firm did not have a smooth-sailing ride. After securing a listing approval on the Singapore Exchange in 2000, the unexpected dot com crash occurred, leaving Grove and his partners with $1.5 million in debt.

"We went on a global roadshow in April 2000 but by the end of the month, Nasdaq dropped 25 percent... our roadshow was aborted and we found ourselves on the front page of a Singapore newspaper saying our company is going to go bust," the 39-year-old recalled.

After diversifying the business, Grove survived and went on to build his name as a successful entrepreneur by turning four online startups into listed companies in less than six years. Catcha Group now has a portfolio of online assets worth more than $300 million, including Sydney-listed iCar, iProperty and iBuy, as well as Catcha Media Berhad that is trading on Malaysia's FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI index. "It was a really tough time, but one thing we learnt was to never give up."

The same quality also landed him an investment from Australian American business magnate Rupert Murdoch. REA Group, Australia's top property website and affiliate of Murdoch's News Corp, acquired a 17 percent stake in the online real estate business iProperty last year.

"It was about persistence. We have been trying to get them to know who we are for seven years. I was prepared to pitch really hard but [Rupert Murdoch] didn't ask any tough questions. We just had a nice chat," Grove said.

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VC newbie

Moving forward, Grove is looking to cultivate the next crop of startup successes with his newly-formed Catcha Ventures.

Since its debut last October, the venture firm has completed seven investments, ranging from $1-$5 million each, in Pakistan and Myanmar. Qualities that attract Grove include a focus on mobile and the potential to penetrate into emerging markets.

"15 years ago, I was just a young kid thinking about having a cool company and then buy a nice place and a nice car. But now I want to build great disruptive businesses," Grove told CNBC.

"If there is a category where the existing players are lazy, then we want to be there. We want to shake things up. We want to be the trouble maker. We want to be the disruptor," he added.

— Reporting by Christine Tan | Written by See Kit Tang