This entrepreneur takes aim at monetizing social media

Thomas Zilliacus, executive chairman and co-founder of YuuZoo.
Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Thomas Zilliacus, executive chairman and co-founder of YuuZoo.

Social media platforms have surged in popularity in recent years as a growing chunk of the world's population embraces smartphones and internet costs fall. Making money has proved more elusive.

Now one veteran of the mobile industry is trying to prove that eyeballs can also translate into dollars with YuuZoo, which creates personalized platforms that combine social networking, e-commerce, gaming and online payment services.

"There is big money in social media today, and brands miss that in most of the other social media platforms," said Thomas Zilliacus, executive chairman of Singapore-listed YuuZoo.

Zilliacus told "Managing Asia" that YuuZoo is like Facebook, Amazon, e-payments and a gaming company rolled into one, and brands they work with can monetize from the various activities.

He said that clients take 70 percent of the revenue, and YuuZoo takes 30 percent for maintaining and hosting the social networking platform for other brands.

The 61-year old Finn who had spearheaded Nokia's Asia Pacific expansion through its Singapore office way back in 1986, and turned it into a regional force to be reckoned with.

After 16 years at Nokia, Zilliacus called it quits to venture out on his own. He dabbled in various businesses from paper machinery to beauty products and even consulting.

"It took three years for me to understand that what I really understand is the mobile industry ... since then I've been focusing purely on mobile and internet," he said.

YuuZoo launched in 2008 and is currently operating in over 68 markets, under a franchisee model. Franchisees pay YuuZoo through licensing fees, company shares, or a combination of both.

The rationale behind this model is to keep YuuZoo's cost base low while capitalizing on the potential that YuuZoo franchisees' business could take off in a big way, Zilliacus said, adding the firm's cost was about $400,000 a month on average.

YuuZoo might be not be playing with the big boys of social media, but that could change especially after it caught the attention of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

In March, YuuZoo announced a multi-million dollar deal with Alibaba Sports Group to organize and run the AliSports World Electronic Sports Games (WESG), and manage the E-Sports Clubs Competition Center for Alibaba in China.

Alibaba through AliSports Group plans to invest 100 million yuan ($15.4 million) in just the WESG alone, according to a YuuZoo announcement. The eSports tournament will be a big deal in the cybersports space, with the total prize pool exceeding $5.5 million.

"eSports in China is booming under the government's guidance in a very big way," notes Zilliacus.

YuuZoo's first-quarter revenue in FY2016 was $33.14 million (S$45.5 million) up a whopping 243 percent year-on-year, while EBITDA for the same period was up 105 percent at $14.3 million.

Despite YuuZoo's solid financial results, Zilliacus said, "it has not been easy to get investors to understand our business model [and] in hindsight, maybe the reverse takeover concept was not the right way to list."

The social e-commerce firm listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange in 2014, through a reverse merger of components trader W Corporation. YuuZoo's shares are currently trading at S$0.18 each, compared to its trading debut at S$0.51 in September 2014.

"I am a bit frustrated by the fact that we have been the only [Singapore-listed] company in the social media space, and I think a lot of investors fail to understand what the business is really all about and how profitable and interesting it is," he told CNBC.