Singapore’s newest billionaire, Sea founder Forrest Li, says he chose his English name after watching Forrest Gump

The founder of Singapore’s tech unicorn, Sea, made it onto the Bloomberg Billionaires List thanks to a 13.8 per cent stake in the company worth roughly US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion).
Singapore Press Holdings

At age 41, Forrest Li is now a billionaire.

The founder of Singapore’s tech unicorn, Sea, made it onto the world’s billionaires list thanks to a 13.8 per cent stake worth roughly US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion), Bloomberg reported on Friday (Mar 1).

The company owns gaming service Garena, and e-commerce site Shopee, both of which are expected to see a spike in earnings in the coming year, Bloomberg said. It also counts Chinese giant Tencent as a shareholder.

China-born Li, now a Singapore citizen, once worked for Motorola in Shanghai, and graduated with an MBA from Stanford University.

Business Insider compiled five facts to know about the new billionaire:

#1: Li is only the world’s second person to become a billionaire thanks to an online game. The first was Tim Sweeney, creator of Fortnite, a top game worldwide.

Free Fire website

Li founded gaming company Garena – later rebranded as Sea – in 2009.

Bloomberg attributed Li’s new wealth mostly to the success of Garena’s game “Free Fire”, which Bloomberg dubbed “the Fortnite of Singapore”.

Free Fire is the world’s fourth most downloaded game, with over 350 million registered users.

#2. Last year, Li was the 42nd richest person in Singapore.


According to Forbes‘ list of Singapore’s 50 Richest People, Li entered the ranks of Singapore’s wealthiest after listing Sea on the New York Stock Exchange in October 2017.

His net worth in 2018 was S$738 million, beating out the only other person in the gaming industry: Razer founder Min-Liang Tan (45th place). Both men are the same age.

Read also: Man tattoos face of Razer CEO Tan Min-Liang on his leg for a free phone

#3: Li chose his English name after watching the movie “Forrest Gump”.

According to Bloomberg, Li was born in Tianjin and studied engineering at a university in Shanghai, where he spent most nights playing games at an internet cafe till dawn.

At a college English class, he took the name Forrest when the American lecturer asked each student to come up with a Western name. Li’s Chinese name is Xiaodong.

While most of his classmates chose Michael (after basketball superstar Michael Jordan), Li – who Bloomberg described as “shy” and “a self-professed outlier”, said he identified most with the titular character in the movie “Forrest Gump”.

#4: He was there when Steve Jobs gave that famous “stay hungry, stay foolish” speech – and it became his life motto.

Li met his wife in Stanford and attended her graduation ceremony in 2005 – the very same one where Apple founder Steve Jobs was invited to speak, Bloomberg said.

Jobs’ speech, which contained the now-famous mantra “stay hungry, stay foolish” inspired Li, who played the speech on YouTube everyday “for months” to gather the courage to start Garena.

He has lived by Jobs’ mantra ever since, Bloomberg said.

#5: He started Garena in Singapore thanks to his wife.

Sea Limited

The reason Li started up Garena in Singapore was thanks to his wife’s six-year scholarship bond with local company Temasek Holdings.

The two dated in the US, and when Li’s wife left for Singapore fulfill her contract, his father advised him to follow her there, so as not to lose the relationship, the Straits Times (ST) reported.

The gamble paid off – the couple married and now have two children aged six and one, ST said. Li’s wife has been working at Temasek Holdings ever since.

Read also: The CEO of US$90m tea chain TWG’s advice to entrepreneurs: stick to the concept and profits will come