Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in January 2014. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].
Rode the first wave and subsequent bust, willing to make hard decisions
Self-belief, confidence and perseverance can be strengths or weaknesses
SPEAK to Internet entrepreneurs in Malaysia, and more than a few would tell you that Catcha Group’s Patrick Grove is their role model.
His iconic status as a hardened dotcom survivor, belied by his cherubic looks, comes from the fact that he was there in the first wave, rode the bust, pivoted the company he cofounded with three others long before the term ‘pivot’ become part of the startup lexicon, and is now one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the region, let alone Malaysia.
Catcha was founded in the halcyon days of the first dotcom wave, when just having ‘.com’ in your company name was enough to get media attention.
But that doesn’t mean investors enthusiastically reached for their chequebooks. Patrick recalls that in those days, when there was no startup investment community to speak of really, his first ‘funding round’ meant doing the “friends-and-family-and rich-neighbours” circuit, not venture capitalists or angel investors.
When the crash happened, many dotcom entrepreneurs ‘woke up’ from their dreams and got regular jobs. Patrick, however, persisted and persevered, still believing in the dream, but was now armed with a more pragmatic edge.
Hard, perhaps even ruthless, business decisions had to be made, and as chief executive officer (CEO), he had to make them.
In fact, he counts having to abort Catcha.com’s initial public offering in the late 1990s as one of his biggest disappointments.
“We could have just closed the book on it,” he says. “After all, the Nasdaq crash was beyond our control. Instead, we persevered. It wasn’t even a choice, that’s how much we believed in our vision.
“We made a lot of tough decisions, and got on with it – every day. When you work with very little, you have to be creative, you have to be driven, you have to know why you’re doing it and have a plan of how you’re going to get there – that includes pivoting when pivoting becomes necessary.”
Still, while it was a disappointment, Patrick has had no regrets over Catcha’s journey.
“We came away with a lot of invaluable learnings, which is why as an investment group we understand what an entrepreneur goes through better than anyone else. We’ve been there. And we now have four publicly-listed companies,” he says.
Three of those are listed on the Australian Securities Exchange or ASX – iProperty, iCar and the latest, in late 2013, iBuy – while one of the earliest, Catch Media, is on Bursa Malaysia’s ACE market.
[Update: Catcha Media has since become Rev Asia]
The Australia-Malaysia connection reflects Patrick’s own heritage: His father is Australian and his mother a Chinese-Malaysian, with Patrick’s own roots firmly planted in both countries.
With four public-listed companies under his belt – and he will only be 39 years old in 2014 – you’d think Patrick could rest on his laurels, but he is already into the next stage of the dotcom entrepreneur cycle.
His Catcha Group and affiliated companies like iCar, iProperty, iBuy and Catcha Media Bhd will invest over US$150 million in online businesses in the Asean region over the next five years, from 2014-2018, including a joint fund with government agency Mavcap to take off in 2014 too.
When asked about his strengths and weaknesses, he says, “When there’s an idea I believe in, I get behind it 100%. As an entrepreneur, you really have to have self-belief, confidence and extraordinary perseverance.
“The same qualities can be a weakness when you don’t know when to quit, but I’ve learned to read the signs and pay attention to the trends and what the data is saying, so I know when it’s time to call it a day.”
But now that he’s taken care of business, Patrick can finally take care of ‘business’ too, having ended his longstanding bachelorhood in November 2013 with a small, private wedding ceremony in Greece.