If Leo Chen and Steven Liu didn’t quit Garena, then Jumei may not have existed. By now, everyone in the tech industry knows Jumei (NYSE:JMEI), an online cosmetics store in China. After all, it is one of many Chinese internet companies to list recently in the States, raising US$245 million in its New York Stock Exchange debut.
As its founder, Leo is now a billionaire: he owned a $1.2 billion stake in Jumei on the day of the listing. Jumei made $483 million in revenue and a profit of $25 million in 2013.
But Leo and Steven, both Chinese nationals, trekked a twisty road to the top. Not long ago, they were clueless student entrepreneurs sitting in their college dorm rooms, struggling to come up with their big idea.
The next few years consisted of a series of costly mistakes, power struggles, and betrayals which eventually caused both to leave Garena, which by now is the largest game publishing and online gaming platform in Southeast Asia. Forrest Li, a China-born Singaporean, took the reins as the CEO and founder – the latter is a title disputed by Steven.
So, who betrayed who? That depends on who you believe. On the Chinese internet sphere, a war of words broke out in the past week, starting with an accusatory note written anonymously to portray Leo as being less than the new golden boy of Chinese tech startups. Steven then wrote a lengthy rebuttal and published it on Chinese social network Weibo, siding with Leo and detailing his version of events. The timing coincided with Jumei’s IPO on the stock exchange.
“I had planned to write an article to clear up the facts, but Leo Ou (Leo Chen) stopped me. Things got pretty ugly and unhappy, but after all we were classmates. We wanted to give each other ‘face’, and we had a lot of good friends who were in Garena with us, and I was afraid I would hurt someone innocent in the process.”
“But after that anonymous, fact-distorting smear essay came out, I needed to say what I’ve been bottling up for two years. Leo is no longer my CEO, and he cannot stop me.”
Before Garena, there was GG
In Steven’s telling, Leo planted the seeds for GG when they met for snacks. It was 2006, and both of them were foreign students at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Steven was curious about Leo because he was reputably the top WarCraft player in university, plus he ran its esports club.
Leo, meanwhile, sought expert programmers to build out his dream of creating an online platform for connecting competitive gamers globally. The goal was to bring esports beyond physical locations and onto the internet. Singapore would be a perfect base for expansion into Southeast Asia, followed by Europe and the Americas.
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