What do you do when you’ve made more money than you can spend in a lifetime and proven to be the biggest fish in your pond?
If your name is Patrick Grove, Southeast Asia’s most successful entrepreneur, the answer combines Hollywood and Silicon Valley: take on Netflix. Grove, who has an estimated personal wealth of AU$885 million ($602.5 million), founded Iflix in 2014 as the answer to Netflix in emerging markets, an area of the world he knows well after founding and exiting five tech companies to IPO.
Iflix was, in Grove’s own words, the 44-year-old Malaysian-Australian businessman’s toughest challenge yet. The goal was not simply to compete with Netflix, but to take its founding principles and then out-localise it in Southeast Asia, a growing region of over 600 million consumers, and other emerging markets. Iflix aimed to marry the best of East and West—Hollywood content paired with programming from Korea, Japan and other Asian countries—and reach local consumers at a fraction of the cost of Netflix; in some markets for just $3 per month. The cost of Netflix starts from $11 per month, although a $3 mobile-only option recently began testing in India and other countries.
Last month, Iflix announced that it is preparing for an IPO—media reports as far back as February tipped it to be Australia’s ASX (Australian Securities Exchange). But while few companies in Southeast Asia go public, this doesn’t look like a glorious run to victory. The company declined to say where it plans to list, but by all accounts, it is a hurt animal that’s limping to the public markets in Australia—a destination that’s hardly synonymous with the crème de la crème of global tech companies.
At its peak, Iflix shopped a business that covered Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa to investors with a $1 billion price tag. It never became a unicorn. Last month, it announced a $50 million investment led by Fidelity, the US financial giant which has $2.5 trillion in assets under management and has profited handsomely from tech IPOs like Uber, Lyft and Pinterest. The deal valued the Iflix business at $300-$350 million, according to an industry figure aware of the details, but Fidelity is betting that its involvement will push that figure up when Iflix goes public.
Not bad, perhaps, but Iflix has been better. A former employee said it reached a $400 million valuation in 2017 when it raised $133 million led by Hearst, the US entertainment firm that counts ESPN, Vice and BuzzFeed in its investment portfolio. Over the years, Iflix picked up global names as investors, including British broadcaster Sky and Evolution Media, an entertainment-focused business backed by PE firm TPG Growth and Creative Artists Agency.