Leading through the M17 Board: From Founder to CEO to Chairman

posted on 17 Aug 2020

Today, I assume the role of non-executive Chairman at M17 after 7 years as CEO, and welcome Hiro, CEO of 17 Japan, my partner, shareholder, investor and friend, as our new Group CEO.

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Second from left is Hiro. Photo taken on our way from HK to NYC during our roadshow 2 years ago

This transition has been in the works for almost a year now, and off the back of an amazing year of performance by the company, now is as good a time as any for this arrangement to become official.

Today, M17’s team across 10 countries work with more than 30,000 content creators to produce over half a million hours of content every month. In just 4 years, 17.live has become the de facto live entertainment platform in Developed Asia, and since last year, globally.

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Our first office in Singapore. Charlene my ex-cofounder and our interns

As I look back at my journey over the past seven years, it has been eventful to say the least:

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Top right: My cofounder JS and current COO. Top left: Shang our CFO.

From raising family and friends funding to launching the Paktor dating app off the back of getting out of a long term relationship, to rapidly scaling Paktor into 11 markets, and as quickly running out of money, halting to screeching stop and downsizing to 4 key markets;


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One of Paktor’s first advertising campaigns in Taiwan

Hunkering down and rebuilding, raising bridge capital from a young lawyer in Hong Kong and banker friend in Singapore, before bringing on our first institutional investor Vertex, building Paktor back up, to become the leading mobile dating company in the region;


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Photo taken after we signed our first round of funding with Vertex. L to R: Evie our first investment manager, myself, Charlene our ex-cofounder and CMO, JS, and Joo Hock our current board member representing Vertex

To raising a total of over USD 160 million in funding for M17 / Paktor, acquiring four dating companies in a quest to go global and eventually merging with 17.live to form M17 Entertainment in 2016;


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Jeff (centre) my cofounder on stage with Nicky during Nicky’s concert at 台北小巨蛋

Growing M17’s team to over 1,000 headcounts globally, to becoming the first company to ring the bell on The New York Stock Exchange and then not list, then crawling back up to scale our business 4x in 2 years, very profitably, all in the midst of a global lockdown, as the leading live stream entertainment platform globally.


The decision to assume this new role was made after much deliberations with Hiro and our shareholders, and observations on how the team is able to rally around him to push the company to new heights. M17 is my blood and soul, a place I built over the years with the time and energy I squeezed through sacrifices, so to be able to step so comfortably into a role I consider of utmost importance, speaks volumes about Hiro.

I first met Hiro in May 2017 in Tokyo. I remember the scene like it was yesterday. It was around 7:30pm, Akio one of our lead investors had been showing me around the city to various potential partners for our expansion into Japan and while we were searching for the right partner to take 17.live into Japan, Akio got Hiro to introduce me to an entertainment industry giant. Hiro came by the hotel lobby where I was staying and we left to meet the potential partner at a bar. That night went past hazily as the drinks flowed but I remember Akio calling me the very next morning and it hit him like an epiphany: Why don’t we do it ourselves and Hiro could be our partner in Japan leading the push. Given his strong experience, as ex-COO of Groupon and ex-COO of CA Mobile, scaling businesses to over 10,000 employees, surely he would be a great fit.

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Press event announcing our launch in Japan. Akio at the podium

The rest is history. Today, a very significant part of our business comes from Japan, and this is only possible because of Hiro’s leadership. I am confident that M17 will continue to bloom under his guidance.

As I mark this milestone, I look back and take stock of a few key lessons I’ve learnt along the way.

*It is darkest just before light.
Learn to be a person before learning to run a business.
Be grateful for everything, assume nothing.*


To all the people I am grateful to. Thank you.

*To my family, who are always there, around, somewhere, holding out a hand when I need something to hold on to.
To my investors, who believed in and continue to believe in and support my team and I, and M17, and what we can do.
To my co-founders, who have infinite patience in dealing with my temper and trust in my vision.
To my team, for fighting alongside and going where I point to go even though it was so dark for so long.
To Hiro, it’s your show now. Day 1. Let’s go*


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US team in LA last year when we hit our first milestone of daily active streamers

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Launch into MENA in 2019

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M17 Building

While I will continue to spend some time working with the management team through my new role, I very much look forward to spending more time over the next few months with my family, whatever I can do to make up for the last 7 years.

✌🏻

Source: Joseph Phua’s Medium
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