How Forrest Li Grew His Wealth From $738M To $19.8 Billion Within 3 Years, Now The Richest Man in Singapore

Last updated on August 5th, 2023 at 10:14 pm


The world can never forget the year 2020 which some people prefer to call the “pandemic year” because of the agony that came with it, but the COVID-19 outbreak was a success story for some businesses around the world.

To the founders of such businesses, they became richer. Forrest Li, the 2021 wealthiest man in Singapore at the time of publication is one of those innovative minds that benefited massively in 2020.

He didn’t create the pandemic nor was he happy that there was an epidemic, but his existing gaming business and e-Commerce platform experienced a surge from users who needed an online games and online shopping in the Asian countries.


He has not only stopped there, he continues to grow his business empires. How did he start?

Who is Li?

  • Real Name: Xiaodong Li
  • Adopted Name: Forrest Li
  • Date of birth: 1978
  • Net worth:  $19.8 billion (August 31, 2021)
  • Source of wealth: Online Gaming, e-Commerce
  • Education:  Shanghai Jiaotong University; Stanford University
  • Citizenship: Chinese, Singaporean
  • Married status: Married
  • Wife: Liqian Ma

Why he Changed His Name from Xiadong to Forrest:

After Li earned Engineering Degree at Shanghai Jiaotong University, the ambitious young Chinese man proceeded to Stanford University in California, United States, for his Masters.

One of his lecturers at Stanford couldn’t pronounce his Chinese name, “Xiaodong” and he adopted Forrest after watching the movie Forrest Gump.

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He was born in Tianjin, China in 1978, and attended Shanghai Jiaotong University in China before emigrating to Singapore, from where he proceeded to Stanford University for an MBA in School of Business.

Inspiration and Challenges

Forrest Li who became a billionaire without inheriting a family wealth had some challenges on his way to success.

His journey to success began in 2005 when Li attended Liqian Ma’s graduation. At the event, he was inspired by Apple founder Steve Jobs’ famous speech “You’ve got to find what you love” where he was inspired.

Li told himself he would develop a gaming app which he brought to fulfilment when he launched his first online gaming app called GG Game in Singapore.

Unfortunately, GG game failed.

Undeterred by the failure of his first innovation, the 31-year-old Li at the time in 2009 launched Garena 2009 with his business partners – Gang Ye and David Chen – with whom he shared his goals.

His second company didn’t become successful overnight, but also faced some challenges in Asia during the global financial crisis.

Forrest Li Net Worth

On July 25, 2018, (1095 days ago i.e three years) from the day of publication, Xiaodong’s net worth was just $738 million.

He was ranked No 42 in Forbes’ 2018 Singapore’s 50 richest people, but three years down the lane, he has grown his wealth $18 billion USD more.

Richer than Africa’s richest man

Li is more than $7 billion richer than the richest African, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. Dangote’s net worth was $12.3 billion as of August 31, 2021.

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What this means is that the richest man in Singapore made more than $18 billion within three years.

Innovative Establishments

  • Sea Limited
  • Free Fire
  • Shopee
  • Lion City Sailors
  • SeaMoney (digital-payments)
  • Bank BKE (PT Bank Kesejahteraan Ekonomi)
  • GG Game (defunct)
  • Gerena online game developer
  • BeeTalk
  • TalkTalk

Most of the above companies are under Sea group just like Dangote Group.

How His Wealth Grew During COVID-19

While businesses were under padlock during the pandemic, yet millions of people around the world were in search of online games to keep them busy, Li’s Free Fire was there to fill that gap.

His story is similar to Changpeng Zhao, the Binance founder, whose wealth also grew beyond imagination after the COVDI-19.

The same sets of people were also in search of online shopping platforms, and Shopee filled the gap for consumers in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. Others include Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

It wasn’t surprising that Sea Ltd. Revenue grew as the pandemic continued to boost demand for e-commerce and digital entertainment across Southeast Asia.

Sea Ltd’s first-quarter revenue climbed 147% to $1.8 billion while Shopee contributed $922 million, while digital entertainment arm Garena accounted for $781 million.

“Our strong performance in terms of user growth and engagement shows that digital adoption is still rising healthily,” Forbes’ Jonathan Burgos quoted Forrest Li in a report.

Other successes recorded by Li and his team so far include Sea’s subsidiary Free Fire, a mobile game app that witnessed already have over 1 billion downloads on Google Play.

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Shopee, an e-commerce platform, on the other hand, is now the second-most downloaded shopping app on Android and iOS globally.

The founder isn’t alone in the list of Billionaires List. His co-founder Gang Ye, and David Chen are also billionaires.

Ye, who is the chief operating officer, is worth $10.8 billion, while Chen, Shopee’s chief product officer, is worth $3.6 billion.

Contributions To Technology

It was reported some time ago that his company committed $37.1 million to the National University of Singapore to advance research in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

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