With Groupon Indonesia and Malaysia already under the Fave umbrella, Joel Neoh now welcomes Groupon Singapore into the fold.

Joel-2.jpg (original size)

“Why” is a simple 3-letter word that carries a lot of weight for Joel Neoh, the founder of Fave, Southeast Asia’s online-to-offline (O2O) e-commerce platform.

From the ‘why’ of his everyday actions, to the ‘why’ of his company’s existence, the former CEO and founder of Groupon Malaysia isn’t one to slap together a quick, marketing-friendly tagline and move along to making money -- because the ‘why’ is of utmost importance to him.

After leaving Groupon Malaysia in 2015, Joel has been on a mission and – in some ways, at least to the average onlooker – coming full circle by acquiring several Groupon businesses throughout the region, and bringing them under the Fave umbrella. With Groupon Indonesia and Malaysia already in the fold, Fave Group (formerly KFit Group) is now acquiring Groupon Singapore.

I caught up with Joel very recently, to the get to the heart of the question that bothered me as much as it did him. 

Why are you now acquiring Groupon Singapore?

Our ambition has always been to build a regional company across South East Asia, and if you look at the key countries – Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are the largest countries in terms of GDP and market readiness, followed by Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

So these three countries are important to test out our model. After acquiring Indonesia and Malaysia, Singapore is the next natural step; it gives us the opportunity to leapfrog on to a bigger scale.

Were these acquisitions something you had always planned for? 

When I left Groupon, I was still close to the people there, but I went off to start KFit, the fitness-commerce platform. We built KFit and the platform for a year, up until April of 2016, but I always maintained my relationship with Groupon.

It was around that time that, as we were talking, they asked me to explore the Indonesian business.

This is something they have been meaning to do for a while – explore the markets where they can be an investor instead of an operator, and in this region, we shared their aspirations.

So we went into Indonesia and we expanded from fitness to other categories, before we bought the Groupon business in Indonesia. That trial went very well, so we moved into Malaysia – step by step.

Groupon will continue that role as investor while we will be the operators.

Do you feel like you have come full circle? 

I’ve never really thought about it that way, because the situation isn’t the same. For me, I’m focused on the two ways that I see it – internally and externally.

Externally, this space is very large – a platform that improves the lives and convenience of people is very large. I think in that respect we’ve only covered 1%, there are still a lot more things to do. So, now we’ve started and at a good pace too.

Internally, I see it as a good step up. The larger the challenge is, the more you have to step up. We have some colleagues who have come a long way from our Groupon days, and now they have another chance to step up and challenge themselves; and I love seeing that – young people seizing the opportunities to better themselves.

What comes next? 

Firstly, we have to migrate all Groupon businesses into Fave; that’s already underway.

Secondly, we need to define the future of Fave. Acquiring this business (Groupon Singapore) is just the start; we now have to define who we are, and why we do what we do, to have a clear vision of the future.

I think, nobody thinks about the ‘why’ – the mission – on a day-to-day basis. We get caught up in the ‘what we do’ and this is ‘how we do it’ and we do it again and again and again. But the ‘why’ is what will help us build a successful business for 50 to 100 years. So that’s something we need to define.

In an ideal world, a few years from now, Fave should cover a broader spectrum of things – to go to a gym, spa, or restaurant – you should be able to use Fave conveniently. So hopefully, that’s what it should be.

Looking for other tech entrepreneurs? Here's a Bright Young Thing: Cheryl Yeoh, the former founding CEO fo MaGIC)