By Karamjit Singh | Mar 24, 2017
  • Unknown to most, idea for Digital Free Trade Zone came from Catcha Group
  • Aiming to build the centre of gravity for Southeast Asia’s internet economy

IT TAKES a lot to outshine Jack Ma, Richard Branson and Usain Bolt, all of whom appeared in Kuala Lumpur this week for the Global Transformation Forum. But I think the news that Patrick Grove, founder of Catcha Group and one of the leading internet entrepreneurs in Asia, is going into property in a big way, probably did eclipse them and shake the earth.

It’s the ultimate pivot for the man who likes to advice startups to pivot regularly. And conversely, pivoting is the one thing Grove will find he cannot do easily in the heavily regulated property world. And where concepts like AB testing are alien.

Still, it is going to be fascinating to see how Grove will apply his digital nous to how his maiden property project, the Kuala Lumpur Internet City (KLIC) will be designed, built and marketed.

While details about KLIC are still sketchy, one thing we know is that Grove has choose to target as customers, a market he knows like the back of his hand and has immense credibility – the startup ecosystem. Be they incubators, shared workspaces, venture firms, startups, global internet companies etc, Grove wants to bring them all together under his roof.

You could say it’s his vision of how an ideal internet ecosystem should function.

And when I asked Grove what benefit could his iflix, which is already in a central location in KL, have by moving to Bandar Malaysia, he had this to say: “Companies like iflix will be within close proximity of other internet companies (a one minute bike ride from each other). KLIC aims to attract top talent to facilitate knowledge transfer via internet mentoring programs from expats that are based there. The development aims to house at least 1,000 internet-related companies as tenants and become a hub to 25,000 tech professionals.”

Because Grove doesn’t believe in doing things small, his debut foray into the property business, albeit wrapped in the cloak of the digital economy, is for a project worth US$1.1 billion (RM5 billion) in GDV (Gross Development Value) with five million sq ft of space.

But naturally, Grove won’t be getting his hands dirty doing any actual building and digging. Instead, as the master developer, he will be relying on developers (not to be confused with coders). As to who they are, we will all have to wait a few months.

One of Grove’s motivations in creating KLIC was because of the dispersed nature of work spaces in KL. “That is why we saw a reason to create KLIC,” he says. “It aims to bring all the local entrepreneurs in close proximity together with the global tech giants and regional leaders along with venture capitalists, incubators and accelerators – a super charged tech ecosystem,” he says.

Meanwhile, I am personally looking forward to the photo op at the ground breaking – Grove in yellow hard hat and shovel in hand? One for the ages.

As exciting as it is that Grove is branching out into the brick and mortar world, let’s not forget that Grove’s KLIC will be one component of Malaysia’s grand Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ), yet another component in the nation’s drive in becoming a digital economy.

I have already been asked what I think of it, and I think this has to be, along with Singapore’s Smart Nation drive, the most exciting digital economy development in Southeast Asia. Not that there was any doubt, but Malaysia has just sent a loud message to the world that it aims to be a serious player in the Digital Economy.

And while the headlines around this initiate have been around Jack Ma and Alibaba anchoring the DFTZ, the idea actually came from Grove himself. “At last year’s Wild Digital conference where Prime Minister Najib Razak appeared for a fireside chat, we had a quick discussion beforehand and he asked what could Catcha do to further help Malaysia’s digital economy ambitions. I told him to give me 30 days and we came back with a bunch of ideas – one of which was the DFTZ,” says Grove.

And with that interesting fact, I wish you a restful weekend and a productive week after.