Former employees that we spoke to, said one thing is clear throughout iflix’s turbulent journey. The goal is to IPO the business—straight out of Grove’s playbook, who is widely hailed as the king of tech IPOs in Southeast Asia.
According to one former employee, IPO talks have been revived and the startup might go public by first half of 2020, but with a “materially lower valuation” than the US$1 billion valuation that iflix previously sought when it planned to go public in 2019. The startup will most likely be valued between US$200 million and US$300 million, which is likely to be five to six times of the company’s revenue. An investor familiar with iflix’s operations claimed, however, that the IPO has been shelved due to underwhelming interest from underwriters. The investor requested anonymity as he is not authorised to speak with the media.
The mixed messages go to show the uncertainty and chaos that are ongoing within iflix.
Catching businesses since 2004
Grove established Catcha Group after the dotcom crash in the late 1990s. Besides listing companies on the ASX, he also listed digital media publication REV Asia Bhd on Bursa Malaysia in 2011, before exiting the company to legacy media firm Media Prima in May 2017 for $24 million to bulk up the latter’s digital offerings.
iflix is not alone in struggling with plans to go public. Southeast Asia’s largest property classified business PropertyGuru has also halted its listing on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), citing volatile market conditions. (We wrote about why the IPO was cancelled.)
In all fairness, iflix is not a company without potential. Despite its copycat model, a former employee pointed out to we that iflix was the first VOD startup to launch the “download and watch offline” feature in late 2015, before US streaming giant Netflix did the same a year later.
However, unlike its rivals, iflix does not have a safety net to fall back on. It is not backed by deep-pocketed investors, meaning it constantly has to be in a fundraising mode until it breaks even. For instance, Hooq is a joint venture between Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Singapore-based telco giant Singtel, while Viu is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based conglomerate PCCW Media.
Hence, iflix falls back on the one thing Catcha Group does best: performative entrepreneurship. Former employees said investors came for Grove, who typically leads fundraising efforts, selling the explosive growth story of emerging markets like Southeast Asia and Africa. The moneymen lapped it up without asking too many hard questions.
But in the wake of WeWork’s botched IPO, which signals the era of growth-at-all-cost is over, potential investors started to shy away from iflix and are reluctant to inject cash into the company.
In a post-WeWork era, iflix may be able to steer its direction towards building a sustainable business by drilling down on its local and regional content offerings. Beyond consolidation among rivals, another possible scenario would be selling the business to Chinese streaming giants such as iQiyi, Alibaba-owned Youku, or Tencent Video to expand their businesses across Southeast Asia.