M17 Co-founder Joseph Phua Steps Down As CEO To Be Replaced By Hirofumi Ono

Joseph Phua, Co-founder and CEO of M17 Entertainment Limited, the operator of Japan’s leading live streaming platform 17LIVE, will step down as the Group CEO and assume the role of non-executive Chairman, while Hirofumi Ono, previously the CEO of M17 Media Japan, will replace him, according to a press release and blog post by Phua yesterday.

The leadership transition was in the works for over a year, and the decision was taken after much deliberation with Ono and the shareholders, and a close observation of Ono’s leadership skills and capabilities, Phua wrote in his blog post.

Phua founded dating app Paktor in 2013, which acquired a controlling stake in livestreaming platform 17 Media in December 2016 and Phua took over as the CEO of 17 Media. In April next year, the 2 companies merged to create a new company, M17 Entertainment, with shares from both Paktor and M17.

In May this year, M17 Entertainment sold Paktor and its dating assets to Kollective Ventures, for an undisclosed amount to focus on the livestreaming market in Asia and other markets.

“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,” Phua wrote in his post.

Phua met Ono in 2017 when he was looking for potential partners to expand M17 into Japan, which is now 17LIVE’s largest market. Prior to joining M17, Ono was was part of the founding team of CyberAgent Mobile, later went on to found Infinity Ventures in 2008, Groupon Japan in 2010, and Jimoty in 2011.

In the press release, Phua said, “Hiro built our Japan business from scratch in 2017. Japan is now our largest revenue contributor while M17 is by far the dominant live streaming player in the market. I am looking forward to M17’s continued growth, both in Japan and internationally, under Hiro’s leadership.”

Phua will continue to spend time working with the management team through his new role, and will prioritize spending time with his family, he wrote.

M17 has expanded from its beginnings in Taiwan to now include Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, India, the United States and the Middle East.

The company now has a suite of interactive platforms including its flagship app 17LIVE, dubbed Livit in English speaking markets, artist agency Unicorn Entertainment, Wave, which features talented voices without revealing faces, livestreaming shopping platforms HandsUP and FBBuy, and Asia Pacific-focused livestreaming platform Meme Live.

Under Phua’s leadership, the Group had raised a total of over $160 million in capital financing between Paktor and M17, including its latest fundraise of $26.5 million in May. In 2018, the company had filed for an Initial Public Offering at the New York Stock Exchange, only to abort the plan later.

As of August 2020, M17 claims to have over 54 million registered users, while Phua’s post said the company has over 30,000 content creators who produce over 500,000 hours of content every month.

The company generated less than $1.07 billion in revenue for FY2017, according to its SEC filing, while it grew 70% between May of 2018 and 2019, and achieved profitability.

Ono said, “I always strongly believed that the future of the live streaming industry would be an exciting one. In the past three years, under Joseph’s strong leadership, M17 has established itself as the No.1 live streaming platform in Japan, across much of Asia and continues to expand its business globally.”

“We live today in an exciting time thanks to technologies that make live communications possible. Our company’s mission statement of ‘Empower Artists, Entertain the World’ reflects our determination to use these technologies to provide a world-wide stage to our users so they are both empowered and entertained,” he added.

Header Image courtesy of M17 Entertainment

In picture: M17’s new CEO Hirofumi Ono

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