BandLab’s Meng Ru Kuok on building a business model around music

Meng Ru Kuok of BandLab Technologies

Singapore-based BandLab Technologies – owned by Meng Ru Kuok, the son of palm-oil billionaire Kuok Khoon Hong – is an odd mix of contemporary and seemingly old school businesses.

On the one hand, there is the BandLab app that allows musicians to collaborate and share their creations, unrestrained by geography. On the other, there are its recent acquisitions – music publications Uncut and NME (New Musical Express), which started all the way back in 1952. They were purchased for a reported £8.5 million (approximately $11.2 million) in May 2019, at a 9x EBITDA from TI Media, according to media industry-focused site Flashes & Flames. BandLab Technologies declined to confirm these figures when asked by DealStreetAsia.

BandLab Technologies turned its attention to NME shortly after giving up on its ambitions of owning Rolling Stone. Meng Ru Kuok first acquired a 49 per cent stake in 2016 for a reported $40 million. Bandlab Technologies was eager to acquire a controlling stake, but it was sold by Rolling Stone owner Wenner Media to US-based conglomerate Penske Media Corporation (PMC) for upwards of $100 million in late 2017. After briefly considering launching a Rolling Stone International product, Bandlab Technologies relinquished its 49 per cent stake in that publication to PMC in January last year.

Many parts of the playbook that Meng Ru Kuok had outlined for Rolling Stone International – including an Asia-specific focus and editorial – are now part of the launch plan for NME in the region.

The company, at present, does not charge for its online media content or for the use of the BandLab app. It won’t be touching the money earned by artists on its recently launched BandLab albums, platform either. Instead, the business model at Bandlab Technologies is at present heavily weighted towards its retail business. The music chain Swee Lee was Meng Ru Kuok’s first acquisition in 2012. Another source of revenue is advertising on its media properties.

But Bandlab Technologies claims to be working to a larger vision – one where its disparate music-linked brands and services will power a unified ecosystem.

DealStreetAsia caught up with Meng Ru Kuok to find the connections that drive the diverse hardware, software and media interests of BandLab Technologies.

Excerpts from the interview:

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.