Sansiri Pcl’s $80-million investment in six international brands last year appears to be just a sign of things to come. With growth in its core real estate business tied to the country’s economic growth, the company is targeting a larger international presence and a bigger lifestyle play to fulfil its ambitions of becoming a global brand.
“We looked for partners that can help Sansiri grow further, partners that we could learn from in terms of hospitality, lifestyle, technology, innovation, and even in terms of new target audience,” says Sansiri president Srettha Thavisin. “Importantly, all six investments are in high-growth sectors in global markets which offer new sources of revenue beyond Thailand.”
Of the announced $80-million investment, around $58 million will go towards US-based boutique hotel chain Standard International and its mobile booking application, One Night. The remaining is earmarked for Tyler Brûlé’s lifestyle magazine Monocle, London’s Airbnb management firm Hostmaker, Asia’s co-working space JustCo and smart indoor farm technology firm Farmshelf.
Do these investments mean a shift away from real estate for the Thai realty firm? Thavisin says Sansiri’s core business over the next five years will continue to be property development but the firm has realised it needs to meet evolving consumer needs by creating a world-class modern living platform.
“Our next step is to provide end-to-end solutions, the total package of next-generation living. That is why we chose to invest in these lifestyle companies; each brings another piece to the puzzle of complete living. It is a natural extension of our property development business,” he added.
Some of these end-to-end solutions that Sansiri plans to launch with its new portfolio companies are already taking shape. Farmshelf, which provides smart indoor farms, is working to integrate its products into Sansiri’s selective residential projects. Similarly, media brand Monocle and the property developer plan to launch a mixed-use residential concept in Bangkok in 2018.
Sansiri also plans to help Hostmaker, which currently operates in London, Rome, Paris and Barcelona, expand to Asia over the next few years. Similar expansion plans are in the offing for the One Night app that targets same-day stays in handpicked hotels worldwide.
Thavisin highlights three focus areas for Sansiri — strategic investment in global lifestyle brands (such as Standard International), developing property technologies in partnership with industry disruptors (think Hostmaker and JustCo), and enhancing influence and audience through premium lifestyle media (Monocle being a prime example).
Last year, Sansiri joined hands with Siam Commercial Bank to launch its corporate venture capital (CVC) arm, Siri Venture. It has earmarked around 1.5 billion baht ($46.3 million) to invest in startups related to property and living technologies in Thailand and Singapore over the next three years.
Commenting on Thai startups, he commended the government’s efforts to build a sustainable startup ecosystem and encourage various parties to participate.
“I think this is very important. However, it would be even better if there are more corporate players coming to have a role in building the foundation too. For startups, I personally don’t agree with “copy and adjust” mentality. I hate to see when a business model proposed is fairly similar to existing ones abroad. I think Thailand’s ecosystem should be built on what we see fit to us, not trying to imitate,” he added.