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Honestbee CEO departs, opening the way for fresh funding

Interim replacement from cornerstone investor, suggesting much-needed funds will soon be injected to save the startup.

Honestbee CEO and cofounder Joel Sng has stepped away from the business, clearing the way for a fresh round of investment which would ensure the startup’s survival.

His place has been taken by Brian Koo, the grandson of the founder of South Korean industrial giant LG and who oversees US-headquartered investment fund Formation Group, one of the key investors and shareholders in Honestbee. Koo’s role has been termed “interim CEO”.

While Honestbee in an unattributed statement said Sng was “stepping down” as Honestbee CEO the exact circumstances of his departure are less clear.

The Straits Times reported early yesterday that Sng had sent an email to staff signalling his intention to leave the role, while TechCrunch, which has been reporting extensively on Honestbee’s challenges in recent weeks and is well connected with inside sources, said Sng had been fired and had vacated his desk on Tuesday.

DealStreetAsia quoted an email from Sng which it had seen, in which Sng apologised to the Honestbee team: “Over the past year, our business has grown significantly, and operating and scaling across eight countries is not without its challenges. We acknowledge that the board could have provided the company more guidance and we apologise for not doing more.

“…All of you have given blood, tears and sweat to get us this far. These are the moments when we have to be strong. I want all of you to know that I am in this with you, fighting every day beside you. We might be judged by our mistakes, but we will be remembered by our success in the future,” he said.

Earlier reports had suggested concerns about financial decisions and management of the business had proved a major barrier to attracting urgently needed funds to keep the business running, in particular a scheduled funding round in January from a Japanese investor.

Brian Koo took over the role yesterday in a move at least one observer is seeing as a precursor to Formation Group injecting more capital.

Earlier this week, Honestbee confirmed it was shutting its operations in five markets – Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. However a spokesperson in an email to Inside Retail Asia asked to clarify that the company had not decided to exit those markets, rather it had “halted or temporarily suspended operations” in them.  

Regardless of the exact circumstances of Sng’s departure, Koo was magnanimous in recognising the cofounder’s role in establishing the business.

“I would like to express my appreciation for Joel, as he steps away from his current role, for taking Honestbee from zero to one,” he said in a statement.

“I will be working with the executive team to conduct an in-depth review of our business to focus and align our strategic interests across our various geographies and verticals, and take the opportunity to articulate a clear vision for the future of honestbee.”

In the same statement Sng said Koo had been Honestbee’s earliest supporter and a key investor.

“He was also instrumental in helping us define Honestbee’s purpose and mission from day one. I am confident that he would (sic) be able to bring the company to the next level, supported by the newly appointed executive team comprising key leaders of our organisation.”

“We will continue to innovate and improve our business to stay relevant in today’s rapidly changing business environment. We remain committed to making great food experiences accessible to customers across Asia.”

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