Start-up Your Engines: Patrick Grove
One of Southeast Asia’s most respected start-up entrepreneurs and investors, Patrick Grove is best known for his involvement in a string of highly successful online businesses. So when this IPO panjandrum recently revealed that he’d acquired ultra-luxe Formula 1 afterparty organisation, Amber Lounge, it came as a bit of a surprise. Why the abrupt switch from mega-exit digital dealings, to decadent dance-all-night debauchery?
As it turns out, the move wasn’t so sudden. “We actually invested in Amber Lounge five years ago,” Patrick explains, perched in the presidential suite at the Fullerton Bay, official hotel of this year’s Singapore soirées, taking place October 1 and 2 at the adjoining Clifford Pier. He says he actively pursued a partnership with Amber Lounge because he’d attended the events, had a fantastic time, and believed in the brand’s offering — but saw the potential for bigger things.
“Nobody pitched Amber to me,” he says. “I’m just very passionate about the product.” As an entrepreneur or investor, Patrick reckons that’s the key to success. “There have been times where I’ve been involved in businesses, when I wasn’t crazy about the product, but I thought they’d be a good opportunity. That just doesn’t work.” If you back a venture purely because the numbers look promising, but you have no passion for the product, he says, “You’ll just be dumb money” — an investor offering zero value beyond the dollars in their pocket.
When Amber Lounge founder Sonia Irvine (sister of ’90s Ferrari F1 race-driver, Eddie) decided to retire during the party-prohibitive depths of the pandemic, Patrick bought the remainder of the business. No stranger to the nighttime economy, Singaporean-Australian Patrick says he supported himself during his studies at Sydney University by working as a club promoter. Today, however, it’s in approaching Amber Lounge from the perspective of an archetypal consumer that Patrick feels he brings most to the table.
“I’ve always had this ‘work hard, play hard’ mindset. In my twenties I probably went out six nights a week. In my thirties, it was four nights a week. And now in my forties it’s maybe, like, one night a month,” Patrick says. He believes there are plenty of people in his demographic who, when they do have a big night out, “It’s all about quality, as opposed to quantity… It’s gotta be amazing, because you’re probably not going out again for another two months.”
In Patrick’s experience, ’til now, affluent individuals of this sort have been insufficiently catered to —particularly those who like to mix top-tier competition and bottle-popping hedonism.
“I go to a lot of big sporting events around the world: the Champions League final, the Olympics, the World Cup, Grands Prix and so on. And the only one that has a good afterparty is F1, with Amber Lounge. Everywhere else, it’s just the local bars and nightclubs, local restaurants. You’re not sure you’ll get in, you’re not certain of the quality, the crowd,” Patrick explains. With Amber Lounge, meanwhile, “You make the booking, you know what you’re going to get. You know it’s going to be exclusive. You know you’re going to meet likeminded people. It’s the trusted afterparty brand.”
Entrepreneurship is all about solving a problem, and this is the problem Patrick is confident Amber Lounge can overcome: the dire lack of consistent, expertly executed afterparties at the world’s biggest sporting events.
“The vision was always to take Amber Lounge beyond F1,” he says. “It could be attached to the World Cup, an NBA or NFL final — wherever there’s a lot of people who go to watch a great sporting spectacle, but where right now, there’s nothing to do after the event.” The first step in this growth will be a series of Amber Lounge events at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.
In building the team to expand Amber Lounge beyond Formula 1, Patrick heeded lessons from his previous start-up experiences. “When I looked at all the ventures that I was involved with that really worked, it was where either myself and the co-founder or the CEO, we would be the number one customer of the product,” he says. “If you’re the number one customer of the product, then you know what to tweak, you know when it’s not working, you know when it’s getting boring, and you know what to do to make it right.”
Consequently, the C-suite team he’s recruited to run the show at Amber Lounge is, in Patrick’s view, “very representative of the brand.” As CEO, he brought aboard Cher Ng, the former managing director, owner and cofounder of Zouk nightclub Kuala Lumpur. As group managing director, Patrick engaged Jeannette Tan, the creative mind behind smashingly successful (and bravely boundary-pushing) Singapore F1 parties Boudoir Blanc and Boudoir Noire.
“I wanted to get the dream team on board, and bring them in as partners, not just employees — they’re partners in the business now,” Patrick says. “We’re going on this journey together.”
He’s supremely confident in the crew captaining Amber Lounge on that trip, charting new horizons. “I look at the team we’ve put together, and to me, it’s the perfect team to build this business. Because they’re the perfect customers, they understand exactly what the customer wants.”
That’s the ultimate secret to establishing a successful business, Patrick says. “Just focus on getting the right person in place to do the job. And then everything will figure itself out.”
For information on upcoming Amber Lounge events, visit the website.