Thakral’s investment medley: Beauty, tech, affordable housing and retirement resorts

/ EdgeProp Singapore |
Actress Lily Collins in Emily In Paris wearing the anti-aging and acne-reducing CurrentBody Skin LED Light Therapy Mask (Source: Netflix)
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - The first two minutes of season three, episode one of Netflix’s Emily In Paris — released on Dec 21 — introduced a new star: the CurrentBody Skin LED Light Therapy Mask donned by lead character Emily Cooper (played by actress Lily Collins). The five-second cameo appearance turned the face mask into a cult sensation.
Retailing at $522, it is the top seller on the website of UK beauty devices online retailer CurrentBody. It was ranked among the “11 best- LED face masks of 2023” by InStyle earlier this month. “After the star wore the face mask, it went viral,” says Inderbethal Singh Thakral, CEO of Singapore-listed conglomerate Thakral Corp.
His enthusiasm stems from the business prospects of joint venture partner, CurrentBody. Co-founded in 2009 by Lawrence Newman and Andrew Showman and backed by venture capital firm NVM Private Equity, the Manchester-based CurrentBody and Thakral formed a joint venture in December 2018.
The partners jointly operate a retail e-commerce platform for at-home beauty devices in China. The market was estimated by Qianzhan Industry Research Institute to be worth RMB10 billion in 2021 and is projected to be between RMB25.1 billion ($4.8 billion) and RMB37.4 billion by 2025. “It’s an exciting time,” says Thakral. “[CurrentBody] is performing way beyond our expectations.”
Besides CurrentBody, Thakral has partnerships with other brands to distribute personal care products and at-home beauty devices. These brands include Panasonic, Philips and T3; hair and skincare brand John Masters Organics, as well as fragrance brands like Maison Margiela, Ralph Lauren and Cacharel.
A diversified conglomerate, Thakral is not just a distributor of at-home beauty devices and personal care products but of tech gadgets, such as DJI drones, cameras and accessories. Thakral’s Hong Kong subsidiary has been given exclusive distributorship for DJI in South Asia, including India and the Maldives.
Inderbethal Singh - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Thakral: We have a lot of places to deploy our money. But we think at the moment, our message to our shareholders is that the company is worth a lot more than the share price indicates (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Angel investing

Thakral has also become an angel investor in recent years, taking small stakes in start-ups and co-investing with others. “Angel investing is risky,” he adds. “We pick sectors where we can see steady growth.”
The group took a 4% stake in India-based drone analytics software and services company Skylark Drones in April 2022. “There’s a need for such drone services across many sectors — whether it is agriculture, mining, security or property — and Covid-19 has made it more of a reality,” says Thakral.
Skylark has even created a programme for the tertiary school curriculum in India. Students can graduate as drone pilots and work for Skylark. “The company may still be at the start-up stage,” says Thakral. “But its vision is so interesting that I’ve bought into it.”
Besides Skylark, the group has taken up strategic minority stakes in other start-ups. These include Fraction — a Hong Kong and Bangkok-based fintech start-up that provides a blockchain platform that enables trading, investment and secure ownership of fractions — with an initial focus on real estate. Thakral was part of a group of investors led by East Ventures that raised US$3 million in Fraction’s pre-series A funding in January last year.
In March 2022, Thakral became one of the strategic investors of InvestaX. A digital platform licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), it enables the digital trading of securities and security tokens of global private market deals.
One of Thakral’s earlier investments was in e-commerce service provider Intrepid Group. Thakral co-led the pre-series B funding in August 2020.
In June 2022, Thakral divested its stake in Intrepid Group after the latter was acquired by UK-listed Ascential, an e-commerce optimisation firm, for an initial cash consideration of US$57 million ($76.3 million). Adding deferred consideration over four years (contingent on Intrepid meeting certain financial targets), Ascential’s total purchase price is between US$100 million to US$197 million.
Thakral’s initial payout was US$4 million, and the company expects to receive its portion of the deferred consideration over the next four years.
The first BillionBricks community in the Philippines will have 1,600 net zero houses with utility-scale solar facility on the rooftops (Photo: BillionBricks)

Climate change

Last December, Thakral and French multinational utility company Engie were cornerstone investors in the climate-tech venture BillionBricks. Thakral led the US$2.45 million seed funding round. Co-founded in 2013 by architect Prasoon Kumar and venture capitalist Anurag Srivastava, the Singapore-based BillionBricks’ mission is to address climate change and affordable housing crises.
The first BillionBricks community will be launched in the Philippines, with 1,600 homes over a 16-ha land area. The development will include recreational facilities such as parks, a basketball court and a community hall. According to Kumar, the project will take five years to complete. Construction will start in early 2024, with the first phase of homes to be delivered by the end of 2024 or early 2025.
The seed funding will be used to develop BillionBricks’ capabilities, including “doing a proof of concept”, adds Kumar. The company will also invest in “R&D capabilities” to build Net Zero homes “more efficiently and sustainably”.
Located three hours outside the capital city of Manila, the homes in the first BillionBricks community will be affordable homes with prices capped at PHP2.5 million ($60,701).
Potential homebuyers include restaurant staff, drivers, entry-level Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) professionals and teachers in government schools. “These homebuyers qualify for a government-backed mortgage scheme through which they can purchase these houses,” adds Kumar.
Holcim Award 2021 - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Prasoon Kumar of BillionBricks (left) at the 2021 Global Holcim Awards, where the company won the Commendation Award (Photo: BillionBricks)

‘Impact investing'

The housing development will have utility-scale solar facilities on the rooftops. The project alone can offset over 7,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, according to BillionBricks. Electricity generated from the solar facility could be sold, with part of the proceeds shared with the homeowners. This could in turn be used to help them pay their mortgage, says Kumar.
Each house is designed as a two-storey home, predominantly townhouses built in rows of six- or eight units. The built-up area of each townhouse is 45 sq m (484 sq ft) on average and sits on a land area of 55 to 60 sq m. BillionBricks aims to provide homes its owners can take pride in. “We want to create homes that are dignified,” says Kumar. Since its inception, BillionBricks has won several awards for its mission and designs, including the 2018 and 2020 President’s Design Award (Singapore), the 2021 Global Holcim Commendation Award, the 2018 Smart Fifty Award (India), and the 2022 INDE. Awards (Australia).
Financing BillionBricks is in line with Thakral’s ideology of impact investing, with a focus on climate change. “Our role is to see how we can help them [BillionBricks] accelerate the property side of the business,” says Thakral. “Once the proof of concept is validated, we can bring in more property developers as we see a shortage in affordable housing.”
GemLife Pacific Paradise Pavilion - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
GemLife Pacific Paradise Pavilion (Source: GemLife)

‘Crown jewel’

Thakral’s investments and businesses span several countries — from China to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Australia. To Thakral, the GemLife retirement resorts venture in Australia “is our crown jewel”. He adds: “And it’s turning out to be even more beautiful than we envisaged.”
Set up in 2016, GemLife is held equally between Thakral and the Puljich family, who have more than three decades of experience in the retirement development business.
In May 2022, Thakral confirmed in a Singapore Exchange announcement that GemLife was “in advanced discussions” to be merged with a separate venture held by the Puljich family. GemLife was said to be seeking “interest from potential investors” to take up “strategic stakes” of more than A$1 billion ($914 million) in the group, according to a report by Australian Financial Review.
Living Gems CEO Adrian Puljich was quoted in the Australian website The Weekly Source as saying: “I can confirm that both Living Gems and GemLife are jointly conducting a strategic review of both businesses to merge and bring on board a sizeable strategic investor who is willing to share in the growth story of what will be Australia’s largest pure-play land lease operator, under the GemLife moniker”.
outdoor pool and sun lounges - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The outdoor pool and sun lounges at GemLife Maroochy Quays (Photo: GemLife)
Thakral concedes that GemLife was exploring an M&A then but was at a “premature” stage. “We didn’t want to reduce our stake, so we decided on the status quo,” he says. Since the aborted M&A, the joint venture partners have been “working closer together than we were before.”
GemLife and Living Gem have a total portfolio of 11,000 land lease homes across 43 locations in Australia. They include 10 master-planned retirement resorts across Queensland, northern New South Wales and Victoria. Examples of these retirement resorts include Bribie Island, located off the southern coast of Queensland with 404 completed homes; GemLife Pacific Paradise, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, a gated community where 96 homes were launched in August 2022 and fully sold; and Maroochy Quays on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where construction started late last year on the fourth and final phase of 84 homes, including 14 lakeside sites. GemLife is also said to have lodged plans for a 400-home development in the Moreton Bay area in Queensland late last year.
“We’re not just selling homes, but creating a great environment for the community,” says Thakral. GemLife has a development pipeline of some 7,000 homes, he adds. “The profit has been steadily going up y-o-y.”
Legal Itachibori Building - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The sixth investment property acquired by Thakral in Osaka, Japan, was the nine-storey office building Legal Itachibori Building in 2018 (Photo: Thakral Japan Properties)

Exiting Japan hotels and share buybacks

Since 2014, Thakral has invested in commercial properties in Japan through a pooled investment vehicle, Thakral Japan Properties, where the group is said to hold a 50.6% interest. The first two investments in 2014 were office buildings in Osaka, the Yotsubashi Nakano Building and Yotsubashi East Building.
These were followed by the purchase of Osaka’s Hotel Oaks Reaze Tsukamoto, rebranded as Best Western Osaka Tsukamoto Hotel in 2016. The following year, the R Hotels Inn Osaka Kita Umeda was acquired, followed by the Namba retail redevelopment in Osaka in March 2018. The sixth investment property was the nine-storey office building Legal Itachibori Building, also located in Osaka, followed by the Hotel WBF Namba Motomachi in September 2018. In December 2019, Thakral purchased the 11-storey office building, Umeda Pacific Building, in Osaka.
In March 2020 — amid the pandemic — Thakral divested the Nambanaka Thakral Building, a 6,588 sq ft property and a redevelopment of the former three-storey Namba retail building. The net cash of $5.8 million from the sale was used to pay debts taken up by Thakral Japan Properties to invest in the Umeda Pacific Building in December 2019.
Last August saw Thakral divest its investment in the Hotel WBF Namba Motomachi in Osaka for a price about 2% lower than its original acquisition cost and valuation as of December 2021. The hotel was acquired three years earlier, in September 2018.
Umeda Pacific Building - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Thakral purchased the 11-storey office building, Umeda Pacific Building, in Osaka, in December 2019 (Photo: Thakral Japan Properties)
After the divestment, Thakral’s real estate investment portfolio in Osaka comprises six commercial buildings with a combined area of 430,000 sq ft and two business hotels.
“The divestment of Hotel WBF Namba Motomachi enables the group to exit a non-performing asset at a bearable loss and put the capital to more productive use,” Thakral adds. “We are also looking to sell the remaining two hotels.”
The group intends to reprice its two remaining hotels in Osaka to reflect recent shifts in currency and interest rates. “As a group, we would like to exit the hotel sector in Japan,” says Thakral. “Once we sell, we will have the liquidity to explore new markets and sectors.”
Thakral also started its share buyback programme from Dec 16 last year. Under a mandate by its shareholders at an annual general meeting on April 29, 2022, the company is authorised to repurchase up to 13,086,061 shares, representing 10% of the issued share capital.
On Jan 26, the group purchased 107,400 shares at 61 cents per share. This brings the total number of shares it has repurchased to 2,975,200, representing 2.27% of its issued shares.
“We have a lot of places to deploy our money,” says Thakral. “But we think at the moment, our message to our shareholders is that the company is worth much more than the share price indicates.”

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