Nuffnang founders Cheo Ming Shen and Timothy Tiah embroiled in legal battle

Social media influencer network Nuffnang founders Cheo Ming Shen (pictured left) and Timothy Tiah (pictured right) are currently engaged in legal proceedings against each other.

First reported on The Straits Times, the legal battle sees former CEO Cheo accusing Tiah of “betrayal” and for “engineering” Cheo’s resignation from the company earlier last year.

In a hearing, Cheo claimed Tiah had “conspired” with his uncle Tony Tiah (a shareholder) and father Michael Tiah to remove Cheo following the latter’s resignation as Netccentric’s chief operating officer. Collectively, the Tiahs controlled about 46.69% of the company's shares. Together with their allies, Cheo claimed, the Tiahs controlled about 49.99%, making his removal as CEO "mathematically inevitable".

The alleged incident followed Netccentric’s listing on the Australian Securities Exchange in July 2015, which gave rise to conflicts between Cheo and Tiah on how the company should be run, the report added. This eventually saw Tiah stepping down and allowing Cheo to run the company, while promising not to interfere with Cheo’s leadership for three years – a claim disputed by Tiah. Tiah contended there was no such agreement to guarantee Cheo’s position in the company.

The company then received a letter from the board and its investor Tony Tiah Thee Kian – who is also the younger Tiah’s uncle – demanding the board replacing Cheo as CEO. Tony Tiah had asked the board to hold Cheo responsible for the company’s financial performance following an 80% share price drop, the report said.

As such, Cheo said in court, as reported by ST, that he had “no choice” but to step down to “save himself from the embarrassment of being ousted”. Cheo’s lawsuit alleges Timothy Tiah had participated in his uncle’s call for his removal as CEO. Cheo is now suing for SG$720,000 in salary and allowances he would have received if he had remained as CEO of Netccentric. The hearing also saw four witnesses testifying on Cheo’s behalf, one of which includes renowned local blogger Xiaxue (real name Wendy Cheng) who Nuffnang represents.

Marketing has reached out to Timothy Tiah and Netccentric for comment.

Group revenue for Netccentric’s first half of 2018 was SG$4.22 million, down from SG$5.53 million the year before. According to ASX, the decrease was a result of the company disposing its interests in Nuffnang Australia, Singapore-based Ripplewerkz and AroiMakMak in the second half of 2017. As of January 2018, the group also disposed its interests in Nuffnang UK in January 2018.

In the second half of 2017, Nuffnang Singapore was also down-sized in terms of operations, while China market operations were ceased. These businesses except for Nuffnang Singapore netted total revenue of SG$1.69 million in H1 2017.

In terms of markets, the group’s Malaysia operations garnered the company SG$2.23 million in revenue, up from SG$1.62 million the year before. Indonesia garnered the group SG$192,046 in revenue, up from SG$61,362. Singapore meanwhile saw a drop to SG$581,859, down from SG$1,294,451.

In January last year, Cheo stepped down from the CEO role effective immediately, remaining on the board of Netccentric as non-executive director. This saw regional director Yang Huiwen will act as interim CEO and the eventual appointment of Desmond Kiu as Cheo’s successor in March 2017, according to an ASX listing. Prior to the move, Kiu was CEO of Sashimi Asia – the group’s subsidiary. The same listing said Kiu had helped the company achieve “record revenue growth” of 96% and was the most profitable component of the group during its 2016 financial year. Kiu’s CEO contract was most recently extended to 31 December 2018.

Cheo co-founded Netccentric in August 2006 with Tiah, who left the company in November 2016. During his tenure, Cheo was responsible for pioneering the first core suite of businesses for the company and boosting Netccentric’s position as a global market leader for social media influencers in the region. After leaving Nuffnang, Tiah made a foray into co-working spaces in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, together with his wife Audrey Ooi.