SINGAPORE: For Mr Ian Ang and Mr Alaric Choo, starting the business of making the dream chair for gamers like themselves has paid off handsomely.
Since bootstrapping their start-up which they founded in 2014 after being disillusioned by the lack of choice and quality of the chairs in the market, the two Singaporean gamers-turned-entrepreneurs are now in the process of bringing their premium, customisable chairs to markets beyond our shores.
The chairs are considered premium as the entry-level Throne chair costs S$399, while its top-end Omega Elite posterior-hugger would set one back S$899.
The high price tag has not put people off though, as Mr Ang said Secretlab has already met its target of “hitting eight-figures” in revenue for this year - which is ahead of schedule. An achievement, considering the two had to forgo drawing a salary in the business’ fledgling months and “live frugally” to get it off the ground, the 25-year-old told Channel NewsAsia in an interview on Friday (Nov 10).
For its achievements, Secretlab was picked to be one of three companies claiming top honours at the 2017 Emerging Enterprise Awards held last month. The annual award celebrates young businesses with annual sales turnover of up to S$20 million and which are outstanding in their respective fields.
But the two local entrepreneurs are not sitting back and waiting for the competition to catch up.
Since extending its business to Malaysia in December 2015, the gaming chair maker has increased its international footprint to include the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) and Australia. It also ships to Southeast Asia markets through its Singapore base.
By end November, Secretlab will also expand to bring its chairs to Canada, Mr Ang revealed, as part of the company’s five-year growth plan.
Looking forward, the company is also looking to enter non-English-speaking markets, although doing so presents another set of challenges. Mr Choo said during the same interview that these include requiring different kinds of expertise, and having to think through how to replicate existing process - which has helped the company stay lean at 15 full-time staff - to these markets.
For example, the company actually sends its designs to various manufacturing partners in China to produce the parts for their chairs, and has a main partner in the same country to assemble them, making it a logical market for Secretlab to have a presence in.
However, in order to be able to attend to potential customers there without having to be physically present would mean having to have Chinese speakers, and video tutorials in Mandarin so people can troubleshoot on their own - processes already available for the English-speaking markets, he explained.
FRUGALITY GROUNDED FROM YOUNG
The 29-year-old co-founder did point out that having to bootstrap the business from the beginning has “steered the company pretty well” and allowed it to grow at its own pace and not get ahead of itself.
“At the beginning, when a customer calls for a fix, and we didn’t want to spend money for someone to go down to attend to the issue, we had to go down in person,” he recounted.
Mr Ang also shared about how his upbringing plays a significant role in the company being frugal.
“When I was younger, my mum would make me key in every expense in an Excel spreadsheet before I can get my allowance, and this was since I was 12,” he said. “This has influenced how the business is run today.”
This guides Secretlab’s perspective towards investments from external parties too. The 25-year-old shared that the company has received “many offers” for investment from venture capitalists and the ilk.
"We think that if you have the confidence in running your company for the long term, why wouldn't you use your own money first?” Mr Ang reasoned, adding that they have been fortunate that they haven’t had the need for extra funding since the company got on solid footing.
That said, he was keen to highlight the help given by IE Singapore as the company looks to safeguard its assets even as it expands internationally.
Secretlab has contracted an international law firm to look into protecting its intellectual property in each of the markets it is in, and this is a “costly endeavour” that costs “upwards of six figures”, he shared.
This expense is partially defrayed by IE Singapore’s Market Readiness Assistance Grant of up to S$20,000 though, Mr Ang added.
“STILL ENJOYING WHAT WE DO”
Asked what the long-term goal is for Secretlab, he said the company’s long-term goal is to “make the best possible chair and have it in front of every computer desk”.
The two entrepreneurs were also relaxed over the prospect of being acquired or listing the business, which they acknowledged is the “in thing” now in the technology arena.
Another gaming peripherals brand Razer, led by Singaporean Tan Min-Liang, is conducting its initial public offering (IPO), which is expected to net the company about HK$3.9 billion (S$680 million) according to the note published on the Hong Kong Exchange.
“We are still enjoying what we do and have a lot more we want to accomplish, (and are not) looking for a quick exit strategy,” Mr Choo said.