Game On! - Razer's Tan Min-Liang Aims Beyond Gaming To Conquer New Markets

Game On! – Razer’s Tan Min-Liang Aims Beyond Gaming To Conquer New Markets

Razer’s co-founder and chief executive officer Tan Min-Liang tells how the company has stayed on the cutting edge for the past 15 years.

Tan Min-Liang has been part of the computer gaming community for a long time now, even before he founded the Razer ecosystem of computer gaming hardware. It’s a fact he makes very, very obvious – a smart marketing strategy and a subtle tip of the hat to the millions of gamers around the world, telling them that, yes, it is completely possible to become wildly rich and successful from increasing your stat points or killing zombies!

If you think gaming is just for geeks, consider that it’s now an industry that beats the global movie business for size. Yes, gaming is now the biggest vertical within the media industry. It’s a USD130 billion industry on its own, growing double digits every single year for the past 10 years.

Razer Inc., meanwhile, was established back in 2005 in San Diego, California in the U.S. by Tan. Since then, it has been quite a journey for the brand, securing large investments from Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing and Temasek Holdings – the Singapore government-run holdings company – and growing from just a run-of-the-mill start-up to becoming a commanding, 1,400-strong multi-national corporation spread across 11 countries globally. This includes about 450 people employed at its headquarters just across the causeway in Singapore.

“When I was young, it’s been very clear that I was always been more passionate about gaming than my studies,” reveals Tan with a bit of a mischievous grin. “The moment I was given an opportunity, I would be at my computer gaming! My folks would be screaming at me to get off the computer. But like any other gamer kid, I would always find a way to dupe my parents – even to the extent of using cold water to cool off the computer to make it seem normal so my parents wouldn’t find out I had been gaming!” Tan and his brother would duke it out, playing 1980s games such as Prince of Persia and Castle Wolfenstein, both developed for the Apple II series.

Tan has a sister who’s a doctor, another who’s a lawyer, a brother who’s a well-respected clinical oncologist while he, personally, has a law degree. Now at the age of 42, Tan is estimated to be worth more than a billion U.S. dollars, according to Forbes, but not for practicing law at all. Last year, the Irvine and Singapore-headquartered Razer made USD517.9 million in revenue and it has a market value of USD2.2 billion!

Tan is there every time Razer opens a new store, and the brand now has outlets in Hong Kong, Taipei, San Francisco, Las Vegas and London, among others. At the Manila launch in 2015, Tan handed out pizzas for fans in line. “It was awesome. We’ve still got these, what we like to call Razer AFKs, or ‘Away From Keyboards’, so I get to meet up with the gamers and chat with them,” he was quoted as saying later to the Philippine media.

Riding on its motto ‘For Gamers. By Gamers.’, Razer’s priorities are very high on finding people who are gamers themselves. This is especially so for marketing and product design-related jobs, so that they can understand the psyche of gamers and what they are looking for in a product or software. “In the end, we are all gamers here at Razer. We encourage our employees to channel their passion in gaming through their day-to-day lives. This is how we stay true to our mantra.”

At bigger companies with more organisational layers, people tend to be more departmentalised, but at Razer, everyone is expected to pay attention to everything that happens around them. According to the many accounts of people on Tan’s payroll, he cares about every single detail in the company – be it the products, marketing, social media posts, human resource concerns or even finance.

Creating such a culture at Razer means that inspiration is free-flowing and effectively shared all the time. “Beyond that, ideas for new Razer products are also born out of the valuable feedback from both Team Razer’s esports athletes and gamers around the globe. They are carefully taken into consideration and prototypes are constantly reworked, redesigned and even rejected until a product is considered perfect. We have been known to go through hundreds of variants before arriving at the final outcome because every single aspect of a product is scrutinised down to the last detail,” reveals Tan in an earlier interview with technologies bible Wired.

“The entire design process for all Razer products is done in-house and I am intimately involved at all stages of product development,” he now elaborates further. “Throughout the process, we work with professional gamers to validate and give feedback on prototypes. At the final testing stage before production begins, I will personally do an out-of-the-box review, entirely from a gamers’ perspective, to ensure that the experience for our fans is phenomenal from day one!”

Razer has always been at the forefront of PC gaming paraphernalia, creating some of the most iconic designs in its chosen field. In fact, there are some people out there that call this titan of gaming hardware manufacturing “the Apple of PC gaming.”

Looking at laptops such as the Razer Blade and Razer Blade Stealth – some of the fastest, most capable and lightweight gaming laptops ever designed – that label really isn’t far off! One just needs to look back at the gaming laptop scene just a decade ago, when the gaming machines were as thick as a Big Mac and nobody really wanted one because they also weighed like a backpack full of books to boot!

So yes, Razer is definitely more interested in crafting thin laptops that can pack a punch, rather than those thick desktop replacements that you need a forklift to move around. Not only that, it also supports these laptops with the last word in gaming accessories.

Case in point: the recently launched Razer Hammerhead True Wireless earbuds. “They’re portable, lightweight and provides seamless, high quality sound wherever you go,” quips Tan. “But then, we did pioneer the first gaming mouse and kick started the gaming accessories industry. So, we do feel a sense of pride. What sets Razer apart is that we truly know the demands of gamers out there for two simple reasons: We hear them out, and we’re all gamers ourselves!”

Tan is confident that he and Razer now have the inside track on a gamers’ thought process. He firmly believes that now, more and more people are passionate about the things that come out from Razer, so much so that they’ve become the lifestyle brand for youths and millennials.

“I think this is because we’ve always been authentic, and we’ve always stuck to our roots. Gaming today is a multibillion-dollar industry and virtually all youth play games. I think it’s safe to say that if you’re cool, then Razer is a defining brand for you, like it is for the global youth population. Razer has the largest ecosystem of hardware, software and services that accompanies the gamers’ lifestyle. We are hyper focused in meeting the needs of all gamers!”

Indeed, the brand certainly has a group of very passionate fans popularly referred to as the ‘Cult of Razer’. Tan goes on to elaborate: “They go to the extent of tattooing our logo onto themselves! And they never fail to queue up for our new store openings overnight, rain or shine. I spend most of my time at home playing games. I am also very inspired by fan photos depicting their battle stations so you can be sure that my own gaming setup at home is pretty slick!”

“Yes, people sometimes ask me why I spend so much time on social media chatting with my fans. They fail to realise that it’s simply because Razer has built a community, a family and even a way of life.” According to Tan, community engagement is incredibly important for Razer. The brand has almost 10 million ‘likes’ on Facebook and over 5 million followers on Instagram. “This sort of engagement is a form of spontaneous communication and in today’s world, it’s important to be close to your consumer base in this manner. This is why we’re perceived as being authentic, and our fans see and appreciate that.”

“Looking ahead, I can defi nitely see cloud gaming (online gaming that runs games on remote servers and streams them directly to a user’s device) getting really exciting and we’ve seen the trend coming for a long time now. This has allowed us to be ready with a deep pipeline for mobile gaming.

“VR (Virtual Reality) is cool and I am definitely keeping myself updated on this. But right now, I am hyper focused on fortifying the Razer core gaming ecosystem business of hardware, software and services. We are scaling our new growth initiatives in Razer Fintech, mobile or cloud gaming, THX (Tan acquired this renowned audio tech brand just a few years ago) and esports.”

Razer Fintech has just applied for a digital full banking licence in Singapore, with a focus on the underserved youth and millennial segment. If successful, the firm will build what it calls the ‘world’s first global youth bank’, Razer Youth Bank, with plans to progressively expand into a global banking network.

“Razer is also sponsoring global professional esports teams so they can focus on their training and competitions, or rely on our expertise to expand competitive gaming, like we did at the recent 30th SEA Games in the Philippines, and beyond. We definitely see ourselves as hardcore esports supporters and enablers so that we may help grow the entire completive gaming industry,” says Tan, energised by the prospects that the future holds for this.

Certainly, most gamers are overwhelmingly young, but they also stay gamers as they get older, providing continuous opportunities for “monetisation” in what marketers like to call “stickiness.” It also helps that gaming has come a long way from a niche hobby associated with nerdy kids holed up in their bedrooms, to the multibillion-dollar mainstream industry that it is today, with professional esports on one end of the spectrum to commuters playing mini-games on their smartphones on the MRT at the other.

For instance, now at ChinaJoy, the biggest annual gaming industry event in Shanghai, China, thousands of well-dressed affluent youths crowd the various stands to try out the games and digital entertainment on offer, certainly a display of deep, potential spending power. Worldwide, casinos have also begun retrofitted viewing halls to broadcast esports tournaments where before the same screens beamed NBA basketball games or Formula One racing.

Looking at how things are going now, it certainly seems that Tan Min-Liang and Razer have their bets in the right place. As Tan puts it, “Yes, we started Razer on a hunch, by creating a gaming mouse that gamers would want as part of their arsenal, and the rest is history. And you know what? I am still playing games every chance I get!”

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