SEAT OF POWER
All Ian Ang wanted to do was to design the best chair for gamers. That hot seat has him helming a company now valued in the millions.
Ian Ang talks really fast. It fits his image of a boyish, 28-year-old CEO absorbed in his first business – and with a mind that works even faster than his mouth. But that’s the fun of talking to a millennial leading millennials. There’s no fear of the unknown – and no time to dwell on past successes and failures. The future is everything – and the one he’s working towards, he says, “has a Secretlab chair in front of almost every single PC in the world”.
However, Ang and Alaric Choo, his business partner, didn’t start Secretlab to make office chairs. Avid gamers, they wanted to build a chair comfortable enough for gamers to keep playing for hours.
It was a lofty goal as the target market was a demographic once associated with non-legitimate careers. And the fact that Ang’s parents basically went into conniptions when he dropped out of college to pursue this passion project was not entirely surprising. But what was astonishing was Secretlab’s rapid rise to success.
After its founding in 2014, it took six to eight months to create the first prototype. The initial run sold out within a week, and reviewers raved about the ergonomic design, the patent-pending Cold-Cure foam with air pockets that provide long-term comfort, adjustable armrests (four directions) and PU-coated wheels for smoother, less damaging gliding on hard floors, among other features.
Today, Secretlab has shipped chairs to over 300,000 customers in over 50 countries, with Singapore accounting for less than 5 per cent of the sales, the majority owing to its popularity in the West. The company’s position as the official gaming chair partner for The International 2019 – a Dota 2 e-sports world championship with a prize pool of over US$34 million (S$46 million) – only cemented its reputation as the must-have seat for the digital generation. Indeed, just last month, it was announced that reigning European e-sports champion G2 Esports would partner Secretlab.
What’s more, “I’m always getting texts from friends saying they’ve seen our chairs in the doctor’s office. I’ve also seen lawyers, start-ups and bank executives buying them. It’s quite insane,” Ang says. Well, when you consider how much thought and research go into them, it isn’t all that crazy.
“Our current 2020 Series took more than three years of R&D. We worked with scientists to come up with tests to ‘abuse’ our chairs such as putting them in humidity chambers and having a robotic arm rub the materials 200,000 times. Based on our original vision, this is as close to the perfect gaming chair as we have gotten.”
But Ang stresses that the vision has evolved. While he can’t reveal details, the recent investment by Temasek subsidiary Heliconia Capital Management – which valued Secretlab at between $200 million and $300 million – will help make future, “more visionary” products a reality.
Being a gamer didn’t just give Ang a business idea, it also taught him life skills. “In Massively Multiplayer Online games like World of Warcraft, there are real economies, so I began to learn the concepts of supply and demand when I was 12 to 15 years old. Those games have guilds and clans, and being a leader is not unlike being a CEO. I observed how true leaders didn’t just kick out members, but tried to solve issues and set guidelines for the future.”
Sounds like he got a lot more than he bargained for when he sat down to kill some monsters back then.
Ian Ang’s passion drove him to build chairs that have answered gamers’ wish lists, but he is not letting up in working towards making “more visionary” products a reality.
I recently picked up tennis again after my head of product design suggested we play during a business trip to China. Because I’m competitive, I started playing daily but have since scaled back to twice a week.
02 FAVE SPACE
I still game at weekends but, once in a while, we have a LAN party where we shut ourselves off from the world to play a newly released game. It’s one of my favourite moments in life.
03 MOOD FOR WORK
I have S.T.A.Y. from the Interstellar soundtrack on loop. My brain is always receiving information and this helps me focus. It has millions of views on Youtube. I’m pretty sure I account for at least 5,000.
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