As compared to an entrepreneur who creates great stuff, Razer CEO and co-founder Min-Liang Tan is likened to be more of an idol figure by his legion of adoring fans.
From Razer ‘shrines’ set up with solely their products, to tattoos on various parts of fans’ bodies, referring to Razer as a ‘cult’ is not an exaggeration.
And it’s not just from the photos or videos we see online – my colleague and I experienced this first hand, when we attended the talk by Tan at this year’s edition of innovfest unbound.
Right after his firechat session with TechCrunch journalist Jon Russell, the last on his innovfest agenda, Tan was swiftly followed by attendees (us included) as he was ushered out of the venue; all waiting for a chance to have a chat, or take a picture with him.
There’s a big difference between simply building a popular brand and creating such a strong following, and it seems like Tan has succeeded in both.
But what’s the secret tune he’s playing, that, like a snake charmer, is luring gamers and non-gamers alike to pledge their allegiance to the company?
Here’s what we found out.
Always Keeping In Line With The Motto
“Our focus has always been a single line – for gamers, by gamers.”
A phrase commonly mentioned by Tan in his various interviews, the company is run with the same stubborn adherence to creating what gamers want and need.
And this sometimes translates to products that cost more than counterparts in the market – for example, their Razer Blade Stealth gaming laptop costs S$2,999.90 and up.
“Most traditional companies will look at price brackets, then they try to shoehorn a product into the price bracket. We, on the other hand, we know the user, and we know ourselves. I’m designing for myself, and if I want to design for myself, I don’t want a shitty mouse, I don’t want a shitty laptop.”
“I don’t want something designed for a price bracket or a budget, I want to design the very best product out there.”
In catering to the wishes of gamers, this also meant that they needed to take on several not-so profitable projects.
One of the examples he cited was the creation of left-handed mice.
“Sometimes when we build, we don’t look at the cost. [For example] we make left-handed mice – there’s no way ever to recoup the costs of making a left-handed mouse. [But] we did it, because we do it for the gamers. We want to give choices to the gamers, so we don’t have a formal, financial business case for everything we do.”
“If we build something truly great, the gamers will appreciate it.”
Focusing On A Niche, And Then Scaling
“We focused on a niche, we built on the niche, we made sure we built the very best products and services for the niche, then we scale and scale.”
As compared to brands like Apple, Samsung, etc., Razer has always been serving the relatively niche market of gaming-centric products.
While they have since found much success since their inception in 2005, it wasn’t exactly the same situation back when they first started, and were looking for VCs to support their vision.
“There were no industry reports (for gaming peripherals) back then. It wasn’t a segment. In fact, we pretty much invented the segment. But because we were really happy with the work we do, we said, “It’s fine, we [don’t need] VCs to run our business, we are just going to do what we believe in, and we are going to grow.””
Once again, Tan reiterated that this all ties back to their focus on gamers, which “has not changed over the past 12 years”.
“In 2005, hardware was probably the last thing on any investor’s mind. We talk hardware, and they’ll go “Really?”. But we said “To hell, we’re just going to go out there, and build the very best mouse that we’ve got for ourselves as gamers”.”
“Since then, we wanted to do more, so we continued to scale from our niche.”
Finding Talent Anywhere In The World
“[Many founders might say] “we can’t find talent”. Trust me, every founder and company in the world is saying the exact same thing. It could be in London, in Singapore, or even in the Valley.”
For Tan, saying that a particular country lacks talent is ridiculous, and their opening of offices all around the world is “not for business, but it’s really for us to house the talent we can find”.
As compared to ‘shipping’ talent over to a particular country, Tan says that Razer “[goes] to where the talent is, [and then] cultivates the talent”.
With over 1,000 staff and counting in 9 offices around the world, the company is one that, while Singaporean-founded, is internationally present.
Always Speaking Directly To The Customer
“This is something I reiterate over, and over again to every single startup out there. We’ve got the opportunity today, to directly speak to the customer […] which is one of the things I find mind-boggling.”
As compared to dishing out press releases, which makes fans feel very detached from the brand, Razer believes in being present at where the consumers have a large presence at – on social media platforms.
To ensure that their messages always get transmitted to all their users, they have also built their own channel, Razer Insider, where fans can also interact with each other (and Tan) on the forums.
Similarly, Tan isn’t one to shy away from interacting directly with fans, and actively re-shares Razer-related photos and replies to comments on his social media accounts, many times revealing the cheeky side to the founder.
“My own social media account allows me to say stuff that the official account won’t say.”
But more than just dishing out witty replies, Tan reveals that this approach gives him an insight into what fans think, and what they want, and serves as a very effective source of feedback.
“[I can listen to all feedback] in real time, without a single focus group, without the need to do any formal brainstorming or anything like that, because the multitude of ideas that come through every single one of the users is truly, truly up there.”
In the long run, this strategy helps to further strengthen the ties between brand and consumer – and it’s not just one-directional.
“Every time we are able to communicate more with our users and fans, it allows them to understand the design ethos, the engineering philosophies that go into every single one of our products.”
Creating Experiences, Not Just Showrooms
“I think the big thing right now is that retail is dying. […] But ourselves, we are opening stores everywhere, because it provides a direct conduit to the users themselves, and we design them to be areas where we want to be in, exactly like how we design our products.”
Rather than creating another showroom for their products, Tan reveals that their stores are less for sales, but more for letting gamers experience their products.
“Nobody’s really selling anything, it’s what we call a Razer Zone. It’s an area when you can have the best gaming experiences […] we want them to be like a nexus, or a temple of which all gamers can come and gather. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a Razer product or you’re a fan. [We’re just doing] everything for games, by gamers.”
But what about a store in Singapore?
“Hmm, I think we haven’t found the right venue or location [in Singapore yet].”
Tan’s Advice To Startup Founders
And as for advice to startup founders aspiring to achieve the same levels of success, Tan has this to say:
“It doesn’t make a difference how large the company is, it’s all about being passionate about what you do, and what you build. It’s all about making sure that you build a great product all the time, for your users, constantly, and over-deliver on it, and the rest will come.”
“Remember, you are not building your startup for VCs or KPIs, you are building your startup to build something truly, truly great.”
P.S. We managed to get a photo with him at the event!