Like many other business, Rebult Keyboards began its operations during an uncertain time known as the year 2020.
At the time, the co-founders—Tan Kai Hong (Hong) and Tee Kean Meng (Jimmy)—were university students. Out of the blue, they were literally left to their own devices and asked to join classes remotely.
Without the need to commute, they were suddenly left with a lot more free time on their hands.
However, the story of Rebult doesn’t exactly start there. Even before the pandemic, Hong and Jimmy were already into mechanical keyboards. According to them, the community was much smaller back then, which meant sourcing parts was a challenge.
This was made particularly apparent when they were trying to get their hands on a particular switch from TX Keyboards, a South Korean brand. They ended up having to order the films directly from South Korea.
Having selected the cheapest shipping option, which was the untracked air mail, they had to wait for a long time to actually receive the films, resulting in a frustrating custom keyboard-building process.
“We noticed this gap in the market and the idea of starting a company that specialises in vendoring such parts has always lingered in the back of our minds, but we never went through with it until the pandemic came around,” the duo shared to Vulcan Post.
They continued, “Even if it didn’t take off, we would still have gained valuable experience and made lots of great friends from and outside the community along the way.”
Clicking into place
With Hong’s background in computing and Jimmy’s in engineering, the two didn’t exactly have a lot of experience in marketing an ecommerce business.
However, Hong shared that marketing wasn’t actually necessary for Rebult.
This is because mechanical keyboards are a relatively niche hobby. Plus, Hong and Jimmy were already immersed in the small community, which gave them the upper hand, as they were able to pinpoint their target market and what value Rebult would bring as a company.
“We were one of the first to really start bringing in more products and expand the market here, and thus we were one of the few choices available back when we started, and everything basically snowballed from there,” Hong claimed.
“Being involved earlier definitely helped us in our growth as we caught the right timing before the hobby started to reach the masses,” he said. “Word of mouth within the community also proved to be quite powerful.”
Growing the local demand
So, Rebult Keyboards opened its virtual doors with a catalogue of keyboard parts from switches to stabilisers to pretty much any hobby-related accessory.
According to Hong, getting in touch with the manufacturers wasn’t difficult, and once contact was made, things were rather straightforward from there.
“The more challenging part, in this case, is choosing what products and brands to keep in stock,” he continued. “Ultimately, it is decided by whether we like and would personally use the products, as well as market demand.”
Eventually, Rebult started offering group buys and pre-order products as well, mainly for designer keyboard kits and keycaps, which are of higher value.
Such orders would be more complicated, as manufacturers of these items would typically look for just one vendor for each geographical region to ease the logistics and lower overall costs.
Thus, before Rebult joined the scene, there would usually just be one vendor for major group buys in the entire Southeast Asian region. Typically, the vendor would be from Singapore.
While having a vendor from a close neighbouring country was great, Hong said it still wasn’t ideal due to cross-border shipping fees and import taxes.
But because of the comparatively lower demand for such products in Malaysia, it didn’t make much sense for Rebult to be a vendor for international group buys. At least, not in the beginning.
Rather than getting caught up with those group buys, Hong and Jimmy focused on offering more in-stock products such as switches and other accessories. As time passed, the community grew, and the demand for those higher-valued items steadily increased.
With Rebult being one of the larger vendors in Malaysia, they were primed to become dedicated and official vendors for international group buys and designer items.
“Growing the market and showing that we have enough interest here in Malaysia was definitely a key factor in becoming a dedicated vendor just for Malaysia, alongside having a good track record with order fulfilment, customer service, and accountability,” Hong explained.
Shifting gears to exclusive designs
On top of offering a wide catalogue of keyboard accessories, Rebult has also gotten into the business of creating its own accessories.
One particularly eye-catching product is the Durian Artisan Pewter Keycap, made in collaboration with Royal Selangor.
According to Hong, the idea came from a community member who was joking around about the possibility of a pewter keycap.
The thought intrigued the team, though, who began studying the feasibility of such a product.
“We then approached Royal Selangor regarding this and they thought it was interesting as well, and it just went on from there in terms of product development,” Hong recounted. “It was a cool experience working with a company that has such a rich heritage and impact on Malaysian history.”
Before that, Rebult had also released its own Penyu and Harimau switches in 2021. It was the first major product that the team designed as well as the first group buy that they ran by themselves.
“The goal was to create a worthwhile product while having something meaningful behind it,” Hong shared. “That’s where we came up with the idea of the Malaysian wildlife theme, [with] part of the profits going to wildlife conservation efforts.”
This would set the tone for the rest of Rebult’s future projects as the team has now made it an aim to include either a Malaysian flair to their designs or have it go to a charitable cause.
Most recently, Rebult has also released a new batik keyboard pouch, made in collaboration with Sew x Dignity, a part of the Dignity for Children foundation. The batik keyboard pouches are sewn by refugee mothers and the profits go back to the Dignity for Children Foundation.
Controlling the pace
Over the past two or so years, Rebult seems to have grown into an established name among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Yet, Hong and Jimmy have no intention of converting it into their full-time jobs.
“It was never a full-time commitment for us, from when we first started until today,” Hong said. “To us, it is always something that we’re doing on the side, alongside personal projects, work, and studies.”
With that said, Hong did share that Rebult has grown to be a part of their lives now, whereby the co-founders are essentially always working on the brand whenever they have time.
Rather than take Rebult to the extreme and cater to the masses, Hong and Jimmy seem to be content with the current curated and niche nature of their business.
“We are not looking to sell everything and become a one-stop shop that has everything related to custom mechanical keyboards, so we don’t feel the need to compete with [other brands],” Hong explained.
He continued, “We always have the belief that having more choices to choose from is good for the consumer, and we are definitely not looking to monpolise the market and have everything sold at Rebult.”
Instead, Rebult takes pride in offering products that are not yet introduced in Malaysia and products that the co-founders would personally use.
Hong also shared that the team may be creating a custom keyboard coming soon. He hinted that it’s designed in collaboration with a team that has “notable experience in the industrial design and engineering field”.
When asked about their plans in the long run, though, Hong had this to say:
“To be honest, since this is not our full-time job, we don’t really have an end goal for now. We’re just going with the flow and letting passion take us to wherever we should be.”
And so far, it seems like that flow hasn’t led them astray. Despite Rebult only being a part-time commitment for Hong and Jimmy, there’s no doubt that their passion for mechanical keyboards and its community is certainly not half-baked.
- Learn more about Rebult Keyboards here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Rebult Keyboards