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Playing The Long Game

Gaming enthusiasts Ian Ang and Alaric Choo co-founded Secretlab out of necessity, and aim to build a sustainable business capable of serving more customers’ needs.

By Leona Ang      4 January 2019

Lessons From Gaming

Developing the chair was just the beginning. Growing it into a viable business was the next big step. Thankfully, Ian and Alaric were prepared. “We’ve been gamers since we were five years old, and that helps build my confidence and shape my business thinking,” says Alaric. “Through gaming, I picked up skills I wouldn’t otherwise have. Playing games at a high level, we spend more time strategising and planning than playing. Finding the most efficient way often requires you to think outside of the box. The same thing can be said about running a business.” Ian echoes those sentiments. “I started playing Runescape [an online multiplayer game] at 13. That’s where I learnt economic fundamentals such as demand and supply, how a marketplace works, the concept of economies of scale, and more. These lessons came in handy when handling our business.”

One thing the pair is adamant about their business is offering a robust after-sales service, drawing from Ian’s unpleasant chair-shopping experience. “That experience led to the key mantra for Secretlab today,” he says. “Beyond making sure that our chairs are of top quality, we also offer nothing less than world-class customer service, which guarantees replies from our in-house staff within 24 working hours to all warranty/sales inquiries, no matter where the customer is.”

Secretlab also focused on direct-to customer sales, so that it could interact with customers directly. While there may be competition, Secretlab has stood out for its excellent customer service. With this strategy working, it now sells to over 50 countries, home to more than 100,000 customers.

Once rival gamers, Ian Ang (right) and Alaric Choo now head a fast-growing gaming and office chair business.

Growth And The Future

With the business taking off, the challenge is to maintain a good level of quality and meet demands. The firm’s biggest hurdle this year was to scale up their production to meet orders. Being at the forefront of a niche manufacturing industry, there isn’t an established supply chain for the chairs yet, which makes it a source of stress. “Our supply chain is new,” says Ian. “Our main factory has sub-factories that are their suppliers. Those suppliers have their suppliers. If anything goes wrong for anyone on the chain, our whole production gets messed up.” So far, the founders and their team have taken everything in stride, tackling each challenge as it comes.

In the recent Black Friday sale, Secretlab staff put in over 100-hour work weeks leading to the sale weekend. It might have been an intense period, but it was a worthwhile effort. Secretlab sold over 15,000 chairs, earning a whopping $7 million during the late November weekend. As has been noted, Secretlab chairs stand out because of their quality, attention to detail, and the company’s personable customer service – and Ian and Alaric intend to keep it that way. “We started out as customers ourselves, and understood what it was like being frustrated with products that didn’t meet quality expectations and user experience,” says Ian.

“This is why Alaric and I take pride and care in every material and design decision on our products.” The duo are also willing to adapt. They listen to feedback from customers and make changes quickly. “As an SME, our best advantage is our agility. Our first products were great, and they are now better and improved,” says Ian. “This year, we’re going to get even better.”

The Long Game

Secretlab is planning to launch new products in 2019. It recently announced its global partnership with Cloud9, voted the esports organisation of 2018, and is preparing for more tie-ups. When the founders do have some rare downtime, they try to accommodate their first love: gaming. They would hold LAN parties at Ian’s home – with Secretlab chairs, of course. They do admit that these precious gaming sessions are getting less frequent. Most of their free time now is spent planning next steps and new launches for the company. “We aren’t in this for the short game,” says Ian. “We are out to create a sustainable business.”

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