Here Comes A New Challenger

by Valerie Chee (15S07B), Melissa Choi (16S06B), Esther Gao Yanxin (16S03N), Collin Teo (16S06Q), Dominique Zhao (16S05A)


One of two masterminds behind the creation of Razer, the world-leading company  for  gamer products,  Tan Min-Liang  is  a  man  who  can  proudly claim to have excelled at something he truly  loves.  Ever  since  he  daringly  quit  his  job  in  law  and ventured  into  entrepreneurship,  Min-Liang  has  attained worldwide  fame  through  unbridled  creativity  and  sheer passion for his work.

Now with annual sales rumoured to be in the triple-digit millions and the brand’s snake logo eternalised in the form of tattoos on the skins of hundreds of devoted fans, the company has achieved unprecedented success in the gaming industry. What  made  Razer  the  gaming  hardware  powerhouse  it  is today?  What  impels  such  enduring  dedication  to  a  brand? Rafflesian Times speaks to Tan Min-Liang, co-founder, CEO and Creative Director of Razer Inc., to find out.


T H E   M A N

Far  from  being  the  exacting,  super-formal  CEO  one  might expect  as  the  head  of  a multinational,  globally  renowned company,  Min-Liang  proved,  during  our  interview,  to  be  a fun-loving entrepreneur who dared to challenge the status quo. For him, ‘every day is an exciting challenge’ and ‘is so much fun’. It’s no wonder that he loves what he does, so much so that he does not even consider it work.

Min-Liang’s passion for competitive gaming started when was  a  kid,  having  ‘played  a  lot  of  Quake  and  Unreal Tournament’. At the age of six, he and his older brother were exposed to the world of gaming and spent all their spare time there. Ironically, he was rejected by the computer club in RI, but assures us that he is not bitter, albeit remembering this even twenty years later.

Even in his Junior College days, he exemplified a key trait of an entrepreneur – not giving up in the face of setbacks. ‘My results at the end of my first year was F-O-O-D  (equivalent to USSD today) – FOOD, so I can remember that, and I had to argue my way to be promoted to J2 – but that was pretty funny.’ Eventually, he made colossal improvements and bagged 4A‘s for his A Levels.

Later, Min-Liang graduated from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law in 1995 and practised as a lawyer for  a  couple  of  years,  before  making  the  daring  switch  to entrepreneurship. Not long after, he designed and tested the world’s first gaming mouse, the Razer Boomslang, which was launched in 1998, taking the world of high-performance gaming by storm. The company’s formative years in the early 2000s were punctuated with sizeable struggles – a blur of designing products he wanted to use and selling them directly to gamers online. In assembling his team, he disavowed focus groups or market  research,  instead  assembling  it  like  a  massive multiplayer online (MMO) game.

In 2005, after conquering the odds of the burst of the bubble and repeated factory shutdowns, Min-Liang took the helm as CEO of Razer with his American friend Robert Krakoff as President. This was just the beginning of his success story. As recognition for his revolutionary work and originality, Business Insider named him one of ‘The 25 Most Creative People in Tech’ in 2013. And in March this year, he  became  a  Board  member  on  the  Intellectual  Property Office of Singapore.

A stark contrast to his seemingly spontaneous, off-the- cuff personality, Min-Liang’s role supervising and directing the  design  and  development  of  all  products  requires meticulous attention to detail and a degree of control that few can pull off. He declares that till today, ‘Every single outward facing design, whether it’s a poster in Poland, a retail shelf in the US, or even a little card, I still approve every single thing. I’m a bit of a control freak.’ According to him, even their name cards (pictured right) ‘are printed in specific places in world’, and ‘with the same card stock.’

Min-Liang’s combination of audacity and unconventionality is unique – he tells us that he still doesn’t know many people who  have  switched  from  professional  careers  to  more unorthodox ones. Even more laudable is the fact that he fully respects  the  choices  his  peers  make.  He  professes,  ‘I  don’t believe that there’s a “path less travelled”, as everybody chooses their  own  path.’  To  him,  the  most  important  thing  is  that ‘whatever path that you’re in, you do well in it.’ In fact, for many of his RI classmates, ‘the traits that they had back in the day are making them incredible at what they do today.’

E M I N E N C E   O F   T H E  T R I P L E – H E A D E D   S N A K E

‘I think we’ve created a phenomenal brand, today  we’re  the  leading  brand  for  gamers, everywhere in the world… you don’t need to show  them  [gamers]  the  logo  –  you  show them the black and bright green accent, they go like “Hey, that’s a Razer thing!”’

As  Razer  contends  for  international  recognition,  the proliferation  of  its  distinctive  logo  has  served  to  showcase exactly  how  much  the  company  has  grown  over  the  years. Min-Liang  attributes  ‘only  constant  reinforcement  and adherence to the company philosophy’ to building the brand of the company, and ultimately amassing a global following. He remarks that ‘for us [Razer], the vision has always been pretty straightforward – we focus on the gamers. “For gamers, by gamers”. That single vision has really helped us.’

‘Many of them [other gaming companies] have tried to replicate  what  we  do.  They  can’t  replicate  cool.  I  think  it’s because of our focus and that we are gamers ourselves.’

Min-Liang further claims that authenticity has turned out to  be  the  prevailing  quality  and  winning  attribute  of  the company. Indeed, it has allowed the team at Razer to put themselves into the shoes of the gamer in order to perfect and optimise what consumers get to enjoy and experience.

He concurs with pride, ‘We’re deeply, incredibly passionate about the products we make. And it’s not just about products, it’s about the packaging. It’s not just about the packaging, it’s about when you read the Press that we do, or the marketing, or even when you step into the office. Every single thing has a very unified approach and vision.’

When questioned on how exactly he manages to bring this authenticity across to such a global audience, Min-Liang cites an obstinate refusal to cut corners. ‘For us, we have literally, for example, destroyed hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars of product, even when the smallest items are not up to par… When the designers or new engineers come in, they go like “What’s the big deal about it? Nobody’s going to see it.” And our point is, we know it, and we’re going to nuke $750,000 worth of products because we didn’t do this well.’

B E H I N D   T H E   S C E N E S

In  the  past,  a  main  priority  for  Tan  Min-Liang  used  to  be vetting the hiring processes for the company. However, he conceded with a mild sense of disappointment that in recent years,  the  process  of  painstakingly  vetting  every  single candidate  has  turned  out  to  be,  simply  put,  too  time-consuming. Despite this, Min-Liang still strives to source for the best, strikingly unique talents to join his company.

Future  Razer  aspirants,  take  note.  He  listed  ‘hunger, passion, and of course, smarts in what they do’ as the top qualities that stand out amongst future members of the Razer team. Notably, Min-Liang has even offered jobs to independent creatives that simply did ‘something cool on Youtube’. Hiring creative, self-motivated individuals has added dynamism to the company’s talent pool, taking it to greater heights.

Aside from their ultimate goal to wow, Razer epitomises the phrase ‘work hard, play hard’, embracing it as part of their work  culture.  Min-Liang  ensures  a  healthy  balance  by consistently  pushing  for  top-notch,  quality  performance (Razer has taken top honours at the International Consumer Electronics Show for five consecutive years) while fostering a relaxed  and  laid-back  atmosphere  within  the  workplace, introducing  unconventional  measures  such  as  allowing employees  to  play  computer  games  such  as  Defence  Of The Ancients  (DOTA)  during  office  hours.  To  the  justified jealousy of gamers everywhere, he even handed out personal Blades  (Razer  laptops),  to  each  and  every  member  of  the company,  at  the  expense  of  a  $2  million  dollar  hit  to  the company. His rationale?

  ‘The only mission that we have for everybody is that we’re giving everybody a Blade, so that you guys can play computer games. And that’s what we do.’


S E T T I N G   U P   B A S E

Apart  from  his  astute  and  steadfast  management  of  the company’s inner workings, Min-Liang has developed a keen understanding of the business scene that Razer thrives in. Back when Razer officially entered the business world ten years ago, start-ups,  quite  frankly,  ‘weren’t  sexy’.  Without  any  .coms coming  out  of  Singapore,  nor  any  mega  companies,  introducing  yourself  as  an  entrepreneur  or  technopreneur  was typically met with a glaring lack of interest.

Even to date, Singapore has yet to be the birthplace of any mega companies, or ‘unicorns’. So while Min-Liang acknowledges that things have improved and changed dramatically in the past couple of years, Singapore is, in actuality, ‘still very far from that Silicon Valley culture’. One thing he likes to tell the government bodies he sits on is that this is mainly a cultural issue. ‘If I’m in San Francisco and I’m grabbing my Starbucks in the morning, more often than not, the guy behind me is saying “Hey look! Have you seen the new app?” or “I’ve got this new idea I’m pitching to a VC (Venture Capitalist).”… Over here, usually what I hear in the morning when they’re buying breakfast is “eh, what are you going to have for lunch ah?”… In the Valley, it’s all about trying to find the next round of funding, the great idea. Here, I think the perspectives are very different.’

Although  startup  culture  in  Singapore  evidently  differs vastly from that in the USA, Min-Liang emphasises that it is not at all a negative thing – merely a cultural disparity. In fact, he  remarks  that  ‘Today,  it’s  actually  easier  to  start-up  in Singapore, with all the grants and stuff like that. The question is whether it’s easier to succeed in Singapore.’

But it’s not just Singapore’s business scene that has evolved over the years; inevitably, the people in it have changed as well. The  influx  of  millennials  into  the  workforce  has  been accompanied by no shortage of criticism and derisive labels – ‘the  strawberry  generation’,  ‘Generation  Me’,  and  so  on.  Yet, Min-Liang has remained unabashedly optimistic in his view of the millennials throughout his experiences working with them, even going so far as to predict that “this generation is going to be truly phenomenal.”

‘A  kid  today  with  a  smartphone  has  more information in his hand than the president of the US fifteen years ago. Literally with that in mind,  I  think  the  millennials  are  a  hugely exciting group of people,’

he points out. Even the widespread sentiment that Generation Y  is  ‘soft’  and  ‘coddled’  does  not  seem  to  apply  to  Razer’s employees at all. ‘Do we give them a hard time? Hugely so.’ says Min-Liang. ‘We scream, we yell at them, whatever it is. But they don’t break down – in fact they come back, and they’re hugely passionate about the products.’ It seems that the millennials working for Razer do not live up to the bad name which the public so often labels us with. ‘The difference is when they get an opportunity to be a part of something much  greater  and  contribute  back,’  Min-Liang reflects. Or, as he jokingly puts it, ‘Maybe it’s because they get to play DOTA at the office all the time.’

M E M O R I E S   O F   R A F F L E S

Speaking to Min-Liang, his ample love for his alma mater is almost instantly clear. His years in RI being one of the best times of his life, he asserts that ‘it’s the friendships that you make, and the clowns that you meet, and the people that you fight with’ that made RI what it was for him.

In addition, Min-Liang reminisces that RI used to be a great social leveller. He pointed out that ‘you get guys from all sorts of backgrounds’ and that even till today, many of them still remain as great friends, despite their differing backgrounds. Testament to this is the fact that the current Chief Finance Officer of Razer used to be Min-Liang’s Secondary 1 classmate.

Till  this  day,  Min-Liang  frequently  meets  up  with  his friends from RI for hearty chats. He tells us ‘I don’t remember the  Chemistry  lessons,  or  whatnot  that  I’ve  gone  through. What I do remember, are the people.’ Perhaps most moving of all is the love he has for Raffles, best embodied by this quote:  ‘My admin always turns away most of the press interviews I do, and she was like “why are you doing this?” because she turns away like everything else. I said “because it’s RI and I am happy to do something for RI.”’


Today Razer is larger than ever – and in huge part thanks to the work of Tan Min-Liang. If there’s anything that can be learnt from his story, it’s that an undying passion for the unorthodox, thinking out of the box and the will to push through with it is what  creates  success.  As  Rafflesians,  we’ve  always  prided ourselves as the ‘thinkers, leaders and pioneers’, but how often is it that we truly dare to challenge the status quo and try something new? Min-Liang’s journey has shown that taking the path less travelled has its payoffs, albeit with much struggle and difficulty. Nevertheless, it’s this attitude of entrepreneurship that we should aspire to emulate.

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