Singapore gaming entrepreneur Min-Liang Tan wants to make Razer one of the biggest brands in the world of entertainment.
January 13, 2019
Singaporean entrepreneur Min-Liang Tan founded one of the world’s largest gaming businesses, Razer in 2005. He was a childhood gamer who made his hobby his business, and was supposed to be a lawyer. Coming from a traditional Asian family, his parents mapped out their expectations for him.
“Like any other gamer child, I was difficult. I was always on the computer. I would always be … playing computer games at any chance I got. My parents would be yelling at me: ‘Stop playing… so much.’ But I’m glad some things don’t change. I’m still playing computer games all the time,” he said.
Tan and his brother Min-Han Tan would duke it out, playing 1980s games such as “Prince of Persia” and “Castle Wolfenstein,” both developed for the Apple II series. They’d also use glasses of iced water to cool down their PCs to avoid their parents’ disapproval.
The entrepreneur’s money-making talents showed up early. “Even in high school, during Valentine’s Day, the school brought in a flower vendor. I think the night before, he brought in a ton of roses, and sold those during Valentine’s Day, then he bought the vendor’s flowers at a cheaper price, and sold everything back to the school all over again,” brother Min-Han Tan said.
“My mum would say, ‘You know, I think you guys can either be a doctor or a lawyer.’ And, I’ve got my sister who’s a doctor, my other sister’s a lawyer, my brother’s a really well-respected clinician oncologist. He’s super smart. And I did my law degree. So two doctors, two lawyers, go figure, right?”
Tan’s parents were so keen for him to stick with his law degree that he didn’t tell them when he’d switched to making gaming a career. “You know, I’m just going to start Razer first and we’ll figure it out as it comes along. By the time they realized it, it was a little too late … I think they were still very supportive nonetheless. But I kind of realized that they might not be too happy when I changed my career,” Tan said.
But the family is close. When Tan goes to Singapore on business, he still stays with his folks. “Some of my American colleagues give me grief, I think, for staying still at home. But I think it’s great, you know. I get to do exactly what I do, play computer games all day long.”
Still being a gamer is what appeals to fans, says Edwin Chan, Tan’s childhood friend and Razer’s chief financial officer. “He hosts his own social network pages. He does his own personal outreach in events and trade shows.
He recently featured in a CNBC documentary:
Now Tan’s worth more than a billion dollars, according to Forbes, but not for practicing law. His gaming hardware company Razer was launched in 2005 on a single product, a computer mouse specifically for gamers. Last year, the San Francisco and Singapore-headquartered company made $517.9 million in revenue and it has a market value of 17.2 billion Hong Kong dollars ($2.2 billion).
And if you think gaming is just for geeks, consider that it’s now an industry that beats the global movie business — worth $88.4 billion in 2017 — for size. “Gaming is now the biggest vertical within media. It’s a $130 billion industry alone, growing double digits every single year for a 10-year basis,” Mirabaud Securities analyst Neil Campling told CNBC.
Much of the industry is driven by gaming apps such as Pokemon Go, Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds (games account for about half of the top 10 most popular apps on the Apple store), but it’s the hardware that US-based Razer creates, “peripherals” such as computer mice and keyboards that it’s famous for.
Their precise function and distinctive black and rainbow lights design got Razer noticed among the gaming community and has helped it to become a leader in the esports industry, where people gather in arenas to watch gamers competing.
Razer’s focus also got the attention of investors, including Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing and Credence Partners co-founder Koh Boon Hwee, who backed the company in 2008. “Initially, I wasn’t particularly enthralled by the fact this was a hardware business making gaming (mice),” but a move into becoming an online platform for gamers was more attractive.
Razer’s 2017 initial public offering raised $528 million, and ahead of it, Tan said he’d spend the money on more products.
“We would love to have that war chest to allow us to invest in R&D (research and development). We are known to have disrupted many industries: we’re the first in the gaming peripherals side of things; we were first when we invented the first true gaming laptop; we’ve gone on to provide one of the largest software platforms for gamers,” Tan said.
Razer is not yet profitable, making a loss of $165.8 million in 2017, against $59.6 million on the previous year, but Robert Cavin, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, points out that the company has large marketing expenses, and is still prioritizing growth like other companies such as Netflix and Tesla. “Amazon changed the expectation for corporate profits as long as you have a good story and path to profitability. That profitability time frame is more flexible than it used to be. Razer is growing and has a good story,” he says.