What makes a great chair?
Just ask Ian Ang and Alaric Choo, the founders of local startup, Secretlab. The company’s mission, as Ang tells us, is a simple one of bringing reliable, high quality and value-for-money chairs to their target market, the gamer.
The birth of an idea
The gamer is a fickle creature. He constantly demands the best and puts every piece of hardware, electronic or other, to the harshest of tests. He is both quick to judge and very hard to please.
“It wasn’t easy,” Ang reveals “but we knew that we could do it.”
The birth of the company, according to Ang, is far from a glamorous affair. “I had just renovated my house in December and was designing my room when I realized that there was a lack of reasonably priced chairs that had the look and feel that I as a gamer wanted.”
In a true moment of innovation, Ang says that he realised that he would just make one himself. He took the idea to his boss at that time, Marcus Wee, the co-founder of that other hot Singapore startup, custom PC manufacturer Aftershock.
Wee's advice to Ang? Don’t waste time waiting for someone else to make it, do it yourself.
This led the then 22-year-old Ang to Alaric Choo, who was running Modbot at the time, a custom paint and design shop for laptops and assorted gaming equipment.
The duo clicked instantly and thus, Secretlab was born.
The struggle was real
"We started brainstorming for names and it took quite a while before we settled on Secretlab. We decided we weren’t going to compromise on the name or logo, it had to be something that was powerful, impactful, and that we would be proud to represent," Ang tells us.
"We knew that we weren’t going to start big by seeking seed capital. First off, it would be hilarious trying to convince investors to invest into making chairs. Secondly, it would have taken way too long to get started," Ang says.
"We wanted to act fast and decisively on matters," he adds. Ang also reveals that they had tried applying for a government grant but were rejected because it was an "uninspiring business idea."
"At that point, we invested all our money into the company for R&D purposes. We weren’t going to draw any salary until we launched. There were no overhead costs pre-launch as Marcus (Wee) gave us a little space in Aftershock’s office to work out of."
This did not mean that the development process was easy for the lads. The team only had the resources to hire a single designer and had to outsource some of the engineering tasks.
The first Throne
Ang tells us that a lot of the initial work that went into the prototypes of their first chair, the Throne V1 was trial and error.
"Many, many times we felt like giving up as we could never see beyond the wall. On the business side, we had to figure out how to work with our very limited resources, "Ang reveals.
He adds that, "On the product side, it seemed like we could never get things right, and were hit with waves of disappointment countless times. There didn’t seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. We made many failed prototypes due to both communication and technical errors. We faced crises during the first manufacturing round where it would’ve been very easy to call the whole thing off."
However the duo persevered and a few months later, the first prototype chair was born. This chair is still in the Secretlab office as this writer learnt one day when he sat in it by mistake.
"I remember the feeling of accomplishment when we first assembled and sat on it. The build of this prototype is of course, nowhere near the quality of our chairs these days, but its history gives us a little encouragement whenever things go badly," Ang reminisces.
The rest, as they say, is history, sales of the Throne V1 far surpassed the company's expectations and it only took two weeks for them to break even the production costs of the Throne V1. After a few short months, the company released the Throne V2 and Throne OMEGA series of chairs in order to expand their offerings.
What's next for this home-grown success story then? Ang seems to be focused on sticking to his guns. "Secretlab has really evolved. We now have our own warehouse, office, operational systems, all- Singaporean staff team, including five excellent delivery teams. That is not the end of it, however, as huge and exciting changes are about to happen soon."
At the end of the day, the initial desire to just simply enjoy video games has not fizzled out as Ang tells us that, "perhaps the competitive gaming spirit still burns brightly in us; We’ve never sat still, we’re never content, we know we cannot be complacent, and we will keep rowing the boat forward, lest we be dragged back by the waves."