From “rivals” to business partners — that’s one way the relationship between Secretlab co-founders Ian Alexander Ang, 28, and Alaric Choo, 32, could be described as.
The two hardcore gamers first met each other at a local e-sports tournament when they were both playing StarCraft II semi-professionally. Today, they run a S$300 million gaming chair company together, which was born out of a common love for gaming.
Recounting their first meeting, Ian said in an interview with Vulcan Post that Alaric had asked him where he had gotten his Starbucks drink — that casual question quickly turned into a conversation.
“We hit it off and grew to become close friends as we played a number of games together like Diablo, World of Warcraft, Destiny, Dota, Overwatch, PUBG and Rust.”
Today, Ian is the CEO of Secretlab who oversees engineering, marketing and product strategy, while Alaric is the technical and partnerships director (their respective office titles are ‘Protector of the Realm’ and ‘Warden of the North’, cheekily inspired by the Games of Thrones series).
A $50,000 Investment
Secretlab was founded in 2014, back when Ian was still a university student.
He had struggled to find a “satisfactory” chair to complete the setup in his room. Other chairs that he tried lack the ergonomic support for long hours, which resulted in back and neck aches.
He also found that existing chairs that suit his needs were either too expensive, or the quality wasn’t up to his standards.
Ian wanted to fill the void in the market by creating a comfortable, supportive chair himself and presented the idea to his boss at that time, Marcus Wee, co-founder of custom PC manufacturer Aftershock.
Marcus fully supported the idea and told him to not waste time waiting for someone else to make it. Ian went on to pitch it to Alaric, who was working in the same office space as him then (but for a different company).
Ian described Alaric as “someone good with people” who had a “good intuition of how things are physically constructed”; so when he came up with the idea for Secretlab, Alaric was naturally the first person who came to mind.
Together, they invested $50,000 to kickstart the company. Ian and Alaric was only aged 22 and 26 then, but they were confident that they would be able to create a product that consumers want.
“As competitive gamers, we know first-hand what gamers need in their chairs to prevent the health issues stemming from spending up to 16 hours in front of a computer,” said Ian.
“With all these combined, we had an idea of what the perfect gaming chair would look like right from the start and never stopped pursuing that vision.”
School Dropout Turned Business Mogul
In March 2015, they finally launched their very first gaming chair: Secretlab THRONE V1.
The first 200 units sold out within a week, and the company quickly broke even within a month.
As the business took off, I realised that I had a once in a lifetime opportunity and I shouldn’t let the opportunity pass. That’s when I decided to quit school to focus on the company.
Addressing the lack of options in the gaming chair market was something that I felt very passionate about. Even if Secretlab didn’t succeed, I would’ve been happy with at least making the product of my dreams. – Ian Alexander Ang, co-founder and CEO of Secretlab
Describing the move to quit school for Secretlab as a “strategic decision”, he went on to liken business decisions and risks to gaming: “If you’re losing, take chances and make riskier plays. If you’re winning, play more conservatively and get further ahead.”
Ian previously asserted that he does not subscribe to the university-dropout-turned-business-mogul notion. In fact, if Secretlab didn’t take off, he would have stuck with school.
“There’s this overblown thing about Bill Gates dropping out of university, and Steve Jobs didn’t have a university degree. That kind of fairytale story is overblown. In my case, I got extremely lucky that there were results to show for it,” he told The Esports Observer.
The Need To Continually Innovate
Secretlab quickly took off in Singapore soon after launching, but it posed the duo with a dilemma: they didn’t know how and where they would go from there.
We could attempt to develop new products, or we could focus on what we already had and continue refining it. Most companies would opt for the former as it’s the easier and proven way, but we went with the latter.
It was more of an obsession with the quality of our product than anything else. We felt that we had created a rare, golden product that people absolutely loved and we wanted to make it even better and available to more people around the world. – Ian Alexander Ang, co-founder and CEO of Secretlab
They invested in extensive research and development (R&D) to perfect every little detail, and that drive helped lay a really strong foundation for them to build a stellar product.
Its latest Secretlab 2020 series took three years of R&D, featuring significant improvements in form and function at launch.
We know how difficult it is to stay on top of an industry, so we’ll continue investing even more into innovation with a grow-or-die mentality. We’re not content to settle in and cruise along.
We want every product that we release to be the best in its class and unparalleled in quality, just like our chairs today. If we can’t deliver an excellent product, we won’t release it. It’d be a disservice to our users if we ever released a less-than stellar product. – Ian Alexander Ang, co-founder and CEO of Secretlab
Showing off their achievements, Ian boasted that international tech reviewers almost unanimously rate Secretlab as the best gaming chair. They’ve also won numerous Editor’s Choice awards and have been named Hardware of the Year by PC Gamer.
Some of the biggest tournaments in the world have also used Secretlab’s gaming chairs including the likes of Dota 2’s The International and even the League of Legends World Championships.
Aside from e-sports, Secretlab has also partnered with some of the biggest gaming companies and brands over the last six years. Warner Bros, HBO and Blizzard have teamed up with Secretlab to release chairs based on Batman, Game of Thrones and Overwatch respectively.
More recently, Secretlab has struck a partnership with CD PROJEKT RED to release a limited edition Cyberpunk 2077 Edition chair. This chair proved to be so popular that it sold out globally in just a few hours.