Min-Liang Tan: the $700m gaming impresario

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Gamers can dispatch evildoers in a nanosecond on a Razer laptop. But it takes Min-Liang Tan, the company’s founder and chief executive, more than an hour to travel 4km from Hong Kong’s Central district to the bustling Causeway Bay. He was at the mercy of a rogue Uber driver who took a detour off Hong Kong island and, unperturbed at wasting the lawyer-turned-gaming tycoon’s time, suggested they grab some lunch together (he declined). Mr Tan, 39, confesses to fretting — he would not be the first businessman to be spirited away from Hong Kong soil — but he has made a few career detours. He trained and practised as an intellectual property lawyer in Singapore. His parents told him and his three siblings they had two career choices: law or medicine. Two became lawyers, two doctors. “I didn’t tell them [about the career change] until a year-and-a-half later. By the time they figured it out, it was too late,” he concedes. He splits his time between Singapore, where he has citizenship, and San Francisco. Now worth $700m, according to Forbes, Mr Tan has secured the backing of leading investors. These include Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing; Lee Hsien Yang, youngest son of Singapore’s first prime minister, as well as those who have grown rich on the back of such Asian staples as clove cigarettes, McDonald’s burgers and banks. Razer is due to list on the Hong Kong stock exchange next month. Min-Liang Tan’s guide to gamer terms Leet — Elite, meaning top gamers GG — Good game GLHF — Good luck, have fun FTW — For the win! Pwned — a modification of “owned” — as in “you’ve been owned” — when an opponent has been defeated Yet in spite of wooing some of Asia’s wiliest investors, Mr Tan says one of his biggest challenges has been making investors understand his company, which makes money off gamers but does not make games — and the fact that the gaming community is its own mega demographic that comprises about one-third of the world’s population. “We are the arms merchant of gaming,” he says, perched on a cuboid felt stool in Razer’s store. “We are not in the hit-and-miss game of gaming.” By which he means Razer sells the hardware, related software and services but does not publish the games that are the focal point, or breeding ground, for all the associated paraphernalia. The trouble for some is that the bulk of Razer’s revenues — 76 per cent in the latest calendar year — comes from hardware peripherals, such as laptops. A mobile device is due to be launched shortly. Software and services have not contributed a penny and are thus relatively untested, prompting some bankers to suggest it should be valued simply as a hardware company like Logitech. Razer’s management demurred. Mr Tan’s tagline for Razer is “for gamers, by gamers” and he is a proud member of the 2.2bn-strong gaming fraternity. “I’ve always been a gamer. It’s all I do. I do my job and I game,” he says. The “one of us” is a key part of Razer’s pitch. The lack of any industry reports on gaming made his job tougher, he says; there were no statistics showing this was a market with potential when he founded the company in 2005. Today, reports are plentiful and suggest his early hunch was correct: that this is a bigger market in sheer user numbers than even China or Facebook. The global industry generated more than $100bn in sales last year, according to data from consultancy Frost & Sullivan, quoted in Razer’s initial public offering prospectus, and is forecast to generate $133bn in 2021. “We are just this massive subculture,” says Mr Tan. He points to its global language — GG for good game, whether you speak English, Chinese or Russian. And while gamers are called different names depending on location — nerds in the US, otaku in Japan, zhai nan in China — they exhibit universal characteristics. Mr Tan notes that there are only two electronics companies where fans tattoo themselves with the logo: “Apple 20 years ago — and us.” Razer tattoos The Apple analogy is helpful for the ecosystem as well as tattoos. Razer’s software platform, which has 35m users, enables users to open multiple games on their launch pages and store all their preferred settings on the cloud, so they can pick up playing on any device — including the mobile devices due to be launched. Hence too the creation of Razer zGold in March, a virtual credit system that can be used to purchase swords, shoes and magical powers for use in 2,500 games. It is clear why all this makes for a good business model. You sell someone a mouse but you may never see them again. You sell them a service and you have data on them, the games they play, their spending habits, and you can sell them more. It is less clear why game publishers would welcome a new player on to their turf, but Mr Tan sees the scenario differently. “Game companies may pay us a little more margin but they are happy to do that because the other option is that the player does not play the game.” Like the evangelist he is, he sees gaming dominating the world in years to come: replacing the closed-down shops in malls and providing amusement for those in the driving seat of driverless cars. “Gamers have gotten older and gamers have gotten younger . . . and we are absolutely monetising it,” he says. Min-Liang Tan’s tips for successful entrepreneurship Stick to your vision, no matter what others say There will always be many options and sexier things to chase, but stay focused on what you want to deliver Concentrate on the customer, the team and investors. Even if sometimes it can feel like herding cats