At 41, Min-Liang Tan is older than his audience. But he connects just fine with them anyway.
Razer, the Singapore and San Francisco-based company he founded some two decades ago, is unabashedly oriented toward millennials. From the brand’s iconic black and green gaming hardware to its fledgling business of virtual wallets for users without credit cards, Razer makes its money by going after young gamers.
But Tan isn’t afraid of disconnection with his customers -- because he’s a true gamer. He plays trending titles like Apex Legends, but also cites iconic games like 1985’s Ultima IV and the 90s hit Civilization as personal favorites.
He’s also the kind of entrepreneur who compares his life to a game of StarCraft, and professes a distaste for waking up early. The CEO says he still spends many nights playing games well past sleeping hours. And when asked what he enjoys besides gaming, his colleagues responded, “Er, just gaming, he does not have any hobbies.”
Whether it’s carefully curated showmanship or his real personality, Tan is aware of what that image of youthful defiance means for his customers.
“Youths are a hard-to-reach segment and authenticity is important for reaching millennials,” he told the South China Morning Post.
Tan’s story of growing up is one that many young gamers can relate to. As the sibling of two doctors and a lawyer, Tan said his Singaporean parents expected him to take up one of those two professions. Despite his love for gaming, he recalled being yelled at for spending way too much time playing on his computer.
Tan ended up training and working as an intellectual property lawyer. But in 1998, he flew to South Korea for an esports competition. Gaming culture was beginning to flourish in the country thanks to a nationwide broadband network that helped popularize online play. In the years that followed, South Korea was widely credited for thrusting esports into the global mainstream.
During his visit, Tan skipped hotels to save money, opting instead to stay in cyber cafes, where he observed gamers and the equipment they used. He realized that for serious gamers, even seemingly trivial tools like mice and keyboards can make a huge difference.
That experience influenced Razer, the business Tan co-founded with Robert Krakoff, whom he met while playing the online first-person shooter Quake. The business builds hardware specifically for gamers, which started with mice and later expanded into headphones, keyboards, laptops and smartphones.
When you look at Razer’s catalog today, products are marketed using buzzwords that could be mistaken for describing sports cars and motorcycles. The Viper mouse, for instance, provides “industry-leading response time,” “instant actuation,” “99.4% tracking accuracy” and “minimal drag.” The Huntsman Elite keyboard is said to maximize APM, or actions per minute -- a measure of the number of commands and moves that a gamer can perform in a minute.
That athletic obsession has helped Razer secure its place in the esports community. The company sponsors some 18 esports teams, including Evil Geniuses, Alliance and China’s Top Esports. Some fans are so loyal to Razer that they have tattooed themselves with its triple-headed snake logo, or even Tan’s face.
As recognition for the Razer brand grows, so does its ambition. While it’s branching into services, its focus remains adamantly fixed on millenials.
Razer Gold, a virtual credit platform where people can buy games, credits and Twitch subscriptions, now hosts more than 19 million wallets, according to Razer’s latest financial report. Gold credits can be purchased in about 1 million physical stores across Southeast Asia and Latin America, where many young consumers don’t own credit cards.
But Razer isn’t just interested in gamers. With Razer Pay, it looks like the company is hoping to replicate the success of Chinese mobile payment apps like Alipay and WeChat Pay, which also rely on QR codes. It also incorporates Visa’s prepaid cards. The service launched in Malaysia in 2018 and arrived in Singapore in early 2019.
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, whose affiliate Ant Financial operates Alipay.)
Despite its seemingly youth-centered strategy, though, don’t expect the company’s products to be getting much cheaper. Tan appears committed to keeping Razer a premium brand.
“We are firmly focused on the first-tier cities where high-end players are,” he told Chinese tech site 36kr. “When I started Razer, it wasn’t for money… I have always been a gamer myself, it’s my interest. If you’re really designing a product for yourself, you’ll design the best product. You won’t compromise, and will use the best material, the best technology.”