I’ve had a crush on Secretlab chairs for a while now. It’s one of those unrequited loves, where I’d ask them out and they’d tell me they didn’t have any time… that they’d go on a date next month… but next month never came.
My dream chair ended up with the person that asked her out first and when Secretlab didn’t have any stock left, I ended up settling for someone else. That didn’t stop me from pining after my crush…
Any time that I watched a streamer using one of their chairs, or a Secretlab ad appeared in my browser, my mind would wander off to daydreams…. A field full of flowers, with my beloved Secretlab Titan Napa wheeling rapidly towards me, as I joyfully bound towards it, only to be enveloped in it’s soft leather embrace…. Ahhh what could have been.
Maybe it was a dose of that high-school-crush, unrequited love that kept me interested, or maybe it was simply that they seemed to be cool people, making cool, well made chairs…
Either way, I love what they do. If you’re not that familiar with the brand, they make good, cost effective gaming chairs. They’re one of the few (perhaps the only) chair brands that has almost entirely positive reviews online. They’re based in Singapore and the company was founded by two gamers, Ian Ang and Alaric Choo in 2014.
Ian and Alaric had a conversation and both complained that they couldn’t find a chair that was good, and didn’t cost them an arm and a leg, so the pair of problem solvers set out to build their own. There’s definitely a lesson in here for any one with dreams of becoming an entrepreneur!
(Alaric & Ian)
Despite their busy schedules, I was lucky enough to track them down for a quick chat on a Friday evening to quiz them about all things Secretlab… Before we get to that though, we should take a look at the chairs that made me sit up and take notice of the brand in the first place. They have 3 main models, with two top of the line leather versions of two of the models.
Ok Ok, you’re not here for the screenshots. You want the secrets! And the secrets you shall have! Without further ado, here’s my chat with Ian and Alaric of Secretlab.
We get through the hello’s and introductions, I fanboy when I realize they’ve read my chair roundup, and I realize that I should probably focus on questions…
GFTW: Guys, tell me about when you two were younger. Where and how did you meet?
Ian: “Hi, I’m Ian and I am the Managing Director of Secretlab. I met Alaric while we were playing Starcraft 2 competitively, we met at a local LAN tournament. (Alaric chimes in that Ian was better.) We also ended up played other games together and the friendship blossomed.” It’s at this point that I point out that it sounds like a romantic comedy. Everyone laughs, and I consider what will no doubt be a failed career in stand up comedy.
GFTW: Given you’re gamers, what was the first game you played and subsequently which games have you spent the most time with?
Ian: “Diablo… A lot of Diablo… Also, Dota, Overwatch, Destiny 2, PUBG and more recently, Rust.”
GFTW: I think you’re great role models for future gaming entrepreneurs. Lots of people talk about ideas, but not everyone makes them happen. I’d love to understand how/when that big decision came to launch Secretlab.
Ian: “We randomly ended up working in the same office space, but for different companies. I had the business idea and skillset, Alaric had the technical skills. It’s easy to say, and everyone has grand schemes, but to make it work, you really have to decide that you want to do it and even if you’re one step in, that you’re going to continue to the end. You need to keep going. If you’re really determined, you will find a way.”
GFTW: From a business perspective, I’d love to know the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far. From copycats, to trying to match supply to demand, there must have been a ton of things that threw curve balls your way.
Ian: “It seems like that there’s a new challenge every week, so it’s easy to forget all the past challenges. In the last 6 months, we have struggled to meet the demand and have had to scale up production, but that takes time. We have a heavy focus on quality control, so cutting corners to be faster would only sacrifice quality — and that is out of the question.
Selling directly has its whole suite of challenges but it is very necessary. It removes the middleman and additional markups associated with that. It also ensures the customer isn’t being bounced back and forth between the distributors and the retailers, so if there are issues, we can sort it out for them immediately. When we started the company, it was to solve a challenge, namely that we couldn’t find an affordable, good chair in Singapore, so problem solving is in our DNA.”
GFTW: I’d also love to know how you get inspiration for changes and improvements to the chairs. For example, being a really tall gamer, I find something that companies often neglect, is that the regular neck pillow system doesn’t really offer adequate head support. How do you keep innovating?
Alaric: “We started out as customers first and we always put ourselves in our customers’ shoes. What would they like and how would they want to be treated? We try to keep it simple and work really closely with users to get their feedback. Whenever there is room for even the slightest improvement, we won’t hesitate to roll out a micro update. We try to move as quickly and efficiently as possible.
We are all about our core principles, good products at a good price. For us we are always looking at what’s next, improving the materials and components. For example, with the OMEGA 2018, we changed the lumbar pillow (larger, better fitted for the natural curve of the spine, and now made from memory foam). The overall chair was also updated to look more modern and shaped to be a more comfortable fit for the body. The armrests were also changed to be more contoured and thicker, making it more tactile and comfortable for longer periods of time.”
GFTW: Ok, let’s take a break from the serious questions and talk about games again. Now that you’re running a successful startup, how has that impacted your relationship with games. Do you still get to play, and if so what do you play?
Ian: “We’re playing Rust at the moment. But it’s a pretty time consuming game, and we just don’t have as much time to game anymore, so we try to set aside like a weekend a month and have a marathon gaming session.”
Alaric: “We are still gamers at heart after all. It’s funny – we still get really competitive when we play games so it can be frustrating when we don’t have more time to practice.”
GFTW: By extension do you have any favourite esports teams?
Ian: We watch a lot of esports. It obviously started with Starcraft 2, but we watch quite a bit of Dota 2. We’re close friends with IceIceIce and hence we end up watching a lot of his games. He’s killing it at the moment. We also watch quite a bit of Twitch, so if we like someone we try to partner up with them.”
GFTW: I’d also love to know what you guys have planned for the future. Being Singaporean, the obvious comparison to make is someone like Razer. Do you have any plans to expand beyond chairs into other peripherals? If so, can you give any hints as to which direction you’d be heading?
Ian: “We’re a company with a heavy focus on the product. If your product is of top quality, it makes running the rest of the business a whole lot easier. Anything that we make must be good enough for our team to be proud of and want to use day in, day out. We do have new products on our roadmap – you’ll see it when the time comes!” (thanks guys – I thought we were friends)
GFTW: With all the hype around esports at the moment, how do you view the opportunity in esports? What your plans for more deals in that space?
Alaric: “As business owners who are also avid gamers, we have the distinct pleasure of being able to partner with businesses and teams whom we are truly passionate about. In some ways it’s really surreal. Recently we announced our partnership with international esports organizers PGL. We watch a lot of streams of their tournaments and events in our free time, so seeing our chairs on their stream now is pretty amazing.
We also partnered with professional players who reflect our values as well. Players such as Iceiceice and Xian (Street Fighter world champion) are local international superstars and a big deal in Singapore as well — being able to work with key community figures to inspire young budding gamers is a big reward in itself. We can’t say anything more definitive but we are finalizing some details with a few teams so watch this space.”
(True to their word, since my chat with them, they’ve inked partnerships with both Newbee and Blazer5)
GFTW: For Australia specifically, what plans do you have for the market? Are you actively looking for partnerships and sponsorships with existing teams, performance centres.etc?
Ian: “Australia’s esports scene has been on our radar for some time now – it is incredibly diverse, with tons of talent. During our Starcraft days, many of the best players (Moonglade) in the South East Asian region were from Australia! You also have people like kpii, ana, Azr and Tobiwan the Dota 2 commentator as well. We are also currently partnered with popular local streamers like Loserfruit and YouTubers like heyimbee. We are also always on the lookout for talented and passionate like-minded individuals to partner with. We also have plans for an Australian showroom so look out for that!”
And that was that. They had to run off to another engagement, so we hastily said goodbyes.
I was keen to chat to Ian and Alaric because they seemed like cool guys, doing something cool. That’s exactly how it turned out. Many large gaming companies make similar products and differentiate with lots of marketing. With Secretlab, it’s a little different. They’re gamers, making some cool stuff and making that stuff damned well. Plus, if you have feedback, they’re eager to hear it and agile enough to make it happen. Doesn’t get much better than that.
If you’re in the market for a new gaming chair, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better chair than a Secretlab. As soon as I can, I’ll be making the switch to what I think is the pinnacle of gaming chairs, the Titan Napa…
They say you should never meet your heroes. In this case, I’m happy to report that they’re wrong. Who’s the best chair company in the world? I think that by this point you may agree… That’s no secret.