Company profile – Secretlab
Ex-competitive gamer and university dropout, Ian Ang is the co-founder and CEO of Secretlab, which designs and produces ergonomic gaming chairs.
As semi-professional StarCraft II players, Ang and his co-founder Alaric Choo who is Secretlab’s Chief Strategy Officer, met at a local e-sports tournament and became gaming buddies. In their quest for the ideal chair which gamers would find comfortable to sit on for long periods of time, these two avid gamers discovered an untapped opportunity to pioneer this niche market. In 2014, their gaming chair business endeavour was born.
Childhood and family background
As owners of automobile workshops, Ang’s parents unconsciously helped to sow the seeds of entrepreneurship in him at a young age. For instance, when growing up, Ang had to fill out a spreadsheet listing his projected expenses before he could receive his allowance. This taught Ang to be prudent with finances.
Ang ventured into the world of gaming in a LAN shop (a shop fitted out for gamers) and began playing games such as Counterstrike and Dota competitively when he was 13. At 18, he won a regional StarCraft II tournament. As a student, the amount of time devoted to gaming and sports meant that both his sleep and academic performance at school suffered. This was worsened by his habit of waking up at 3am to play computer games until it was time to head for school.
Ang firmly believes that the time he had invested in his youth to play real-time strategy games has sharpened his awareness and made him more self-disciplined. According to Ang, “the game taught us the concept of self-improvement. If you want to improve at all costs, you have to set aside your emotions and ego, and assess your abilities”.
He also credits gaming to having taught him the basics of economics and imbued leadership qualities in him at a young age: “In Massively Multiplayer Online games like World of Warcraft, there are real economies, so I began to learn the concepts of supply and demand when I was 12 to 15 years old. Those games have guilds and clans, and being a leader is not unlike being a CEO. I observed how true leaders didn’t just kick out members, but tried to solve issues and set guidelines for the future.”
At the age of 22, Ang dropped-out of university to chase after his business dream. Both Ang and Choo invested a collective sum of $50,000 to fund the start-up.
Their calculated risk-taking paid off when Secretlab THRONE V1, the first product which was launched in May 2015, enabled the company to break even within a month.
Ang and Choo did not rest on their laurels after their initial success however and over the years, have invested heavily in research and development to create new and improved chairs using ground-breaking technologies and cutting-edge materials.
Corporate culture and vision
Ang adopts a non-hierarchical corporate culture at Secretlab and attracts mainly like-minded millennial generation employees due to the company’s digital branding. It offers flexible work arrangements to take into account time differences with the US market, while also offering more traditional office hours to accommodate employees with families and children.
Secretlab serves the local, regional and international market, shipping its ergonomic gaming chairs to over 50 countries covering Asia, the United States, Canada and Europe. Around 10,000 chairs are shipped to customers weekly.
Secretlab was the official gaming chair partner for The International 2019 – a Dota 2 e-sports world championship which offered a hefty prize purse of US$34 million and has also partnered with European e-sports champion G2 E-sports, along with other e-sports teams, clubs and organisations across Europe and North America. Forming strategic partnerships with US video game developers Blizzard Entertainment and Riot Games also enabled Secretlab to gain footholds in new markets overseas.
Backed by Temasek Holdings’ subsidiary, Heliconia Capital Management, Secretlab was valued at between $200 million and $300 million in 2019.
Extensive R&D and numerous rounds of testing go into every chair produced at Secretlab’s in-house lab and testing facilities. Meticulous attention is paid to every component of the chair’s construction, from the craftsmanship and upholstery to the industrial design and technology. Secretlab also solicits feedback from testers worldwide and works with an independent Ergonomics Advisory Board to improve the quality of its products and ensure that its chairs pass muster to meet or even exceed industry standards.
In keeping with its innovative business culture and to diversify its product line, Secretlab produced its first computer desk in April 2021 to meet evolving customers’ demands.
Ang has adopted a kaizen-like mentality in his business outlook. He says, “the safest way to guarantee a company’s survival is to keep innovating and growing. If you think what you have is enough, it is just a matter of time that somebody with more resources and motivation will knock you off your perch”.
Ang’s “Day One” philosophy has also helped to steer the company along the right course: “We try to treat each day as if it is our Day One. Basically, we have to constantly innovate, improve and prove ourselves so that we keep growing”.
His ultimate vision is to have “a Secretlab chair in front of almost every single PC in the world”.
Awards and honours
Secretlab was the winner of the Emerging Enterprise Award 2017, an annual award co-presented by The Business Times and OCBC Bank that celebrates young and outstanding business.
In 2018, Ang and Choo, joined 22 other Singaporeans to be shortlisted for Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia, a list which features innovators and entrepreneurs in Asia below the age of 30.
In November 2020, Ang was awarded Singapore’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year award, an award bestowed on Singapore’s leading entrepreneurs who have made an impact on the international market. At 28 years of age, Ang was the youngest winner in the award’s 19-year history.
Secretlab has was also garnered excellent reviews from tech websites such as CNET, TechRadar and PCMag.
Fun facts about Ang
Etched on the glass window of his office is Ang’s Games of Thrones- inspired business title, ‘Protector of the Realm’.
Besides gaming, Ang’s other hobbies include playing tennis and the guitar.
Ang also meditates regularly to keep his mind focussed.
Ang’s favourite books include Rolf Dobelli’s The Art of Thinking Clearly, Andrew S. Grove’s High Output Management and Ray Dalio’s Principles.
Chan, Lyn. (2021, September 22). “Secretlab shows no sign of abating in its quest to make the perfect gaming chair”. https://sg.finance.yahoo.com/news/secretlab-shows-no-sign-of-abating-in-its-quest-to-make-the-perfect-gaming-chair-032623159.html
CNA. (2020, November 9). “Secretlab CEO named Singapore’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year”. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/secretlab-ian-ang-overall-ey-entrepreneur-of-the-year-chair-534131
Leong, Charmian. (2020, February 14). “Next Gen: Ian Ang of Secretlab on rapid rise to success, even beyond gaming sphere”. https://www.thepeakmagazine.com.sg/interviews/next-gen-ian-ang-of-secretlab-on-rapid-rise-to-success-even-beyond-gaming-sphere/
Low, Angela. (2019, October 11). “How Secretlab CEO Ian Alexander Ang built a $300 million company in 5 years”. https://www.hnworth.com/article/become/trendsetters/how-secretlab-ceo-ian-alexander-ang-built-a-300-million-company-in-5-years/
Secretlab. (2022). “Our Story”. https://secretlab.sg/pages/about-us
SGP Business. (2022). “Secretlab SG Pte. Ltd”. https://www.sgpbusiness.com/company/Secretlab-Sg-Pte-Ltd#Overview
Sregantan, Nvain. (2018, March 28). “24 in Singapore make it to Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list”. https://www.straitstimes.com/business/companies-markets/24-in-singapore-make-it-to-forbes-30-under-30-asia-list
Tang, See Kit. (2021, August 31). “Secretlab to hire more than 100 employees in Singapore following ‘massive growth’”. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/secretlab-hiring-jobs-massive-growth-headquarters-gaming-chair-2147501
Tee, Karen. (2021, August 7). “Secretlab co-founders Ian Ang and Alaric Choo on the meteoric rise of their gaming chair company”. https://www.tatlerasia.com/power-purpose/business/secretlab-co-founders-ian-ang-and-alaric-choo-interview
The Edge Singapore. (2020, November 16). “Secretlab CEO becomes youngest ever EY Entrepreneur of the Year”. https://www.pressreader.com/singapore/the-edge-singapore/20201116/281822876334333
Yap, Cara. (2020, October 28). “‘I was definitely not a good student’: Secretlab co-founder Ian Ang”. https://cnaluxury.channelnewsasia.com/people/secretlab-co-founder-ian-ang-182676
For further reading
Stewart, Melissa. (2021, June 30). “Secretlab co-founder Ian Ang spends S$51m on two properties in Singapore”. https://cnaluxury.channelnewsasia.com/people/secretlab-co-founder-ian-ang-property-singapore-183496
The Straits Times. (2020, November 29). “Chair man of the gaming world: Secretlab co-founder Ian Ang - Lunch with Sumiko.” https://youtu.be/9Wj-r8fEhCE
The Straits Times. (2020, November 29). “Ian Ang and Alaric Choo: Singaporean of the Year 2020 finalists.” https://youtu.be/0_036Z0JIYk