To think that the path beaten to Min-Liang’s San Diego office doors started with a mouse is somehow ironic. Before the company started in 1998, Min-Liang was a gamer who enjoyed heated bouts of multiplayer video games like Counter-Strike. One day while instant messaging other players, they all bonded over the idea that the computer mice they were playing with sucked. The band of keyboard gunners decided that they would create a mouse that would suit the needs of other gamers with better precision, wider, programmable buttons and other functions that the average computer user would never think to use. In 1999 the Razer Boomslang mouse was was born and it rocked the computer world as the first ball-driven mouse that ran 2000 DPI.
Fifteen years later, Razer’s 36 year-old CEO Min-Liang Tan is still as passionate as ever about designing computer hardware. Not only are product ideas planned out, they can sometimes go through up to 10 market-ready prototypes before mass manufacturing starts.
“Usually a company will go straight to market after they’ve done ‘retooling’,” Min-Liang explained. That type of grind doesn’t come from a mind that only wants to turn a quick buck. This CEO’s obsessive passion came from his competitive video gaming life where the smallest detail can mean the difference of winning or losing.
“In gaming you can be friends but on the battlefield, it’s no holds barred,” Tan said. “You’ll do anything to get an advantage. For the guys that came late to play against us, we’d do stuff like making sure their screens were facing the sun.”
At the 2014 International CES convention, the Razer booth maintained a steady crowd around the company’s latest stroke of tech revolution. It’s a desktop PC – tentatively named “Project Christine” –and it promises to give users the ability to build their own machine without the technical mojo needed to do it the old-fashioned way. Every component is a brick-like piece that connects to a frame that brings it all to life. Project Christine was such a hit during the convention that Razer took home Engadget’s Best of CES award.
“We believe that testing should be done in the field,” Tan said. “We work closely with a lot of hardcore, professional gamers to get feedback and we’ll go back to the drawing board if we have to.”
One has got to have a mess of unplugged wires in the skull to put so much trust into a community of video game enthusiasts who for the most part are never satisfied with anything. In 2012, disgruntled players of EA’s Mass Effect 3 demanded refunds for the extensive game because they were unsatisfied with the ending. When Blizzard Entertainment launched Diablo III the same year, fans lost their minds over a server hiccup, knowing that much sooner than later, everything would be fixed.
This is the same short-fused audience that Razer must appease when it’s all said, done and warehoused. Somehow that doesn’t discourage Tan from taking chances with wild ideas and shots in the dark that may lead to geek infamy or fodder for the next humiliating internet meme.
“Everyone at Razer is a gamer,” he explained. “We all talk a certain language to the gamers themselves. I’ve played exhibition matches myself so it’s not like when you ask me a question about what I’m playing, I’ll tell you that I have to go ask my marketing guy.”
Tan also makes himself accessible on social media which he professes his love for. “I run all of my pages myself and I can be a bit of an ass,” he said. Fortunately, Tan’s followers appreciate his balls-to-wall approach and have no hesitation of being nothing less than a hundred percent honest with him and the company.
Computer products aside, Tan is taking another shot into the deep, dark abyssophere of electronics. Razer has recently set its eyes on the even more fickle lifestyle market with a new line of headphones and wearable technology. Since dabbling in the lifestyle pool with the Razer Electra headphones and Hammerhead earbuds, the company has adapted its popular Kraken gaming headset to include the Kraken Forged edition – a pair of professionally tuned cans made of airplane grade aluminum and the Kraken E-Panda edition – a collaboration with Bruno Mars’ drummer Eric Hernandez. While those are positioned to be the Beats by Dre killers, the company has also released a variety of other styles with lower price points.
However, the biggest stretch would be their Nabu wristbands due out later this year – which looks part fitness band and part smartwatch. Going up against the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear and underground favorite, Pebble is tough enough. Especially with a flood wearable tech releasing the rest of 2014, including the rumored Apple smartwatch.
“Every year at CES we try to announce something out of left field,” Min-Liang said. “This time around, we thought it was going to be the same thing but we had no idea that everyone was going to come out with a smartwatch or a fitness tracker. It was really funny to see because we’ve been working on Nabu for a while.”
Competition is the greatest thing for consumers and Min-Liang Tan is confident about eating his opposition (thus the naming of Razer’s products after snakes) to plant his black and green flag at the top of the marketplace’s hill. Tan still hasn’t forgotten his video gaming roots and as of this writing, Razer has announced a new gaming laptop that utilizes a touchscreen monitor and new apps for their signature Razerblade keyboard interface. It’s one that embeds an LCD screen and icon-based buttons to the right of the keyboard. The Switchblade technology works as an accompaniment that allows users to create special hot-buttons for a variety of applications like Photoshop along with a list of video games.
Min-Liang is eager to return from business in Singapore. On his extensive list of to-do items like checking email and looking over design samples, he plans one of the most important duties of his craft: playing video games.
“I have to be candid here,” he admitted. “I’m not great at looking at revenue and the financial stuff like that. Fortunately, we’ve got really good bean counters to handle that for us today. I get to focus on the cool stuff, have fun and make sure we have a great product.”